WNBA Today, 05/30/2012: Jesus, Kristi! Superstar.

Kristi Toliver’s a polarising figure at the best of times. Gunners with little conscience often are, and when they come along with an attitude it only makes things worse. Last night was an illustration of precisely why she hasn’t been a regular starting guard in her first three WNBA seasons – especially a point guard – before she showed exactly why she’s such a tantalising talent. Oh, and there were some other players out there as well.

The Tulsa Shock came into Los Angeles last night at 0-3, and off the back of one of the ugliest games you’ll ever see against Washington on Saturday night. But new head coach Gary Kloppenburg seems to be on his way to achieving what Nolan Richardson spent the best part of two years making a mess of. Klopp knows his team doesn’t have the offensive talent of other squads in the league, but he’s got speed and quickness, a roster he can rotate without too much drop-off, and he’s got them playing high-energy, annoying defense. This is a hell of a lot closer to ’40 Minutes of Hell’ than Richardson ever got his Shock squads to play.

However, the early stages weren’t pretty for Tulsa. Continue reading

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WNBA Today, 05/28/2012: Early pacesetters continue dominance

Two games this Sunday in the WNBA, and oddly enough the one with the more lopsided final score was far more competitive. Sometimes you really do need to watch these things (or read WNBAlien) to get a good idea of how they went.

First up was Indiana’s trip to Atlanta. The two teams had already met this season, with the Fever easing to a fairly comfortable win on their home floor last weekend. However, Atlanta had looked far better in their second game, ripping New York to shreds, and now had center Yelena Leuchanka fit to play. Plus there was the addition of the home crowd behind them this time.

Both teams opened with the same lineups that had begun their previous games, Leuchanka now starting at center for the Dream and Tamika Catchings still the power forward for the Fever. The opening quarter went very nicely for Atlanta. Angel McCoughtry came out strong, attacking the Fever defense and providing early scoring, while the Leuchanka/Sancho Lyttle pairing in the post looked like offering much stronger resistance than Atlanta had managed in their last encounter with Indiana.

The key noticeable change-up in the Dream’s approach was at the defensive end, where they were dropping back into a 2-3 matchup zone when made buckets gave them time to set it up. With Leuchanka the beef in the middle, McCoughtry and Armintie Price on the sides, and point guard Lindsey Harding joined by the length and agility of Lyttle out top, it clearly gave Indiana some early problems. It was compounded by the way Atlanta were playing the zone on one possession, then man-to-man on the next, leaving the Fever confused about what they should do and how they should try to score. Continue reading

WNBA Today, 05/27/2012: Mercury downed in the desert, and the D.C. Debacle

Regular readers will have picked up that we typically look at the previous day’s games in chronological order. If you tipped off first, you go first in the column, unless there’s a very good reason. Well guess what, last night’s exploits count as a damn good reason. The abominable excuse for a basketball game that was Washington’s encounter with Tulsa is relegated to the end of this piece; LA’s trip to Phoenix is promoted by default.

Despite the athleticism of LA’s stars and the typical entertainment value provided by the Mercury’s offense, it was an oddly uninvolving and unexciting first half in the desert. So we’ll skim over most of it. Both teams stuck with the same starters they’d used in their previous games, Diana Taurasi in the lineup again despite playing very limited minutes against Tulsa due to her hip injury. LA still haven’t done anything about the lack of depth caused by the injuries to Sharnee Zoll and Nicky Anosike.

There wasn’t much pace to the game, despite how Phoenix like to play and LA’s athletes. Continue reading

WNBA Today, 05/26/2012: Sun and Fever keep rolling; Liberty fears deepen

It was a Friday night triple-header this week in the WNBA, and seeing as the general opinion seemed to be positive last time we tried it, we’re going to tackle them Bullet Point Breakdown style.

 

San Antonio Silver Stars 79 @ Connecticut Sun 83

  • San Antonio head coach Dan Hughes stuck with his itty-bitty starting lineup, With Danielle Adams at center and Jia Perkins the nominal small forward. Connecticut’s Mike Thibault changed things around a little, with Allison Hightower getting the start ahead of Kalana Greene on the wing. Renee Montgomery continues to come off the bench for the Sun (and isn’t very happy about it, according to local press).
  • Tan White is back practicing for Connecticut after her concussion, but didn’t play. Rookie Ziomara Morrison, who was supposed to help provide size and bulk to San Antonio’s interior, is reportedly limited by a finger injury but continues to dress and played very briefly.
  • Adams did a decent job on Charles early, despite the extra inches that the Sun center has on her. Adams can use her bulk to at least make it difficult for Charles on the low block.
  • At the other end, Charles had a few problems. She likes to play free safety a little bit, drifting in the paint to be able to offer help defense when her teammates need it. Against a lot of 5s that’s fine, but with Adams, if you sag back she’s just going to sit happily at the three-point line and fire away all day. The same problem occurred when Adams set screens for her guards, because Connecticut typically trap the ballhandler (or at least show hard with a ghost of a double-team) on pick and rolls. So Adams sets the screen, the guard’s defender and Charles slide over to challenge the ball, and if the guard can pass back to Adams she’s often wide open for a jumper. The defense depends either on a third defender rotating across to cover quickly, or Charles recovering in time to challenge the shot. Both of those are difficult to keep doing effectively. Continue reading

