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 26, 2013

Source: Philadelphia Making "Agressive Bid" For NCAA WBB Tourney Regional & Final Four

By Mel Greenberg

Could an NCAA women’s basketball tournament regional and Final Four be coming back to Philadelphia, one of which might occur as soon as this season?

Part of the answer, if not all of it, to that question will be known in a few weeks when the NCAA announces the winning bids and regional alignment for this season.

But with Saint Joseph’s as the lead pursuer to be the official host institution, the city is “making an aggressive move” to land both and maybe more in terms of other NCAA sports according to longtime Hawks athletic director Don DiJulia.

Saint Joseph’s, on its own in terms of the bid, offered The Palestra on Penn’s campus for the regional and offered for the national championship finals the Wells Fargo Center, site of the highly successful 2000 Women’s Final Four when the venue then had the former Wachovia bank name attached to it.

Penn is not part of the bid as a co-host though the Quakers allowed The Palestra to be offered. Several regionals have been held there in the past, including one in 1991 when then-upstart Connecticut advanced to its first Women’s Final Four.

Though The Palestra is an older arena, it is one of the prime venues with the historic charm that some have claimed would be neat for the women’s tournament.

In fact, in the recent past, Doug Feinberg, the Associated Press’ national women’s basketball writer, wrote a feature noting places such as The Palestra in the early rounds of the tournament that would give the event a certain pizzazz.

Furthermore, last year when Trenton had a regional yanked by the NCAA when New Jersey passed legislation to allow gambling on sporting events, which since got knocked down, The Palestra was nearly picked as a replacement before the Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, Conn., got the nod from the basketball committee and other NCAA officials higher up the ladder.

Your Guru was first put on alert earlier this week to the possibility of some activity here involving the tournament bids when an NCAA source replied in the affirmative to an inquiry whether the Guru’s radar systems needed to be tuned for local news when the bids are announced early next month.

In fact the coming season and beyond was the more precise reply with the added note that the vetting process on all the bids is currently under way.

This doesn’t mean it’s a slam dunk but DiJulia thinks something could come in this direction.

The pursuit was put in motion earlier this summer before reaction heated up to the White Paper to improve NCAA women’s basketball that was completed by former WNBA president Val Ackerman. She subsequently was named to run the new incarnation of the Big East Conference as its commissioner.

Representatives of area colleges in all three NCAA divisions earlier this past summer were invited to a confab to discuss commitments to make a hard push to host and later NCAA officials stopped by for a subsequent visit that also involved the Philadelphia Sports Congress.

The NCAA delegation was made aware that the city is not only interested in the women’s tournament but bringing back events in other sports such as college ice hockey’s Frozen Four, men’s soccer, as well as lacrosse to name a few.

In the past involving the women’s tournament, cities might first host a regional before hosting the Final Four the following season.

During the discussions the locals were asked if they had any problems perhaps of taking a Final Four first and then a regional and answered in the affirmative that there were none.

Of course since all that, a summit on the White Paper was held Monday at NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis. It involved prominent coaches, administrators, TV network executives and other stakeholders in the sport and resulted in recommending a new model for the tournament – one of which aspect suggests that there might be only two so-called superregionals instead of four leading to the finals and that the events would rotate in the same cities over a three-year period.

Parts of the NCAA women’s tournament have been held over the years at The Palestra and Temple’s Liacouras Center as well as some early round action at Saint Joseph’s, Villanova and La Salle when the format was different involving participants in the field.

Though a recent change stemming from Ackerman’s findings allowed schools to bid and play in their own venues if they advance, the Saint Joseph’s bid offers on one hand sites that are at least quasi-neutral yet centrally located to many Eastern and near-South schools such as powerful Connecticut, Rutgers, Penn State and Maryland to name a few.

The 2000 Women’s Final Four, which featured eventual winner Connecticut, along with Tennessee, Rutgers and Penn State, was an enormous success and set a women’s tournament record for credentialed media with over 700 press passes issued. It also turned a profit.

The event had much local flavor given the schools and players and also UConn coach Geno Auriemma, who grew up in the area here in nearby Norristown in the northwest suburbs. He recently agreed after earlier protestation to accept USA Basketball’s offer to return and launch another run at a gold medal when the 201t6 Olympics are held in Brazil and the FIBA world championship is held next year.

Auriemma, incidentally, will be one of the inductees into the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame at the Sheraton Society Hill hotel as will Linda Page, the scoring sensation who passed away several years ago.

“We were the first to make them money,” noted Cathy Andruzzi, who headed the local organizing committee for the 2000 Women’s Final Four. “We gave (the NCAA) a big book afterwards on how to get things done but not much ever came of it.”

Of course since then most of the NCAA types involved have moved on and to be fair in some respects in 2000 the organization had just made its move to Indianapolis after being located for many years in Kansas City, Mo. Subsequently many things got lost in the shuffle of making a re-start of operations.

The way a super regional would probably work is that there would be a day-night doubleheader in the semifinals and then a doubleheader two days later that would send two teams on to the Women’s Final Four to join the other two coming from the second super regional site.

This time, however, for the 2014 tournament the traditional format will occur so only four teams would play in a regional with one advancing to the Women’s Final Four.

Overall, the city has gotten high marks from the NCAA not only for past women’s tournaments but also for the different times hosting portions of the men’s tournament, such as a regional hosted last season by Temple, and of course a Final Four at the former Spectrum in South Philadelphia.

The Spectrum was also the scene of one of the all time men’s tournament games on March 28, 1992, in the regional final when Duke’s Christian Laettner off an inbounds play that began with 2.1 seconds left on the clock in overtime fired a game-winner beating the buzzer to give the Mike Kryzewski-coached Blue Devils a 104-103 win against the Rick Pitino-coached Kentucky Wildcats.

So is Philadelphia on the way to be in position to be involved in more legendary moments in NCAA lure.

Stay tune.

-- Mel

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Funeral Service Celebrates Dual Worlds of Referee Bonita Spence

By Mel Greenberg

MONTCLAIR, N.J. -- Whether it was Bonita Celeste Spence's court work as a primary investigator in the public defender's office in Newark, N.J., or her court duties officiating at the highest levels of women's basketball, she spanned both her career roles with great popularity.

On Monday morning some four hundred individuals from the 52-year-old Spence's two worlds came together here at Christ Church to celebrate her life follow her passing a week ago Sunday at age 51.

A second service will be held in Spence's hometown in Atlantic City by the Jersey Shore Wednesday prior to her internment.

One colleague from her law duties related later Monday at a reception in nearby West Orange at the Wilshire Grand Hotel that the Essex County courthouse was closed for the day "because no one was coming to work today anyway wether or not it was open.

"Everyone admired her whether or not they worked direectly in her office."

Added Spence's courthouse supervisor Michael Marucci, the deputy public defender for the Essex region, "She was the best. All the attorneys wanted her to work with them on cases because she had a way of getting information from people."

And for all the stereotyping by fans and even coaches on occasions in general of referees being a heartless bunch, it was evident watching Spence's colleagues who wear the stripped jerseys that they were taking the loss of their colleague and good friend pretty hard.

