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.
  • Seattle led 11-0, and the lead was as high as 16 late in the first quarter. Key Arena was loving it, and everything was flowing nicely for the Storm. Rookie Shekinna Stricklen got into the game, knocked down a couple of shots, and looked like a pretty nice fit.
  • Parker’s just a horrible defender, considering how athletic she is. Yes, her mobility took a hit from her injuries, but a lot of it’s effort and mental breakdowns. She has the physical tools to be much better than she is.
  • Although the second half and fourth quarter especially was where things really fell apart for Seattle, the signs were already there in the second quarter. Stagnant offense, and ugly turnovers when players tried to force passes into holes that weren’t there or had to make something happen late in the shotclock because they were running out of time. Some of it can be put down to early-season rust, and new players learning the system but – and it’s a big but – we saw a lot of this last year from the Storm. It’s not new. They desperately need to speed their offensive game up and get some easy points throughout games, because the halfcourt sets can be really difficult to complete, especially when you’re tired.
  • And man did the Storm look tired late in this game. Basketball is a game of runs, we all know that. But the collapse at the end of this one was spectacular. Some rainbow threes from Tina Thompson and the usual solid defense had kept the Storm’s lead intact through the third quarter, and in fact pushed it to 54-33 with a couple of minutes left in the period. LA won the last 12 minutes 39-12.
  • Storm coach Brian Agler has to take some of the responsibility for this loss on himself. His team’s not deep, but it’s not quite as shallow as he managed to make it look. The kids are going to have to play a little more, especially as – in game 1 of the season – some of the vets looked a little old.
  • Tanisha Wright talked about having to get her legs under her to make the transition from European ball back to the WNBA earlier in the week, and it was pretty apparent that her legs just aren’t there yet. Players were going past her who never normally would. Sue Bird’s defense was typically terrible, and without Wright to cover or the same chemistry with the bigs behind her that she’s had in previous years, the deficiencies were shown up even more.
  • Kristi Toliver was the main beneficiary, and it’s not the first time she’s lit up Seattle. The Storm switch a lot on screens, although they often try not to when it’s Bird being picked off (because the mismatch with the big she’d be left on would be so significant). The problem with Toliver is that her quick trigger jump shot is so fast, that she fires it off before anyone can recover or rotate to challenge it effectively. Also, she’s just one of those scary-streaky shooters who can kill you when she gets hot. The Sparks don’t want her at the point, because she looks for her own shot too much, but she was central to getting them back in this game.
  • Parker had a crappy game, and wasn’t even on the floor for much of the comeback, until a couple of big buckets in the final minutes. Nice sign for LA that they can win without Zoll, Anosike, and a mediocre CP3.
  • Defensively, LA still need work. That zone has big holes in it, especially with bigs cutting right into the heart of it. But in Carol Ross’s first game in charge they already look a hell of a lot better than last year. Whether you credit Beard’s defensive ability, Ross’s willingness to leave players like Lavender and Toliver in the game when they were getting the job done, or Ross’s basic approach to the game – they stuck with their assignments and turned the game around. Seattle may have had a big hand in their own downfall, but you have to play at least a little defense to force 27 turnovers.
  • Finally, the Storm could really use a little aggression off the dribble. Part of the reason they had so many shot clock violations (a ridiculous five in one game), is that no one wants to drive to the damn hole. Everyone’s either posting up, or looking to shoot from outside. Whether it’s playing Stricklen more and encouraging her to attack, or pressing Wright to go to the basket more, or even convincing Bird that she needs to take a page out of her younger self’s playbook – the game’ll open up if you go to the rim. Otherwise they’re always going to be susceptible to games like this, because the offense can always grind to a halt in the halfcourt.

