Just the one WNBA game last night, and that was unfortunate. Because this was one I could’ve happily glossed over if there were any other games to pay attention to. Nevertheless, Tulsa fans will be delirious at getting off the schneid with a home win over Washington, and they didn’t even have to bite their fingernails as the minutes ran down. Mystics supporters, on the other hand, probably won’t be reading this. They’ll be trying to forget.
We’ll all happily forget the first half. WNBA.com’s LiveAccess was on the fritz, but the game was hideous anyway so I doubt they got too many complaints. 11-10 Shock at the end of the first quarter due to an assortment of turnovers and bricks from both teams, the game was virtually unwatchable whether you had a smooth video feed or not. In roster news, Liz Cambage was back from her concussion for the Shock, although she came off the bench and only played 16 minutes in the game, so she may not be quite all the way back. For Washington, Ta’Shia Phillips eventually entered the game, which means emergency replacement Kerri Gardin must’ve been released. Not that anyone on the Mystics bothered to inform the public. Still no Alana Beard.
Finally managing some decent ball movement, Tulsa put together a nice little run behind a Kayla Pedersen three and a couple of Jen Lacy layups to take a six-point lead early in the second quarter. Then the Mystics woke up for about six minutes of game time, pretty much the only period where they weren’t slumbering all evening. Their offense seems to have completely collapsed since that game a few days ago against Connecticut where they couldn’t figure out the Sun’s zone, and the movement (ball-, player-, heart- ) has disappeared. However, for that six-minute run, Marissa Coleman discovered her long-forgotten shooting touch, knocking down four threes without a miss. It wasn’t particularly great offense – one player just got hot – but it took the game back from Tulsa for a while, and led the Mystics in at the break up 32-26.
Thank God for small mercies, the second half was at least a little more watchable. Ivory Latta went nuts (in a good way), which is always fun to see, knocking down 14 points on her own in the opening five minutes of the half. Four threes and a layup from the pint-sized gunner took the game away from Washington, giving Tulsa a 44-37 lead. The Mystics hung around for a while after that, behind the occasional Langhorne layup and a nice little offensive cameo from rookie Karima Christmas, but when Tulsa made a push in the fourth they barely seemed interested in pushing back. Tulsa moved the ball, worked harder, and simply looked hungrier for the result. From 57-55 with seven minutes left in the game, Tulsa went on a 15-2 run that killed it off as a contest and sent their crowd home happy. The eventual result of 77-59 barely flattered the dominance they showed in the second half.
Congratulations to the Shock and Nolan Richardson, who are finally looking like a vague facsimile of a professional basketball team. There’s still a basic lack of talent and depth on this squad compared to most teams in the WNBA, but through injuries and simple coaching decisions they’re finally sticking to the players that actually deserve to be out there. They don’t have a typical point guard – Latta brings the ball up, but she’s more of a scorer than a creator – but they’re moving the ball and finding each other from a variety of spots around the floor. Sheryl Swoopes looks healthy (long may it last), and the old girl still knows all the tricks. Plus/minus isn’t always the most reliable statistic, especially in a single game, but Swoopes was a ridiculous +37 last night. That’s an indication of how much she helps this team’s flow when she’s on the floor. It’s also an indication of how dismal the backups are, but we’ll gloss over that for now.
Now, Kayla Pedersen. Oh Kayla, Kayla, Kayla. You’ll have to forgive the gushing, but I’m kind of falling in love with Pedersen’s game. This girl’s a rookie, six games into her pro career, and on what is generally considered to be the most chaotic team in the WNBA – yet she gives you a little bit of everything. She’s big, but she moves well for her size and is more than happy to use her frame for defensive purposes. The last couple of games she’s rediscovered the three-point touch that she had at times in college, which’ll make her vastly more dangerous offensively. She’s got an eye for the pass, throwing one lovely little touch-pass to Jen Lacy for a layup last night, along with six other assists. I’ve said it already, but she reminds me of Erin Perperoglou (née Buescher), only with considerably more natural offensive talent. For a few years (2006-2008ish), Perperoglou was one of the best role players in the WNBA, defending practically anyone, knocking down open shots when teams ignored her and doing all the dirty work that wins you games. Needless to say, I kind of loved her game too.
On one play last night, Pedersen had her midrange shot blocked, but reacted quicker than anyone else to the loose ball, recovered it and put in the layup while getting fouled. That was just like something Perperoglou would’ve done. On the very next Tulsa possession, Pedersen received the ball on the low block, and sank a pretty turnaround jumper over her defender for the score. That was something Erin probably only hit in her dreams. Pedersen has the chance to be a hell of a lot better, just in the same mould. I don’t see her ever being a superstar or franchise-leading scorer that you can build a team around, but she could easily be a do-everything support starter on a very good team. Probably going to take a while though, considering she’s in Tulsa. Unless Nolan randomly decides to trade her (which is hardly an impossibility).
Just in case I hadn’t quite got it across, Washington were awful last night. Crystal Langhorne had an apparently efficient double-double if you look at the boxscore, dropping 12pts/12rbs, but it was just about the quietest double-double you’ve ever seen. Nicky Anosike’s offense has disappeared in the face of her team being unable to move the ball or find her in position down low, leading to too many jumpers. They just don’t go in very often, and Nicky’s 6-32 in her last three games combined. Ouch. Miller and Ajavon were back to their expected mediocre production last night, and if it hadn’t been for Coleman’s brief burst in the second, this one probably would’ve been over much sooner. Trudi Lacey has to get this team back to finding Langhorne and Anosike deep down low, early and often, every single night. Whether it’s against a zone, a man-to-man, or anything inbetween, that’s the only way they can win. Move the ball, move the players, just wake up and freaking move. Teams are going to collapse on them in the paint all year, but that’s no excuse for being as moribund as they were last night. They shouldn’t be that bad.
In other news…
Great Britain got stuffed in their opening EuroBasket game yesterday, which is why we’re not talking about that.
As I type this, I can see Kara Lawson warming up for Connecticut, so she’s back from her ankle sprain for the Sun. Kelsey Griffin’s starting in her place this time though, so Thibault’s going big today.
Chicago @ Connecticut, 1pm ET
Minnesota @ Atlanta, 3pm ET
Indiana @ Phoenix, 6pm ET
Seattle @ Los Angeles, 8.30pm ET