Charlene Curtis, a former Temple coach who is now supervisor of women's officials in the Atlantic Coast Conference and Colonial Athletic Association, noted that "Bonita's legacy should be that coaches begin to treat officials more like human beings because it has started to get out of hand, recently."

Not so, however, when it came to Spence, apparently by the large number of women's basketball notables who attended the two-hour service.

Prior to the service, which began at 11 a.m., a slide presentation ran on a screen with photos of Spence over the years in uniform and in social settings.

Spence's daughter Leslie Celeste Sekou during the service presented a home video that was taken last May on mother's day.

Debbie Williamson, NCAA women's basketball consultant as secretary-rules editor and national coorddinator, flew in from the Indianapolis headquarters of the collegiate sports' governing body.

Barbara Jacobs,who will now supervise officials in the new Big East and American Athletic Conferences after holding the position in the former Big East configuration, attended as did several other supervivors from the past and present who had Spence in their groups.

To honor Spence's memory, officials will wear a special patch with a bright color scheme that will depict a basketball with a ring surrounding it containing the name Bonita.

Though the Guru was going to be sent an image of the patch, posting here is an adventure, but he made an NCAA media official aware of the patch.

As soon as the NCAA can obtain a copy, it will post it at its various web sites and social media pages.

Spence also worked in the WNBA besides officiating colleagiate games.

Women's basketball legend Carol Blazejowki, former executive head of the WNBA New York Liberty, whose home is in Montclair, attended as did WNBA Connecticut Sun coach Anne Donovan and Lisa White, the Sun's strength and conditioning coach.

Former Seton Hall coach Phyllis Mangina, who was hired earlier this summer to be an assistant to new Saint Peter's coach Patty Coyle, was one of several Jersey women's basketball notables at the church.

Cathy Andruzzi, who ran the Philadelphia organizing committee for the 2000 Women's Final Four and has coached at East Carolina and several years ago Fordham, was another attendee.

The Rutgers assistants to C. Vivian Stringer attended, though the Hall of Famer was unable to appear because of Monday's NCAA-hosted confab in Indianapolis involving coaches, adminstrators, and others to discuss the findings in the White Paper on women's basketball presented by Val Ackerman prior to her becoming Big East commissioner.

Several others at that meeting besides Stringer, who might otherwise have attended, were longtime referee Dee Kantner, and Monmouth athletic director Marilyn Mc Neil, whose school in central New Jersey, Spence was the point guard when the institution became a Division I program in women's basketball.

The Guru did join the media teleconference on the way back home late Monday afternoon but most of what he would note is covered by the NCAA's posting at its website, and also by Wendy Parker and three UConn women's beat writers Jim Fuller of the New Haven Register, Rich Elliott of the Connecticut Post, and John Altavilla of the Hartford Courant.

McNeil did send a remembrance to the Guru since the last ones were posted and hers and several others, including one from Penn State women's basketball coach Coquese Washington, are posted below.

Temple coach Tonya Cardoza and assistant Waynetta Vaney made the short trip from Philadelphia as did La Salle assistant Ervin Monier and referees Dennis DeMayo and Kathy Lonergan.

Others officials, past and present, spotted, though there were many more, were Sally Bell, Violet Palmer, who worked in the NBA, Patty Broderick, Denise Brooks-Clauser, Barb Smith, Janice Aliberti, Joe Vaszily, and Lisa Mattingly.

Meanwhile, here are a few more tributes that have been received and the Guru says there is still plenty of time for more persons to email the Guru if you have not done so.

Marilyn McNeil , Monmouth University vice president and director of athletics.

This past spring, Monmouth University proudly honored Bonita with one of our Rebecca Stafford Leadership Awards during our celebration of Women in Sport Day.

Bonita was so proud, and chose to give up an official’s assignment to be there in person. She relished the honor, but Monmouth University relished her presence.

She was a force in the basketball world at the Jersey Shore, but a greater force in the wider world of women’s basketball. Monmouth could not be prouder to have Bonita as an alum, or sadder at this moment to have lost her.

(Guru's note: Over the weekend, WNBA Washington Mystics coach Mike Thibault noted that his daughter Carly, then a senior, had one of her best games the night that Spence was honored. )

Coquese Washington , Penn State women's basketball coach:

Bonita was really passionate about the game and cared about doing a good job every time she stepped on the floor. She was the kind of referee coaches like; one who wanted nothing more than to be invisible and let the players shine. She will truly, truly be missed.


Pualani Spurlock , Referee:

I have known Bonita since I first started attending basketball camps as an official in 2006. Bonita has always been very motherly to me. She spoke matter-of-fact and with as much love and hope that I would succeed in this profession.

She has always been a huge supporter of my progress and recently told me at a tournament we worked last season, that she can't wait to see me work my first Final Four. It means a lot to have a seasoned veteran and one of Bonita's caliber to be so supportive on and off the court!

I worked my first Division I game with her at Temple and was terrified that I wasn't "ready". She took care of me and made sure that I didn't get myself or crew into "hot soup". I will always think highly of her and her words of wisdom. She will be deeply missed.

I hope she is line dancing while keeping a watchful eye on us all!


Taj McWilliams-Franklin , Former WNBA star and now NY Liberty assistant coach:

As a WNBA player, I remember Ms. Bonita always smiling. When she made calls,, she made sure you understood the reasoning behind the call, should you choose to complain about it.

She was always calm and focused. She never detracted from the play. She wanted the game that she loved to shine through. She did an amazing job.

I will remember and pray her family can remember those twinkling eyes. Rest now Ms. Bonita.

-- Mel

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Guru's WNBA Report: Candace Parker Claims Second League MVP Honor

(Guru note: Bonita Spence coverage directly below this but the news cycle on certain days in women’s basketball never stops.)

By Mel Greenberg

In a year in which the WNBA re-branded itself and rode the national spotlight of three talented rookies, the old days of building suspense in naming postseason awards has also apparently gone out the window.

League officials wasted little time, choosing Thursday, the very first night of playoff action, to trot out the results of voting for the most prized honor – MVP, and it is going to Los Angeles Sparks sensation Candace Parker, the grand prize of the 2008 WNBA draft.

Parker received 234 points and 10 first-place votes from a national panel of 39 sportswriters and broadcasters, a small cluster of which, such as your Guru, were considered national in scope, with the others coming out of the 12 franchise locales in the league.

Parker earns her second MVP honor, the first coming when she also was rookie of the year. This season among her many highlights – you can read them all in the WNBA release at WNBA.com – she also set an All-Star scoring record with 23 points to lead the West and earn her first MVP at the summer classic.

With the rookie arrivals of former Delaware All-American Elena Delle Donne , two-time national collegiate player of the year Brittney Griner out of Baylor, and former Notre Dame great Skylar Diggins, Parker, a past collegiate player of the year out of Tennessee, has bumped up a women’s basketball generational level.

In fact, off the year Delle Donne has had in becoming the missing ingredient to propel the Chicago Sky not only to their first playoff appearance in eight tries but to best in the East, she was considered a strong candidate to duplicate Parker’s double award fete.

