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.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Guru’s WNBA Report: Las Vegas Rallies in Semis Game 5 Second Half to Edge Connecticut 66-63 And Set Up 1-2 Showdown with Seattle in Finals

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru


The Las Vegas Aces shook off a 13-point deficit at the end of the first quarter and rallied to edge the Connecticut Sun 66-63 Tuesday night to claim their semifinals series 3-2 in an exciting decisive Game 5 to set a 1-2 showdown in the WNBA Finals for the second straight season, this one without fans and most live media at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., near Tampa/St. Petersburg.


The best-of-five finals will begin Friday night at 7 p.m. on ESPN2, two days ahead of the original planned opening on Sunday, which will now feature Game 2 on ABC-TV at 3 p.m.


The rest of the series will have Game 3 on Tuesday, if necessary Game 4 on Thursday, and if still necessary, a Game 5 a week from Sunday.


Back in early July when the teams arrived in Florida and train for the delayed start to a coronavirus-shortened 22-game regular season, Las Vegas coach Bill Laimbeer, the former NBA Detroit Pistons Bad Boys era veteran who won three WNBA crowns with the former Detroit Shock, did not see his team as a prime contender this summer.


“In the playoffs, as it becomes with two teams going at it against each other, it becomes a test of wills, Laimbeer said of the series and Tuesday’s result. “Tonight was no exception. 


“It wasn’t the prettiest game, especially down the stretch, but both teams were getting stops, both teams were getting rebounds, we dug out a lot of loose balls, the big plays were made by A’ja Wilson, going to the free throw line, attacking the basket, and then both teams were playing defense and no one could score.


“That’s a test of wills. That’s what happened today. It was an ugly basketball game but it was a pretty basketball game because our team learned a lot about themselves,” Laimbeer said. “We didn’t give up. We were down early. We kept playing.


“Adversity wasn’t going for us. It was going against us. And we just gutted it out. And now it’s on to the next series.”


The Sun looked good through the first 10 minutes Tuesday but for all purposes the offense died the rest of the way though the Aces didn’t take control for good until 1:47 left in regulation when Wilson, the league’s regular season MVP, connected on two foul shots to make it 64-63 and she made two more with 1:36 left to complete the night’s scoring by both teams.


“The starters did their job,” Laimbeer said. “It’s a team game. Every night someone different may go off. But, yeah, we’ll take this one.”


The seventh-seeded Sun (10-12) fell just three points short of where they left off a year ago extending the Washington Mystics into early in the fourth quarter of another decisive Game 5 in the nation’s capital that gave the home team it’s first-ever title.


The Sun’s first quarter advantage was built on a 20-6 run at the close of the period, the 30 points becoming the most points in the period by any team in this season’s playoff field. 


Connecticut had become the Cinderella team in the playoffs bouncing back from an 0-5 regular season start as the entire league like their NBA relatives sequestered in a bubble atmosphere in Florida.


But the Sun recovered to become the first team in the 24-year-history of the WNBA to then move from that beginning to reverse direction and advance to the semifinals. 


While the Connecticut body of work to qualify for the postseason included just two wins over teams with records of .500 or better — 1-1 splits with the Chicago Sky and Phoenix Mercury — once the playoffs got under way it became a different story.


The Sun upset the sixth-seeded Chicago Sky and third-seeded Los Angeles in the first two single-elimination rounds, and then pounced on a week’s-long rested Aces in their semifinal opener making good on coach Curt Miller’s earlier forecast that his team was going to be a tough out.


The Sun had their opportunity taking a 2-1 lead in the series when Alyssa Thomas returned from missing all but five minutes of Game 2 with a dislocated shoulder.


But in the second half of Sunday’s Game 4, Angel McCoughtry willed the top-seeded Aces (18-4) to dead even setting up the completed comeback Tuesday and facing the second-seeded Seattle Storm (18-4), who completed a 3-0 sweep of the fourth-seeded Minnesota Lynx (14-8) Sunday to advance to the finals for the second time in three seasons.


Still, Connecticut got off to a terrific start in the first quarter, leading 30-17 after the first 10 minutes, but then Las Vegas crept back the rest of the way, first outscoring the Sun 22-15 in the next period to trail 45-39. The Aces thrived on a 12-0 run in the period. 


“You could tell we were getting frustrated,” Miller said. “But we gathered and played our tails off defensively, but we had 13 turnovers in the period.”


It was defense as much as offense on the Aces’ side the second half, outscoring the opposition 14-9 in the third to trail 54-53 going in the last period, in which Las Vegas owned the differential 13-9.


“Both teams played so hard, both teams are really talented, defensively,” Miller gave fatigue some mitigating factor in the combined low scoring in the final period.


In the game the Aces thrived where they do much of the time shooting 19-for-22 from the line while Connecticut made 8-of-9 free throws.


In the playoffs, the Sun’s DeWanna Bonner was 32-for-32 from the line, tying Washington’s Elena Delle Donne for most foul shots without a miss and most consecutive foul shots without a miss in a single postseason.


Seattle was first in the standings all summer until the final day of the regular season when the Storm were caught by Las Vegas to finish with identical records but the Aces got the top seed off a 2-0 series sweep though both teams earned double byes to the semifinals.


Wilson, the former South Carolina superstar, lived up to her regular season vote as the league MVP, scoring 23 points and grabbing 11 rebounds Tuesday for the Aces, while also dealing four assists, and she also blocked three shots.


“Knew it was time to put the team on my back,” said Wilson, who had 11 of her points in that final period when Connecticut was unable to get a three-point shot off at the finish that if good would have forced overtime.


