Womhoops Guru

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

Friday, September 20, 2019

WNBA 2019 Semifinals: Connecticut and Washington Go Up 2-0

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsgu

UNCASVILLE, Conn – Even with one win already in the hopper from his Connecticut Sun here that came Tuesday night in the opener of the WNBA best-of-five semifinals playoff series, coach Curt Miller continued to caution that the Los Angeles Sparks’ goal to achieve a split on the road was still very much alive.

And the third-seeded Sparks seemed well on the way achieving their mission Thursday night when they jumped from the opening tap to an 11-point lead early in the second quarter.

But that became the highlight for the visitors as the second-seeded Sun with some fierce rebounding to get second shots crept back into contention to head to the break with a 41-40 lead followed by their on-going second-half thunder.

This edition featured the Sun outscoring the Sparks 29-17. in the third quarter and 24-11 in the fourth for a lopsided 94-68 finish to send Los Angeles to the brink of elimination.

That could happen Sunday night (7 p.m., ESPN2) when the series resumes at Long Beach State’s Pyramid, due to the Staples Center being used for another event, though Los Angeles has been equally dominant at home.

If the Sparks extend to a Game 4, that happens back in Staples on Tuesday night, but in the worse case scenario for Connecticut, the Sun would get to return here to the Mohegan Sun Arena for a decisive Game 5 next Thursday night.

“I’m so proud of the energy and the effort,” Miller said. “We weren’t perfect at the offensive end but we got so many second-chance opportunity that we had a lead when it didn’t feel like a great first half offensively, and it was all because of rebounding.

“And that continued as we shored up some things.

“ To L.A’s credit, they came out and threw the first punch and I’m not sure we were ready for L.A.’s physicality. I thought the game finally settled in, we got a chance to relax and realized we had to match that physicality, we had to match that aggressiveness that they came out with and when we started to do that, the game settled in and we were able to do that and we kept our turnovers under control.

“I just felt our players played with a lot of energy in that second half and when we started to  lose our legs we were just better to play through the dfatigue than  they were.”

Meanwhile, down in the nation’s capital where the other semifinals series is being held, the top-seeded Washington Mystics, who won their opener by just a field goal, had more distance at th,e finish this time, beating the Las Vegas Aces 103-91 at their new Entertainment and Sports Arena in Congress Heights, just South of the District.

Earlier, prior to the tip Mystics star Elena Delle Donne of Wilmington and the University of Delaware was named the WNBA regular season Most Valuable Player, collecting all but two votes from a nationwide panel of sportswriters and broadcasters.

It’s her second MVP honor, the first coming when she played for the Chicago Sky, making her the first in league history to win multiple awards with two different teams.

She was also the first in WNBA history to shoot 50/40/90 – 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from three-point range and at least 90 percent at the line, though she actually shot 97.4 percent, a feat performed by only a small group of players on the NBA side.

After reaching the finals last season for the first time before swept 3-0 by the Seattle Storm, the Mystics are now trying to take that last step to a title, though either Connecticut or Los Angeles would be formidable from this side of the semifinals.

In the game in Washington, Emma Meesseman had 27 points, Latoya Sanders scored 20, Saint Joseph’s grad Natasha Cloud had 18 points and 11 assists while Delle Donne had 14 points and 10 rebounds.

Liz Cambage had 23 points and 10 rebounds for the Aces, Kelsey Plum had 19 points and 10 assists, rookie Jackie Young out of Notre Dame scored 13, and Tamera Young scored 10 points.

Like Connecticut, Washington can also close things out on Sunday when that series shifts to Las Vegas, but if it extends, it will be on the same calendar as this one with Game 4 Tuesday and a potential decisive Game 5 back in the District of Columbia next Thursday.

The best of five finals opens a week from Sunday, Sept. 29 in the city of the highest seed, which depending on the match would be Washington on the first option, Connecticut on the second, and Los Angeles on the third.

That the Sun ruled the boards over a team with the likes of Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike surprised many with a WNBA playoff record 29 rebounds in the first half and an eventual 46-24 advantage, including 16-4 on the offensive glass.

Jonquel Jones, the former George Washington University star, had a career playoff record of 27 points to go with 13 rebounds of which seven were on the offensive boards for Connecticut.

 Maryland grad Alyssa Thomas continued to be a non-stop workhorse, scoring 12 points shooting 5-for-8 from the field and grabbing 13 rebounds while Courtney Williams out of South Florida continued to be electric with 25 points, including hitting more timely threes, 3-of-5 in this one.

