WNBA Today, 06/24/2011: Sky win a barnburner. Apparently.

For once, it’s not my fault that this update is being published later than originally intended. I wanted to bring you coverage of everything that happened in the WNBA yesterday, which would’ve included analysis of the obvious ‘game of the day’ between Chicago and Connecticut. However, for whatever reason, WNBA.com’s LiveAccess service failed to broadcast the game and as of this evening, hasn’t uploaded an archive video either. So the only people who’ve seen the game were the couple of thousand who made it to Allstate Arena in Chicago, and anyone who was watching CN100 on local Chicago television last night. Which doesn’t include me.

What I can tell you is that the game went to double-overtime, finishing 84-84 at the end of regulation and 93-93 after the first extra period. The Sky pulled away in the second OT, running out 107-101 winners. The third matchup of Team USA centers this season appears to have finished in a virtual tie, with Tina Charles amassing 22 points and 13 rebounds, while Sylvia Fowles finished with 24 and 12. Both played 46 of the possible 50 minutes. Fowles got more help, with the Sky finishing at 56% from the floor as a team, Epiphanny Prince putting up 25 points, Courtney Vandersloot 14 and 10 assists (with just two turnovers), Michelle Snow with 12 and 17 rebounds, and Tamera Young dropping in 20 points on 8-11 shooting off the bench. Charles was ably assisted by Renee Montgomery with 33 points on 10-17 from the floor, with 6 assists on top, but not quite enough help from anyone else. Montgomery also hit a three with 1.8 seconds left in regulation to send the game into overtime, while a Fowles turnaround with 3.9s left was the bucket that forced the second extra period.

That’s about all I can tell you. I’ll let you all know if an archive video that actually shows game action rather two hours of a ‘Technical Difficulties’ screen ever shows up. It could be an important win for Chicago, who’d lost two in a row after their strong start. Piph shooting over 50% (8-15 from the floor) is a good sign, because she’s been clanking an awful lot of shots off the iron lately, and if Tamera Young can produce anything like that off the bench on a consistent basis it would hugely strengthen their depth on the wing. Connecticut might be getting just a touch worried about Asjha Jones, who produced her third straight weak game last night (again, judging solely from the numbers). She’s now 12-39 across their last three contests, which is ugly, but maybe she just has trouble with Michelle Snow’s length. Three of their five games with Chicago are out of the way now, so she won’t have to worry about her too much for the rest of the season.

—–

So on to the game that was actually watchable yesterday. Well I say watchable. I mean that only in the most literal sense – it wasn’t the prettiest game you’ll ever see. New York went to Tulsa looking to snap a four-game losing streak, hoping to take advantage of facing the league’s worst team for the first time this year. After their offense had shown signs of life in the game against Los Angeles on Tuesday night, the Libs desperately needed to start turning that improved form into wins to get their season back on track. Tulsa are simply continuing to fight for any wins they can lay their hands on.

The first quarter, and largely speaking the entire first half, was all New York. The Shock don’t have anyone who can guard Cappie Pondexter, which is a pretty significant problem when you’re playing the Liberty. Cappie was penetrating at will, and although she wasn’t scoring that heavily herself the Tulsa help defense was having to slide over and cover her so frequently that wide open shots and layups were available for everyone else. Kia Vaughn especially was a beneficiary of Pondexter’s work off the dribble, and was also going to work on the offensive boards, where Tulsa were asleep. In fairness, the game did start damn early.

New York finished the first quarter up 24-14, and stretched that lead to 46-32 by halftime. Pondexter only had nine points and three assists but had led the attack well (apart from a couple of possessions where she bizarrely refused to attack Jen Lacy who’d somehow ended up defending her). Vaughn had 12 points on 6-6 shooting and six rebounds, despite the presence of that big Aussie rookie who tends to be something of a roadblock inside. New York were up 20-12 on the glass and coasting.