“Thought I was in cruise control throughout the whole season. When the fourth quarter came, had to flip the switch. Felt like I did. The job still isn’t done.


“This is the Finals. The two best teams in the league going at it,” Wilson said. “End of day, we’ll go back and watch film on ourselves and Seattle.”


McCoughtry continued her fine play off Game 4, scoring 20 points, while Kayla McBride had 10 points and Carolyn Swords and Danielle Robinson each grabbed 10 rebounds.


Las Vegas was able to make do without Dearica Hamby, winner of the Sixth Player Award, who was lost the rest of the way would be with an injury.


Playing in all but one minute, Connecticut got 22 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, plus a steal and blocked shot from its engine, former Maryland standout Alyssa Thomas, while Bonner had 15 points, eight rebounds, six assists, five steals, and three blocks, the first player to have such a stat line in a playoff game, and Brionna Jones grabbed 12 rebounds.


Jasmine Thomas had nine points and even though the Sun struggled offensively after the first quarter, Alyssa Thomas put the Sun up 63-62 on a jumper with 2 minutes, 32 seconds left in regulation.


But that was to be the last Connecticut points in what became a 4-0 finish by Las Vegas courtesy of 
Wilson’s foul shots.


“Shoot under 25 % for a half,” Miller said of the final 20 minutes. “I don’t care what level you coach at, you don’t win a lot of games when you shoot under 25 % for a half.” 


As for Seattle, Laimbeer said, “They’re going to be rested. Sometimes that’s good. Sometimes that’s bad.   There’s a bit of rust. But we know them, they know us. We eyeballed each other twice. 


“Dearica won’t be playing. That’s a body we can put on Stewie (Breanna Stewart). We have what we have. We just have to be competitive and win games. 


“You saw, we’re a competitive bunch. The toughness of this ball club, the mental toughness of this ball club is outstanding.


“A large part of that I credit to Angel McCoughtry.”


The former Louisville star was the big offseason free agent acquisition after previously playing her entire career with the Atlanta Dream.




The WNBA announced two more postseason honors, with the Los Angeles Sparks’ Nneka Ogwumike winning the Kim Perrot sportsmanship award.


There was a bit of controversy on the first and second team all-defensive teams selected by the league’s 12 coaches, who could not vote for their own players.


Los Angeles’s Candace Parker, who won the individual Defensive Player of the Year handed out in the series of honors deliberated by a national media panel, did not appear on either defensive squad, a first for a WNBA player so individually honored.


The first team consisted of former Rutgers star Betnijah Laney and Elizabeth Williams from Atlanta, Seattle’s Alysha Clark, the only unanimous pick; Brianna Turner of Phoenix, and Connecticut’s Alyssa Thomas.


Seattle’s Breanna Stewart, Minnesota’s Napheesa Collier, Washington’s Ariel Atkins, Las Vegas’ Wilson, and Los Angeles’ Brittney Sykes made the second team.







Monday, September 28, 2020

Guru’s WNBA Report: Vegas “Angelic” Win Forces Connecticut to Semis Game 5 While Seattle Completes 3-0 Sweep of Minnesota

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru


The second-seeded Seattle Storm made it an easy 92-71 victory and a 3-0 semifinals sweep of the fourth-seeded Minnesota Lynx Sunday afternoon while Angel McCoughtry’s 16-point scoring explosion in the third quarter on the way to a 29-point performance along with five rebounds, six assists, and three steals, spurred the top-seeded Las Vegas Aces to an 84-75 series tying win 2-2 over the seventh-seeded Connecticut Sun forcing a decisive Game 5 Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. on ESPN2 at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., near Tampa/St. Petersburg.


The championship best-of-five series which Connecticut advanced to last year, losing to the Washington Mystics in a decisive Game 5 in the nation’s capital, will begin Friday night two days ahead of the original schedule on ESPN.


“The teams that played with more tenacity and energy have won each of the first four games so we can’t let the inability to string together stops or a turnover or missed open shot affect how we play defense,” said Connecticut coach Curt Miller, whose team otherwise would have won the series in a huge upset had the Sun prevailed in Game 4.


“We have to go ahead and have a great night in Game 5 defensively.


“Elimination games, we’ve been two for two this year,” Miller referenced the rounds one and two upsets of the sixth-seeded Chicago Sky and third-seeded Los Angeles Sparks, respectively. “We knew this series was not going to be easy. 


“We knew closing it out wasn’t going to be easy. They’re the No. 1 seed for a reason.”


Defense has carried the Sun (10-12) this far after reversing an 0-5 start before Briann January and Natisha Hiedeman arrived following a delay off testing protocol for dealing with the coronavirus that forced the entire league to go to Florida similar to the NBA and operate out of a bubble on a shortened 22-game regular season schedule with each team playing two-game series against the other 11 predominantly every other day since late July.


But the Aces (18-4), who caught Seattle (18-4) by beating the Storm on the final deal of the regular season, and secured the top seed off a 2-0 sweep, were the story Sunday following Connecticut’s surging finish in Game 3.


Regular season MVP A’ja Wilson out of South Carolina followed behind McCoughtry with 18 points and 13 rebounds for Las Vegas, while Danielle Robinson also scored 18 points, and Kayla McBride scored 11.


In the third quarter paced by McCoughtry, the Aces outscored Connecticut 28-16 for an 11-point lead heading to the final period in which the Sun were unable to rally.