 

Connecticut Sun 78 @ New York Liberty 73

  • As will become apparent, all of this was written prior to the rematch on Sunday
  • More slight surprises in the starting lineups, as Kara Lawson got the nod over Renee Montgomery at point guard for the Sun, and Kara Braxton started over Kia Vaughn at center for the Liberty. Leilani Mitchell held on to her starting PG spot for New York, despite the free agency acquisition of veteran Kelly Miller.
  • This whole game felt like we’d never been away. Just like the tight, toss-up contests between these teams last year, with minimal changes in personnel and the same systems in place. It might as well have been an archive broadcast from 2011.
  • Cappie Pondexter was aggressive early, reminding everyone just how good she is. Montgomery came off the Sun bench and hit a couple of shots (the “I could’ve done this from the start if you’d let me, coach!” was implied), and it all stayed pretty tight through most of the first half.
  • The Sun’s bench, especially down low, looks thin. Mistie Mims and Kelsey Griffin are such an enormous downgrade from Tina Charles and Asjha Jones that there’s a significant feel of “just hold on until the real players get back!” whenever the reserves come in. Mike Thibault may well be trawling around for an extra veteran post to play the Jessica Moore role from last season.
  • New York, on the other hand, rotated through Braxton, Vaughn, Plenette Pierson and DeMya Walker without really missing a beat. Maybe none of them are superstars, but if they stay healthy John Whisenant can keep them all pretty fresh through games. And there’s still first-round pick Kelley Cain to join in, if she’s ever ready (she didn’t see the floor in this one).
  • The refs got tech-happy late in the first half, with Charles, Thibault, Montgomery and Pierson all being whistled in quick succession. Remember, it’s early-season for the officials too.
  • New York went in at halftime with an 8-point lead, largely because the Sun went deathly cold for the final five minutes of the half. A quick Sun burst to open the second half and it was all tied up again.
  • Another Liberty lead was wiped out early in the 4th quarter, with Allison Hightower offering some energy and scoring off the bench (more minutes were available for her with Tan White still out due to a concussion suffered in the preseason).
  • Kara Braxton featured in a ridiculous number of my notes about the second half, both good and bad. The size and bulk she has, plus her scoring touch, always make her an enticing talent. Then she’ll throw up a 19-foot brick or leave Charles wide open for a layup on an inbounds pass and leave you tearing your hair out. If she can have a strong season, with any hint of consistency, it’ll be huge for New York. This one was the typical rollercoaster.
  • Final minute, tied ballgame, Connecticut trap Pondexter off a screen to take the ball out of her hands, she passes out and it’s rotated to a wide open Miller in the corner – and she hit the side of the backboard for the second time in the game. Not a pretty start in Liberty colours for Kelly.
  • Asjha Jones hit a perimeter jumper to put the Sun up two, Cappie ghosted past Hightower at the other end only to miss the layup, Liberty fouled Danielle McCray to stop the clock and she went 1-of-2 at the line. New York had 15 seconds to make something happen, but when Mitchell tried to hand off to Pondexter she ran straight into Hightower. It was a nasty collision, which left Hightower woozily heading back to the locker room, and the refs saw it as an offensive foul against Mitchell. That was pretty much all she wrote, with Montgomery knocking down a pair at the line to ice it.
  • These teams play five times this year, and they’ll probably all be like this. They’re closely matched, and they know each other so well that everyone has a counter to every move.
  • Charles finished with her customary double-double (19 points, 13 boards), but she had to play 30 minutes despite just recovering from an injury. Pondexter had 19 points as well, but the Mitchell/Miller point guard tandem went 0-5 for zero points, 5 assists and 4 turnovers. With production like that, Whiz is going to be increasingly tempted to just slide Cappie over and force her to run everything again.
  • Connecticut will be delighted to win their opening road game, considering that’s where their problems lay last season – a desperate inability to win away from their Mohegan Sun Arena.

