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.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Guru's College Notes: Some AP Poll Consecutive Streak Trivia

By Mel Greenberg

With a little down time before the WNBA finals begin as the Guru slips slowly into the college season he did a little mining Wednesday night inside his AP poll database to compare appearance streaks at the close of the final rankings of 2011.

But before addressing Thursday morning’s topic here, the Guru would like to informally announce ahead of the official notification that on a teleconference Wednesday afternoon with the board of directors of the United States Basketball Writers Association it was decided to add a national women’s player of the week this season along with the men’s winner.

Basically conference reps will forward their individual player of the week winner and then the USBWA honoree will be selected from that group.

The selections won’t start until early January, but there will be more details along the way.

Those of you who should be members, you know who you are, you should go to the USWBA website and membership application details will be listed there.

Meanwhile, in terms of some Guru research on the streaks, remember the AP preseason poll is about a month away so some of these marks will go by the boards.

But the finding is yet another way to show who has dominated and also note that once you get down the list, the numbers drop off considerably so one can’t say it’s always the same old crowd.

Obviously to no surprise Tennessee is the leader with 454 weeks dating back to Feb. 17, 1985 when the Lady Vols returned after a nine-week absence.

In the 35-year, 613-week history of the rankings, Tennessee has missed only five other appearances, including the first-ever preseason poll in November, 1976.

Coach Pat Summitt’s group has pretty much resided in the Top 10 and higher since then, though in 2009 their final ranking of 18th after being as low as 19th was the lowest listing since that last absence.

Of course, as noted previously, if there was a postseason after-the-NCAA tournament vote – not advocating it, just mentioning – Tennessee likely would have been bounced out after the upset the Lady Vols suffered that season in the first round of the tournament.

Connecticut didn’t really get into the national profile business until several years later after the current Tennessee streak got under way. That’s when one Geno Auriemma was hired to find a place to where he could hone a future in TV broadcasting besides winning a few national titles along the way and coaching WNBA players disguised as the Olympic hopefuls in his spare time.

But once the Huskies hit their stride, they have performed better than anyone else and, obviously, they have been at the top of the pile if you would start counting the numbers somewhat just before their first title year in 1995.

Anyhow, off the teams that were in the final poll in March before the NCAA field was announced, here as how they rank in consecutive AP poll appearance to date.

1. Tennessee 454 – A period of more than 25 seasons that began with the last four weeks of 1984-85, which, incidentally, was the year after legendary coach Pat Summitt coached the U.S. team in the Los Angeles Olympics.

2. Connecticut 334 dating to the preseason poll 18 seasons ago in 1993-94.

3. Duke 225 dating to Nov. 25, 1999, when the Blue Devils returned after a week’s absence that ended a streak of 38 appearances.

4. Stanford 189
5. Baylor 144 dating to a return to the rankings on January 5, 2004.
6. Oklahoma 114 dating to the preseason poll of 2006-07.
7. Notre Dame 77 dating to the preseason vote of 2007-08.
8. Texas A&M, the defending NCAA champs – 64.
9. Florida State 47.
10. Xavier 46
11. Georgetown 29
12. Kentucky 26
13. Michigan State 22
14. UCLA 21
15. tie. Maryland 19
15. tie. North Carolina 19
15. tie De Paul 19
18. tie. Miami 10
18. tie. Wis.-Green Bay 10
20. Marquette 7
21. Marist 6
22. Gonzaga 5
23. tie. Georgia Tech 2
23. tie Iowa 2
23. tie Ohio St. 2

That’s it for now. But more will certainly come.

-- Mel

Testing A New iPad Apps

By Mel Greenberg

Testing a new iPad apps to write easier from device into the blog with typefaces.


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Guru Clearing USA Basketball's Record: Breanna Stewart Not Making History

(Guru note: Coverage of the East finals by remote can be found over Full Court Press fullcourt.com.)

By Mel Greenberg

Now you know why you need the Guru still around to keep historical records in order.

When the Pan American team was announced earlier Tuesday the release and website notes at USA Basketball that the 12-member squad will include future UConn player Breanna Stewart, who will be a senior this winter at North Syracuse High.

The caption with her picture claims she will be the first U.S. girls high school basketball player to compete in the Pan American Games.

Stewart has been highly decorated for her skills, including being a member of the USA U-19 world championship team that won a gold medal this past summer and being named to the all-tounament team.

But contrary to what is being written by everyone being taken over Niagara Falls, including probably the Guru's UConn media friends up North, probably since they weren't born yet (a little levity), but a familiar name in women's basketball history made the Pan Am team back in 1975 prior to also playing on the Olympic squad in 1976 when the sport became part of the games in Montreal.

Back in those days and until recent times and the onset of the WNBA, the Pan Am games were one of the major lead-up stops for the Olympians in the year before the Games were held. Thus, most of the contenders played on that squad.

In 1975 a certain high school sensation out of Far Rockaway, N.Y., who was to later enroll at Old Dominion and lead the Lady Monarchs to two national titles, made the squad that also included as players current WNBA Phoenix Mercury General Manager Ann Meyers-Drsydale, a star at UCLA at the time; and Pat Summitt, then listed as Pat Head who was a newly-hired coach at Tennessee.

The coach of that team was Cathy Rush, the coach at Immaculata in the western Philadelphia suburbs who is about to be immortalized in a movie "The Mighty Macs" coming to theaters Oct. 21. Her assistant, then coaching Cal-State Fullerton, was Billie Moore, who several years later moved to take over the UCLA squad.

As for the high school player on that team:

Well, a note was sent late Tuesday night to double check with the individual, since the Guru was driving at the time. (He was at a loooong red light when he sent it).

"Weren't you in high school when you were on the Pan American team?" the Guru asked through the wonders of today's technology.

"Yes, I was a junior," came the response from Hawaii.

The person at the other end of the communications is Nancy Lieberman, who was to become a Hall of Famer, an ESPN broadcaster after her career, and now a best-selling author.

Incidentally, two locally-connected players were named to the squad in West Chester's Shante Evans, a star at Hofstra, and Rutgers' April Sykes.

Former Colorado coach Ceal Barry will handle the group assisted by former Los Angeles Sparks coach Jen Gillom and former Virginia coach Debbie Ryan fresh off a summer in the Northwest where she helped as a volunteer assistant with the Seattle Storm.

Speaking of Seattle, former UConn star Sue Bird had successful surgery on her right hip and is expected to be back in action overseas by mid-December after helping to keep the Storm afloat and playoff-bound while Australian star Lauren Jackson was recovering from hip surgery off an injury that occurred in early June.

Coincidentally, at the time on Tuesday the Guru thought something was in error he was actually watching Sunday's episode of the new Pan Am (as in airplanes for those of you too young to remember) through the wonders of the ABC-TV apps on his iPad.

As an aside, yes Caroline, the Guru knows you are with Geno and the old folks on the European Tour and not at the home office.

And with that said, class dismissed.

-- Mel

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Guru's WNBA/College Notes: 600th AP Poll Appearance Awaits Tennessee and Summitt

By Mel Greenberg

As this blog is written at 4:30 a.m. on Tuesday morning before sunrise in the East on Sept. 27, there is no public word out there yet on the status of Indiana Fever star Tamika Catchings, the WNBA’s most valuable player for this season, who injured her right foot late in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s loss in Game 2 of the best-of-three Eastern finals.

Tuesday’s deciding Game 3 at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis will determine whether the Fever returns to the finals for the second time in three years or the Atlanta Dream in season number four of their existence returns to the finals after being dispatched 3-0 in the best-of-five series a year ago in a set of narrow loses to the Seattle Storm.

None of the teams still alive, including the Western regular season and playoff winning Minnesota Lynx, who are in their first finals and await Tuesday’s winner for the championship opener at the Target Center in Minneapolis on Sunday, have ever won a WNBA title.

The list of the past 14 WNBA champions consists of the former Houston Comets (4), former Detroit (now Tulsa) Shock (3), Los Angeles Sparks (2), Seattle Storm (2), Phoenix Mercury (2) and former Sacramento Monarchs.

Whatever the fate of Catchings at this hour, Indiana coach Lin Dunn said after Monday’s practice her staff was planning two scenarios to deal with the Dream – one with Catchings in uniform and one without, according to the Indianapolis Star and several other media organizations.

The only good news in all this since Sunday’s mishap, at least the way Dunn put it in the postgame press conference, is the Fever seemed positive Catchings’ injury was not an ACL, for which she underwent surgery on the same leg in 2007.

So with that said and nothing more to be said on the Eastern finals, for the moment, since the Guru is not on site in Indianapolis, he thought he’d return to the college ranks and entertain you all with some preseason AP poll notes.

Tennessee And Summitt Set For AP Milestone

No, the rankings aren’t out yet – that won’t happen for several weeks.

But based on the close of business in Year No. 35, since Tennessee undoubtedly will be ranked and ranked high when the vote is taking, the release of that list will give Lady Vols legendary coach Pat Summitt and the program 600 appearances since the poll was launched in November, 1976.

Tennessee was not in the first-ever preseason poll when smaller schools such as Immaculata, Queens College, Southern Connecticut and several others were the power of the time.

Did you know Atlanta coach Marynell Meadors was there at the time coaching AIAW Region 2 power Tennessee Tech?

The Lady Vols did not miss many appearances through the years – in fact 14 overall counting the first poll and the last time they were unranked was in the mid-1980s.

Actually, if the AP would have a vote after the NCAA tournament concludes instead of running the final rankings just before it began, that streak might have ended when Tennessee was teetering on the bottom several years ago and actually dropped out of the USA Today/ESPN coaches’ poll of the WBCA, which does do a post-tournament ranking.

Following Summitt and Tennessee, Georgia and Andy Landers are both next in total rankings at 460 as of the 2010-11 final poll.

Texas is next at 453, followed by Louisiana Tech at 447, though most of that was a long time ago; then comes Stanford at 398, Connecticut at 367, Penn State at 347, North Carolina at 342, Maryland at 340, and LSU at 338.

Vanderbilt and Rutgers had been eclipsed from the first 10 in the aforementioned category the last several seasons but the Commodores sit at 11th with 335 appearances and the Scarlet Knights 12th at 329.

Tennessee has appeared in the top 10 of 33 of the 35 previous preseason polls followed by Georgia and Louisiana Tech at 20 each.