WNBA Today, 05/25/2012: Sparks ask questions, Lynx provide answers

Just the one game in the WNBA last night, but it was a fascinating clash between a reigning powerhouse and a fresh new challenger looking to prove themselves. Of course, the bizarre thing is that it’s the Minnesota Lynx who now sit on top of the pile with a target on their backs, while the Los Angeles Sparks are trying to knock them off their perch. This is not your mother’s WNBA.

Both teams started as expected, Minnesota with their standard five and LA with Kristi Toliver keeping her spot in the backcourt. Center Nicky Anosike remains unavailable due to a knee injury for LA, and with Sharnee Zoll done for the season they’re currently working with only nine healthy players. Minnesota are at ten with Amber Harris still nursing an ankle sprain.

The opening stages were about what you’d expect, with the Lynx playing their typical efficient game and the Sparks riding Candace Parker for all she was worth. Continue reading

WNBA Today, 05/24/2012: Are You Worried Yet?

I hate overreacting to early season results. Plenty of teams start off slowly and gain steam, and in a competition where a ridiculous two-thirds of the league makes the playoffs, finishing well in September can mean a lot more than starting hot in May. But barely a week into the WNBA regular season, some fans in Seattle and New York are showing signs of panic. And if you’ve watched their performances so far, frankly it’s not hard to understand why.

The Liberty faced Minnesota on Tuesday night, in their second ‘home opener’ (their first home game was shifted back to Madison Square Garden due to scheduling conflicts, so this was the first 2012 game in Jersey at the Prudential Center). For the few fans that showed up – and we’re talking a Mystics-sized crowd – it wasn’t pretty. Last year’s champs toyed with them for a while, batting them around like a kitten trying to decide what to do with a tasty little morsel it’d found in the garden, before pouncing to finish them off. The 80-62 final scoreline didn’t accurately represent how close the score had been through much of the game, but it was a fair reflection of the gap between the performances.

Now I was the one cautioning New York fans against panicking following their 0-2 start in back-to-back openers against Connecticut. And I hold to my basic view from the weekend – there’s talent on this roster, and I think they’ll win some games. But my definition of ‘some’ is starting to trend downwards. Continue reading

WNBA Today, 05/20/2012: First Impressions

Welcome to the first WNBA Today of the 2012 season. We’re going to be trying to keep the game recaps a little more brief this year, hopefully to the benefit of both author and audience. The idea is that there should be more analysis and impressions, without quite so much basic recapping of play after play and possession after possession. At least that’s the target. There might be a few kinks to work out.

We’re also going to try something new for the opening edition, which we’re calling WNBAlien Bullet Point Breakdowns. The content in BPBs will be pretty similar, but it separates it all out into nice easy chunks, and saves having to mould it all into a coherent article. This won’t be how every WNBA Today is presented all season, but especially on days with lots of games it may well make a regular return. Feel free to leave a note on whether you think it works. In fact, feel free to comment below about anything related to the articles or the WNBA, or drop a line to richardcohen123@yahoo.co.uk . You can also follow me on Twitter at @RichardCohen1, where you’ll find all kinds of pithy comments. Mostly about basketball.

On with the games, starting with Friday night’s opener in Seattle, and right through all seven of the weekend’s contests.

 

Los Angeles Sparks 72 @ Seattle Storm 66

  • A couple of surprises in the Sparks starting lineup, but they were less shocking when news emerged that Sharnee Zoll and Nicky Anosike were both suffering from knee injuries. The lack of real point guard options on the Sparks roster immediately came under the microscope, with Alana Beard and Marissa Coleman starting in the backcourt. Seattle were as expected, with Camille Little and Tina Thompson sharing the forward spots.
  • Seattle got out to a smoking hot start, because they were pushing the ball and looking for early offense within their sets. LA came out with a pretty dodgy looking 2-3 zone defense on several possessions and Ann Wauters murdered Candace Parker right in the middle of it. Continue reading