 

Atlanta Dream 84 @ Indiana Fever 92

  • Continuing the theme of the weekend, a bit of a surprise in the starting lineup for Atlanta, with Aneika Henry opening the game in the frontcourt alongside Sancho Lyttle. Even with Yelena Leuchanka missing the game due to concussion, Cathrine Kraayeveld might’ve been the more expected option. Indiana went, as anticipated, with the extra perimeter player and Tamika Catchings moving to power forward. Erin Phillips opened at point guard ahead of Briann January, and Jessica Davenport started at center. Although with Tammy Sutton-Brown in street clothes due to a sprained ankle, that decision was essentially made for head coach Lin Dunn.
  • The first half basically made me look like an idiot for disliking the ‘Catch at the 4’ plan, and followed the script exactly as Dunn would like to see the entire season play out. The Fever were pushing the ball, moving it quickly around the perimeter, and knocking down open shots. Shavonte Zellous had a great start, hitting everything, and the Fever were up by as many as 11 in the first quarter.
  • Atlanta, obviously, weren’t looking quite so pretty. They seemed out of sync, with Angel McCoughtry taking a while to get involved in the game, and when they went to the bench the lack of depth on this squad was pretty glaring. Laurie Koehn can’t guard anyone, and the Fever picked on her (almost too much – it somewhat took them out of their rhythm with the way they were trying to attack one specific aspect of their opponent). Just like last year, head coach Marynell Meadors has no confidence in Courtney Paris and barely used her. Kraayeveld largely looked like the slow, mediocre player we saw the last couple of years in Chicago. And Swanier’s a backup point guard. Very backup. The Dream are going to need their starters to carry them, especially with Erika de Souza gone until after the Olympics.
  • Indiana pushed their lead higher in the second quarter, with Catchings getting involved in the offense, and led by 15 at the break.
  • The second half was much better for Atlanta, and reminded everyone of why this team scared people last year. McCoughtry hit her stride and started racking up points, Lyttle got involved in the offense and showed off some improved range, Lindsey Harding attacked a little more off the dribble and rookie Tiffany Hayes showed why they were so excited to get her in the draft. A three by Lyttle cut the score to 62-60 late in the third quarter.
  • But with the crowd behind them for their home opener, the Fever responded. January drilled a three, and both Catchings and January drew charges, before a prayer from big Jessica Davenport dropped in from way outside at the third-quarter buzzer. That gave Indiana a 74-60 lead, and while the Dream fought to cut the gap as low as 4 in the final period, Indiana held on without a great deal of trouble.
  • The new Fever lineup worked out pretty nicely in its first outing, but it wasn’t without its problems. Catchings has a speed and agility mismatch against most 4s in this league, and especially when she was attacking players like Kraayeveld that was a big edge. But it also leaves a bit of a hole in the paint. Catch is one of the best defenders the women’s game has ever seen, but she’s not a big, physical presence and there were several occasions in the second half where Dream players went to the rim and had easy uncontested finishes. Part of the reason for that is that there’s often only one true big on the floor for the Fever. Also, Lyttle’s the only real post threat on this Dream team right now – many other teams have at least two.
  • Henry did okay in her first outing, showing some energy and hustle, but this team’s obviously going to miss Erika de Souza. Probably even more than Seattle will miss Lauren Jackson. I still think Meadors may well tinker with her roster. Koehn’s a complete waste of a spot if you can’t get her open for threes. She does nothing else to even a mediocre standard. And if you don’t trust Paris, try someone else. Leuchanka returning and Hayes developing will help, but this team looks painfully thin.

 