The coaches’ appearances digress in some instances from the school list – Rutgers’ numbers, for example, are a compilation of the Theresa Grentz and C. Vivian Stringer eras.

As for Stringer’s numbers, she is the leader of a handful of coaches who have guided three different programs into the rankings – Cheyney, Iowa, and Rutgers.

Summitt, approaching 600, as mentioned, is the overall leader on both the all-time and active lists, followed by Andy Landers at 460, former Texas coach Jody Conradt at 407, Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer, the recent Naismith Hall of Fame inductee, at 395, which includes her time at Ohio State; Stringer at 388 and Connecticut’s Geno Auriemma at 367.

If you withdraw Conradt in the group mentioned, you have the leaders on the active list. Auriemma, incidentally, is followed by Ohio State’s Jim Foster at 346.

Though Connecticut may not be No. 1 when the next poll is announced after dominating the top the last several seasons, the Huskies have an overall total of 156 appearances at the top followed by Tennessee at 112.

The differential is so large that assuming a total of 19-20 polls per season, as has been the case in recent times, the Lady Vols would have to be No. 1 for the next two seasons and early in a third to catch Connecticut’s total.

Louisiana Tech is next at 83, compiled in the Sonja Hogg/Leon Barmore era and not likely to increase, then comes Texas with 47 No. 1 rankings, followed by Duke and Old Dominion at 34.

In the preseason poll, Tennessee has been No. 1 for 12 times, while Connecticut has been at the top spot eight times.

The Lady Vols have had 28 appearances in the Top 5 in the preseason poll, followed by Louisiana Tech at 15 and Connecticut at 14.

Another interior stat to look, though it is a little down the list but Maryland at 184 needs four more Top 10 appearances than Rutgers at 187 to pass the Scarlet Knights in that category.

Incidentally, Texas A&M, the reigning NCAA champion, at the moment is tied with Michigan State and Kentucky with 120 appearances but the Aggies will be taking their total, whatever the season increase is, over to the Southeastern Conference and away from the Big 12 a year from now.

Be aware, the Guru keeps two separate categories for conferences – the conference a school was in at the time of the ranking and the conference a school currently resides so the Big 12 won’t be totally lessened.

Adjustments have already been made to reflect Nebraska’s move from the Big 12 to the Big 10 this season, as well as Colorado from the Big 12 to Pac-12 and Utah from the Mountain West to the Pac-12 as well as several other team/conference shifts.

Local Notes

Just a reminder from something mentioned earlier in the summer but the annual Big 5 and Drexel clinic will be held Sunday morning Oct. 15 at Villanova for the benefit of Coaches vs. Cancer.

Check any of the Big 5 school websites for details.

Also, Delaware coach Tina Martin is conducting a free clinic for girls in grades three through eight on Oct. 22 at the Blue Hens’ Bob Carpenter Center in Newark – not the Newark where the Prudential Center is.

Check the Delaware website for those details.

Incidentally, looking at some exhibition games’ listed, two local Division II Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference school – Holy Family and Philadelphia U have some interesting events.

Holy Family will travel to Maryland on Nov. 6 at 7 p.m. while on the same Sunday Philadelphia U will play at Drexel at 2 p.m. Since both games are officially listed, the Guru believes the public can attend those games unless told otherwise.

WNBA Expansion

When the surprise departures at the college level of Hall of Famers Debbie Ryan at Virginia and Van Chancellor at LSU occured last season, the Guru mentioned in a conversation that one needs to keep track of executive hires such as athletic directors at schools to get a clue at reading tea leaves for future personnel moves.

That said, in terms of reading tea leaves, perhaps the Bay Area may have gotten a break in terms of a future WNBA franchise with the NBA Golden State Warriors hiring Rick Welts to oversee their business operations.

More important, he had been with the NBA Phoenix Suns but before that he worked in the business sector of the NBA and as such was a major player when it came to rolling out the WNBA and getting all the early hype and marketing done, that, in part, also played a role in burying the ABL.

Since Welts can be considered WNBA-friendly, perhaps the hire down the road may be a good omen for a team landing in the Bay Area market, considering his influence.

That’s it until the Guru slips back to the WNBA world unless some college news is called for.

See you at the next sunrise or earlier, though short breaking news will be posted on the Guru’s twitter account @womhoopsguru.

-- Mel

Monday, September 26, 2011

Guru's WNBA Playoff Report: Minnesota Makes History; Atlanta Ties Indiana

(Guru’s note: Material, including quotes, drawn from team, wnba video website, and wire service reports. There is a separate East story at Full Court Press at fullcourt.com.)

By Mel Greenberg

Five months after a quest for a third NCAA title game and second championship fell just short in the national semifinals at the hands of Big East rival Notre Dame, former UConn sensation Maya Moore is going to play for a major team trophy this year after all.

But the WNBA rookie of the year is just one of the reasons the Minnesota Lynx advanced to their first-ever best-of-five championship series Sunday by completing a 2-0 sweep of the former two-time champion Phoenix Mercury with a 103-86 win over the No. 3 seed in the conference in Arizona for the Western playoff crown.

Veteran Taj McWilliams-Franklin, the 41-year-old ageless wonder who once played for the former Philadelphia Rage in the defunct American Basketball League in the late 1990s, had a season-high 21 points, grabbed six rebounds and dealt seven assists.

“We didn’t want to see (Phoenix) on our plane going back to Minnesota,” quipped Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve, the former La Salle star in Philadelphia in the late 1980s from South Jersey on Minnesota’s quest to close out the series Sunday.

The triumph marks yet another milestone in a season of many for the Lynx, who set franchise records for wins with an overall WNBA best 27-7 record to take a first-ever conference regular-season title while also picking up firsts with a win streak along with capturing a conference semifinal series prior to Sunday when they eliminated the San Antonio Silver Stars 2-1.

Reeve, who is in her second year with Minnesota, paid tribute to the Lynx front office, who also own the NBA Timberwolves, for not abandoning ship during the lean years.

“I know they took a lot of heat for keeping the WNBA team,” she said.

Minnesota, whose only past WNBA playoffs were first-round eliminations in 2003 and 23004, will meet either the Atlanta Dream or Indiana Fever, who are tied 1-1 after the Dream’s 94-77 win Sunday in Atlanta at Philips Arena evened the best-of-three series to send it back to Indianapolis for Tuesday night’s showdown at Conseco Fieldhouse.

The Lynx swept the third-seeded Dream in a weekend series, home-and-home in mid-June and split with Indiana 1-1 in games that were won in the other team’s arena.

Neither of the three squads still active in the playoffs have ever won a WNBA championship.

A year ago Atlanta, in the third season of the franchise’s history that began as an expansion team in 2008, emerged from the East as a 4-seed after dispatching the Washington Mystics and New York Liberty in consecutive 2-0 sweeps.

The Dream then fell in three straight in the WNBA finals to the Seattle Storm, though the two teams combined for fewest overall differential in combined average.

Two years ago in Indiana’s only previous finals the Fever took a 2-1 lead over Phoenix but fell at home in Game 4 and then lost the deciding Game 5 in Arizona in the closing minutes.

Atlanta was missing one of its stars Sunday with center Erika de Souza having left Saturday for as long as potentially through this Saturday to join the Brazilian national team in Columbia for the single-elimination FIBA Americas Champions for Women tournament, which is part of the qualifying process for next summer’s Olympics in London, England.

However, Iziane Castro Marques, another Brazilian on the Dream who chose to remain with the WNBA squad, scored a season-high 30 points after Atlanta coach Marynell Meadors decided to use a smaller, quicker lineup in adjusting to de Souza’s departure.

While Atlanta is down one player besides having lost Shalee Lehning to a knee injury earlier in the season, the Fever developed potentially equally critical roster problems, maybe more, when veteran All-Star Tamika Catchings, voted this season’s MVP in the league, was carried off the court by her teammates late in the game with an undetermined injury to her right knee.

“We know it’s not an ACL,” Indiana coach Lin Dunn said at the postgame press conference. “She knows that from previous experience.”

Catchings, who had scored just eight points Sunday, had surgery for an ACL on her right knee in 2007.

Dunn said she would not have further details on Catchings’ situation until Monday.

The Fever have already had a roster deduction to a knee injury in late June when starting point guard Briann January was forced to the sidelines.

Meanwhile, back in Phoenix, Reeve discussed McWilliams-Franklin’s performance after having been able to lure her to a reunion in Minnesota as a free agent from New York.

The two were on the former Detroit Shock’s last of three WNBA champions in 2008 when Reeve was an assistant to Bill Laimbeer.

“I think for Taj, she’s just so smart,” Reeve said. “She plays the angles and knows exactly what’s happening. There isn’t anything she hasn’t seen after all these years.”

Moore, defensively, drew Phoenix’s Diana Taurasi, yet another UConn all-time great along with Seattle’s Sue Bird among several current ex-Huskies in the WNBA.

Taurasi had 22 points but Reeve noted, “On a bad night Diana’s going to get 20.”

Moore had 21 points, seven rebounds and five assists.

The game was close with Phoenix leading deep into the third quarter until Minnesota went on a surge.

“We tried to switch things up, but they always had a pretty good answer for it,” Taurasi talked about the frustration dealing with the Lynx. “They were well-prepared.”

The Minnesota roster, off a collection of draft lottery picks because of the Lynx’s low standings in previous seasons, is deep and talented, which means teams can’t just concentrate on Moore or Seimone Augustus.

Additionally, former Georgetown star Rebekkah Brunson was a second overall pick a year ago in the dispersal draft of the Sacramento Monarchs roster while local star Lindsay Whalen returned home off a blockbuster trade a year ago that sent the No. 1 overall draft pick, which became former UConn star Tina Charles, and former Huskies All-American Renee Montgomery to the Connecticut Sun.

“With our team, you have to pick your poison,” Reeve said. “I think there was a lot of effort made on Seimone and I thought Seimone was very tested, very challenged. I think as a result of that we were able to get other people involved whether it was Taj or Maya.

“My team, they were tough. Phoenix kept coming at us and coming at us,” she added. “They played really hard but I just thought they were tough. I thought in the second half we defended much better. We weren’t happy with our defense in the first half so we picked it up, we got some rebounds and we got some confidence on offense.”