For the game, Connecticut’s Jasmine Thomas, the former Duke standout, had 25 points and six assists, while Alyssa Thomas, who had a monster performance Thursday returning from a dislocated shoulder that forced to the sidelines five minutes into Game 2, scored 15 points and eight rebounds playing in all but three minutes Sunday, while DeWanna Bonner had 10 points and 15 rebounds, Brionna Jones also had 10 points, while January scored nine.


“We know what kind of player Angel is,” Jasmine Thomas said. “She’s always been talented and she was aggressive tonight. She got down low on us, put pressure on our defense, got into the paint against us, and then her shots started falling.


“When she got into a rhythm it was hard to slow her down. Her teammates fed off that. You could see the energy kind of shift.” 


This time the domination in the paint switched back to Las Vegas, 46-20, besides 8-3 on second chance points, and 16-8 scoring on the fast break.


“They killed us in the paint,” Bonner said. “That’s how we win, that’s how we get our wins by dominating the paint. “Tonight, we didn’t do that.”


Additionally, Connecticut committed 12 turnovers.


“Angel wasn’t ready to go home,” Aces coach Bill Laimbeer laughed in his opening summary about his star free agent acquisition in the offseason of McCoughtry, whose whole pro career had been with the Atlanta Dream after graduating Louisville.


“It was a spectacular performance (in the third quarter), it gave us the lead, we maintained the lead the rest of the way,” he continued. “I can’t believe how calm she has been playing this whole year.


“You look at the stat sheet, a lot of differences from the last game. They didn’t get as many offensive rebounds, we didn’t turn the ball over as many times, overall I thought we played a very solid basketball game. And on to Game 5.


“We didn’t get rattled at any time through this game. They had an opportunity to win (the series), now both of us have an opportunity to win.”


Seattle Completes Sweep of Minnesota


For the second time in three seasons the Storm are back in the championship series they won for the third time in 2018 and might have successfully defended that crown a year ago had they not been riddled with injuries.


They started in the “wubble” this time around as the preseason favorite with their health in order though head coach Dan Hughes was advised per the COVID-19 situation not to go to Florida due to his cancer surgery a year ago.


Assistant Gary Kloppenburg  has been guiding the show this season as he did early last season when Hughes had his surgery.


Back then multi-MVP Breanna Stewart was out of commission all summer with an injury suffered in her overseas competition while Sue Bird was also sidelined.


Stewart has since returned this summer as good as new as the former UConn great demonstrated in Sunday’s win, scoring 31 points, grabbing six rebounds, dealing seven assists, grabbing three steals and blocking a pair of shots by the Lynx (14-8).


Bird was also back, scoring 16 points, propelled by three 3-pointers, and she also dealt nine assists.


“She was really focused, you could tell before the game,” Kloppenburg said. “She’s been in these moments her whole career. She was really locked in. Her ball handling was really well.”


Reserve Mercedes Russell had 10 points and six rebounds.


Minnesota, which certainly had a successful summer considering the adversity the Lynx dealt with, thus landing former La Salle star Cheryl Reeve of South Jersey coach of the year, got 22 points and 15 rebounds from Napheesa Collier, last season’s rookie of the year, while her former UConn teammate Crystal Dangerfield, who won the award this season, scored 16, as did Damiras Dantas, and Odyssey Sims scored 10.


Two teams, the former Houston Comets, with the first of them, all consecutively, and Minnesota in the last decade, have won four WNBA crowns, which Seattle will try to match in the next round.


Las Vegas’ Laimbeer won three with the former Detroit Shock, which later became the Tulsa team and is now the Dallas Wings, coached by Brian Agler, who won one of the Seattle titles and one with the Los Angeles Sparks besides two with the Columbus Quest in the former American Basketball League.


A week ago the Seattle series opener was postponed when COVID-19 testing on three Storm players produced inconclusive results but subsequent tests were negative and the team quickly began making up for lost time with the Lynx to the point they now have to wait for Tuesday’s semifinals other series’ Game 5 results to see if their opponent will be the Cinderella Sun or Vegas.


“Our defense was pretty good and our ladies executed a good plan jump switching and we took them out of their threes, that’s what we wanted to try to do,” Kloppenburg said of a 22-2 run in the first quarter after trailing 6-0 in the opening minutes.


“We really set the tone in that first quarter with our defense and we got some easy baskets even though we didn’t shoot the ball that well tonight, though we turned them over 19 times for 20 points.


“The bench was tremendous,” Kloppenburg said. “I think we outscored them 32-7.


“You put things in perspective, here you are with the best players in the world and you’re playing in the championship and you have a chance to be the best team in the world this year. Our players understand with the historical situation which we’re in with the world your really wanting to be ready and come out to bring a championship back to Seattle.”


Of Stewart, he said, “She’s been kind of getting her wind back, getting her rhythm back this series. Obviously got back to that high level today at both ends of the floor, the defensive end as well. Stewie’s a big time game player and she’s been in those moments her entire career and kind of relishes them.”


Getting done early will enable Seattle to get some rest awaiting to learn the name of Friday’s opponent.


“We’re going to enjoy this one and then start getting prepared for who we play next,” Kloppenburg said. 


Said Bird, who has continued to deal with injuries of sorts, “For me, it’s been an interesting year getting in and out of the lineup, any kind of rhythm, any kind of flow for myself. So, the time has been hard, so you just have to understand to get through it, to get to the other side, to start to feel good again.

 “Today, mentally, I tried to let go a little bit, try to be a little kinder to myself, and just go out there and see what happens.


“It’s not easy as an athlete, you just have to play through it and see what happens. To say Minnesota got swept isn’t really fair because these were three difficult games.”