Rachel Banham off the bench had 11 points, fueled by nailing 3-of-4 long-range attempts from beyond the arc.

On the Sparks’ side, while the guards shook off a non-productive opener with Chelsea Gray scoring 10 points and Riquana Williams scoring 14, Parker had but three points, making one of just three attempts from the field, though Nneka had 18 and her younger sister Chiney off the bench scored 10.

As for Gray’s performance, Miller noticed “she could turn around and go for 30 out in L.A., she’s that good.

Sparks first-year coach and former NBA star Derek Fisher said as the game went on his team started to lose his energy while the Sun had begun to increase theirs.

“It is Important that Game 2 is just Game 3,” he said looking to Sunday and compared to what had happened here. “The results in Game 1 and 2 have no relevance to how you play in Game 3.”

The Sparks, like the Sun were prior to the playoffs are 15-2 at home.

The Connecticut points in the playoffs as well as the winning differential are franchise records.


Thursday, September 19, 2019

WNBA 2019 Semifinals: Despite Win Pressure Ramps Up For Connecticut Against L.A. in Game 2

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

UNCASVILLE, Conn. – Whatever pressure alleviated from finally winning a WNBA playoff game for the first time since 2012, beating the third-seeded Los Angeles Sparks 84-75 Tuesday night is replaced by more pressure as the Connecticut Sun head into Thursday night’s semifinal series second game at home at 6:30 p.m. EDT here on ESPN2 at the Mohegan Sun Arena.

The Sun, who spent most of that drought awaiting draft lottery placements until one-game knockouts by the Phoenix Mercury occurred here the previous two seasons, bolted to a 26-14 lead of 12 points early in the second quarter on the play of Maryland grad Alyssa Thomas, then fell to a 40-37 deficit at the half.

But all season in most games, Connecticut had powerful third quarters and then found ways to hold tight in the fourth, especially here where they went 15-2 to help finish second.

That earned the other double bye behind the Washington Mystics, who also won Tuesday edging the Las Vegas Aces 97-95 in their new Entertainment and Sports Arena in the Congress Heights section of the nation’s capital.

Those teams also play their Game at 8:30 p.m. Thursday night on ESPN2.

In the third quarter here on Tuesday, the Sun opened with a 9-0 spurt and after finishing the period ahead 59-58 moved somewhat into a comfort zone the final ten minutes answering Los Angeles threats on the way to a win.

One major statistic was the Sparks committing 17 turnovers to just nine by Connecticut.

Most people had picked the Sparks to take the series causing the slick Sun marketing folks to take up a DisrespeCT  mantra jersey similar to the Underdogs approach the NFL Philadelphia Eagles harbored on the way to their first Super Bowl win two seasons ago.

Thus, powerful as Los Angeles is with a roster containing former Tennessee super star Candace Parker, the Ogwumike sisters of Nneka and former Sun No. 1 pick Chiney, and Chelsea Gray, the opener was a game Connecticut, idle since the season ended 12 days ago, had to have considering the Sparks’ performance at home where Game 3 in the series is played Sunday followed by a Game 4 if necessary next Tuesday.

Los Angeles arrived here from home where after holding a first-round bye, the Sparks ousted the defending champion but injury riddled Seattle Storm 92-69 on Sunday.

If the Sun win Thursday night, they will have two chances out West to close out the Sparks and advance to the finals but also will be assured a potential decisive Game 5 to be played here next Thursday if they don’t win out West.

“With our core group being together for four years and coming up short in those second rounds, winning that first game is a boost in confidence and a measuring stick,” said Connecticut coach and general manager Curt Miller at Wednesday’s practice.

 “And we get to go back into the film room and talk about what we didn’t do well and what we can get better at and what we did execute well, which we know is only going to be harder next time.

“But ultimately, and you hear this in a pro basketball series, you got to take home court and you got to really protect it because L.A. came here to split, it didn’t matter if it was (Game) 1 or (Game) 2. 

“With 14 in a row at home in Los Angeles, they feel good about themselves if they can split. So Game 2 becomes even more magnified for both of us.”

In Tuesday’s game, Thomas shot 9-for-17 and collected 22 points besides grabbing 10 rebounds and had four steals while the Sparks’ Parker was 10-for-14 overall from the field, including 3-of-five three-balls for 24 points and blocked six shots besides grabbing 10 rebounds.

Of those two, Miller commented after the game, “For a long, long time, Candace Parker has been by far the best facilitating power forward in the league. 