Moore spoke of how Minnesota didn’t get rattled and always stayed on an even keel, something she could draw on from her days playing for Hall of Famer Geno Auriemma at UConn.

“I think this team has done a phenomenal job of celebrating and enjoying and being in the moment when we win,” Moore explained. “When we lose, we throw it away. Whether it is a win or a loss we move on to the next game. “We are absolutely enjoying this and making sure that everyone feels needed and wanted and appreciated and we are going to move on to the next series and be tested.”

Whalen had 18 points, seven rebounds and four assists; Augustus had 16 points.

DeWanna Bonner, the former Auburn star who was voted the WNBA’s sixth-player winner for the third straight season, scored 22 for Phoenix, while former Temple star Candice Dupree had 18 points and 11 rebounds.

Phoenix had advanced to the conference finals by rallying from a 1-0 deficit to Seattle in the semifinals, evening the series at home, and then shocking the Storm in the Northwest when the Mercury ended their one-year rule of the WNBA as Dupree scored on a putback before time expired in Game 3.

“We’ve definitely had some bumps throughout the year,” Taurasi said. “I think every time we hit a rough patch we came together as a team, which got us to this point.

“Tonight, we just didn’t have enough to get over the biggest bump, which is Minnesota. Because they’re bumpy.”

Phoenix coach Corey Gaines saluted the Lynx.

“We got beat by a good team. They were the No. 1 team all year,” Gaines continued. “All five starters in double figures (Sunday) and Lindsay really took over the game when they needed shots. She hit some big ones down the stretch and in the first half to keep them close. She’s a good point guard, maybe one of the best in the league.

They will probably win it,” Gaines predicted. “Not putting other teams down but they are tough and have a lot of scorers in every direction. Taj killed us from the beginning. She’s a veteran though. She may be slow in step-throughs and putbacks, but she hit them.”

In Atlanta, Castro Marques said she also had an option to join the Brazilian team but chose to stay with the Dream.

She had been a starter at the beginning of the year but played more off the bench after Atlanta had struggled to a 3-9 start before going 17-5 the rest of the way.

Meadors alluded to the switch during her praise of the guard:

“She had tendinitis on her foot earlier in the season, which held her back,” Meadors said. “But she looked like the old Izi today.

“I couldn’t ask for anyone to step in and play any better than what Izi did today,” the Atlanta coach said. “It was an awesome performance. She was the X factor for us that kept us going. She kept hitting shot after shot. She hit tough shots.”

Angel McCoughtry, who was held to 11 points in Game 1 and played just 17 minutes because of foul trouble, scored 27 for Atlanta.

Indiana’s Tangela Smith, who had 25 points in the opener, suffered a reversal of fortune in the direction opposite from McCoughtry by scoring just five points and also coping with foul problems.

Katie Douglas, who hit five three-pointers, hit the 20s in her fourth straight playoff game, scoring 25 against Atlanta.

And so the two teams headed off the Indiana where Monday would bring more news on Catchings and one last day of practice to see who heads home and who gets to challenge Minnesota.

More to come.

-- Mel

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Guru's WNBA Playoff Report: Atlanta's De Souza Departs; Lynx Look To More History

(Guru’s note: The Guru has two items over at Full Court Press – fullcourt.com – the MVP feature mentioned previously and an advance focusing on just the east, some of which will be also stated below – Mel)

By Mel Greenberg

Adversity has struck the Atlanta Dream again as they head into Sunday’s home game at their Philips Arena trying to avoid being ousted 2-0 by the Indiana Fever in the WNBA’s best-of-three Eastern Conference finals.

In the West, the Minnesota Lynx is attempting to finish writing another page to their illustrious franchise-making history book of this season while their opponent the Phoenix Mercury will be hosting them back home in Arizona seeking to bounce back from an opening game rout for the second series in a row.

Short of winning the title, the Dream were the feel-good story of last season – their third since joining the WNBA in 2008 – as they opened the Eastern Conference playoffs semifinals and finals as a four-seed on the road and produced a pair of 2-0 sweeps over the Washington Mystics (remember them?) and New York Liberty to advance to the finals against the Seattle Storm.

Though Brian Agler’s group had one of the most dominate runs in WNBA history with a 28-6 record and a complete 7-0 sweep through the playoffs, Atlanta was competitive in all three losses producing the narrowest differential in combined scores in the history of the playoffs.

A season later, misery has hung around the Dream ever since June, though they were able to shake off a slew of injuries and other disruptions to eventually recover from a 3-9 start to make a 17-5 run to a third seed and return to the playoffs.

Twice in the semifinals, Atlanta used fourth-quarter rallies to wipe out the Connecticut Sun 2-0 and advance to the finals against the Indiana Fever, a team they managed to go 4-0 against during the regular season.

But the Dream ran into some surprises in Thursday night’s opener in Game 1 at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis – primarily from veteran Tangela Smith, a former Iowa star signed by the Fever as a free agent following a stint with Phoenix. She scored 25 points; including making 5-of-7 three-pointers in gaining an 82-74 victory to put Atlanta’s back’s to the wall to try to stave off a quick elimination.

On Saturday that task got a little more difficult when Atlanta announced that center Erika De Souza had vamoosed, per agreement, to the Brazilian National Team from her native country to play in this week’s FIBA Americas Championship For Women tournament in Columbia, which just got under way and will continue through Saturday, Oct. 1.

The event, which involves qualifying for next summer’s Olympics in London, England, is a single-elimination affair and Atlanta said De Souza would be back whenever Brazil had finished its participation.

While that could be as early as the day after tomorrow, that might not be time enough for Atlanta if the Dream are given their walking papers Sunday afternoon by the Fever, who are hungry to take their second shot in three seasons in trying to win an elusive WNBA title.

Indiana veteran All-Star Tamika Catchings, the former Tennessee All-American, has already negated the other elusive item in her career when she picked up her first MVP award Thursday from a nationwide media panel of 40 sportswriters and sportscasters who cover the league.

This is the second time this season Atlanta has been made short-handed by one of the Dream’s foreign players participating in Olympic qualifying events.

In late June and early July forward Sancho Lyttle, who recently signed a multi-year contract extension with Atlanta for undisclosed terms, missed six games initially to go home to Spain to compete with the national team for an Olympic spot.

Then she missed six more upon her return because of back problems. At the time, Atlanta, whose leader Angel McCoughtry was struggling with a knee injury suffered in training camp, was struggling with that 3-9 start and drifting more toward the discussion about lottery picks in the draft then toward the playoffs.

But then things began to click and Atlanta went on a 17-5 run to finish with the third seed just ahead of New York.

De Souza, a 6-5 center, had eight points and 13 rebounds in the opener and as a starter in 32 of 34 games for the Dream this season provides the most experience in the post.

After former Iowa star Tangela Smith went on a spree for Indiana with 25 points, including making 5-of-7 three-pointers, Atlanta coach Marynell Meadors will need to use a committee of younger players in the post to replace De Souza in former Duke star Alison Bales, former Oklahoma star Courtney Paris and former TCU star Sandora Irvin to help contain Smith, Catchings, Douglas and former Rutgers center Tammy Sutton-Brown.

Atlanta certainly can’t afford to have McCoughtry shut down to the 11 points she scored in Thursday’s opener when she suffered with foul trouble and only seeing 17 minutes of playing time.

In the conference semifinal series with the Connecticut Sun, the second seed behind Indiana’s top seed – the two had identical 21-13 records – Atlanta twice rallied in the fourth quarter.

But late will not be early enough on Sunday. Down 2-1 Atlanta needs to take control from the outset to force a Game 3 Tuesday night back in Indianapolis at the site of April’s NCAA Women’s Final Four.

That will be challenging enough, especially losing De Souza who started 32 of 34 games. On one hand Atlanta looks to diversified scoring in the Dream’s recent run.

However, one of the Fever’s forte all season was getting help from the bench, especially after losing starting point guard Briann January for the rest of the season in late June with a knee injury.

Jessica Davenport in the post made major career strides in scoring off the bench to help the Fever win close games. And however Atlanta went 4-0 against the Fever during the season the 0-1 performance right now is what matters most.

Lynx Lottery Wins Begin To Ripen

Meanwhile, earlier this season New York first-year coach John Whisenant was asked to evaluate Minnesota’s work considering he was a league veteran off the longtime he spent in a similar coach-general manager role with the former Sacramento Monarchs and one which produced a WNBA title in 2005.

“Well, they got lottery picks,” Whisenant smiled.

Indeed, most of the Lynx’s woeful history that only saw two playoff eliminations in conference semifinals in 2003 and 2004 accentuated with injuries and many narrow losses put Minnesota in position to get good opportunities to collect some of the best talent out of the draft.

Former LSU star Seimone Augustus was a No. 1 overall pick as was former UConn great Maya Moore, the rookie of the year
selected in April.

The Lynx had the rights to the top pick in 2010 but they dealt the selection rights to the Connecticut Sun, who took MVP runnerup Tina Charles out of UConn. However, Minnesota got hometown girl Lindsay Whalen,a perennial All-Star who has had her best season, in return from the Sun.

Former Georgetown star Rebekkah Brunson was a second overall pick a year ago off the dispersal of Sacramento roster when the team disbanded and she has become a rebounding machine for the Lynx.

Former Virginia star Monica Wright was a top four pick as was former Stanford star Candice Wiggins and this past April former Xavier star Amber Harris. Veteran but ageless post player Taj McWilliams-Franklin signed as a free agent. Former George Washington star Jessica Adair has also made contributions off the bench.

The job of putting this all together went to Cheryl Reeve, a former star at La Salle in Philadelphia in the late 1980s near her home in South Jersey who has served as an assistant to Northwestern’s Joe McKeown at George Washington and as an aide to Bill Laimbeer when the forlorn Tulsa Shock were the magnificent Detroit Shock winning three WNBA titles.

That made her coach of the year in her second season with the Lynx after guiding Minnesota to a league-best 27-7 record, an improvement of 14 games topped only by the worst-to-first turnaround of Detroit which won its first title in 2003.

Following the regular season success, Minnesota narrowly escaped to win Game 1 of the conference semifinals at home against San Antonio, lost to the Silver Stars in Game 2 in Texas, and then came home to put everything together for a first-ever series win.

Next up were the Phoenix Mercury in Game 1 of the West finals Thursday in Minneapolis. During the season, the two teams offered offensive fun-to-watch scoring fireworks in their five-game series won 3-2 by Minnesota, which won most every series and settled for 1-1 cross-conference splits with Connecticut, Indiana, and New York.