On Minnesota’s side, Reeve summed up, saying, “That was a vintage Sue Bird performance. I wish it would have ended differently, to be sure.


“But it doesn’t take anything away. This was a special season to be sure for the players, a special group, you can accomplish special things together.


“Nobody thought we could get past the Seattle Storm. We believed we could put ourselves into a competitive position. We were confident. Today’s game was just disappointing in so many ways. I didn’t see that coming. 


“Stewart imposed her will on the game. Probably wasn’t happy the way Game 1 went, maybe even Game 2, but she came out great and established herself. Offensively, we just got off to such a rough start. Struggled,” Reeve continued.


“We weren’t as good as we need to be in special elimination game. If there’s a silver lining in this, we’re leaving the bubble. See your families again. But this was a special group. And now we turn the page and pack up and leave the bubble.”




Earlier in the day, the WNBA announced the all-rookie team voted by the league’s 11 coaches (you couldn’t vote your own team) of which four were unanimous picks, highlighted by Minnesota’s Dangerfield, who won the individual award that’s part of the package deliberated by a national media panel.


Three others joining Dangerfield as unanimous picks were Dallas’ Satou Sabally out of Oregon, Atlanta’s Chennedy Carter out of Texas A&M, and Belgium’s Julie Allemand of the Indiana Fever.  Jazmine Jones of the New York Liberty out of Louisville picked up six votes to be the fifth member.















Friday, September 25, 2020

Guru’s WNBA Report: Thomas Return Spurs Connecticut to Join Seattle Within a Win Each to Advance to the Finals

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru


The Seattle Storm and Connecticut Sun are one game each away from the WNBA championship series following the second-seeded Storm’s 89-79 victory over the fourth-seeded Minnesota Lynx (14-8) to go up 2-0 in their best-of-five series while the seventh-seeded Sun with their leader Alyssa Thomas back in the lineup shocked the top-seeded Las Vegas Aces 77-68 with a huge fourth quarter 24-12 surge after trailing by three at the start of the period Thursday night to go ahead 2-1 at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., near Tampa/St. Petersburg.


The Aces built the lead to seven before the Sun forced a bunch of turnovers on the way to gaining control of the outcome.


In the Connecticut win, Thomas, who departed five minutes into Tuesday’s Game 2 loss with a right shoulder injury, played all but two minutes, scoring a game-high 23 points, grabbed 22 rebounds and dealt four assists.


“She only knows one way to play,” Sun coach Curt Miller beamed afterwards. “I thought we were going to have to be creative getting her in and out. I just thought that maybe there would be some plays where the physicality would not be what you’re used to, the tenacity that you’re used to would be a shell of that. She only knows one way to play even if she wanted to be smart.


“The MRI result was very encouraging, Miller said. “No new structural damage. It didn’t mean she wasn’t in a tremendous amount of pain, and the trauma of the dislocation, the muscles and the soreness.


“But she was able to go through the shoot-around today, felt that we had a chance but we needed to see how the rest of the day played out with the late game and how she was going to respond to a very light shoot-around,” he continued.


“She got here moving pretty well and you could see she wanted to go, she’s just a warrior. There’s nothing else you can say. She’s as competitive a person as I’ve ever been around and you’re going to have to amputate that arm and shoulder before you can keep her out.


“She spearheaded the defense again tonight. Guarded a lot of different people, a lot of different actions, and certainly spearheaded what we needed to have accomplished.


“(The pre-game conversation) like many of our conversations, she said, ‘I’m good.’ I said, ‘You’re good? Let’s go.’ That’s all I needed to hear.’


Two other Sun players also had double doubles with significant free-agent signee DeWanna Bonner,  formerly with the Phoenix Mercury, having 12 points and 10 rebounds, and former Maryland star Brionna Jones having 15 points and 10 rebounds.


Jasmine Thomas, a former Duke standout, who had 31 points in the semifinals opening win, had 10 points and six assists, while Briann January, another key free agent signee, had eight points and four assists.


On Las Vegas, A’ja Wilson, the regular season WNBA most valuable player, who had 29 points Tuesday, had 20 and 12 rebounds in this one, while Angel McCoughtry scored 14, and Danielle Robinson scored 11.


Connecticut, which had 17 turnovers in the loss Tuesday, committed just four, while the Aces had 15.


“Four turnovers in a high-pressure game,” Miller said. “It was so encouraging that they didn’t quit playing. At one point we were 5-of-36 outside the paint. We didn’t hang our heads. We went and continued  to play defense. We went and continued to rebound. This is what happens this time of year.


“Defense and rebounding can win you games even when you don’t shoot it well. We were really good in the paint (52-26).”


That Seattle, who won their third title in 2018, is in this position is no surprise after the Storm (18-4) led most of the coronavirus-shortened 22-game regular season only to lose to Las Vegas (18-4) on the final day and fall to the second seed, still good enough for a double bye to the semifinals, with the Aces taking the top spot off a 2-0 sweep in their series.


Though a year ago the Sun (10-12) extended the Washington Mystics to the fourth quarter of the decisive Game 5 in the championship series in the nation’s capital, a month ago, for that matter even two nights ago, few outside the Connecticut locker room could predict they would now be 40 minutes from a return with a safety valve Game 5 if they don’t prevail Sunday when they meet the Aces at 1 p.m. on ESPN followed by the Seattle game on ABC at 3 p.m.


The Seattle series is running one game behind due to last Sunday’s postponement when three Storm players had inconclusive results in the ongoing COVID-19 testing though subsequent tests proved negative and that series opened Tuesday.