Delle Donne didn’t miss by much. She finished third in the voting with 189 points and seven first-place votes behind former UConn great of the Western leader Minnesota Lynx with 218 points and 10 first-place votes.

Another Sky superstar landed in the top five votes with Sylvia Fowles finishing fourth with 109 points and six first-place votes. Atlanta Dream star Angel McCoughtrey, the season’s top scorer, was fifth with 90 points.

The Guru, since you are wondering, went Moore, Delle Donne, Parker, Fowles and Minnesota point guard Lindsay Whalen.

The tabulation gave a first-place slot a total of 10 points, and then 9, 8, 7, 6, and 5 in succession.

Parker picks up a hefty perk of $15,000 and a specially-designed trophy, though what she really wants to pick up is whatever goes with winning a WNBA title.

The Sparks, who tied Chicago of the East at 24-10 for second best record, were to start that quest later on the West Coast in Los Angeles against the third-seeded Phoenix Mercury, the WNBA preseason favorite, in the best-of-three opening series in the conference semifinals.

Washington, the third seed in the East, met second-seeded Atlanta in the Dream’s arena in Georgia while on Friday night, Chicago will make its playoff debut at home against the pesky Indiana Fever, the defending champs of the WNBA.

The rest of the WNBA players receiving votes were Diana Taurasi (69), Tamika Catchings (43), Lindsay Whalen (34), Tina Thompson (13), Lindsay Harding (7), Nneka Ogwumike (5), Seimone Augustus (1), DeWanna Bonner (1), and Tin Charles (1), whose plunge to the bottom from her MVP award last season duplicates the similar dive her Connecticut Sun did off a rash of injuries to go from top seed in the East to an all-time franchise worst record.

-- Mel

Women's Basketball World Offers Fond Remembrances of Referee Bonita Spence

Updating with change of Church to Montclair, 68 Church Street, same time. Directions in the updated section.

By Mel Greenberg

Reaction has begun to flow into the Guru's email account (besides the twitter notes) since Monday's news of the sudden passing of well-known and popular women's basketball referee Bonita Spence.

To avoid a really long blog where some remarks might go unnotice the Guru will compile them in a reasonable amount of groups.

The Guru did receive some quick messages in his twitter account but they were of the inside communication variety and the Guru will check to see if those individuals would like to add to the public file.

He will also try to get some react from colleagues at Monday's funeral from those who wish to do so.

Because the Guru had to fight technology -- really -- to copy comments from email as well as some reaction sent to the blog to get them into where this file originates to get the file into this blog through the Guru's iPad (the original one), in the interest of time there is no meaning to the order the remarks are listed --it's just the way they were collected and dropped into the main file.

At this hour a cause of death is still not publicly known and it is not known whether an autopsy will occur given the sudden nature of Bonita's passing but if so it could be several weeks to learn anything and that is if one is performed.

Funeral Arrangements

But first, here are the details of the funeral on Monday that the Guru received from several sources and a change has occured but stay tune on twitter if more come and your Guru will either post them on twitter @womhoopsguru if short enough or alert on twitter to a blog posting here.

The viewing ( 9 a.m. till noon) and funeral (12 p.m., noon) will occur Monday at Christ Church, 68 Church Street, Montclair, N.J., 07043.

It is at the corner of Chruch Street and Trinity Place and if you google address you will see an outside photo under Christ Church -- East Campus.

Trinty Road becomes Valley Road on the other side of Church Street.


In looking at a map to give you an idea of the North Jersey locale before settting your navigational devices, now class follow the update. It now appears you can come either from North or South on Garden State Parkway and exit to Bloomfield Ave. and then head Northwest or North or West, depending on designation.

The road also become County Route 506 as you get close in Montclair. and you hit a three-way intersection. Coming from extreme left is Fullerton Ave but if you make a modified left you get on Church Street, which begins under that name at that point after being North Fullerton Ave. on the right side.

If this looks confusing on arrival you can stay on Bloomfield/506 a few more blocks, make a left on South Park Ave., and go a few blocks to Church and make a right and you will be a few blocks from the destination on the right, if the map is right.

If you are coming from the GW Bridge or that area, it looks like you you can get on I-80 or even use the route coming the other way from Pennsylvania and in Paterson get off at the Parkway and head south.

And coming from the Newark Airport, you can use 280, others may want to do this also if they are familiar with general roads and head Northwest to the Parkway and go north a short bit to the bloomfield ave exit.

The Guru would say to his friends who live in North Jersey, if there is something simpler, send him an email and he will refine but if he got it right let him know that also.

Montclair, by the way, is the hometown of basketball legend Carol Blazejowski.


Meanwhile, a support fund has been set up for Bonita's 14-year-old daughter Leslie. The notice received here and elsewhere as word gets around is that in lieu of flowers, please make a donation to the Leslie Celeste Sekou Fund,
with checks being sent to c/o Citizens Bank, Bank by Mail, PO Box 42006, in Providence, R.I.

To ensure a proper deposit into Leslie's account, in the memo area of the check should include the following: Reference # 23074086.

Additional Background

Before continuing, if you didn't see the short story from Associated Press national women's basketball writer Doug Feinberg, here are some details that he collected that the Guru didn't have handy in writing Tusday's previous blog.

Bonita passed away at age 51, worked two Women's Final Fours, referred for 10 days in the WNBA.

She has worked every NCAA women's tournament at some stage since 2000, including the Final Fours of 2001 (in St. Louis) and 2005 (in Indianapolis).

Bonita officiated for 27 years, primarily working in the (former old) Big East, Atlantic Coast Conference, Big Ten and Southeastern Conference, which constitute four of the six BCS group, though certainly teams from the Big 12 and Pac12 probably encountered her work at games when they traveled into the territories of the other four groups for nonconference matchups.

She worked many Mid-Major conferences also in the East.

Bonita played at Monmouth, located in central New Jersey, which just left the Northeast Conference for the MAAC, and was the point guard on the school's first Division I team in 1982, which was also the first season of NCAA women's competition.

She set Monmouth's assist record that season, it was matched the following season, but the record has stood since then.

Bonita then became a graduate assistant at her alma mater a year later.

She also worked as a principal investigator in the New Jersey office of the public defender in Newark for more than 20 years.

Coaches, Colleagues, Others React, Part I -- More to Come

All that said, here are the first of the tributes the Guru has received. If any of you reading this didn't get requests through the Guru's networks in conferences, the NCAA office, and the WNBA, feel free to contribute and send to his email at poll416@gmail.com.

With all that given, here's the first sample of what people are saying:

Vivian Stringer, Rutgers women's basketball coach.

Bonita was such a wonderful person that this loss has affected myself and my entire staff deeply. She loved basketball. For her, basketball was a journey of love and passion that was obvious to everyone from the high school level, to the college ranks, to the professional level. We all had so much respect and admiration for Bonita. She was a leader out there on the court and what impressed me was her fairness. I can’t imagine this season not seeing her there with her smile and dimples. It won’t be the same – the Final Four, the regionals and conference play – without her. It’s a loss for everyone. A wonderful person was taken from us too soon who we all loved.