The Mercury, meanwhile, got routed in Game of its conference semifinal in Seattle by the defending champion Storm but rallied with a home win in Phoenix to take that series.

Then in the decisive Game 3 after trailing by 18 points in Seattle, the Mercury surged and won before time expired to stun the Storm as former Temple star Candice Dupree scored on a putback.

That set up Thursday when Minnesota continued to thrive with Augustus, Moore, and, off the bench, Wiggins. Surprisingly, though, Phoenix was shut down, even causing Reeve to marvel over the way her team “made it look easy.”

But considering that former UConn great Diana Taurasi and Australian star Penny Taylor, and Dupree, despite Thursday’s performance, are always a threat and WNBA three-time sixth-player winner DeWanna Bonner is coming off the bench and that Mercury are at home Sunday trying to get things all tied up again, who knows for sure what lies ahead.

By Sunday night, though, it will either be a first-ever trip to the finals for Minnesota or back to Minneapolis Tuesday night for more fireworks at the Target Center.

So until the two results are in, the Guru will be back here and at Full Court with separate coverage before the next sunrise.

-- Mel

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Guru Notes:Just Some Odds And Ends For The Day

By Mel Greenberg

Here’s some quick notes of the day.

First, the Guru has another appearance over at Full Court Press fullcourt.com that will be posted at some point by early afternoon if not earlier focusing on Tamika Catchings’ MVP award in the WNBA.

Sunrise 24 hours from now will offer a combo WNBA advance here of Game 2 in both conferences.

On the college front off the conference musical chairs,if Pittsburgh and Syracuse were allowed to move from the Big East
Conference to the Atlantic Coast, immediately, which obviously is not happening, the ACC in terms of members but not the actual conference column would pick up a combined 44 poll appearances in the AP women’s history.

Pitt has been ranked 34 times, mostly in the Agnus Berenato era and most of that in the Shavonte Zellous era prior to her graduation and eventually landing with the WNBA Indiana Fever, who hold a 1-game lead in the Eastern Conference finals going into Game 2 in Atlanta at the Dream’s Philips Arena on Sunday.

Syracuse has made 10 appearances.

However, if Connecticut and Rutgers were to switch, as has been reported in the media, they would take 676 appearances of which 367 belong to Connecticut and 329 to Rutgers.

Meanwhile, media reports to the north of the Guru’s Philadelphia-based operations center are saying that Germantown Academy graduate Caroline Doty has been cleared to move full steam ahead from the knee injury that again sidelined her for all of last season at Connecticut.

Off a quip Huskies coach Geno Auriemma told last summer after Doty hurt her knee for the third time, Doty will go into the season unbeaten since she wasn’t active when Connecticut lost to Big East rival Notre Dame in the NCAA semifinals in Indianapolis.

Doty was originally set to be cleared in early July until she sprained her knee a few days earlier and precautionary measures set in to make sure she would be ready to go when the season begins.

Incidentally Connecticut has been ranked No. 1 so many times in the AP women’s poll that the Huskies could take a year off and still have an ample lead over Tennessee.

On the local front, it looks like Temple made good on the Guru’s request for a time start to avoid a conflict on a key date in December.

On Dec. 22, UCLA will play at St. Joseph’s at 1 p.m. two days after visiting Temple. The Owls will host Villanova in a Big Five tilt at 4 p.m. making it possible to be at both games. That date is usually the break-for-the-holidays day so thanks for the consideration.

Unfortunately, two other games that day are the annual 33rd St. war in West Philadelphia between Penn and Drexel, which will be at The Palestra at noon.

Fairfield visits La Salle at 2 p.m.

The Immaculata movie apparently is making advance screening rounds in cities to favorable reports from what the Guru can see by way of chatter at the various social media sites.

The movie hits the theaters for the public Oct. 21.

That’s it for now.

-- Mel

Friday, September 23, 2011

Guru's WNBA Report: MVP Catchings No Longer The WNBA's Susan Lucci

(Guru note: There is a more in depth story on the East game over at fullcourt.com).

By Mel Greenberg

It was UConn night in the opener of the Western Conference playoffs in Minneapolis where the Minnesota Lynx are shedding their long reputation as playoff wannabes, this time at the expense of the Phoenix Mercury.

Meanwhile, over in the East the Indiana Fever’s veteran All-Star Tamika Catchings is no longer the Susan Lucci of the WNBA’s MVP award while moving one step closer to returning to the league championship series for the second time in two seasons.

Lucci, who has played Erica Kane in the long-running ABC daytime soap opera All My Children, struck out 18 straight times as an also-ran in the Emmy Awards competition, television’s version of the Oscars, before the drought ended in 1999.

Likewise in nine previous seasons as an active member of the Fever, Catchings was a nominee finalist eight times for the MVP award without earning a trip to the podium to be handed the league’s top individual honor.

That drought finally ended Thursday when an hour or so before the opening tip of the best-of-three Eastern finals against the third-seeded Atlanta Deam in the Fever’s Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

The daughter of former NBA 76ers player Harvey Catchings, she was named the overwhelming winner in what was considered a crowded competitive field of candidates.

Catchings, the former Tennessee All-American, received 21 first-place votes from a 40-member media panel of sportswriters and broadcasters to gain 292 points.

Though some distance away in second place, the Connecticut Sun’s Tina Charles, the 2010 rookie of the year out of UConn, gained the most support among the also-rans with 209 points.

The Chicago Sky’s Sylvia Fowles was third with 148 points, followed by the Seattle Storm’s Sue Bird, another former UConn star, with 106 points, and then Minnesota’s Lindsay Whalen with 104 points.

“When you cheer tonight, don’t just cheer for the MVP, cheer for (her teammates), too, because I wouldn’t be here without them,” Catchings noted to Fever fans attending the press conference in the arena where the NCAA Women’s Final Four was held in April.

Now that she has become an MVP, the only thing missing from Catchings’ illustrious resume is a WNBA championship and the Fever took a big step toward clearing that up with an 82-74 victory in Game 1 of the conference final after the two teams were tied at 57-57 through three quarters.

Catchings had 12 points and 13 rebounds and a key steal and score off Dream All-Star Angel McCoughtry late in the game to help seal the victory.

“That was an MVP performance,” Fever coach Lin Dunn said afterwards of Catchings.

It was also one overshadowed a bit by Tangela Smith, who had a personal playoff career high of 25 points and connected on 5-of-7 three-point attempts, which is an Indiana record in the playoffs.

The Fever also were 23-for-27 on foul shooting attempts while the Dream connected with only 9of-17 free throw attempts. Smith, who played at Iowa in the late 1990s, signed prior to the season as a free agent after being a member of the Phoenix Mercury’s 2007 and 2009 championships.

The latter came at the expense of the Fever, who had taken a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series before the Mercury rallied to beat Indiana on the road and then edged the Fever in the final game in Phoenix.

“That’s why we brought Tan here,” Dunn said of Smith’s work from the perimeter. “She can spread the floor and knock down threes, and she did exactly what we expected her to do. She has the green light. If she’s open, we want her to shoot.”

Atlanta had beaten Indiana in all four regular-season meetings, though the outcomes were close, before losing an opening playoff series game for the first time since 2009, the Dream’s second season, when the former Detroit Shock, now relocated in Tulsa, eliminated them.

“We’ve had our backs to the wall many, many times this season,” Atlanta coach Marynell Meadors said of her team that struggled with injuries to a 3-9 start before surging to finish with the third seed in the East. “We’ve faced adversity many times, and we’ve managed to jump over the hurdles, and this is one in front of us. We will come back strong on Sunday afternoon.”

The series moves to Philips Arena where Atlanta will be looking for McCoughtry to bounce back from a tough night in which she eventually fouled out, was held to 11 points, and only played 17 minutes.

If she wanted company in misery, she might try former Temple star Candice Dupree, an All-Star for the Mercury who had hit the winning shot before time expired Monday night in Seattle to end the Storm’s one-year rule as WNBA champions.

Dupree had two points and two rebounds as Minnesota, the No. 1 seed, turned the second half into a 95-67 rout in the Target Center.

UConn coach Geno Auriemma was in the arena to do color commentary during the ESPN2 broadcast and got to work with one of his former players and watch other ex-Huskies on both sides.

Rebecca Lobo, a regular on ESPN women’s broadcasts, sat alongside her former coach in the building in which the Huskies won their first of seven NCAA titles in 1995, rallying to beat Tennessee.

Maya Moore, the WNBA rookie of the year, had 13 of her 15 points in the first quarter. All-Star Lindsay Whalen was in foul trouble but former Stanford All-American Candice Wiggins came off the bench to score 14 points as a backup.

Seimone Augustus, a previous No. 1 pick in 2006, scored 21 points for the Lynx and dealt seven assists.

Diana Taurasi, another one of Auriemma’s all-time UConn greats, had 22 for Phoenix, whose explosive offense was shut down by Minnesota.

“Phoenix is a very difficult team to guard,” said Lynx second-year coach Cheryl Reeve, the former La Salle star in Philadelphia who was named coach of the year for guiding the Lynx to an overall WNBA-best 27-7 record. “And we made it look pretty easy.”

Before this season the Lynx had been to the playoffs just twice, losing opening series in 2003 and 2004. But after a narrow win in Game one of the conference semifinals over the San Antonio Silver Stars followed by a loss to the opposition in Game 2 in Texas, Minnesota has now put together two strong back-to-back games.

The series moves to Phoenix Sunday for Game 2.

“It probably looked easy but it wasn’t,” Augustus said. “We know when we go to Phoenix, Arizona, it’s going to be a different story.”

The city’s other pro teams such as baseball’s Twins, football’s Vikings, and hockey’s Wild have been donating seats to the Lynx games playoff games.

Of the four finalists in the playoffs, Phoenix is the only one to win WNBA titles, while Indiana lost the series to the Mercury in 2009 as mentioned and last year Atlanta suffered three narrow loses to Seattle, which had dominated the season with a 28-6 run.
Auriemma showed he has a future in television sports broadcasts whenever he gets tired of coaching, though if UConn moves from the Big East to the Atlantic Coast Conference the switch could provide new motivation to do well.

He will also guide the Olympic team next summer in the London Games.

