Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Friday, July 23, 2010

WNBA: Every Night Is Playoffs Night

By Mel Greenberg

By the time the WNBA official playoffs arrive next month, the action may be anticlimactic to what has been going on nightly in the regular season.

With a maybe best-ever top-to-bottom conference performance by the East along with the crowd of teams, mediocre records notwithstanding, fighting for three berths in the West way behind frontrunning Seattle, every calendar date is being filled with anticipatory matchups.

On Thursday, the defending champion Phoenix Mercury topped its own league scoring record set earlier against Tulsa at 116 by beating the Shock in the Midwest 123-91.

Former UConn star Diana Taurasi scored 26 points and former Temple star Candice Dupree scored 23 to lead the scoring parade for the Mercury (9-12) against the last-place Shock (4-18), who got 18 points from Kara Braxton.

Phoenix also set a record for a WNBA half with 67 points and tied a league record in the half with 25 for field goals.

Maybe the record books should have an asterisk because setting these kinds of marks against Tulsa, the former proud championship winning Detroit entity, is like hitting baseball homers in the Polo Grounds in New York in an earlier era at the home of the pre-San Francisco Giants that had a short left field.

The triumph enabled Phoenix to stay a game in front of the San Antonio Silver Stars (8-13), which edged the host Minnesota Lynx 74-72 on Sophia Young's two foul shots with 3.8 seconds remaining.

San Antonio's win was good enough for now to hold third place a half-game ahead of the Lynx (7-13), who are inside the loop with the last playoff spot if the season ended today.

But despite another loss by Los Angeles (6-16), which occured on the road at the Indiana Fever 76-57, the fifth-place Sparks remain technically alive in the West playoff race, trailing Minnesota by just two games with three yet to be played against the Lynx.

The Silver Stars got 17 points from former Tennessee sensation Chamique Holdsclaw as the pace-setter against Minnesota, which got 22 from Seimone Augustus, a former All-American at LSU and former WNBA rookie of the year.

For all that, the night in the West belonged to the team that was idle -- the first place Seattle Storm (19-2), which became the first official playoff qualifier courtesy of Los Angeles' setback.

With a magic number of three, if the Guru's math is right, Seattle could clinch the Western crown before August arrives late next week. Lauren Jackson and Sue Bird and the rest hold a 10-game lead over second-place Phoenix with 13 remaining.

The Storm, matching a best start at 21 games is now after the former Houston Comets' record of 23-2 in 25 games.

Indiana's win enabled the defending East champions (14-7) to move a half-game ahead of Washington (13-7) heading into Saturday night's showdown with the Mystics at the Verizon Center in the nation's capital.

Ebony Hoffman scored 16 points for the Fever while Tina Thompson, the last of the original WNBA players from the inaugural summer of 1997, scored 19 points.

The Rest of the Weekend

The fifth-place New York Liberty (10-10) visits the sixth and last-place Chicago Sky (11-11) Friday night with the winner putting pressure in the East on the fourth-place Connecticut Sun (12-9), which is 2.0 games behind first place but just 1.5 games in front of New York and Chicago.

The Sky absolutely needs to win against New York, and while a loss would be less deadly for the Liberty, they need to follow-up Tuesday's win over Connecticut by triumphing Friday night and winning at Atlanta Sunday to stay on the doorstep of a potential playoff slot.

Connecticut was able to take former UConn star Tina Charles with the overall No. 1 pick in April's draft. A win Saturday night against Los Angeles for the moment would push the Sparks further from a playoff slot and closer to the opportunity to get the No. 1 pick in the 2011 draft, which udoubtedly will be UConn senior Maya Moore.

The Sun with a win also would be helping Minnesota, which will be hosting Phoenix Saturday night.

The two team helped each other with a major trade in the offseason, with the Sun in the swap getting former UConn star Renee Montgomery and the draft pick that yielded Charles. In turn, WNBA All-Star Lindsay Whalen was sent near her home in the Twin Cities.

As mentioned, it will be a major East showdown between Indiana and Washington Saturday night. The host Mystics were only fighting for first place this late in the season one other time in 2002 when Washington was challenging New York.

A big reason for the Mystics' success is the continuing improved play of former Maryland star Crystal Langhorne, the Willingboro, N.J., native who won the most improved award last season.

If the Mystics win the East, Langhorne deserves serious consideration for league MVP.

In the Phoenix-Minnesota game, a Lynx win will push Seattle closer to the first-place clincher in the West and keep some distance from Los Angeles, especially if the Sparks beat the Sun.

In the other Saturday night game, if Chicago is coming off a win, the Sky will try to keep the momentum going -- or off a loss try for a quick recovery -- when the Sky visits San Antonio. No matter what happens in the Windy suburbs Friday night, the Sky absolutely will need this one.

For the Silver Stars, a win adds more distance from the Sparks if Los Angeles loses and also provides the continued slim edge over Minnesota in the West standings. It could also mean a tie with Phoenix for second, depending on the Mercury result against Minnesota.

On Sunday, New York will be trying for a sweep on the road this week, depending on Friday's result with Chicago or at least two wins. The host Dream have lost four straight way after the hot season start of 5-0.

Atlanta with another loss could suddenly change mindsets from being a East title contender to trying to maintain being a survivor into the playoffs.

The other Sunday game has Seattle hosting Tulsa, which means the magic number to win the West will drop to two for the Storm with a victory. In the event of clinching a mathematical tie, the Sun already owns the season series over Phoenix and San Antonio.

But as was said at the outset, if all those games don't sound like playoff mode is already in place in the WNBA, then take some more vacation before the collegiate season returns.

Temple Alums Leading Summer League

In the WNBA Thursday night it was mentioned above about former Temple star Candice Dupree having a big game to help Phoenix in the Mercury's record-setting scoreboard win over Tulsa.

Back here in the Philly suburbs some of Dupree's contemporaries formerly on the Owls roster -- Ari Moore, Ashley Morris, and Khadija Bowens, along with current Temple star Qwedia Wallace -- took over sole possession of first place in the Philadelphia Dept. of Recreation psuedo-NCAA women's summer league at the Kelly Bolish Gym in Hatboro, Pa.

Formal NCAA terminology as it was in the past is not permitted under the current rules though all NCAA requirements for sanctioning exist.

The playoffs start next Thursday.

Also for a special event on Saturday league commissioner David Kessler is still seeking players for an interesting game at the gym at 3 p.m., admission free the Guru believes, against a group of Army women training for the military championship.

Kessler noted that most of the Army women will eventually be deployed to either Afghanistan or Iraq.

Current collegiate players who perform in the league aren't eligible for this one, under NCAA rules, but incoming freshmen and former players are allowed.

Former La Salle star Margaret Elderton is expected to play as is former St. Bonaventure star Dana Mitchell, an area player who was an all-Atlantic 10 conference honoree.

The Guru will either be back in Connecticut -- some say an ego trip the way security salutes the Guru's media pass upon arrival at the Mohegan Arena -- or down in Washington, a decision to occur before sunrise Saturday.

But those who have interest in attending the game in Hatboro, feel free to email the Guru and he'll send some precise directions to the gym, located off Davisville Road near Byberry Road.

He'll also provide Kessler's contact info for further information.

-- Mel


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