Connecticut, which is missing Jonquel Jones for this season and had several roster changes over the winter, lost its first five games when the WNBA action began in late July and only beat two teams in the 12-team league – the Chicago Sky and Phoenix one time each – with records of .500 or better though the Sun dominated the rest of the league to qualify for the playoffs off the win over Phoenix on Labor Day.


The postseason has been a different matter, however.


 The Sun, having to go through two one-game eliminations in the opening rounds, took down sixth-seeded Chicago and stunned the third-seeded Los Angeles Sparks with a tenacious defense and coach Curt Miller afterwards promising his team was going to be a tough out in the semis.


He proved prophetic when Connecticut easily handled week-long rested Las Vegas Sunday in the series opener.


But on Tuesday night five minutes into the game, Thomas, a former Maryland standout who plays with a torn labrum in each shoulder, suffered a right shoulder injury and was gone the rest of the way though Connecticut managed to play tough until the Aces were able to pull away in the final minutes of the fourth quarter.


Things did not look promising for Game 3 when Thomas was listed Wednesday as out in the Sun injury report but 24 hours later early in the day she was upgraded to questionable and it went from there.


“We just feed off of her. She was demanding that we played harder,” Miller said. “She just continues to defy logic.”


January took a key offensive charge late in the fourth quarter that continued the outcome for good in the Sun’s direction.


“It’s the semis and we’re just trying to get back to the championship,” Jasmine Thomas said.


Of her heroics, Alyssa Thomas said, “Yeah, went down the last game. Took me to get an x-ray. Went and got an MRI. They gave the me the results of the MRI and pretty much left it up to me to see how I was feeling and as soon as I heard that I knew. I knew I’d be out there.


“Went through shoot-around. Felt pretty good and knew I was going to play my game and help my team any way that I can. I’m used to it. I wasn’t going to let it stop me. A lot of people counted us out because of our seventh seed. But as you can see we’re playing our best basketball right now.”


From the Aces perspective, “Hard fought game on both sides,” coach Bill Laimbeer said. “We took a lead in the fourth quarter and we ran out of gas. We couldn’t make shots. We couldn’t score.  That’s one of the things we need we have to find someone else who can score.


“We need someone else to step up and be consistent. They executed when they had to. We turned the ball over. Lot of stuff that wins playoffs games they were able to do and we weren’t. And that’s what the difference was.”


Seattle Takes 2-0 Lead on Minnesota


The Storm got to the brink of making it to the finals for the second time in three seasons as former Notre Dame standout Jewell Loyd scored 20 points, including making four of Seattle’s 10 connected three-point shots, while former UConn star Breanna Stewart had 17 points, eight rebounds, and seven assists, Alysha Clark scored 13, Natasha Howard scored 11, Sue Bird had seven points and five assists, and reserves Sami Whitcomb scored eight points and Mercedes Russell scored seven, respectively.


Minnesota’s Damiris Dantas had 23 points, including five of Seattle’s 13-connected three-pointers, while Odyssey Sims scored 18, Napheesa Collier scored 12, and rookie of the year Crystal Dangerfield scored 10.


“We had a good run early in the third and then I thought we relaxed when we got a good lead and you just can’t do that,” said Seattle coach Gary Kloppenburg, who is filling in for Dan Hughes, who was advised over COVID precautions not to go to the Florida bubble because of his cancer surgery early last season.


“It’s a lesson learned as we move forward,” Kloppenburg said of a lead that almost got extinguished. “You can’t have lapses. You have to put the hammer down. But we got our focus back,. We regrouped, and I thought we did a decent job, defensively, going down the stretch in the fourth quarter. (Minnesota’s) a pretty good shooting team and they present problems defensively.”


As for Sunday’s game, “They’re desperate. They don’t want to go home, they’re going to come out with a lot of, lot of energy. We can’t afford to let down.”


The Lynx have won four WNBA titles and been to two other finals.


Faced with elimination, coach Cheryl Reeve, the former La Salle star from South Jersey, said, “What we fully anticipated in this game from Seattle was they would turn up their pressure and they did.


“We knew things would be more difficult and our shot selection wasn’t that great in that stretch,” she said of the run that blew the game open. 


“They’ve got some real shot makers.”


The 21-point lead after the run got cut to three before the Storm regrouped. 


“We had a chance to cut it to one possession. We got another crack at this. We got a 40-minute game and we’ve got a mind set we got to win a game. And Sunday will be that game.” 


Earlier in the day, the  WNBA trotted out two of its postseason awards, naming Los Angeles veteran Candace Parker, the former Tennessee star, Defensive Player of the Year, and in a close vote by the national media panel, former Rutgers star Betnijah Laney on Atlanta edged Washington’s Myisha Hines-Allen for Most Improved Player.


Reporting on the WNBA playoffs in Florida is being done by remote with availabilities on pre-game and post-game interviews through the zoom software.  








Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Guru’s WNBA Report: Wilson Gives Vegas Semifinals Series 1-1 Tie With Connecticut While Clark Gives Seattle 1-0 Lead at Finish Over Minnesota

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru


With further CVID-19 tests on the multiple Seattle players all proving negative and the return of Storm stars Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird, who had missed the final games of coronavirus-shortened 22-game regular season, the WNBA semifinals Tuesday moved into a second night of action, but the first with a full doubleheader and what a night it was at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., near Tampa/St. Petersburg.