Richard Ensor, MAAC Conference Commissioner

I would run in to Bonita on road, whether MAAC games or when I was on the NCAA WMBB committee. We shared Jersey roots and attitude. She always had a smile & a warm hello.

Kendra Faustin:, Niagara women's basketball coach

“Bonita would give me a sideways look and smile when I would “disagree” with her on the sideline. She helped me act like less of a crazy person. She knew how to manage people and diffuse a tense situation both for players and coaches.

This is so very sad. Thoughts and prayers to her family.”

Mary Day, women's basketball official:

Lots of images, moments, game situations, conversations etc. have been replaying over and over during the last 24 or more hours. There are 2 that stand out the most as I will forever treasure the moments.

Bonita, myself and another official had the Tennessee/Auburn match-up in January 2009. I recall discussing travel plans with her and let her know that they were anticipating a sellout and she would need to come early. Of course she laughed at me but she did come early thank God. 2 hours out from game time the campus around the Beard Eaves Coliseum looked like a football game. Not only a sellout but over capacity crowd of 12,067 fans were there.

We had a great game and in true blue Bonita fashion she even had to calm our partner down during a timeout and at halftime. I've never laughed so hard during any halftime since.

My most treasured Bonita moment came at the 2007 Cleveland Final Four. I had worked one of the semi-final games and upon arriving back at the hotel Bonita and her big smile greeted me in the lobby. I got a big hug from her and words of encouragement and then the bonus------I told her my mom was there and she took the time to hang out with and visit with my mom while I went to change. Upon my return her and mom were still talking 90 to nothing about anything and everything. Mostly non-basketball stuff. It was priceless and a moment my mom talked about regularly. When I lost mom that December Bonita was one of the first to call checking on me.

Michael Price, women's basketball official:

My name is Michael Price I've worked with Bonita on both the WNBA and College level. When I first met Bonita it was my first year officiating in woman's basketball and the WNBA's second year. Having worked all men's basketball up to that point it was a eye opening change. Bonita was one of the first to accept me with open arms to the woman's game. I worked numerous games with Bonita and we always took care of the games first but we always seem to have fun. She did not like to miss anything and sometimes I had to loosen her up during the games because she was so intense. The last time I worked with Bonita was last year in a SEC game and most recently saw her a few weeks ago at WNBA game in NY. I'll miss her.

Dawn Staley, South Carolina coach and former star point guard:

Bonita Spence was one of the most professional official of our game. She was very approachable and I welcomed her candid perspective on the game she was officiating. Our game has lost a very special being.

Anucha Browne
NCAA Vice President, Women’s Basketball Championships

We were deeply saddened when we heard the news of Bonita Spence’s passing yesterday. I had personally known Bonita since high school and had always admired her integrity and spirit. Her long-time officiating career, numerous NCAA championships and her mentoring of many young officials will help carry her legacy forward in the game. We offer our sincere condolences to Bonita’s family and friends.”

Lin Dunn, WNBA Indiana Fever head coach:

What I loved about Bonita Spence, the referee, was that she officiated with great expertise, poise and composure! She knew the " game" came first ...not her! I 've been coaching in the women's game for 43 years and I can't think of an official I respected more than her! It's a HUGE loss for our women's game to lose the best of the best! My condolences to her family and friends.

Agnus Berenato, former Pittsburgh women's coach:

Bonita was what we all want in a referee, role model, educator and was a great lady. Her smile and court side chatter will be missed by coaches, student athletes, and fans alike. I see you smiling Bonita!

An Anonymous remark was made from a colleague in New Jersey to Tuesday's blog:

Rest in Peace, Bonita. You were loved, respected, and admired by many female referees. You were a true role model. Thank you from a member of the last all female referee board in NJ, the now defunct Shore Board #4. You helped make us strong for many years.

That is it for now. The Guru will be back with more reaction as it arrives.

-- Mel

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

On the Passing of Longtime NCAA and WNBA Referee Bonita Spence

Updating with statement from NCAA's Anucha Browne

By Mel Greenberg

Because of the number of notes sent the Guru's way Monday about the news of the passing of longtime and highly respected NCAA and WNBA women's referee Bonita Spence, this is a short piece for now to provide what amounts to an answer for the moment and to make brief note of her career.

But you should know the Guru tapped into his email networks in the conferences, the NCAA itself, and the WNBA to request and collect from all those who wish to contribute some remembrances and stories that are longer than 140 character twitter notes and as soon as enough time elapses to allow responses to come this way, the Guru will offer a larger celebration of her life.

Since this arrived a little while ago from the NCAA, here's a statement now from Anucha Browne.

"We were deeply saddened when we heard the news of Bonita Spence’s passing yesterday. I had personally known Bonita since high school and had always admired her integrity and spirit.

" Her long-time officiating career, numerous NCAA championships and her mentoring of many young officials will help carry her legacy forward in the game. We offer our sincere condolences to Bonita’s family and friends.”

-Anucha Browne
NCAA Vice President, Women’s Basketball Championships

But this is how Monday rolled in terms of the news business because when the Guru was playing catch-up on twitter from taking shuteye in the mid-morning hours, he thought he was behind the news in seeing a few RIP tweets pop up and then after he added his own quick reaction tweet he found that his tweet became breaking news to many followers and went viral.

The Guru was also tied up in non-basketball matters during the day and didn't get on the case until early Monday night.

The news of Bonita's passing came as shock to most because there had been no report of her being presently ill or had there been a report in the past that would make one think that whatever she was suffering with had flared up again.

There was no report of Bonita being a victim of crime or involved with injuries from some mishap -- auto or whatever.

You should know back in the Guru's active days in-house at The Inquirer in doing rewrite to get wire stories into the roundups, whenever the Guru would see a report of the passing of a noteworthy person, he would always be asked by the editor in charge if it did not appear, what was the cause of his or hers passing.

And if he replied the reports didn't have it, he was then asked to hunt around for a while, even make calls if there were potential sources, and if that effort failed, then a sentence would be inserted, saying the cause of his or her passing was not immediately known.

If it was known that the family didn't want a specific but gave some indication we might delicately say after a long or short illness.

So in this situation in writing this at sunrise -- the Guru was also working overnight on updating the coaching carousel blog with the hire at San Jose State, which is a delicate maneuver in the apps he must use -- baring something out there he hasn't seen, for the moment the answer to the most common question asked is the cause of Bonita's passing is not immediately known.

The Guru contacted several persons who he thought would be in position to have some information and they, too, had no knowledge and one source even noted in the call the Guru made at 9 p.m. that even Bonita's referring colleagues had no information.

The only information in the way of a report was at a newer nontraditional website and that was a well-written roundup of everything we were saying and made no mention of a cause. That became the source and only source of a later burst of tweets.

In talking to a Guru source, he mentioned that a coach had responded in the affirmative when asked on twitter if Bonita had been ill but the source said that may not be true and several rumors are out there.

So that is the long and short answer from a news standpoint since the Guru is here to serve when possible.