At one point during the Thursday broadcast he offered a bit of trivia about Lynx rebounding machine Rebekkah Brunson, the former Georgetown star who Auriemma coached against in the Big East battles.

He pointed out that in 2001 the conference rookie of the year was Brunson over some kid on UConn from California named Taurasi.

Until the next sunrise, the Guru will be back.

-- Mel

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Guru Musings: More Odds And Ends

By Mel Greenberg

Most people following the Guru follow the other sites so he just bypassed the Minnesota win over San Antonio and worked on his advance for the Eastern Conference final which should be up over at fullcourt.com. the Full Court Press site.

Anyhow, since it looks the conference musical chairs at the collegiate level won't be that extensive other than Missouri didn't ask the permission of its most famous alum, ESPN.com's Mechelle Voepel, to move to the SEC, the Guru was tongue-in-cheek playing around with some configurations if women's basketball programs had any say on what they would do, which they don't, as we know the reality.

Anyhow, no truth to the rumor Texas balked at the ACC because the Longhorns wanted to play Duke only at home in Austin for obvious reasons.

If these schools got together -- West Virginia, Marshall, Duquesne, Pittsburgh, Penn State, Robert Morris, St. Francis-Pa., and Mount St. Mary's they could call themselves the Mountain East Conference. -- Sorry Allegheny is already named somewhere else.

If these schools all merged in the state of Connecticut into one system with the Huskies -- Central Connecticut, Fairfield, Quinnipiac, Hartford, Sacred Heart, Yale and UConn, they could be called the UConn Conference with each satellite site re-named UConn at Fairfield, UConn at Sacred Heart, etc. and then Geno could be the coach-commissioner.

In honor of the the legendary Tennessee coach, the SEC could be renamed the Summitt Conference and the current Summit Conference renamed to something else.

That's it for now. Will be back to set up Thursday's game here before the next sunrise.

-- Mel

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Guru' WNBA Report: A Penny Saved By Dupree Is A Western Final Earned For Phoenix

(Guru's note: A separate breakout of the Indiana-New York game is over at fullcourt.com. Some quotes and other material for this post drawn from wire service and team reports. Below the game story is an item on Dawn Staley cheerleading for Candice Dupree, her star at Temple when Staley coached in her hometown.)

By Mel Greenberg

A Penny saved was a Western Conference playoff finals earned by the Phoenix Mercury over the Seattle Storm thanks to former Temple star Candice Dupree’s putback with 1.9 seconds remaining Monday night.

As Dupree’s former coach, the legendary Dawn Staley, cheered from afar on her tweeter account in South Carolina, Dupree scored on a loose ball rebound of Penny Taylor’s missed shot that gave Phoenix a 77-75 victory over Seattle in the Emerald City that brought a stunning end to the Storm’s one-year reign as WNBA champions.

“Everybody was tipping the ball around and it just so happened to land in my hands,” said Dupree of the final moments. “I put it back as soon as I could.”

Third-seeded Phoenix will either travel to the top-seeded Minnesota Lynx or host the fourth-seeded San Antonio Silver Stars in the best-of-three conference finals with that winner moving on to met the Eastern winner between the Indiana Fever and defending conference playoff champion Atlanta Dream for the WNBA title.

San Antonio, which tied Minnesota with a win in Texas Sunday, will be at the Target Center against the Lynx Tuesday night to decide who moves on to face Phoenix in the Western finals.

The Lynx, which had their best regular season in history with a WNBA-best 27-7 overall record, have never won a playoff series in two previous appearances in 2003 and 2004.

Atlanta advanced to the East finals Sunday for the second straight year by finishing off the Connecticut Sun with a 2-0 sweep in the semifinals.

Indiana took the decisive Game 3 at home Monday night in Conseco Fieldhouse by eliminating the New York Liberty 72-62 as former Purdue star Katie Douglas scored a game-high 21 points for the Fever and former Tennessee standout Tamika Catchings scored 17 points.

Former Stanford star Nicole Powell scored 19 points for New York, matching her total from Saturday’s win in Newark, N.J., when the Liberty evened the series.

However, former Rutgers all-American Cappie Pondexter was held to 11 points shooting 4-for-14 from the field.

Phoenix, which tied Seattle back home on Saturday, had to rally from an early 29-11 deficit in the first half and also go the final 6 minutes, 38 seconds without former UConn great Diana Taurasi, who fouled out and also was hit with a technical.

Dupree had 20 points, Taylor had 19 points and 17 rebounds, while Taurasi also scored 19 points before she had to go to the bench.

Taurasi’s former UConn teammate Sue Bird had 22 points for the Storm, including another in a long history of clutch shots when she tied the game 75-75 with 10.5 seconds left in the game.

Soon after Taurasi fouled out, Seattle’s Camile Little, a former North Carolina star, had to go to the bench with her sixth foul.

Lauren Jackson, the three-time MVP who missed a large portion of the Storm’s season because of a hip injury in late June, scored 18 points, former Penn State star Tanisha Wright scored 17, and Swin Cash, another former UConn standout, scored nine points and grabbed 10 rebounds.

Seattle had dominated Phoenix in recent seasons and took the opener at home with an easy 80-61 victory before the Mercury evened the series in the Arizona desert with a 92-83 win.

The Storm had been on a roll after Jackson neared the end of the regular season, besting Phoenix for the second seed and home-court advantage causing its fan base to continue hope for a back-to-back title in spite of Minnesota’s overall success to date.

“Not that we disrespect Phoenix or anyone else in the league, but we didn’t expect to be in this situation right now,” Seattle coach Brian Agler said afterwards. “We thought we could win and we did a lot of good things tonight, but sometimes things aren’t meant to be. That’s sort of how this game was. It wasn’t meant to be tonight.”
Bird was asked to describe the moment of elimination of the Storm.

“All of a sudden the buzzer’s going off and there’s this `wait-a-minute moment,;” Bird said of the sudden end to the season. “This is one of those things that doesn’t set in until a day, two days, a week.

“Right now, it feels like, `We must have a game in two days. We must.’

“Obviously, we don’t. Like I said, it will set in as the playoffs continue – everytime we see a commercial, every time we see a game, it’s a reminder.”

Instead of continuing in the playoffs, Bird will likely now reunite, depending on her overseas commitments, with her former college coach Geno Auriemma, who will take some quick time off from preseason practice at UConn to lead the USA Olympic team on a quick exhibition tour from Sept. 27 through Oct. 9 to Naples, Italy; Valencia, Spain; Prague, Czech Republic; and Hungary.

Jackson also gave her perspective on the finish.

“The ball just didn’t swing our way in the end,” she said. “We’ve caught a lot of lucky breaks here, but tonight wasn’t one of them. Unfortunately, there’s absolutely nothing we can do about it now.”

As for Jackson’s injured hip, she said, “It’s numb, like the rest of me right now. My hip is nothing in comparison as to how I feel emotionally. I think the same could be said of every one of my teammates. I think everyone fought so hard this season to get in this position, to have this third game at home and we didn’t capitalize on it, we didn’t maximize it.

“Everyone of us will learn from this and hopefully we’re never in this situation again.”

On the other side, Phoenix coach Corey Gaines talked about his reaction when the Mercury had fallen deep behind.

“I told our players in the first half when we were down by 15 or 16, or whatever it was, just try to cut it under 10. We got it to nine. I told them to just keep on pushing and try to wear them down and it worked. It worked.”

As for staying afloat after Taurasi fouled out, Gaines said, “I called Penny over and said, `Penny, take as many shots as you can possibly get right now.’ I told her that. And I said I didn’t care if they were `threes, twos, let the ball go. I need you take as many shots as possible,’ and she did. And she also got 17 rebounds, which was pretty big.”

Gaines also talked about how travel in a short span from Seattle to Phoenix and back played into the Mercury’s hands.

“The first time we played Seattle up here, I think they were waiting for us six days. And then we knew they had to fly down and play us, and we both flew back at the same time so it was to our advantage. The game would also wear them down and we kept on pushing, kept on pushing. They were kind of tired at the end.”

Dupree was the sixth overall pick by the Chicago Sky in the first year of the franchise in 2006 and then a year ago she was part of the three-way deal that sent Pondexter from Phoenix to New York and Shameka Christon and Cathrine Kraayeveld from New York to Chicago.

“I’ve loved the last two years in Phoenix,” Dupree said. “I’ve always enjoyed playing for a very competitive team, competitive conference. It wasn’t easy adjusting to a system like that. When you play against it (Phoenix) you think they’re just running up and down, but there is a method to the madness. I got to be part of that last year and I’ve been excited to be part of it this year.”

Asked her preferences for an opponent in the next round, Dupree said, “Me personally. I enjoy playing against Minnesota. They play a fast-paced game like we do. It makes it fun to get up and down the floor a little bit. We match up well against them.

“San Antonio is a great team but they’re a little more half court. We like to get out and run. Either way, we’re ready to take on whoever wins.”

Staley Cheers (And) Tweets For Dupree

Phoenix’s Dupree, who in her career at Temple between 2002 and 2006 joined for Gratz High graduate Marilyn Stephens Franklin, now coach at Division II Cheyney, as the Owls’ two all-time greatest players, had no idea Dawn Staley was even the coach at the time.

“I just wanted to go up north to a big city,” the native of Florida and suburb of Orlando has said when asked about choosing Temple.

She became a three-time player and tournament player of the year in the Atlantic 10 when Temple three-peated conference titles and began their current run of eight straight NCAA appearances.

Staley moved on to coach South Carolina in May of 2008 in Columbia where she has been trying to rebuild the Gamecocks’ program in the Southeastern Conference.

However, on Monday night Staley took a break from focusing on preseason practice to follow Dupree’s work in the Phoenix game while at her home in Columbia, S.C.

Here are some of the things Staley had to say and also some comments made by her former Temple players who caught on to Staley’s twitter remarks at @dawnstaley.

Staley, incidentally, has over 4,000 followers.

The Guru also had a side conversation with Staley along the way.

“Just turned on WNBA gm (11:21 p,m. EDT) when Seattle had started to rally… is phx giving the ball to my girl Candice Dupree. If not they #notwinning lol …

“Shoot it Can! Lol”

“Rebound Can! ☺

“(Ashley Morris, Khadija Bowens, Jasmine Stone) I knew I would hear from my TU family … we know firsthand what she does w the ball in her hands. ☺”

“Please give Can the ball!!!!”

