Friday, March 27, 2015

WNBA All-Star Game: Uncasville Becomes UConnville For At Least A Day

By Mel Greenberg

WNBA All-Star Game: Uncasville Becomes UConnville For At Least A Day

By Mel Greenberg

UNCASVILLE, Conn. - Years from now, persons looking up past WNBA All-Star games will find in the record book that the West beat the East 130-118 here at the Mohegan Sun Arena on Saturday afternoon to end a two-year run that produced the only two victories held by the East in the series.

 

However, for those who  witnessed all phases of the event on and off the court Saturday, the reality was that the show of the WNBA's top talent could easily have been re-named the University of Connecticut Huskies Hall of Fame Women's Classic.

The largesse and legacy of the UConn program didn't just dominate the day - it smothered it.

 

Consider that on a facility economically driven by casino-entertainment action, the value of cash on Saturday was not about revenue stream. It was about former Huskies star Swin Cash who has emerged from injury to re-establish herself as a premier player with the Seattle Storm.

The native of the Pittsburgh suburbs had a game-high 22 points for the West to earn MVP honors.

Four other former UConn stars also played in the game.

 

The sellout crowd of 9,518 in the arena shook off Diana Tarausi's recent DUI arrest on July 2 in Phoenix to give the Mercury All-Star a thunderous ovation during the roster introductions. She then went on to score 18 points for the West.

Sue Bird, who also plays for Seattle, added 16 points to the West total and delivered 10 assists, while Charde Houston of the Minnesota Lynx scored 16 points.

 

Asjha Joseph, the lone representative from the local WNBA Connecticut Sun,scored six points in her home arena for the East. The combo of Bird-Taurasi-Jones-Cash represent four starters of the fabled 2002 unbeaten NCAA champions.

The fifth starter - Tamika Williams Raymond who retired from the Sun after last season -- was in town for a dinner reunion Friday night at the home of Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma.

Even Bill Taveres, the Sun media director, had an ex-UConn label having been a beat writer covering the UConn women for a local newspaper before joining the Mohegan Sun public relations department. The career change was made  prior to the Mohegan Tribes' purchase of the former WNBA Orlando Miracle franchise.

Speaking of the Sun, that became the next ex-factor the last two days -- Indiana's Katie Douglas, who scored 11 points, and Atlanta's Erika de Souza, who scored 12, are ex-Sun players who used to delight the summer fan base here, especially Douglas.

 Meanwhile, even off the court UConn produced two major storylines.

 

 Rebecca Lobo, the former Huskies star who helped lead UConn to its first NCAA title in 1995 and is now an ESPN-ABC broadcaster, was named as one of the six new inductees to the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Tenn.

  Since she was here doing sideline reporting for ABC, Lobo became the accessible WBHOF notable of the new group to be around for quotes.

 

When a reporter mentioned to Lobo that during induction weekend next June she might be the first UConn person invited to a party at Tennessee coach Pat Summitt's poolhouse, Lobo jokingly responded, "If you've been there and I haven't, something's wrong."

   Of course, considering her current career, that reporter could have noted that Lobo will be the second media person inducted.

 The other five newcomer inductees are former Georgia and Olympic star Teresa Edwards, former Louisiana Tech and New York Liberty star Teresa Weatherspoon, former Maryland coach Chris Weller, Leta Andrews -- about to enter her 48th season as Granbury High girls coach in Texas where she has the winningest high school girls record at 1,312-282, and as a contributor Gloria Ray who was the first women's athletics director at Tennessee and now heads the WBHOF.

 

 As for Auriemma, the orchestrator of all this Connecticut success, the maestro himself was also on the podium at halftime after an arena introduction as the previously-announced Olympic women's coach for the 2012 games in London, England.

  When Auriemma did color commentary in the early years of the WNBA, rival coaches complained about an undue recruiting advantage to the benefit Huskies.

 

  But all of that was mild compared to Huskies-mania on Saturday.

 

  The only way the NCAA could reduce UConn's bonanza of publicity off this year's All-Star game would be to censor coverage by TV and what remains of the newspaper industry and/or simply ban the WNBA itself.

 

  Non-Connecticut storylines that might produce headlines if the event were in other cities got relegated to the "by-the-way" portion of coverage.

 

  For example, first-time participant Nicole Powell (Sacramento Monarchs), who had 21 points playing for the West, was not far away from game MVP selection, especially considering she was a last-minute addition on the West roster to replace Los Angeles Sparks superstar Lisa Leslie whose farewell tour into retirement has been marred by a knee injury.

  "Oh yeah, Nicole," Taurasi jested when asked about the performance of her West teammate. "We let her come along and be an honorary Huskie for the day."

  

  The top East scorer was former LSU star Sylvia Fowles of the Chicago Sky who totalled 17 points. She also threw down a dunk on a second attempt -- another story that would have been a headline of sorts had the game been in another city.

 Former Temple star Candice Dupree, who is also with Chicago, scored 12 points for the East as did New York Liberty post player Shameka Christon and De Souza. Douglas, as mentioned, scored 11.

 

 San Antonio's Becky Hammon was in double figures for the West with 11 points to complete those in double figures for the winners. Phoenix star Cappie Pondexter, a former Rutgers sensation, had nine points.

 

Before the game, WNBA commissioner Donna Orender held a mid-summer state-of-the-league briefing for the press.

 One question was when might the All-Star game move to a Western outpost.

 

   Although Orender paid homage to those on the left coast, on this particular day the more appropriate answer might have been that the event will move in that direction if the Mohegan Tribe adds a venue in Danbury, located near the Hudson River in Western Connecticut.

 

-- Mel   

 

 

Mel Greenberg Inquirer Sports Columnist
About this blog
Mel Greenberg covers college and pro women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he has worked for 38 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. He was inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.



Click here for Mel's list of All-Decade players from Philadelphia-area schools.

Other contributors

Jonathan Tannenwald is a producer with Philly.com. In addition to covering the local college scene, he spent two years as the Washington Mystics beat writer for Women's Hoops Guru. He also writes his own blog, Soft Pretzel Logic, which covers men's college basketball, football, and other sports.

Kathleen Radebaugh is a recent graduate of St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia. She covered women's basketball for the school's newspaper, The Hawk, and served as sports editor her sophomore year. She was also a four-year member of the varsity crew team.

Erin Semagin Damio covers the University of Connecticut and the WNBA's Connecticut Sun for the blog, and contributes other features. The Storrs, Conn., native also attends Northeastern University, where she is a coxswain on the varsity crew team.

Acacia O'Connor is based in Washington, D.C., where she reports on the Mystics and the college basketball scene in the nation's capital. A graduate of Vassar college, she played on the varsity women's basketball team and was editor of the student newspaper.

Click on any of the contributors' names above to e-mail them.

Reach Mel at poll416@gmail.com.

Mel Greenberg Inquirer Sports Columnist
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