But for now, first as the women's board representative of the United States Basketball Writers Associatiion (USBWA), on behalf of the organization, the Guru offers condolences to all of Bonita's family and friends.

On a personal note, the Guru can say he knew Bonita quite well and at many games she usually came over before the tip to say hello during warmups or during a long TV timeout may ask about a big game going on elsewhere at the same time.

She cared about her profession but also cared about the game not only in the 40-minutes and overtime of action but of the players, coaches and everyone else around the sport.

The Guru heard one story Monday night that will be incorporated and enahnced in the bigger blog to come of how every year at the time of the former Big East tournament in Hartford there would be one of those fun games played in front of no one -- this one between the staffs of the Big East and XL Center -- and Bonita if assigned to the tournament would usually volunteer to be one of the referees.

She was on the crew during the infamous clockgate controversy in Knoxville between Rutgers and Tennessee when the game should have been over in Rutgers' favor but a freeze of the clock allowed enough time that a foul was called and Tennessee went to the line and won the game.

The ESPN replay of the nationally-televised game showed the error.

After universal condemnation of the crew it was learned a few days later that Spence told the other two officials who were deciding anything but the error to look at the monitor and she was waved off the by the other two -- who, by the way, continued to work deep into the NCAA tournament that season a month later.

Several days after that game the Guru was covering a non-descript contest in a lower mid-major conference and Bonita showed up as part of the crew and came over prior to the tip to give a friendly greeting.

The Guru, knowing she was at the big-time level of referees in terms of games and conferences worked, jokingly asked if her being in the arena was punishment.
Bonita just gave a certain body gesture amounting to don't look at me, which appeared to give creedence to that report.

To this day when that game comes up in certain circles, no one has ever countered to say the report was false.

So that is what the Guru had in mind when he noted in Monday's tweet that Bonita had integrity.

What is a testament was the wide number of reponses to Monday's news from players and coaches on their tweeter accounts.

So for now that is all that can be said here, but look for a larger celebration in the next week and the Guru suspects some of his colleagues will also be offering coverage.

-- Mel

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, September 13, 2013

Guru's WNBA Musings: Much May Still Be at Stake When Chicago Travels to Minnesota

By Mel Greenberg

And so everything spoken about in the previous post about looming gridlocks is still alive going into Friday night and the weekend.

Some of the scenarios are longshots but fun to talk about and some are very real like the one involving the top two overall treams -- the Eastern Division-leading Chicago Sky (23-9) and Western-leading Minnesota Lynx (25-8), which will host the Sky Saturday night on what will be the final encounter for each in the regular season prior to the playoffs.

So with Minnesota getting eclipsed by a point at Los Angeles to the Sparks Thursday night, it comes down to this in terms of number one overall seed and homecourt advantage if either the Lynx or Sky or both gets to the finals.

Chicago hosts the Atlanta Dream one more time Friday night. A Sky loss and Minnesota is the top pre-playoff dog for the third straight year, though the perk only has the Lynx 1-1 in terms of winning the WNBA crown.

But if Chicago wins, then Minnesota has to avenge its overtime loss to the Sky earlier in this season in the two-game cross-conference series to claim overall record.

However, if the Sky win, both will have the same won-loss record and in the next tie-break a Chicago 2-0 sweep would be the magic bullet to gain the top overall seed.

This game could have extra implications since postseason voting from the nationwide media panel can continue into 1 p.m. EDT Monday and if Chicago lands best overall record, voting for MVP and several other categories could be impacted, though either way, actually there could be some affected scenarios.

But even if Minnesota wins in this game scenario for Saturday night, Chicago could be top dog if the Sky get to the finals and Los Angeles prevails in the West but even this is undecided at the monent.

Whoever has the better record -- Chicago is slightly ahead of L.A. (23-10) right now -- gets the advantage. Either could be ahead of the other when the regular season closes Sunday night but if they tie then because they split their two-game set, whoever has the better record against the opposite conference in this situation gets the break.

The Guru did not calculate Los Angeles, but will bring it to the table if needed Sunday night. Chicago is 7-4 against the West with the Minnesota game remaining.

As for that potential Eastern three-way talked about nothing changes from our previous discussion and let's let Friday night play out before re-visiting it but speaking of visits, the Guru will be in Washington for the Mystics' game against the Connecticut Sun.

Draft Lottery Riot

For the fans of the four teams, which could play spoilers to the seeds proceess this weekend, here's some forecast for getting to the best position for the number one pick, though next time around there will be more quantity but slightly less quality.

The wild four-way worst record 11-23 tie-up could still happen among the San Antonio Silver Stars (11-21 -- at Phoenix, Friday, hosting Atlanta Sunday), the Tulsa Shock, which kept it in play losing to Seattle Thursday night (11-22 -- at Seattle Saturday), New York Liberty (11-21 -- at Indy Friday, at NY Sunday), and Connecticut (9-23 -- at Washington, Friday, hosting Indiana, Sunday).

So if the Guru understands tiebreakers, and he will correct if wrong, the process gets worked in reverse. This brings to mind several, years ago in 2008 when Minnesota was running away with the worst record and then had the audacity to win a couple the last week, get caught by Los Angeles, which then had the worst conference record for the tiebreak and then the ping pong balls cooperated.

The prize of course at No. 1 was Candace Parker. Chicago lucked out ahead of Minnesota and picked up Sylvia Fowles.

Anhow to break a four-way deadlock -- this could not happen if Connecticut had not won by a point Wednesday night over Atlanta -- we start by creating a mini-league comparable record among the four have-nots.

So doing so, the reverse standings are as follows.

New York 3-5
Connecticut 4-4
Tulsa 4-4
San Antonio 5-3.

Now, what needs clarification is which way we go, and when the Guru checks it out Friday he will tweet which is correct.

New York at 3-5 would be first out and rights to No. 1 if as the song goes, we started at the bottom.

Then to get second worst, we have to start all over again in a three-way jam.

The standings would be

Connecticut 4-4
Tulsa 3-3
San Antonio 3-3

The Sun would drop out unless the .500 record trumphs wins, and have the second best shot and then since Tulsa and San Antonio would decided three and four at 3-3 each it would go to conference record, which is still in the balance.

If cross conference mix comes into play Connecticut was 2-10 against the West, New York was 3-9, and Tulsa was 4-8.

But if we go the other way meaning San Antonio in the four-way, the Silver Stars with the best record drop out and go to the lottery with the fourth best chance for No. 1.

The three-way then looks like this:

Connecticut 3-3
New York 3-3
Tulsa 2-2

This now needs clarafication -- the Guru shouldn't start doing this in the middle of the night when he can't call the leagdue -- but if we look at it from a still deadlock by percentage, Tulsa drops to the third pick with the better cross-conference percentage.

Then Connecticut and New York become the remaining tie and at 2-2 would go to see has the worst conference percentage and that is still open since right now New York is 8-12 with two East games left and Connecticut is 9-13 and likewise.

But if we want to go the simple route without a four-way crunch, if Connecticut loses either game, the Sun wins the best shot.