Jasmine Stone then weighs in “You coaching, coach?”

At this point the Guru sent a side text message to Staley reminding her that former Virginia coach Debbie Ryan, Staley’s collegiate mentor when she played for the Casvaliers, was sitting on the Seattle bench as a volunteer assistant.

Staley quickly texted back “It’s different when it’s ur kid, tho.”

The Guru then asked if that made Ryan a basketball grandmother.

“Nana coach!”

Ashley Morris weighed in “Coach is coaching via twitter” and Staley responded, “Ash .. do they know what we know or what ☺

“It’s Can Time,” Staley exclaimed via twitter when Dupree helped fuel the Mercury surge. “Give it to her again … keep shooting Can!”

“It’s Can time!!! Give it to her again … keep shooting Can!!!”

“I’m just saying … CANDICE DUPREE!!!!!”

“I was horizontal in bed … I’m up pacing now. Somebody is going to hear what I’m saying … if they want to win give Can the ball.”

Then Taurasi fouled out and Staley said:

“Let’s not fret … DT fouling out … Can is still on the floor. And she’s Hot!!!!”

“I’m coming out of retirement. I got 6:13 left in me.”

“Hope Can is telling them in the huddle to get her the ball … so not her but she can use my mouth ☺”

“Commercial break … How many touches will Candice get in the last 6 mins. of this game?”
A note to Morris in a side conversation said, “My knees hurt typing that.”

“Put Can on Bird!: Lol”

“Put Can on Wright.”

“Omg! Did Can really get a T”

“Can is mad. Get her the ball.”

“Did u guys see Can discourage a Bird shot?”

“While we are on commercial break … idk how many times I tried to get Can to not necessarily get a T but get mad. I like it.:)

“Big shot Birdie!!!! Can rotate over there!” ☺

“Candice Dupree!!!! They didn’t give her the ball so she went and shoe got it!!!! MVP!!!!

“You knew Can … Clear out for Can.!!!!”

And then with the game secured for Phoenix, shortly before signing off, anticipating Phoenix in the finals, Staley tweeted “So I
can see Can do her thang up close and personal Need courtside seat CAN!”

The Guru will be back at the next sunrise perhaps in a discussion on the conference membership reported shifts and the impact on women’s basketball.

Until then:

-- Mel

Monday, September 19, 2011

Guru's Musings: Odds And Ends

By Mel Greenberg

First, the Guru has been providing some coverage for Full Court Press of the WNBA playoffs so if you go over there at fullcourt.com you can catch up.

This is a mixture of things both pro and college.

The Guru begins with this thought: Someone in recent times tired of the ongoing collection of Big East women's basketball titles, with an exception here and there, won by Connecticut, suggested that perhaps they should retire the Huskies from the competition and let it be a more open affair.

Considering the current news of the day, it now looks like they might retire the conference first.

The Guru guesses that Pitt coach Agnus Berenato won't be asked to speak on behalf of the women's coaches at the Big East media day in New York next month. That first game with Georgia Tech should be interesting.

Congratulations to the Guru's good friend Larry Dougherty, associate athletic director of media relations at Temple athletics who unwittingly became the Guru's 1,000th follower on twitter @womhoopsguru Friday. Larry just finished serving his one-year run as president of the Collegiate Sports Information Directors Association. CoSIDA.

Spoke with former Virginia coach Debbie Ryan the other day to congratulate her on her appointment as an assistant coach on the USABasketball Pan American team with former WNBA Los Angeles Sparks coach Jen Gillom under former Colorado coach Ceal Barry.

The stint will be a two-week run and a committee will select college players. At the moment, Ryan has been having a delightful summer up in Seattle where she has been a volunteer assistant with the WNBA Storm.

Speaking of USA Basketball, spoke the other day to Duquesne coach Suzie McConnell-Serio to tell her that in a few hours she would no longer be the only coach in WNBA history to take the Minnesota Lynx to the playoffs.

This past summer McConnell-Serio was an assistant to Iowa State's Bill Fennelly on the gold-medal winning World University Games squad for USA Basketball.

Her take on Delaware's Elena Delle Donne, who was the leading scorer and rebounder on the squad: "What a great player. And besides that, what a great person. She was a joy to work with. She'd hang around after practice to work on her shooting and a few other things.

The Seattle Storm's Sue Bird and San Antonio Silver Stars' Ruth Riley shared the WNBA Kim Perrott Sportsmanship Award.
They should have held off the presentation until former Hartford Courtant UConn women's beat writer Jeff Goldberg got on the scene. Both appear prominently in his book Bird at the Buzzer about the 2001 Big East title game.

Bird, of course, won the game for UConn, but Riley, who was on the opposing side, got revenge several weeks later leading Notre Dame to a win in the national semifinals at the Women's Final Four in St. Louis.

Hmmm, most of that storyline almost duplicated itself last April in Indianapolis.

South Carolina coach Dawn Staley on her former Temple star Candice Dupree's 29-point performance Saturday night to keep the Phoenix Mercury alive in their semifinal series in the West against Seattle: "She was doing it all."

Connecticut Sun star Kara Lawson, the former Tennessee standout who also is an ESPN broadcaster, donated $5,000 to the Fallen Patriot Fund of the Mark Cuban Foundation. The donation in her name was made through the WNBA Cares Community Assist Award program.

The fund was established to help families of U.S. military personnel who were killed or seriously injured during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

In the now-concluded Connecticut-Atlanta series the Dream were the only road team to win a semifinals opener in the WNBA playoffs and on Sunday the Sun could have been the only road team to win a Game 2 until they faded in the fourth quarter.

Good thing the Guru played it safe Friday night after the game and stopped at Frank Pepe's Pizza on restaurant row at the Mohegan Sun. It was a tough choice but one more trip could occur if they have a separate press conference for Tina Charles if she win's the MVP award.

That's the way it played out last year when the Sun missed the playoffs but a separate event was held to give Charles the rookie of the year award.

That said, will be recapping New York-Indiana from afar, not on site, for Full Court but will be back here with other pearls at the next sunrise.

-- Mel

Friday, September 16, 2011

Guru's WNBA Musings: Former Penn State Star The Wright Stuff In Seattle's Win

By Mel Greenberg

The WNBA does not have an unsung honor among its collection of postseason awards, but if it did perhaps one strong candidate would be former Penn State star Tanisha Wright of the defending champion Seattle Storm.

Playing in the shadows of backcourt teammate Sue Bird and center Lauren Jackson it takes a while to hear Wright’s name come up in discussion of the recent powerhouse in the Western Conference.

But then she had the same experience with the Lady Lions being teammates at the time with Kelly Mazzante, who became the all-time scorer in both school history and history of the Big Ten Conference.

However, her collegiate career did bring her accolades as a three-time Big Ten defensive player of the year and in her senior season after Mazzante graduated, she did become the Big Ten leading scorer in 2005 with a 19.3 points per game average.

Her senior season also brought her a first team All-America honor from the United States Basketball Writers Association and a third team All-America selection from The Associated Press.

As it turns out, Thursday night Wright shot her way into the spotlight, scoring 21 points as Seattle opened its best-of-three Western Conference semifinal series at home at KeyArena with a lopsided 80-61 victory over the Phoenix Mercury.

Sometimes one needs to look in Wright’s biography to realize she was a first-round pick of Seattle in 2005, 12th overall when former coach Anne Donovan was making the selections.

As much credit as has been given to Bird for helping to keep Seattle in playoff contention while Jackson was spending much of the season on the sidelines following a hip injury in late June, Wright’s consistent play was also an important factor.

Seattle has owned Phoenix in recent seasons as the Mercury tries to avoid another quick exit by the Storm when the series moves to the desert in Arizona on Saturday.

But if Thursday night’s performance by Seattle is an indication that the Storm might be back in their championship mode of last season it is going to take a lot to prevent them from becoming a repeat champion.

Sudden Life For Indiana Brings Heartbreak To Liberty

Paybacks from the basketball Gods can be brutal as the New York Liberty found out in an opening 74-72 loss to the Indiana Fever at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis in their Eastern Conference semifinal series.

After a summer of fourth-quarter runs and last-minute victories, New York had a ferocious rally from a 15-point deficit go to waste when Australian Erin Phillips hit the game-winner with 1.5 seconds left in the game.

The series now goes back to Newark, N.J. Saturday afternoon at The Prudential Center and perhaps New York can recover from the loss with the mindset that perhaps if the Liberty don’t let things get out of hand early they still have a chance to stay competitive with the Fever.

It was a star-crossed night for the Rutgers alumni trio on the New York bench though former Scarlet Knights center Tammy Sutton-Brown is a veteran with the Fever.

Former All-American Cappie Pondexter missed a three-pointer at the buzzer that would have won the game and Phillips was the defender on the play.

Furthermore, Essence Carson, considered New York’s best defender, was opposite Phillips when she scored the game winner.

Speaking of Rutgers, since former Scarlet Knights star Matee Ajavon of the Washington Mystics will be entering free agency it wouldn’t be surprising to see her land with her former college teammates on the Liberty.

Considering that she played high school ball in Newark, Ajavon could bring some marketing to the mix as well as additional help playing Liberty coach John Whisenant’s defensive schemes.

Postseason Honors

Meanwhile, The Associated Press off a reliable source reported late Thursday night that former Rutgers center Kia Vaughn will be named the Most Improved Player when the WNBA postseason announcements will begin with the handouts Friday night in Minnesota.

Two are slated for the Target Center in Minneapolis prior to the Lynx Western Conference semifinals opener against the San Antonio Silver Stars.

Neither is much of a surprise. Minnesota’s Cheryl Reeve, the former La Salle star in Philadelphia from Washington Township in nearby Southern New Jersey will receive coach of the year.

Reeve did an outstanding job this summer in guiding the Lynx to a WNBA-best 27-7 record blending sensational rookie and veteran talent to dominate the conference.

Maya Moore, the overall No. 1 draft pick taken by Minnesota, will receive rookie of the year joining last year’s winner Tina Charles of the Connecticut Sun and Diana Taurasi of the Phoenix Mercury as three former UConn stars who have won the rookie citation.

Seattle’s Sue Bird was a runnerup when she entered the WNBA in 2002.