In the second half, things got a little interesting. Tulsa had to call two timeouts in the first three minutes of the third quarter after New York’s lead ballooned to 18 at 55-37, but then they finally decided to get involved. Liz Cambage entered the game and scored nine straight points on a series of interior moves and a free throw before Kayla Pedersen topped the run off with a mid-range jumper. Suddenly it was 55-48 and it was actually worth paying attention. Tulsa started playing with more intensity and even using that defensive press of theirs which can cause opponents to panic. It often causes opponents to score a bunch of layups as well, but if everything goes to plan the panic comes first. By the end of the quarter New York were still up seven at 70-63, but the Shock had at least woken up all those camp kids in the crowd and given them something to shout about.

The Cambage barrage continued early in the fourth, and although Vaughn’s offensive numbers continued to look very pretty in the box score, there was little she could do about Liz at the other end. 7:26 left in the game and another Cambage and-1 pulled Tulsa within 75-73, but the Shock never could quite get over the hump. The press started to backfire a little and New York were getting a ridiculous number of easy points in the paint, either on quick layups after breaking the press or on penetration moves and dump-offs to Vaughn and Pierson down low. Ivory Latta taking a smack in the face and having to be replaced by Andrea Riley around the six-minute mark didn’t help either, not that Riley did anything particularly terrible in the five minutes until Latta came back. Ultimately, New York held on without too much difficulty in the final minutes, closing the game out 94-82.

It was yet another case of what might have been for Tulsa. They let New York take complete control of the first half, and then after making such a spirited comeback, didn’t quite have the quality, the knowledge or the composure to finish the game off. Too many quick threes and not enough solid offensive possessions in the final minutes closed out a game that they didn’t necessarily deserve to win, but which they might’ve stolen if they’d held it together. Cambage finished with an excellent 22 points on 8-9 shooting and 6-6 from the free throw line in just 23 minutes of action. It’s probably time to put her back in the starting five. Ivory Latta’s shooting has come back down to earth in the last couple of games, and it’s highlighting their lack of consistent alternatives in the backcourt. This team’s working hard, and they’re far better than they used to be, but they’re still short on guards. But then you probably remember that from the last fifteen times I said it.

New York needed this win and they earned it, even if they made hard work of it in the second half. Pondexter finished with 23 points and 10 assists, continuing to show signs that her offense is returning after going MIA for several games at the start of the season. Offensively, Vaughn played out of her mind, finishing with 24 points on 12-14 from the floor and 12 rebounds, including 5 offensive. Her ability to compose herself and finish inside, and simply to choose the right shots to take, has developed significantly. Cambage’s size and strength gave her trouble defensively, but she won’t be the last player to suffer that fate. As a team, New York shot 54% from the floor, a number which will delight coach Whisenant. It was helped by all the easy buckets they got by beating Tulsa down the floor or breaking the press, but it’s a good-looking number however you arrive at it. Now they’ve just got to keep it going against better opposition.


In other news…

Washington signed Joy Cheek after being granted another medical hardship exemption. The league has a prohibition against re-signing a player you just waived, which is probably why they didn’t just bring back Kerri Gardin again, but why the Mystics have been granted another exemption I’m yet to discover. As far as I know, Beard and Currie are their only players currently out, which has been the case all season so far and only puts them at nine, which is enough to meet league requirements. Anyway, Cheek is yet another tweener forward, who didn’t exactly excite anyone in the few appearances she made for Indiana last season. However she did go to Duke, which seems to increase your chances of earning a spot with the Mystics.

Temeka Johnson has tweaked an ankle, which is keeping her out of uniform for tonight’s Mercury game and moving Ketia Swanier into the starting lineup. Forgot about TJ rolling her foot late in their last game when I put together the injury report yesterday. Sorry about that.

Late update: Lauren Jackson is out for at least three weeks with a labrial tear in her left hip. Might eventually need surgery, but they’re going to try resting it first. More news as and when it becomes available.


Today’s Games:

Phoenix @ Atlanta, 7.30pm ET

Los Angeles @ San Antonio, 8pm ET

Minnesota @ Seattle, 10pm ET

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