Even if the Sun win Friday, if the other three all win their next game, Connecticut will still be in prime position.

If you are not confused, Friday results may bring clarification in the lottery competition, or not, but the Guru will be back to update.

-- Mel

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Guru's WNBA Musings: There's Some Interesting Gridlock Scenarios Looming This Weekend

By Mel Greenberg

Nothing like a little bit of excitment Wednesday night in two games with the forlorn and battered Connecticut Sun topping the Atlanta Dream on Mistie Bass' shot with 11 seconds left and then rookie sensation and Delaware grad Elena Delle Donne adding another buzzer-beater to her collection as the Chicago Sky made it a cross-conference 2-0 sweep of the Phoenix Mercury.

Delle Donne's shot may loom even larger to add to her earlier heroics in several WNBA games in this historic season for Chicago, which had not had either a winning record or playoff appearance in the Sky's previous seven seasons of existence.

Though all the playoff participants are determined, seeding is still to be completed and in terms of the have-nots a wild finish is possible in terms of the lineup for best chances for overall No. 1 pick in the next draft.

First, here's what's at stake at the top of the heap.

If Minnesota beats Los Angeles on the road Thursday night, the Lynx claim overall best record for the third straight season and homecourt advantage all the way through the playoffs if they advance -- not that it delievered value last season when the Indiana Fever ruined defense of the championship and won their first WNBA title.

But if Minnesota loses to Los Angeles and on Friday night Chicago beats Atlanta then an interesting scenario will occur in the final game on Sunday when the Sky with a previous win over the Lynx head to Minneapolis.

If the Lynx get revenge for the narrow overtime loss in the windy city suburbs, then they are top dogs in total seeds.

But if Chicago wins, they tie and the Sky with a sweep claims the best overall seed. Pokey Chatman's team would also have best cross conference record at 8-4 ahead of the 7-5 Lynx and Washington, not that the Mystics are part of this phase of the discussion.

But they are part of the next one. If Atlanta loses to Chicago Friday night and at San Antonio Sunday, and if Washington beats Connecticut Friday and the New York Liberty Sunday, and if Indiana beats New York Friday night and Connecticut Sunday there will be a three-way tie for second at 17-17.

However, despite Atlanta's tough loss to the Sun Wednesday night, the Dream took the second seed in the East and home court advantage in the first round because they have the best overall record in terms of the three teams against each other.

That leaves Washington and Indiana to fight it out for three and four the next two games and since they were 2-2, if they should tie, then Indiana gets the third seed off what would be a better conference record.

But either could top the other with a better overall record if one of them goes 2-0 this weekend.

But Delaware fans, aka Elena Delle Donne fans, would be thrilled because in a Chicago-Washington opener would put Game 2 in the nearby nation's capital for a weekend game either Saturday or Sunday.

So that's the playoff deal.

Now, get this.

If Connecticut beats Washington and Indiana, they finish 11-23.

If New York loses to Indiana and Washington, they finish 11-23 besides having some say in the playoff seeds involving the Liberty opponents.

If Tulsa loses both games to the playoff bound Seattle Storm Thursday at home and Saturday in the Emerald City, the Shock will finish 11-23.

And if San Antonio loses at Phoenix Thursday night and at home to Atlanta Sunday the Silver Stars finish 11-23.

Imagine if this was last year, though there is still nice value, maybe even enough value for all four teams, which will all tie for worst record at 11-23.

How does that break? Good question since crossover conference teams are involved. But let's not make it wasted energy and see where we are Saturday night going into Sunday before getting an answer.

So either at the top, in the middle, or at the bottom, the regular season is going to carry suspense possibly right through Sunday night's final buzzer,

-- Mel

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Friday, September 06, 2013

USA Basketball Says UConn's Auriemma the Rio deal to Return As Women's National Coach

(Guru's note: There is a sidebar under this post with some lighthearted comments on the event as well as some WNBA chatter.)

By Mel Greenberg

It is not much of a big surprise or even mild surprise over the news sputtering out Thursday in advance of Friday's press conference at the University of Connecticut announcing Huskies coach Geno Auriemma returning to the women's bridge of USA Basketball to guide the Americans on another run to glory next year at the FIBA World Championship in Turkey and then at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2016.

With the trend already set on the men's side with Duke's Coach K taking the helm a third time it is obvious that whoever holds power beyond the formal structure of a committee that Geno had to be the Rio deal in addition to talking Turkey next year despite his public reluctance for another run.

Otherwise it would not have taken this long for the next annoouncement though the timing right now fit into the Guru's guess considering the entire USA brass was going to be in the neighborhood for this weekend's Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductions in nearby Springfield, Mass.

Several persons who had been on the guessing list for USA women's coach if in fact Auriemma would not return all said Thursday that if there was really a committee believing that Auriemma was unttainable the interviewing process would have already included contacts with potential candidates.

Even a year ago when Auriemma hyped up his comments of no interest in the job the Guru never believed him for a moment and in private social comments the Guru sensed that there was a resignation that because there was no other absolute strong candidate in terms of the ever-changing qualifications in the end he would have to answer the call to duty.

And sensing that fate, he hypothetically said if he had to take the job ... mentioning several wants that won't be stated here because the discussion was not a formal interview on the topic but just talk among Philly guys who go way back in time.

With Auriemma now being in position besides being the first repeat women's coach which gives him the prospect of the first women's coach to win double gold, he also may end up increasing the number of his former college players who he will have coached internationnally.

For now, in this blog to go down memory lane here are excerpts from a posting a year ago right after the USA gold-medal triumph in London in which the Guru forecasted Auriemma already would be the prohibitive choice to return again.

From mid-August, 2012 ...

In the last several days the Guru has had some informal off-the-record chats with veterans over the years who have been around the block in USA Basketball circles serving on selection committees or involved in other duties.

But before continuing in this dialogue, note that this is occuring just as if the scene existing now gets superimposed to when decisions have to start being made anew.

Unfortunately, that can't be the reality because a four-year cycle is a long time in terms of the coaching and player ranks in USA Basketball.
Jobs change. The structures in place to run the process change. Players' fortunes change. Veterans suffer injuries or get slowed as they become more veterans and phenoms come along to replace them.

There are also unforeseen circumstances and events that suddenly become the top of the moment in the 24-hour news cycle.

Which is important to understand because while he quickly put aside all discussion in London for the moment about coming back again, the conensus in Guru circles is that if he wants to do it, Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma should return and take another shot the same way USABasketball on the men's side quickly reached out a second time to Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski.

The rules were changed after 2008 but in hindsight the pick of Auriemma turned out to be correct, not necessarily as an anti-Staley action but more as a pro-Auriemma move.

One reason people have noted is the dynamic in which because of the WNBA schedule and pro player commitments overseas there is little time to bring everyone together for tours, practice, and final preparations for the Olympics.

The 12-player group for the final push reunited in Washington on July 14, just one day after the WNBA entered a one-month hiatus, and had two sessions over the weekend and then an exhibition game against Brazil before heading for the mother country.