Moore might have had some tougher competition for the honor had not San Antonio’s Danielle Adams, the MVP of the Women’s Final Four from NCAA champion Texas A&M, missed several weeks with an injured foot.

Another winner revealed are Phoenix’s DeWanna Bonner, the former Auburn star, as Sixth Player winner for the third straight season.

Other awards to be announced are defensive player of the year, the most valuable player, and the first and second All-WNBA teams.

A media panel selected those winners but additionally the coaches picked an all-rookie team and all-defensive team, which will also be announced.

The Guru now signs off to head for Connecticut and Friday night’s game so see you at the next sunrise.

-- Mel

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Guru's WNBA Playoffs Musings: Outlook Wide Open

(Guru’s note: Your Guru did a separate guest star advance on the Connecticut-Atlanta series over at fullcourt.com and will be handling the opener Friday at the Mohegan Sun and Saturday’s Indiana-New York game at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. This post is more of a scene-setter mood piece since the Guru’s sense of the games are not much difference than all the analysis that is already out there online.)

By Mel Greenberg

When the WNBA playoffs got under way a year ago the Seattle Storm had been very UConn-esque in the regular season steamrolling to a 28-6 record.

Though the overwhelming favorites to win the title there were was one tiny question to ask: How might the Storm do in the finals against an Eastern opponent considering the rest of the Western Conference entered the first two rounds all with deep losing records?

And whatever other doubt that did exist was placed by the Storm delegation who continued to note that despite the gaudy record, it had been built upon a large number of encounters in which Seattle trailed or was in a tie at the end of the third quarter.

So perhaps close games a year ago against the Storm might help whatever opponent from the East made it to the best-of-five finals.

As it turned out the Atlanta Dream, in their third year of existence, made a darkhorse run as the fourth seed putting down both the top-seeded Washington Mystics and second-seeded New York Liberty 2-0 in both the conference semifinals and then finals.

The Dream’s fourth seed was a bit of deception because, as this season, the four Eastern playoff teams were close to each other in the standings and a closing slump relegated Atlanta to the fourth spot.

Seattle did show the Storm could win the close ones because the Dream were competitive in all three games, losing in the final minutes to make the combined differential the narrowest in the history of the finals.

Now the postseason is about to get under way again Thursday night but although once again a dominate team among the eight is part of the crowd there are many more questions and a consensus from nearly everyone who has followed the action since June that the playoffs are wide open.

This is the first time since 2006 that all eight playoff teams were above .500 with the Western leading Minnesota Lynx setting a franchise record at 27-7 in getting to the postseason for only the third time and first since 2004.

But unlike a year ago when Seattle fielded a veteran core highlighted by former UConn stars Swin Cash and Sue Bird along with three-time MVP Lauren Jackson, the Minnesota group is somewhat less experienced as a team.

So the Lynx Friday night might have to prove themselves all over again when they open at home in the Target Center against the No. 4 San Antonio Silver Stars.

Friday night’s Eastern game will match the No. 2 Connecticut Sun, who tied the Indiana Fever for best in the conference but lost the tiebreaker, against the No. 3 Atlanta Dream, who finished like gangbusters with a 17-5 run but needed all of it to overcome a 3-9 start caused by a series of injuries.

Thursday’s openers are rematches from last year’s playoffs but in different seed positions with New York visiting Indiana while Seattle, the West No. 2 seed, will be hosting the No. 3 Phoenix Mercury.

A year ago, the Liberty dispatched the Fever, then the defending Eastern playoff champion, 2-1 in the conference semifinals with the home court of Madison Square Garden aiding the cause.

Seattle zipped through Phoenix 2-0 in the conference finals.

During the summer health was as major an issue in the WNBA as it had been in the national debate.

Those that were in good shape, which was basically Minnesota and probably Connecticut, thrived.

The others struggled to various degrees. Seattle was able to hold its own despite losing Jackson to a hip injury for a large portion of the season until she recently returned.

Indiana, likewise, withstood the loss of starting point guard Briann January to a knee injury, while Atlanta made do with the loss of Shalee Lehning due to a similar mishap.

Los Angeles, however, could not overcome the loss of Candace Parker to a knee injury, though the Sparks still had a shot for the playoffs when she returned at the end of August. But they could only go 4-6 when it mattered and loss No. 6 was a playoff head-to-head elimination at home by San Antonio, which had been in a slide of its own.

Nightly Thrillers Were The Norm

In the first year under new WNBA president Laurel Richie, the third head in the 15-year history following Val Ackerman and Donna Orender, the games were mostly competitive across the board.

Though Tulsa and Washington were distanced below from everyone else in the standings, they still managed to put up a fight, especially the Mystics in the nation’s capital who succumbed in a large number of games in the final minutes.

“I think this is the first year where I think it didn’t matter who was playing the regular season, if I turned a game on, it was competitive,” said ESPN’s Rebecca Lobo, Women’s Basketball Hall of Famer who was a founding player in 1997 as a member of the New York Liberty. “Sometimes, Tulsa not so much, but pretty much every other game, the games were well-played, they came down to the wire, they were exciting.

“It was really good basketball being played. I expect that to continue in the playoffs, especially the first two rounds when they’re playing in conference,” Lobo explained.

As the playoffs begin there are but a few of the top individual stars, members of the teams eliminated, who will be missing such as Los Angeles’ Parker, Chicago’s Sylvia Fowles, and Washington’s Crystal Langhorne.

Rise Of The Lynx

When Seattle made its run last season, the Storm’s domination was to be expected considering all their veteran talent and experience.

Minnesota was seen more in a Cinderella setting, not in terms of coming out of nowhere, but certainly in terms of shedding its past seasons of frustrations highlighted by narrow losses and injuries.

The Lynx entered the starting gate with a single-focus by the media on one of their new additions, former UConn sensation Maya Moore, who excelled her four years with the Huskies and became the overall No. 1 pick on draft day by Minnesota, who managed to get lucky and eclipse Tulsa when the allotment of ping pong balls did the Shock no favors in determining the lottery winner.

Lindsay Whalen, the All-Star point guard who had been traded to the Lynx a year ago so the Connecticut could make UConn center Tina Charles the overall No. 1 pick in 2010, spoke the other day about when the Lynx had ideas they could dominate the season.

“I think we had a really good training camp,” Whalen said. “Everyone was in camp from overseas. Everyone got back earlier this year. I think we just really needed that time, three or four weeks of preparation before.

“I think having that time together, practice, gel as a team, I thought that was really big for us. That’s been really big for every team this year,” Whalen continued.

“But I think with us, with some young players, new players coming in, I think that was a big key for us.”

Minnesota blew a lead late in the WNBA ceremonial opener and fell to the Sparks in Los Angeles. But two days later at home in Minneapolis the Lynx struck back in a rout and it was quickly established over the next several games that Moore was not going to be the only story.

Rebekkah Brunson, the former Georgetown star who was taken a year ago as the overall No. 2 in the dispersal of the former Sacramento Monarchs roster, established herself as a rebounding machine and stayed that way most of the season.

“(Minnesota’s) a solid team in any statistical way,” said San Antonio coach Dan Hughes this week during the WNBA teleconference with players, coaches, and TV analysts to preview the playoffs.

“(Lynx coach) Cheryl (Reeve) has them executing well across the board. I think they separate from a rebounding standpoint.”
San Antonio lost all four season games to Minnesota but the first two – home-and=home – were decided in the final seconds.
Reeve, in her second year at the helm in Minnesota, is a former star in the late 1980s at La Salle University in Philadelphia. She grew up across the Delaware River in Southern New Jersey.

Prior to her arrival in the Twin Cities, Reeve was an assistant to Bill Laimbeer when the Tulsa franchise was in Detroit winning several WNBA titles with a different cast of individuals.

She also was an assistant to Anne Donovan when the former Charlotte Sting went to the 2001 finals reversing a 1-11 start on the season before falling to Los Angeles.

One player who was with her in Detroit was veteran Taj McWilliams-Franklin, who has played on a bunch of teams in the WNBA and the former Philadelphia Rage in the ABL prior to its collapse under bankruptcy.

Reeve was able to lure McWilliams-Franklin away from New York as an elder stateswoman presence when she became a free agent.

“This is a young team still trying to find its identity,” McWilliams-Franklin said recently when the Linx played New York on the road. “We put together a number of impressive wins during the season but by no means have we arrived.

“I think that’s important as young players they understand that unlike a lot of young, brash rookie teams that think, `Oooh, We’ve arrived. We’re the greatest.’

“This team thinks nothing of that,” she said. “They’re only worried about the next team and nothing like what could be.

“For this team the playoffs are a significant moment and we want to make sure everyone is running on the same cylinders that we have been all through the season. It’s not about wins or losses. It’s about Lynx basketball and doing what we needed to do to stay at the top level,” McWilliams-Franklin added.

“I came because of Coach Reeve. It’s about her defensive principles and intensity that she has for defense. She is a defensive coach first, no matter how many offensively great players we have on our team.

“She established something here at the beginning of training camp our team was going to (be built) on defensive. That’s what I wanted. That’s what she talked about during the free agent period and that’s what she stuck to.

“I liked that. In Detroit that’s one of the things that stood out for me and that’s why I came.”

One reason Minnesota has so many weapons is the long-sought health of former LSU star Seimone Augustus, who has been hit with a series of nagging injuries the last several seasons.

Former Stanford star Candice Wiggins is also recovered from a knee injury that sidelined her early last season in the final moments of a win at New York.

Amber Harris, the former Xavier star, was added to the post defense as the overall No. 4 pick in the draft, while former George Washington star Jessica Adair has thrived coming off the bench.

Former Virginia star Monica Wright offers depth in the backcourt as does former Tennessee star Alex Hornbuckle while former UConn star Charde Houston, a forward, adds to the frontcourt depth.

On San Antonio’s side, the Silver Stars stopped a slide threatening to take them out of playoff contention as veteran All-Star Becky Hammon went on a scoring tear, especially against Los Angeles in the game that eliminated the Sparks.

The Silver Stars also had one of the league’s top rookies in Danielle Adams, who wasn’t picked until the second round after becoming the MVP of the Women’s Final Four in Indiana leading Texas A&M to its first championship when the Aggies beat Notre Dame in the title game.

Adams missed several weeks with a foot injury but was back to early season form as the schedule concluded.