Chicago Sky 69 @ Washington Mystics 57

  • This really wasn’t a pretty game of basketball. An unkinder man might suggest that Chicago came out ahead by sucking less, more than anything else.
  • Matee Ajavon was out for Washington with a knee injury she still hasn’t shaken off, and that significantly hurt a team that has three primary holdovers and a lot of new pieces to work with. Natasha Lacy and Noelle Quinn started in the backcourt with Ajavon out, and defensive specialist Ashley Robinson started ahead of Michelle Snow at center. Courtney Vandersloot was the choice at point guard for Chicago over veteran Ticha Penicheiro.
  • There might’ve been even fewer people at this game than most Mystics games last year. And there were about five people at most of those. All teams count ‘attendance’ as including all tickets sold and given away – not people actually in the building – but the gap between the official numbers and the real audience in D.C. is staggering. 11,415 was the official number for this game. Onscreen, it was easier to count the people than the empty seats.
  • Obviously distracted by all those seats in their eyeline, Washington repeatedly turned the ball over in the first half. Missing Ajavon didn’t help, but we all knew this team was going to have issues at point guard coming into the season. Dominique Canty, Natasha Lacy, Noelle Quinn and Jasmine Thomas all took on the role at some point during the game. They’re all somewhere between mediocre and bad. When you’ve got no real hand on the tiller for where your team’s supposed to be going, it’s hard for everyone else to execute properly.
  • Sylvia Fowles is really, really good. Duh.
  • Chicago weren’t taking great care of the ball themselves, but they were doing enough to pull away. Epiphanny Prince had a nice first half, knocking down shots and being aggressive, while Le’coe Willingham was being her typical self as a hustling complementary post player off the bench. Swin Cash was quietly effective all night.
  • Trailing by 13 at halftime, seven Washington players already had at least two turnovers apiece. I feel like that must be a record (for players with two or more giveaways by the break), but that remains unconfirmed.
  • The Mystics actually made a run in the third quarter and turned the game into a contest, although it felt more like unnecessary Chicago mistakes were letting them back in. Remember, this Sky team had all kinds of issues with turnovers themselves last year, and that could still be a problem this season.
  • At the point, Vandersloot did okay, but seemed to be playing well within herself. Penicheiro saw barely three minutes of action (no signs of an injury behind that decision, as far as I saw). For long stretches towards the end of the game, Prince was at the point, with Tamera Young at off-guard. Young had a pretty nice game, but it’s hard to believe that Prince at the point will be a good idea in most games. It didn’t work well with Galatasaray in the offseason, and it’s doubtful that it’ll be any better in the US. She’s just too aggressive and too often looking for her own shot – putting her at the point makes her change her natural game, and has the potential to negatively affect others. Surely Penicheiro will play more than three minutes most nights?
  • Fowles finished 10-14 from the field for 23 points and 12 boards. Really, really good, y’all.
  • Crystal Langhorne was her typically efficient self with 16 points and 8 boards for the Mystics, but faded as the game got away from Washington. Monique Currie looked pretty good early, then drifted through much of the game. There were a few nice moments for second-year guard Jasmine Thomas, who ought to get plenty of minutes for this team once they realise they’re playing for the future – again. Otherwise, it was another forgettable night for the Mystics. Hopefully it’ll get better when Ajavon’s available and the new players all get to know each other a little better.

 