Given the sure-to-happen strong influx of former UConn players destined to make the squad, six became half the roster, the addition of Auriemma assured a big chunk of chemistry to get the machine operating smoothly.

In 2016, though a few former Huskies may not return, a few could replace them, but even so, there seems to be seven or eight spots already likely to be filled and all will have now played for Auriemma without regard to Huskies DNA.

Furthermore, Auriemma might be the one coach among the higher profile schools in the country who rule women's basketball, whose collegiate program could avoid hiccups while tending to two separate entities.

"You'd think he'd want to do it if they come back to him," said one person in recent days who has been close to the WNBA and USA Basketball scene.

"He'd be the first on the women's side to do it twice and there's the prestige of guiding two gold medal Olympic champions as Coach 'K' has just done with the men."

The USABasketball crowd does not have to make the choice anytime real soon because winning the Olympic tournament carries the perk of an automatic berth to the 2014 FIBA World Championship at a country to be named.

(Note: The name on the women's side is not being changed to World Cup as it is for the men and the event is held in a different nation.)

So there also exists the possibility of a fail-safe: Let Auriemma come back in 2014 and then let everyone decide. If a return to guide the Olympians in Rio is not in his cards, then simply make sure the heir apparent is already on the 2014 staff to take over.

In conclusion make Auriemma option one and let's move on to the rest of the story ...
(which is now moot since option one has been sealed.).

-- Mel

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Guru's Musings: What Auriemma Could Say, But Not Likely, About Returning to USA Basketball

(Guru's note: This is a tongue-in-cheek companion piece to the news post above this on Geno Auriemma's return to coach the USA national team.)

By Mel Greenberg

First, there is no truth to the speculation that USA Basketball will have a special display case this weekend in Springfield, Mass., at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame during the nearby induction ceremonies displaying the arm of UConn women's coach Geno Auriemma that USA officials twisted off to get him to change his mind and return to make another run for a gold medal.

While many expected Auriemma to eventually cave in -- though he protested long enough to shorten his next of term of service by a year and several months -- anticipation does exist of exactly what Auriemma will say at UConn Friday afternoon to explain his change of mind.

Some things that won't be said but could be said are the following potential comments Geno could make :

"You all say I drive people and opponents nuts so if that's true than what better place to do it than Brazil." :)

"Furthermore, since I got to coach six of my former players in London, there's a chance to add to the overall total if by then Stephanie (Dolson), who will have several years of WNBA experience, could make the squad, and Stewie (Brianna Stewart) could be the hot collegiate prospect as a graduating senior.

"And after seeing BigMommaStef on CPTV the other night at worst she can fill in for me at press conferences.

"So that would be eight and actually if you count Elena Delle Donne's two-day enrollment here, if she's on the team that would be nine former UConn students.

"Besides, I somehow knew after Elena left here (June 2008) we were still destined to someday serve together and besides with her dad in the construction and real estate business he could be useful when I decide to expand my chain of restaurants into Delaware.

"And then if I need to get an extra agent, her brother Gene I see is getting plenty experience.

"Furthermore if I decide to run for president in 2016, Elena could be useful getting her buddy the Vice President (Joe Biden) to support my candidacy.

"And since there are three more NCAA titles to be won between now and Rio, I probably will be getting a lot of time to visit the White House and see if I would need to construct wine cellars for my products.

"By the way, after this press conference is over we will have a tasting next door inside the practice facility under construction so pick up your hard hats on the way out.

"And John before you ask, I haven't talked to (Tennessee coach) Holly (Warlick) in the last two days about either being on my staff or having the Olympic team (aka the UConn alumni) play hers in a friendly match."

Incidentally, for reasons not ready to state here, the Guru has reason to believe the road back to USA for Auriemma got ramped up in June during the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame weekend in Knoxville, Tenn.

Good Timing

Meanwhile, the WNBA Connecticut Sun officials must be thrilled over the timing of the announcement considering several reporters who cover the team will also be at UConn Friday for the Aurieemma press conference.


The Sun, setting all kinds of records for misery this season, host the Washington Mystics Friday night in a game in which former Sun coach Mike Thibault, who was let go last winter and picked up by Washington, could possibly clinch a playoff spot with a win and a loss by New York to Atlanta.

But with Auriemma getting all the attention, the game may be placed much deeper in sports sections in Connecticut than would otherwise be the case.

And speaking of Connecticut, which is lottery bound this winter, it was amusing to read Sun coach Anne Donovan 's comments to the Hartford Courant about Auriemma's change of mind.

Donovan, herself a Hall of Famer, coached USA to gold in 2008 in China with Thibault and (this weekend) Hall of Fame bound Dawn Staley on her staff.

Talking to Courant beat writer John Altavilla (and maybe several others) Donovan compared Auriemma's initial reluctance to a woman not wanting to increase her family after experiencing her first childbirtth.

Like the Guru thought, Donovan is suddenly talking to reporters about having a baby when all summer coping with the Sun's massive roster depletions through injuries, she's been having a bird.

Meanwhile, a real human bird as in WNBA Seattle's Sue Bird, an Olympian and former UConn star who missed the summer recovering from surgery, is likely to be among the group when USA has its first organizational camp in October to start sizing up the core roster for next summer.

So while Friday's date with Geno will have a slant on 2016 and Rio, the reality is it's about time to get serious talking Turkey, which is where next year's FIBA Worl,d Championship will take place.

-- Mel
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Sunday, September 01, 2013

Guru's WNBA Roundup: Chicago Sky Rises to Claim Top of the East While The Connecticut Sun Sets While West

Team reports and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

By Mel Greenberg

Having claimed the necessary tie-breaker over second-place Atlanta by beating the Dream 85-68 Saturday night at the Allstate Arena in suburban Rosemont, Ill., the Chicago Sky will go into the WNBA playoffs later this month at the height of the Eastern Conference.

Meanwhile at the botton of the East, the no-longer defending regular-season champion Connecticut Sun offically set in the West on its current road trip with a 76-68 loss in the closing minutes in Phoenix to the Mercury.

The Mercury's magic number reduced to one to join the front-running Minnesota Lynx (22-7), second-place Los Angeles Sparks (21-8) and fourth-place Seattle Storm (15-15), who backed into the a spot in the West despite losing Saturday night 97-74 in Minnesota because fifth-place San Antonio (11-19) fell at home to Los Angeles 80-67.

Seattle is in because the Storm won the season-series with San Antonio to clinch a spot even though the Silver Stars could still tie on record.

However, a quirk in the schedule in comparable number of games is the reason Phoenix (15-13), the preseason overall favorite with the number one pick of Baylor star Brittney Griner, has not clinched.

But that could come on Friday when Phoenix (15-13) visits San Antonio to play the Silver Stars straight up in Texas.

It just seems a matter of time for the Mercury to get into the mix, though considering San Antonio leads the five-game series 2-1 and Phoenix has a tough finish with a road trip through the East, the Silver Stars still have a pulse, however faint.

Not so for Connecticut (7-22), which with the league's worst record joins the Tulsa Shock (9-20) in the next draft lottery with two other teams to be determined.