In Tuesday’s opener, Game 2 between the seventh-seeded Connecticut Sun and top-seeded Las Vegas (18-4) Aces, the Sun lost former Maryland standout Alyssa Thomas to a shoulder injury five minutes into the first quarter but to the surprise of many, Connecticut (10-12) threatened to go up 2-0 in the best-of-five series when it took a four-point lead into the fourth and final quarter.


But the Aces doubled on the Sun scoring the rest of the way, 24-12, though Las Vegas didn’t put the game out of reach until WNBA regular season MVP A’ja Wilson made her presence felt in the closing minutes on the way to an 83-75 victory.


In the second game, though second-seeded Seattle (18-4) stayed ahead of fourth-seeded Minnesota (14-8), the Lynx tied it late in the fourth quarter but the Storm prevailed when Alyssa Clark grabbed an offense rebound and scored as regulation time ran out for an 88-86 victory.


Earlier in the afternoon, WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert held a media teleconference to provide more details on how the situation evolved Sunday when multiple players on Seattle off Saturday’s testing had inconclusive results Sunday causing the commissioner in consultation to postpone the Storm-Lynx opener that was to be the second game and aired on ABC.


Though the league had been relatively unscathed across the summer schedule that began with the whole league arriving in Florida July 5 and launching play several weeks later, Sunday was the first time tests came back with multiple players on the same team with inconclusive results.


Repeating what she had told ESPN sideline reporter Holly Rowe, who has been on the property all summer, though the lead broadcasters have been back in Bristol, Conn., in studio, or in the case of CBSSports talent, in their homes, “Everyday we go back to zero,” and Tuesday noted that there many variances to testing.


On Thursday, the Minnesota-Seattle Game 2 will air at 7:30 p.m. on ESPN2 followed at 9:30 p.m. by Las Vegas-Connecticut Game 3 on the same network.


Prior to Sunday, the league releases had all the dates, including the if necessary Games 4 and 5 all the way through the best-of-five finals. However, they now appear to be taking it one day or night at a time.


Meanwhile, in Tuesday’s opener, which saw Connecticut snap their 3-0 streak starting in the first round of the postseason last week, the Sun in a game that had 20 ties were eclipsed on the foul line with the Aces shooting 21-of-28 while they were 7-for-7. 


The website Across the Timeline says its fourth largest differential in the 24-year history of the league in postseason and largest since 2012.


On the other hand, Connecticut, which had shown good ball control, committed 18 turnovers leading to 22 points by the Aces.


Las Vegas also owned the paint, outscoring the Sun 52-20 besides 13-4 in second chance points.


Wilson, a former consensus player of the year at South Carolina and WNBA rookie of the year, scored 29 points, a career high, for Las Vegas, shooting 13-for-19 from the field, grabbed seven rebounds and blocked seven shots.


Angel McCoughtry, whose whole WNBA career had been in Atlanta before this season for the former Louisville star, scored 11 points for the Aces, as did former Notre Dame star Kayla McBride and reserve Dearica Hamby, the winner of the WNBA’s sixth player award for the regular season.


Connecticut got 23 points and seven rebounds from DeWanna Bonner, who formerly played with Phoenix before signing as a free agent this season, Briann January, another free agent, scored 20, while former Duke standout Jasmine Thomas, who had a career-high 31 in the opener, had just 10 this time as did former Maryland star Brionna Jones, while reserve rookie Beatrice Mompremier out of Miami had nine rebounds and blocked three shots.


Mompremier is just the fourth player in playoff history with that stat and eighth for a rookie besides being the first overall player for Connecticut.


Alyssa Thomas has played with a torn labrum in both shoulders.


“We had them on the ropes, we just couldn’t finish,” said Connecticut coach Curt Miller, who said he thought Thomas may have dislocated the shoulder but was unsure.


Thomas’ status for Thursday was unknown late Tuesday night.


“Give them credit, I don’t think anyone outside of our locker room believed we could beat them when AT went down.


Of Wilson, Miller noted, “She was very aggressive. Obviously, when you take the best defender in the world off the floor, it made it more difficult.


“I’m really proud of our tenacity, our fight. We struggled to find our offensive rhythm in the fourth quarter. You’ve got to give them credit, but we were right there.”


From Aces coach Bill Laimbeer’s perspective, “Nothing in this league is easy. Everything’s hard and our players gritted it out. We got some good performances by a lot of people and A’ja played  A’ja’s game.”


Asked what she was thinking when the score was tied before she led the breakaway finish, Wilson said, “Just get a bucket. I knew I needed to attack the basket and lead the team in this way.”


In the Seattle game, the Storm’s Jewell Loyd had 25 points, 6 rebounds, and four of the team’s 13-made three-point shots, Stewart had 21 points and 10 rebounds, Clark scored 12, Natasha Howard had 10, and Bird had 11 points and eight assists.


Minnesota’s Napheesa Collier had 25 points and nine rebounds, Odyssey Sims scored 19, Damiris Dantas had 11 points and eight rebounds, Bridget Carleton scored 14 and she and Collier each connected on four of the Lynx’s 14 made 3-pointers, but rookie of the year Crystal Dangerfield was held to four points.


Afterwards, Seattle coach Gary Kloppenburg said of the events involving three unnamed players with the testing episode, “We’re just in a brave new world that’s not going to be like it used to be for a long time, if ever.  


“Playing a season in this situation, you just have to expect the unexpected and be able to adapt whatever comes your way.”


Kloppenburg is filling in for Dan Hughes  who was advised not to go to Florida because of his cancer surgery at the start last season.