“The emergence of Alyssa over the last couple of years gives argument that she’s the new wave of power forward facilitators. We got the full display (tonight). I hope the fans realize what they’re witnessing.”

As for those fans, though not a sellout crowd, the place was pretty loaded and energized with an attendance figure of 7,102.

Behind Thomas, the Sun had a balanced attack with three others in double figures, Duke grad Jasmine Thomas with 19 points, including a trio of connected three-pointers; Courtney Williams, the South Florida grad with another timely performance on offense scoring 15 points and George Washington grad Jonquel Jones with 16.

Nneka Ogwumike was the only other Sparks player in double figures with 20 points.

Miller was pleased with the job Connecticut did defensing Gray, limiting her and Riquina Williams to four points each.

In assessing his team’s loss and anything new done by Connecticut, Derek Fisher, the former NBA player who is the Sparks’ first year coach, said at Wednesday’s practice, “Connecticut was who they have been all season.

“They played hard, they played with energy, and they played for each other. I don’t think that’s going to change tomorrow night.

“A lot of times in these situations, it’s not so much about trying to adjust what the opponent might do, but being really strong and resolute in who you are and be better in a lot of areas you can control.”

Limiting turnovers of the unforced variety would be one thing that could be on the list of reductions while getting that third scoring option would be looked for as an increase, though Fisher said the team “just didn’t make shots.”

Noted Parker, “If we spread that third option around three people and they are good quality shots, I would take those over four double digit scores.

GURU NOTES: Rob Knox was scheduled at last notice to be on hand at the Mystics game where it’s been reported over night to no one’s surprise that Wilmington native and former Delaware star Elena Delle Donne will be formally presented as the league MVP prior to the tipoff, where the Washington star becomes the first in the WNBA to earn MVP honors with two different squads.

She was a past winner playing for the Chicago Sky.

Former La Salle star and South Jersey native Cheryl Reeve, who is recent years has been both the Minnesota coach and GM has been named the WNBA executive of the year, a relatively new award voted by a panel of one executive from each of the 12 WNBA teams.

The postseason media panel officially named Phoenix guard Leilani Mitchell most improved, her second award making her the first to be a multiple winner in the category from the group of sportswriters and broadcasters. 

Previously, a 2010 recipient playing for the New York Liberty, who on Tuesday claimed the overall No. 1 pick in next spring’s draft, Mitchell received 27 of 43 votes.



Monday, September 09, 2019

Dan Hughes: A Champ in All Respects

By Andy Lipton
 One of my most favorite sports stories of 2018 was Coach Dan Hughes winning his first WNBA championship as head coach at the age of 63.

.   Dan, who seemingly left coaching when he left the San Antonio Stars in 2016, is a long-time coaching veteran who started his  career back in the early 1980s.
He has coached more games than anybody else in the WNBA at over 560.

  Three of his previous WNBA assistant coaches went on to win at least one WNBA championship as head coach: Brain Agler, Sandy Brondello, and Cheryl Reeve.
In my few interactions with Dan through the years, he was always helpful, kind and humble.
Right after his Seattle Storm won the WNBA championship last year, and he was interviewed, you could see how touched he was as he choked up a bit.
Dan proved Leo Durocher’s famous aphorism wrong.  Nice guys do finish first.
Hughes took over a Storm team that had some serious talent, but finished under .500 the previous two seasons with first-round play-off exits.
So I wanted to know the things Hughes did as coach for that 2018 championship team.
I reached out to him in April before the WNBA Draft and told him I would wait for him to come to New York to talk to him in person.  

That would be much later, when in August the Storm would come to New York to play the Liberty.  But I would wait.
Not long after the WNBA Draft, Dan was diagnosed with cancer and underwent successful surgery. 

 He left the team for a while and then returned to coaching the Storm to a sixth seed in the playoffs where they will open defense of their title Wednesday in a one-and-done first rounder against the Minnesota Lynx storied powerhouse 

 So it is the year 2019 that has become the most significant for Dan Hughes and his loved ones.
Given the type of person Dan is, he met with me for about 45 minutes a few weeks ago.  Not only was he so gracious with his time, but he openly shared his feelings and experiences.
The Guru has posted through his twitter account @womhoopsguru  a nine-segment series of videos, none of the interview segments more than a little over two minutes each.

  These videos will focus on the 2018 Championship Season.

  Topics include: getting back into coaching, how Hughes evaluated the team before the season began, what was his evaluation, what he implemented, delegation to staff, and evaluation of new personnel that resulted in significant acquisitions.