While one is likely to be San Antonio, the tight grouping of the rest of the East has the other also-ran still to be determined.

The draft next April may not be as loaded at the top as it was this time, but the first-round might be deeper overall in terms of serviceable seniors that will be up grabs to both the lottery teams and the rest of the eight teams in the league.

But for the first time since joining the WNBA as an expansion outfit in 2006, one of the four will not be Chicago, which finally made it over the hump and more riding the addition of overall number two pick Elena Delle Donne, the leading rookie-of-the-year candidate out of Delaware.

At this point, Delle Donne, who was the first newcomer to be the top vote-getter in the fans votes for All-Star starters, is also in the mix for Most Valuable Player in the WNBA, considering how far the Sky has climbed.

While the win Saturday night did not give Chicago (21-8) the outright numerical number one at the top, the Sky claimed the top seed because the worst they can do is tie the Dream 2-2 on season series and overall record.

That means going to the second tie-breaker if both have the same record and the win clinched the best performance against the rest of the East.

Chicago, which had never had a winning record or been to the playoffs, is also still in the hunt for best overall record and home-court advantage if the Sky advances to the best-of-five finals next month.

The Sky trails two-time Western Conference playoff champion Minnesota (22-7) by a game and are tied with Los Angeles (21-8).

Thus, Delle Donne's postgame comment is well-grounded, especially since her experience with Delaware ripping through the Colonial Athletic Associatiion the last two seasons, close encounters with Drexel notwithstanding, only meant that there were still bigger fish to fry in the NCAA tournament.

"I think we have taken huge strides as a team, but what's cooler iss there's a lot more we can do and improve on," Delle Donne said. "That's what you like to see at a time like this."

Delle Donne had 15 points behind Sylvia Fowles' 18 points while former James Madison star Tamara Young out of the CAA scored 12 points and put Atlanta (14-13) six games behind Chicago and just a game ahead of the idle Washington Mystics (14-15), who next play at Connecticut Friday night.

Atlanta is suddenly in danger of continuing a slide considering it must next host Los Angeles in a crossover game and then play the defending WNBA champion Indiana Fever (13-15), which is just 1.5 games behind Atlanta holding fourth.

"We're all crunched in there fighting to make the playoffs and fighting to get the best position we can," Indiana coach Lin Dunn said Friday night after the Fever outlasted the New York Liberty 73-67 at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.

In tht game, Tamika Catchings had 22 points and Shavonte Zellous scored 21.

"Shavonte is a good candidate for most improved player," Dunn said.

The loss, which featured New York (11-18) fallling in a deep hole early before rallying for a brief lead, put the Liberty on the edge of the playoff cliff, dropping three games behind Washington and 2.5 behind Indiana, which is tied 2-2 with New York in their series with one more game to play.

The Liberty next visit Tulsa on Sunday and that game has no win guarantees for New York despite the Shock's elimination.

Rookie Kelsey Bone out of Texas A&M had 13 points off the bench for New York and Plenette Pierson scored 10 but All-Star Cappie Pondexter was held to seven points, shooting 1-for-12 from the field.

Back in the Midwest, Atlanta rookie Alex Bentley out of Penn State had a career-high 19 points against Chicago while Angel McCoughtry, who shook off an injured right ankle from her previous game, didn't start but the league's leading scorer finished with 17 points.

At the beginning of the season, mking the playoffs, alone, was enough of a goal for Chicago, but the focus changed as the Sky persevered several injuries including two by Delle Donne to move ahead of the East.

The first, a concussion, caused Delle Donne to miss two games and miss playing in the All-Star game while the second, a foot injury in a narrow loss at Los Angeles, caused her to miss two more, but Chicago made dramatic rallies to beat Seattle on the road and Connecticut at home.

"I wouldn't have listened," third-year coach Pokey Chatman said about her reaction if anyone had talked about Chicago going to the head of the class, "just out of respect for the league and the players, and I probably would have figured that person's someone in my family.

"But I would have still taken it as a compliment in terms of them having respect for the players and their ability that's there."

Chicago hadn't played for a week since winning at Atlanta the night after beating New York at home to make the playoffs participation official.

"We came out after being off a week," Fowles said. "We just tried to be focused as much as possible. Just taking a week off is hard in general, but just to come out and feel that way an d contribute on the court the way we did tonight. I think it was amazing."

Amazing is how Connecticut fans feel watching their team (7-22) plunge from the lofty heights of last season to the worst record in t5he league.

But Saturday night they had to watch from afar and for almost the entire game they saw a last-ditch effort by the Sun to stay alive for a playoff spot until Phoenix took over down the stretch.

Former Temple star Candice Dupree and DeWanna Bonner each scored 22 points to hand the Sun their seventh straight loss.

"The whole game, I'm thinking, we can't be the ones that lose to this team," Dupree said. "It sounds horrible bujt that's the mentality you have to have because at some point they are going to get somebody and I don't want us to be the team that they get."

Former UConn star Tina Charles, the reigning MVP of the league, had 16 points and 13 rebounds for the Sun.

"We gave up a couple of o-boards that were a huge difference down the stretch," Sun first-year coach Anne Donovan said. "We had some good looks, but it was defensively that we had some lapses at the end."

Connecticut has had injury problems all season but while the Sun couldn't overcome the absentees, Seattle has overcome its problems to make the postseason, fulfilling coach Brian Agler's mid-season hopes because he wanted a reward for the way his Storm hasd coped.

Both All-Stars Lauren Jackson and Sue Bird announced before the season opener they would be out of action recovering from surgery.

Saturday night, though, the Storm, who has to play Minnesota two more straight times, ran into a buzzsaw that is the Lynx.

Former UConn star Maya Moore, the overall top pick of the 2011 draft, had 25 of her 30 points in the first half for the Lynx.

"Minnesota's the best team in the league," Agler said. "There's no question."

Seimone Augustus added 16 points for the Lynx, who could end up playing Seattle in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs. Rookie Rachel Jarry scored a career-high 14 points while Lindsay Whalen scored 12 and former Virginia star Monica Wright had 10.

Tina Thompson, who is retiring at the end of the season after being the oldest player in terms of being on rosters since the league launch in 1997, had 18 points for the Storm and tied a season high with five 3-pointers.

Temeka Johnson had 16 points and former Penn State star Tanisha Wright scored 11.

In the night's only other game in the WNBA, second-year pro Nneka Ogwumike had 19 points and 10 rebounds, while Kristi Toliver had 15 points and seven assists to help keep Los Angeles a game behing Minnesota in second place.

Candace Parker had 12 points and 11 rebounds in the Sparks attack.

San Antonio, which has been without All-Stars Sophia Young and Becky Hammon with injuries, were down two more Saturday night to eight with the absences of Danielle Robinson and Davellyn Whyte, both point guards, who have leg injuries.

Jia Perkins scored 25 for San Antonio, likely to miss the playoffs for the first time in seven seasons. Former Stanford star Jayne Appel had 10 points and 123 rebounds, while Danielle Adams, a former Texas A&M star, scored 10 points.

That's it for now.

-- Mel

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