“The last 48 hours honestly have been pretty stressful and exhausting just not knowing what to expect,” Clark said after her game-winner.


“Just being confused about everything  and trying to figure out how this is happening. You played the waiting game. Sitting around waiting for test results. Sitting around and waiting to be moved.”


Seattle, by virtual of being a top two seed, hadn’t played since a week ago Sunday on the final day of the season when Las Vegas caught them to tie at the top and get the No. 1 one seed of a 2-0 sweep in their series.


Minnesota had a first-round bye and then edged the Phoenix Mercury Thursday stopping them at the finish to advance to the semifinals.

“The playoffs is all about making winning plays,” said Clark, whose  shot was the third game-ending play since the postseason began a week ago Tuesday. There were also several down the stretch when qualifying and seeding were at stake.


“Something I pride myself on is being a winner. I’m going to do whatever it takes to make sure or at least put us in a position to win.”


An 18-8 run in the fourth quarter got Minnesota back in the game with a one-point lead with 4:10 left in regulation. 


The Lynx ‘s center Sylvia Fowles was back on the bench ruled out because of her calf injury rehab though she played briefly in the Phoenix game.


“Clark is a smart, willful player,” said Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve, the former La Salle star from South Jersey who has won four titles and guided her team to two other finals.


“That’s one of the hardest rebounds to secure defensively. Clark’s trademark is being opportunistic in that way, outworking you, giving one more effort than maybe your opponent. Obviously, it was the different in the game.”


The playoffs are being covered here remotely from Florida via postgame zoom media interviews and other zoom meetings as warranted.










Monday, September 21, 2020

Guru’s WNBA Report: Connecticut Slams Las Vegas in Semis Opener While Seattle Multiple Inconclusive COVID-19 Tests Cause Second Game Postponement

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru


The WNBA semifinals got off to a stunning start Sunday afternoon in what was to be the opening doubleheader in the best of five series with the 7th seeded Connecticut Sun (10-12) set to play the top-seeded and powerful Las Vegas Aces in the first game followed by the fourth-seeded Minnesota Lynx (14-8) against the second-seeded Seattle Storm (18-4) immediately afterwards at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., near Tampa/St. Petersburg.


Connecticut, runners up a year ago to the Washington Mystics off a fourth-quarter eclipse by the home team in the nation’s capital in the decisive Game 5, came out thundering on the shoulders of former Duke star Jasmine Thomas, who had been dealing with plantar fasciitis, driving to an 11-point halftime lead before making it even worse for the Aces to claim an 87-62 victory.


Las Vegas,(18-4) after beating Seattle a week ago Sunday to finish with the same top record as the Storm, but the No. 1 seed off a 2-0 sweep in the corona virus-shortened 22-game regular season, had the luxury of a double-bye and those two teams had not played since then.


The Sun, however, had shown its defensive muscle upsetting the sixth-seeded Chicago Sky, Tuesday, in one of the playoffs opening round doubleheader contests, and then came back in round two Thursday to destroy the third-seeded Los Angeles Sparks, ousting them for the second straight year after a 3-0 sweep in the 2019 semifinals.


Connecticut had split with Chicago and was swept by Los Angeles during the season.


With the entire 12-team league sent to Florida to conduct a season, all had gone relatively well with the teams playing primarily every other day since late July until around 2:30 p.m. Sunday when the league announced off the summer-long testing that several Seattle players had inconclusive results and that “out of an abundance of caution” the second game was to be postponed.


The players with the inconclusive results had undergone additional testing Sunday afternoon and were placed in isolation and a new date for the game was to be communicated as developments warranted.


Late Sunday night the league sent a new schedule for Tuesday showing Game 2 between the Sun and Aces to air at 7 p.m. on ESPN2 as originally scheduled, and Game 1 between the Lynx and Storm to air at nine on the same network.

On Thursday, Minnesota-Seattle Game 2 will air at 7 p.m. and Connecticut-Las Vegas Game 3 at 9 p.m. on ESPN2.

While previously a blueprint all the way through the finals was sent, the Sunday night release then notes Minnesota-Seattle Game 3 with no date and it all stops at that point pending if needs occur for  Games 4 and 5, which could impact the original start to finals, which isn’t listed. 


Meanwhile, soon after the Connecticut game concluded, WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert was interviewed by ESPN’s Holly Rowe, who has been sidelining the games inside “the wubble” all summer while play-by-play broadcasters and analysts had done their jobs by remote from homes and studios on all the networks airing the games.


“As you know, health and safety were No. 1 when we were planning this back in May and June,” the commissioner took Rowe through the process that developed Sunday.


“We got some tests back for the Seattle team and they were inconclusive, so especially when there’s multiple players on a team, we can’t really take a chance and expose the bubble to any kind of community spread, we need to get more data, get more testing, get more data to see where we have an issue or not, so we decided to postpone the game.”


Minnesota was already in the building warming up, but the commissioner related, “I was back at the hotel right when Seattle was boarding the bus when we got the information.


“So I went on the bus and told the players on the bus what was happening, that it was real time, that we needed more testing, that we need more data, and as soon as I talked to them, it was clear they were concerned, we’re all concerned for safety while we’re here and it wasn’t about basketball at that point, it was about doing the right thing and and after talking to players, talking to league officials, talking to some medical safety health (officials) that this was the right thing to do so we can just ge more day or two of testing back.”


Even if it becomes staggered, there is enough waggle to get through the semifinals on a short delay and on to the championship best-of-five series. Initially, the league had said if both series had concluded before Games 5 or 4, the championship might be moved up but for now that discussion is dispensed based on the new listings sent..


