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.

Monday, June 20, 2016

WNBA Notebook: Maya Moore Leads Defending Champs Into Historic Battle of Unbeatens Against L.A.

By Rob Knox @knoxrob1

Maya Moore has experienced everything there is in women’s basketball: winning championships, getting international gold medals, collecting MVP awards and being part of a historic 90-game winning streak in college. 

 Now, Moore will get an opportunity to enjoy another first when she leads the Minnesota Lynx against the Los Angeles Sparks Tuesday afternoon at the Staples Center at 3:30 p.m. on NBA-TV.

 The historic battle of undefeated teams will mark the first time in professional history that two teams from the WNBA, NBA, NFL, MLB, or NHL have met with each team having 10-or-more wins, no losses, no ties.

 This matchup is so big that the WNBA added a conference call early Monday morning to preview the contest in addition to its regularly scheduled one to promote the Wings-Mercury ESPN2 clash.

 The reigning WNBA champion Lynx are 12-0 overall while the Sparks are 11-0. In an odd scheduling quirk, this will be the first of two meetings this week between the juggernauts. The Sparks visit the Lynx Friday night. 

 “This is a really cool time to focus on the excellence that you are seeing from both teams,” Moore said Monday during a conference call to hype up the game. “However this game plays out, it’s going to be impactful for our sport.

"We know a championship isn’t going to be won or lost with this game. However, it’s a great scenario for two teams to play in this game and make a statement with your performance. 

"It’s going to be fun and exciting to play in. Maybe I’ll have some time later to determine how it figures into WNBA history. I am just focused on the X’s and O’s.”

 For the Lynx, off to the best start in WNBA history, the winning streak is the fifth double-digit run in Minnesota’s history and matches its longest single-season streak (also July 10- Sept. 9, 2012 and July 8-Aug. 7, 2014). 

A win would tie the Lynx franchise record for the longest winning streak. The Lynx won 13 in a row spanning 2011 and 2012 (Sept. 4-June 15).

 While some folks are claiming this matchup to be the biggest in the WNBA regular season’s history, players from both teams are taking everything in perspective as well. The only downside is that the game isn’t able to be flexed onto the ESPN2 schedule as the Dallas Wings-Phoenix Mercury game will be aired at 8 p.m.

 Of course, when the schedule came out in April, who knew that this game would be a historic clash of unbeaten titans.

 Thanks to the new playoff format that rewards the top teams, regardless of conference, this could be a WNBA Finals preview. Both the Lynx and Sparks have a head start on securing the top two seeds as they lead the New York Liberty and Atlanta Dream by four games in the loss column.

 “Celebrating our 20th season as a league, this is remarkable for two teams to do something like this,” Spark forward Nneka Ogumike said. “It’s special to see two teams playing so well and it’s an important milestone for the WNBA. We are approaching this game the same way like we did the first 11 games. We want to win.”

 This game has so much excitement surrounding it that Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve offered to come out of retirement to play.

 “A matchup like this early in season helps get some eyeballs on the league as we are doing something no other pro sport league is doing,” Reeve said. “This is great for league. We enjoy the competition of playing a quality team like L.A. This is a time I roll back the clock and play. I am envious of the players who are competing (in Tuesday’s game).”

 As always when these two teams collide there will be plenty of star power on display.

 The Lynx have been led by the terrific Maya Moore’s 19.7 point per game average, which is third in the WNBA. Moore is also fourth in the league in assists per game (5.0). Her teammates Sylvia Fowles (8.3 rebounds per game), Rebecca Brunson (6.8 rebounds per game) and Lindsey Whalen (4.0 assists per game) are among the top 10 in league statistical categories.

 Meanwhile, Parker and Oguwmike have fueled the Sparks success this season. Parker ranks among the WNBA top 10 in points (16.5, 10th), rebounds (7.4, eighth) and assists (4.4, seventh). Oguwmike is also seventh in scoring (17.6 points per game) and fourth in rebounding (8.8).

 “How we’ve played as a team and the chemistry we developed is creating great opportunities for people like me on offense,” Oguwmike said. “Candace has made me better and more of a student of the game. She enhanced the intellectual nature of my game. There’s no pressure on us. In my opinion, I am just trying to come out to compete and win another game.”

 Both teams have been bolstered by terrific offseason acquisitions. The Lynx added lethal scorer Jia Perkins and Natasha Howard to go along with Renee Montgomery, who joined the team at midseason. They helped the Lynx reserves outscore the Seattle Storm’s bench mob, 38-10, in Sunday’s victory at Key Arena. 

