Officiating Sparks Woolridge's Anger


You nearly needed a fire extinguisher to approach Sparks Coach Orlando Woolridge late Saturday afternoon, after the Phoenix Mercury overhauled the fast-starting Sparks to win the WNBA game, 84-76, before 13,483 at America West Arena.

Woolridge was furious at his players and the officiating crew, and after the mandatory 10-minute postgame cooling-off period he really blew his top.

Someone handed him a final box score, showing the Mercury (5-10) had 41 free throws, making 34, and the Sparks (10-6) eight free throws, making six.

"I've been in professional basketball 19 years [13 as a player in the NBA] and that's the first time in all that time my team hasn't been in the penalty in either half," said Woolridge, whose team was also called for 17 more fouls (30-13). "It's the worst-officiated game I've seen."

Spark media relations director Stacey Terrien pulled Woolridge aside, whispering a reminder of league policy prohibiting players and coaches from publicly criticizing officials.

Woolridge said he didn't care.

"If they want to fine me, they have my address," he said. "I'm calling Don [Rutledge, WNBA officials chief] and I'm sending him a tape. I definitely want the league office to see this."

The officials were Melissa Barlow, Sally Bell and Jason Phillips.

Meanwhile, Mercury Coach Cheryl Miller was ejected with 11:55 to play after receiving two technicals from Phillips. It was Miller's third ejection this season, and she suggested officials are gunning for her.

"Obviously, I need to control my emotions," Miller said. "But it's more obvious that the officials are looking for me."

The Mercury trailed, 50-48, before Miller was ejected, but had shot 12 more free throws than the Sparks, who weren't spared criticism by Woolridge.

He was furious that slow, ponderous Marlies Askamp, the 6-foot-5 Mercury center, had seven offensive rebounds, and that the Mercury had more than twice as many offensive rebounds than the Sparks (15-7).

"We didn't box out anyone today, and I'm very unhappy about it," Woolridge said. "Maybe we've learned to get a good lead early, now I guess we have to learn how to manage it."

The Sparks, behind Gordana Grubin's hot shooting and two steals, took a 13-2 lead in the first six minutes.

Then the Sparks' offense became tentative late in the half when the Mercury switched to a zone.

The Mercury didn't lead in the first half but trailed only 33-32 at the break.

Phoenix took its first lead at 63-62 with 7:10 left when Jennifer Gillom made a free throw--after a technical foul on Woolridge. That was the first of eight consecutive points by Gillom, who finished with 20. Kristi Harrower also had 20 points, making all 12 of her free throws.

Lisa Leslie led the Sparks with 21 points.

The game was scheduled to be nationally televised by NBC but was moved to CNBC, its cable affiliate, when the network switched to coverage of the disappearance of John F. Kennedy Jr.'s plane.

Other Games

Tonya Edwards' two free throws with 27 seconds left were decisive for the Minnesota Lynx (8-6) in a 60-58 victory over the New York Liberty (8-6) before 10,290 at Minneapolis. Brandy Reed, whose buzzer-beating basket gave the Lynx a two-point victory over the Liberty at Madison Square Garden a week ago, scored 20 points as Minnesota overcame a 12-point deficit. . . . Andrea Stinson scored 17 points and Dawn Staley added 14 and seven assists as the Charlotte Sting rallied to beat the Washington Mystics, 63-56, before 7,819 at Charlotte, N.C. The Sting (7-8) outscored the Mystics, 44-36, in the second half. Chamique Holdsclaw, playing for the first time with a broken left index finger suffered in Wednesday's All-Star game, had nine points and six rebounds for Washington (5--11). . . .

Cindy Brown had 14 points and eight rebounds as the Detroit Shock (8-8) routed the Cleveland Rockers, 77-61, before 7,632 at Auburn Hills, Mich. The Rockers (4-14) were outshot, 49% to 35%. Detroit guard Sandy Bondello scored two points, ending her double-figure scoring streak at 23 games. . . . Yolanda Griffith had 20 points and nine rebounds as the Sacramento Monarchs (12-5) took advantage of 24 turnovers to beat the Orlando Miracle, 76-70, before 10,194 at Orlando, Fla. Nykesha Sales scored 20 points to lead Orlando (7-8), which lost its third in a row despite four scorers in double figures.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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