“This is the hardest part of COVID when you’re putting on live sports during it, every day you’re set back to zero,” Engelbert said. “The fact that we might have had seventy percent negative testing before this, doesn’t actually matter, it’s about keeping the bubble safe, that there’s no community spread, the purpose of the testing and the protocols is that if we have to pull anybody out before they’re infectious.


“So that is the main thing we’re trying to do here with all the data and all the testing so if someone is tested positive with COVID, we can get them into isolation, take care of them and then move on to play,” Engelbert continued.


“So hopefully, we’ll get good data over the next 24-48 hours and be back on the court with Game 1 on Tuesday, but we have to continually test. So, the whole team has been tested today, we’ll test them tonight, we’re doing testing on those players that had the inconclusive results,” she said.


“You have to be right,” Engelbert said of making the decision to postpone. “You have to put the data, the science first, and while we would like to be having the game right now on ABC, we’re down to the semifinals, we have four teams left, you have to follow your gut, your instinct, you have to follow the data and the science.


“Everything has worked in the bubble. While it’s been hard because we have had players miss games during the season, you have to follow the science, the virus is so unpredictable that it takes time to run those tests, to get those results, and weight them for returning a player to play or a coach or a trainer.”


As for the game that got concluded, it’s the first time in franchise history to date that three straight Sun playoff games have  have been won by double digits.


Connecticut shot 50 percent from the field, the third time in their playoff history.


Thomas had a playoff career-high of 31 points, just a point behind Jonquel Jones and Nykesha Sales for most in Sun playoff history. She also set a Connecticut high with 22 of those points in the first half. It’s the most first-half points by a WNBA player since Angel McCoughtry, now with the Aces, had 24 with Atlanta in 2011.


Former Maryland star Alyssa Thomas set a WNBA mark with a stat line showing 18 points, six rebounds, five assists, five steals and two blocks. When she reached 15 points, the only player with a similar stat line was former Tennessee standout Tamika Catchings, when she played with the Indiana Fever on which she is now a front office executive.


Reserve Natisha Hiedman had a career-high 14 points, while DeWanna Bonner had eight points and eight rebounds.


The Sun lead grew to as much as 30 in the fourth quarter and the 24-point differential in the final score to their advantage was two short of the 26 set against the Sparks in a 94-68 semifinals win a year ago.


A’ja Wilson, voted the regular season MVP in the league, had 18 points for Las Vegas and Jacke Young had 17 off the bench.


“Players having a system and scheme that they have played in a couple of months that they now believe in,” said Connecticut coach Curt Miller of the defensive thrust as opposed to losing to Las Vegas during the regular season.


 “Just a credit to our players, their tenacity, their toughness. Vegas can really bully you and really play excellent basketball but that’s about 13, 14, 15 less field goals in a game then they had been making against us. 


“Tremendous job holding them to just 23-made field goals, while they still went to the foul line 20 times, everything tonight was energy, effort, tenacity, individually, but locked in as a group.”


As for Thomas’ play, Miller said, “I called less plays tonight than I have for weeks. Just stay out of their way and let them feel the game. It’s fun to watch a player like Jas tonight. She just got into her rhythm. I’m so happy for her.”


Said Thomas, “I knew the pull-up would be there. I just took the first two without a conscience and with confidence.

“It’s always good when you’re feeling you’re playing good basketball at the right time,” Thomas said. “We feel like we have good momentum. You take this win. You’re proud of it., and then you let it go.

“We know Vegas is a great team. There’s a reason they’re number one, a reason they have the MVP. They have great players over there and great coaching. They’ll make adjustments and we’ve got to be ready to stay focused and play just as hard and tough next game.”


Meanwhile, as for news of the second game, Miller said, Engelbert and WNBPA executive director Terri Jackson informed him and the team in the locker room after the game.


“There’s anxiety for our team,” he said. “Everyone’s so close in this league. We’ve done such a great job at keeping COVID out of this bubble. Just hope these are false positives.”


As for the view from the other side of the game, Aces coach Bill Laimbeer said, “We got beat solidly. They played harder than us, you could see in the early part of the game we didn’t have any cohesiveness about our offense for whatever reason, we have no excuses, we just didn’t play very well offensively, give credit to their defense, they just switch, a little more physical than normal, that’s playoff basketball, we didn’t handle it very well, we didn’t move, we didn’t do anything at all, and then frustration set in.


“When you can’t score and you’re shooting poorly, you get frustrated, and it carried over to our defense, and they just put the hammer down, they did a good job.”

Wilson said she saw this coming and the loss served as a wake-up call.

“I think we needed to get beat,” the former South Carolina star said matter-of-factly. “They worked ten times harder than us and we needed that slap in the face, 

“We have to go back to the drawing board, see what we did wrong, what we can improve on, and go from there. The best thing about this loss is there’s a lot of things we can control, and that’s what we’re going to do.”

 As for the situation with the Seattle-Minnesota game, Laimbeer revealed that “Cathy sent an email around four days ago saying, ‘you could have a situation in the playoffs where you have four players could have inconclusive results and you have have to postpone a game coming up.’


“First game, go figure. But it is what it is. We’ve had inconclusive tests in the bubble. Normally, it’s a 48-hour window, so hopefully they have tests now to see how quickly we can move over.”

Prior to the Connecticut game a video was shown honoring the late Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who passed away Friday night of cancer. 

Also on Sunday, the league trotted out another of its postseason awards naming the Aces’ Dearica Hamby winner of the sixth player honor.