 Meanwhile, the addition of Essence Carson has lifted the Sparks into another stratosphere especially on defense. Teaming with Alan Beard, the Sparks have made life miserable for opponents. The Sparks lead the WNBA in scoring defense (71.4 points per game allowed). 

 “Minnesota is a great team with a core group that’s been together for several years,” Los Angeles Spark head coach Brian Alger said. “They added pieces, which has made them deeper. Minnesota is well coached, excellent at both ends and compete very hard.”

 One Man’s Opinion of the Top 20 in WNBA History

The WNBA Top 20@20 presented by Verizon will be unveiled on ESPN’s SportsCenter: Face-to-Face with Hannah Storm during the 10 a.m. ET hour on June 21.

  That date was chosen to honor the date of the league’s inaugural regular-season game in 1997.  

ESPN Networks will promote the list throughout the day on various programs, including during ESPN’s noon ET SportsCenter: Coast-to-Coast with a Cari Champion interview with four-time WNBA champion Cynthia Cooper-Dyke, as well as ESPN2’s telecast of the Phoenix Mercury vs. Dallas Wings game at 8 p.m. ET

 The 60 nominees were selected based on factors like on-court performance and ability, leadership and sportsmanship, as well as contributions to team success. 

 In addition, all players must have been a member of a WNBA team for two seasons and met three of the following seven criteria: the winner of a major individual award; a selection to either the All-WNBA First Team or All-WNBA Second Team; a selection to either the WNBA All-Defensive First Team or WNBA All-Defensive Second Team; a selection to the WNBA All-Star Game; a member of a WNBA Championship team; a current ranking among the top 30 career leaders in at least one major statistical category; and a selection to either the WNBA’s All-Decade Team (voted on in 2006) or the WNBA’s Top 15 Players (voted on in 2011). 

The Guru voted on the select panel that picked the 20 and will reveal his vote Tuesday note. But since he opened up a mock vote to the rest of us on Friday, here's my top 20 list in no particular order: Lisa Leslie, Sue Bird, Ruthie Bolton, Maya Moore, Tamika Catchings, Candace Parker, Tichia Penichero, Elena Delle Donne, Katie Douglass, Ruth Riley, Dawn Staley, Sheryl Swoopes, Diana Taurasi, Becky Hammon, Lauren Jackson, Tina Thompson, Cynthia Cooper, Deanna Nolan, Teresa Weatherspoon and Yolanda Griffith.

 Parker and Charles honored

Tina Charles of the New York Liberty and Candace Parker of the Los Angeles Sparks today were named the WNBA’s Eastern and Western Conference Players of the Week, respectively, for games played June 13 through June 19.

 Charles earned Player of the Week honors for the third time this season and the 17th time in her seven-year career.  The 2012 WNBA Most Valuable Player and four-time All-Star helped the Liberty enjoy a perfect week.  

The team improved to 8-4 on the season and earned a share of the top spot in the East with the Atlanta Dream.  Through 12 games Charles leads the WNBA in scoring (22 ppg) and shares the lead in rebounding (9.8 rpg) with Courtney Paris of the Dallas Wings.  

 The former University of Connecticut standout paced all WNBA players in scoring (28.7 ppg) and ranked fourth among Eastern Conference players in rebounding (8 rpg) for the week.  

Charles tipped off her week with 28 points in a 91-88 home win over the Wings on June 14.  

Two days later she matched a career high with 32 points, and added six rebounds and four assists in New York’s 80-72 win over the Connecticut Sun.  Charles capped her week with 26 points, 15 boards and six assists in a 78-75 road win over the Indiana Fever on June 19.

 Parker, the 2008 and 2013 WNBA MVP, was named Player of the Week for the second time this season and the 17th time in her nine-year career.  The University of Tennessee product helped the Sparks improve to 11-0 on the season with home wins in both of their games this week.  Los Angeles and the Minnesota Lynx share the best record in the West and remain the WNBA’s only unbeaten teams. 

 For the week, she was fourth among Western Conference players in scoring (20.5 ppg), third in rebounding (9.0 rpg) and tied for third in assists (4.5 apg). 

 Behind her 17 points, seven boards and five assists, Los Angeles opened its week with a 98-85 win over the Chicago Sky on June 14.  She then added 24 points, 11 rebounds and four assists in a 77-71 win at the Phoenix Mercury on June 17.