Liberty’s Facelift

The New York-Indiana series is almost a repeat of the early season schedule for both teams when they met the second weekend in June at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indiana in a game won by the Liberty and then two days later they played in Newark with the Fever prevailing in the inaugural game in the Prudential Center.

The Rock is the temporary home for New York the next three summers while Madison Square Garden undergoes a series of renovations.

Though Indiana finished tied for first with Connecticut in the East and got the No. 1 seed off a 3-2 series-winning record against the Sun, the Fever struggled down the stretch.

All-Star and veteran Tamika Catchings was suffering from a right knee sprain in New York and didn’t play in the Friday night loss two days before resting when Indiana lost at home to Atlanta.

Erin Phillips had been out with a sprained ankle and former Pittsburgh star Shavonte Zellous went down with an ankle sprain the last game Sunday.

Lin Dunn said that after rest hopefully Catchings will be ready Thursday night and that Phillips had practiced for the first time in a week but that Zellous’ condition was still undetermined.

Back in the preseason, many thought that Chicago, with the addition of rookie Courtney Vandersloot at the point and improved former Rutgers star Epiphanny Prince as a second-year pro, would at long last make the playoffs in the Sky’s sixth season.

That didn’t happen but what did is New York returning to the postseason after a much change in the offseason.

One subtraction was Anne Donovan, the Hall of Famer who had announced prior to the 2010 season opener she would be leaving that fall to coach Seton Hall.

Then legend Carol Blazejowski, who had been the face of the Liberty front office for all 14 seasons was let go and John Whisenant, the former Sacramento coach-general manager was hired to fill both vacancies in what was to be his first time spent in the East.

Whisenant brought a new complicated White Line defense to the Liberty that had carried Sacramento all the way to the 2005 title.

Two veteran frontcourt departures didn’t help matters with McWilliams-Franklin setting out for Minnesota and Jamelle McCarville deciding to take the year off.

Furthermore, playing in Newark produced its own set of problems until a system was developed to avoid late arrivals before the game. In one early incident, several players and coaches were involved in car accidents driving from Westchester County in suburban New York where most of the team lives near the training center.

There were a whole series of nagging injuries but New York had one salvation in All-Star Cappie Pondexter, the former Rutgers standout, who can put a team on her shoulders.

“You don’t stop her, you just try to hold her under 30 or 20 or something like that,” Dunn spoke about playing the Liberty.

“They key for them is they got more than one weapon. It’s not just Cappie. Leilani (Mitchell) is knocking down big threes. (Plenette) Pierson is scoring. (Kia) Vaughn is scoring. They’re getting a lot of balanced play. In particular, I’m impressed with the play of (Essence) Carson off the bench.”

Carson, Vaughn, like Pondexter, are Rutgers alums with the other two making major improvements this season.
Vaughn, by necessity, has seen more time as a starter, while another youthful post player in former VCU star Quanitra Hollingsworth has also seen a lot of time.

Whisenant got major help in landing veteran post player Kara Braxton at midseason from Phoenix in a trade after it appeared things had gone bad internally between the Mercury and the former Detroit star.

Dunn recalled off the four games between the Fever and Liberty, early on, “It was obvious to me they hadn’t quite grasp (Whisenant’s) concepts of full fronting, denying, some of the principles he uses.

“As the season has gone along, it is obvious they’ve gotten better and better at that philosophy. In particular, Vaughn, I’m impressed with her development as a top notch defender in the post and out of the perimeter. Pierson has always been tough in that,” Dunn observed.

“I think the starting five as well as the people off the bench understand how they play, what their philosophy is. I think that’s helped them down the stretch, helped them win some games and get them to the playoffs.”

New York also has Nicole Powell, the former Stanford scorer who played for Whisenant in Sacramento until the team was disbanded a year ago and the Liberty took her overall No. 1 out of the dispersal draft.

Indiana also has veteran All-Star Katie Douglas, the former Purdue sensation, as another scoring threat while yet another former Rutgers standout – Tammy Sutton-Brown at center is needed to excel and allow Catchings and Douglas to get their shots.

Ebony Hoffman, who had been in Los Angeles, added to Indiana’s frontcourt depth, which also was helped off the bench by former Ohio State star Jessica Davenport.

Competitiveness And Playoff Picks

One thing is definite about the teams in the East. Other than gaining or losing access to home-court advantages, there isn’t an alternative matchup for any of them that would have been less easy.

New York and Indiana split 2-2 but although the Liberty were handled 3-1 by Connecticut, the games went to the wire. The Liberty topped Atlanta, 3-2, but New York played some games against the Dream early in the season when Atlanta had injuries.

The Dream split with Connecticut, but perhaps Atlanta might have had a decided edge against Indiana after going 4-0 with three games played late in the season. The Fever won over Connecticut 3-2 but the last game at the Sun was a blowout by the home team.

In the West, Minnesota handled everyone, 3-2 over Phoenix, 4-0 against San Antonio and 3-1 against Seattle. So there could be a wish for all to have wanted to avoid the Lynx in the first round. Seattle beat Phoenix 3-1 with the clincher coming the final weekend and was 4-1 against San Antonio. The Silver Stars were 3-2 over Phoenix.

With all that said, the Guru’s first rounds picks are Connecticut 2-1 over Atlanta; New York 2-0 over Indiana; Seattle 2-1 over Phoenix; and Minnesota 2-0 over San Antonio.

See you at the next sunrise after Thursday’s openers.

-- Mel

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

WNBA Attendance And TV Ratings Up

By Mel Greenberg

Here's a release from the league on its marketing numbers for 2011. Note attendance increase includes a plunge in the NY temporary move to New Jersey so overall increase would be really high otherwise. The Chicago increase should stop the buzz from some quarters about the franchise in trouble by not making the playoffs. And the 55 percent live stream increase shows how effective the new apps for iPad iPhone and Android phone has been.

Here's the release cut and pasted from the email.


--League Attendance Increases for Fifth Consecutive Season --

--ESPN2 Has Most Viewed WNBA Regular Season since 2005 --

NEW YORK, Sept. 14, 2011 – WNBA attendance increased for the fifth consecutive year and TV viewership on ESPN2 reached its highest level since 2005, as fans responded to one of the most compelling seasons in the league's 15-year history. The WNBA also formed eight new marketing partnerships in 2011 with several leading companies, including a landmark multiyear deal with Boost Mobile that made the company the WNBA's first leaguewide marquee partner.
The 2011 WNBA Playoffs presented by Boost Mobile, begin Thursday, Sept. 15, with all 23 possible postseason games available on ESPN2 and NBA TV.  Information on game tickets and TV schedules can be found on WNBA.com.  

Additional 2011 regular season highlights include:

WNBA Attendance:
o        Capping five straight seasons of attendance increases, the 2011 regular season finished up 1.25%.                    

o        The teams driving the increase were the Chicago Sky (+29.0%), Washington Mystics (+11.7%) and Minnesota Lynx (+10.8%).


o        ESPN2 had its most viewed WNBA regular season since 2005, averaging 270,000 viewers, up 5% over last season (258,000).

o        Viewership for the WNBA All-Star Game on ABC was up 46% vs. the last All-Star on ABC in 2009.

o         U.S. ratings for the first round of the 2011 WNBA Draft on ESPN was up 47% vs. the first round of 2010 Draft on ESPN2.      

WNBA Digital:

o        WNBA.com saw continued growth on the site during the 2011 season with daily unique visits up 13% and overall visits up 11%.  

o         WNBA games streamed online at WNBA.com via LiveAccess saw a 55% increase in unique users.

WNBA Social Media
o        The WNBA YouTube channel experienced a 35% increase in video views this season.

o        The WNBA Facebook page saw an 11% increase in fans.

o        League merchandise sales on WNBAStore.com increased 12% over last year.

o        The Minnesota Lynx was the top selling team for the season while Maya Moore was the top selling player on WNBAStore.com.  

-- Mel

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Guru's College Musings: Down Memory Lane From Way Back

By Mel Greenberg

Greetings. This is a short post but since there is a little down time prior to the WNBA playoffs later this week the Guru offers a few quick items.

Monday marked the official retirement sendoff of Ellen Ryan, a longtime associate athletic director and first-ever women's basketball coach of the St. Joseph's Hawks, of which one of her players was current Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw.

Though her first season was a winning one, Ellen likes to talk about her first-ever game in which the Hawks were getting crushed by the local and national powerhouse of the day -- Immaculata College.

Asked the final score, she has responded by saying, "I left at the half."

The event was well done and on Oct. 7 there will be a dedication of the Hawks field hockey site named for Ellen. The St. Joseph's website probably has full coverage of Monday's afternoon festivities.

Men's coach Phil Martelli and women's coach Cindy Griffin spoke and athletic director Don DiJulia emceed the event. Many former St. Joseph's players from the era attended. Ryan's coaching hires after she gave up the sport and moved strictly into administration were Theresa Grentz, Rene Portland, Jim Foster (who hired some unknown named Geno Auriemma as an assistant), Stephanie Gaitley (who as the new coach at Fordham will be visiting Hawk Hill during the Atlantic 10 portion of the schedule), and Griffin, who also played for the Hawks.

Former Atlantic 10 commissioner Linda Bruno was on hand along with other conference representatives and many of the women's athletic directors as well as a few of the overall ADs also were on hand.

Speaking of Immaculata, hard to believe that is way back in 2007 that the Guru attended one of the filming sessions for the move about the first Mighty Macs national championship. At long last the movie is set to hit theaters on Oct. 21 but check the Immaculata website for information about advance screenings, etc.

The Guru is getting a sense that before the event plays through the Mighty Macs might draw more revenue from the project than they did at the gate back then, though crowds at their games were always large per venue size.

And, finally, during the summer the Guru had been contacted by Valerie Walker, one of current Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer's first stars at Cheyney who played in the first NCAA title game in 1982 against Louisiana Tech.

Valerie was working on her masters at Drexel and will soon graduate and is looking for a sports administration position either at the collegiate or professional level if any of you have awareness of such openings.

But the reason the Guru was contacted was for some guidance on her class project -- to produce a video on history of the women's game and the media impact on its growth.

Here is the link (the Guru hopes) to that effort -- she received an A -- which is 37 minutes in length in case you want to bookmark it and don't have time to view it all immediately.

The Guru will be back at the next sunrise.

-- Mel