San Antonio Silver Stars 88 @ Tulsa Shock 79

  • Be happy, Shock fans, on the evidence of this, you might just have something resembling a basketball team this year.
  • San Antonio came out with an insanely short starting lineup, Danielle Robinson, Becky Hammon and Jia Perkins on the perimeter, Sophia Young and Danielle Adams up front. Tulsa weren’t exactly big themselves, with the pint-sized Temeka Johnson/Riquna Williams backcourt joined by Scholanda Dorrell, Jen Lacy and Chante Black.
  • Danielle Adams looks enormous. Like, even bigger than last year enormous.
  • Immediately, Tulsa looked more organised than last year. It’s a little hard to define, but even with most of their possessions involving speedy guards attacking as quickly as possible, there wasn’t the feeling that everything was completely out-of-control that often pervaded Shock games last season. They even got off to a quick 9-0 start.
  • With Tiffany Jackson (now Tiffany Jones) pregnant and Liz Cambage in Australia, the Shock don’t have any real post up scorers they can just throw the ball to down low. So we’re going to see a lot of shots from their guards. And somehow you get the sense that Johnson, Williams and Ivory Latta won’t exactly see that as a problem. Johnson especially was evidently loving the fact that she’s higher up the food chain in Tulsa than she was in Phoenix.
  • Tulsa are so weak inside – Chante Black is still practically useless, in case you’d forgotten while she sat out last season – that the Silver Stars’ lack of rebounding and interior presence wasn’t an issue in this game. In fact, with rookie Glory Johnson the only interior force of any description for the Shock, Sophia Young was actually setting up down low and having some joy in this game.
  • No really, go find a picture of Danielle Adams if you didn’t see this game. Damn.
  • Glory Johnson had a nice debut. To paraphrase a certain former NFL coach, she is what we thought she was. Lots of energy, crashes the glass, goes after everything. Not much in the way of legitimate moves, but you don’t always need too many of those to be effective even at the top level.
  • The two rookies out of Miami made their first appearances in this game as well, often guarding each other. Riquna Williams had a nice first half for the Shock, looking quick and active, and she’s certainly not afraid to shoot. Shenise Johnson already looks a nice pickup for San Antonio. her physique is pro-ready, and her handle looks good enough to play anywhere Dan Hughes wants on the perimeter (although obviously he has plenty of better options at the point). Having Vickie Johnson on the sideline to teach her could be perfect for Shenise, who could end up being a similar type of player – a strong wing with the ballhandling ability to take the pressure off other guards alongside her.
  • Overall, San Antonio were a bit of a mess in the first half, with too many cheap turnovers scattered through their play. You know Tulsa have turned over a new leaf when it’s their opponents who lead the turnover stats 15-5 at halftime. As a result, Tulsa held on to a 42-38 advantage at the break.
  • Wonder if Danielle Adams grabbed a burger at halftime?
  • The game stayed tight throughout the second half, with San Antonio shaking off some of their rust and tightening up their passing a little. After her quick start, Williams went ice cold for Tulsa, but just kept on shooting anyway. Feels like that might be something we see from her all year – feast or famine, and no conscience about firing away whichever is the case.
  • The last two minutes were a little too reminiscent of the old days for Shock fans. They didn’t do anything horribly wrong, but the other team had more composure and more people capable of stepping up to grab the win. It was Shameka Christon who hit two huge threes in the final minutes, both from that diagonal angle that she always used to fire them in from for New York. That’s just her spot. A five seconds inbound violation and an ugly forced Latta three characterised the closing Shock possessions.
  • Still, it was practically a modern form of torture being forced to watch Shock games last season – this was a marked improvement. Quick, gunning guards and energetic, bouncy posts can be a lot of fun to watch, so at least there’s something to cheer about in Oklahoma.
  • For San Antonio, it’s a win, and that’s the main thing. There were some other positives. Christon looked great in her first game in silver and black, going 6-8 for 16 points in under 16 minutes of action. Young showed a willingness to play on the interior which was nice, although we’ll see if it continues against the ten better front-lines in the WNBA. Hammon was her typical self, going 6-12 for 17 points and 9 assists with only 3 turnovers. In fact, as a team, they shot an outstanding 55% – it was just all the turnovers that kept it close.
  • And seriously, Danielle Adams does appear to have gained weight from last season, although the image may be skewed by a uniform that actually fits. It’s frankly pretty ridiculous, and it obviously hurts her game. She’s so skilled with the ball that it’d be nice to see her get in proper shape, because they simply can’t keep her on the floor for that many minutes in her current condition. Also, she’ll remain more susceptible to injuries while she has to drag the extra poundage up and down the floor. Watching the NBA playoffs, I was wondering if she could ultimately be the female version of Zach Randolph, only with even greater range. Now I’m worried she’s going to be the female Tractor Traylor.

 

Phoenix Mercury 83 @ Minnesota Lynx 105

  • The big news heading into this one was that Diana Taurasi was out with a hip flexor injury. So the Mercury were without their two best players, considering Penny Taylor was already missing with her torn ACL.
  • Rookie point guard Samantha Prahalis started, along with Charde Houston and the anticipated trio of DeWanna Bonner, Candice Dupree and Nakia Sanford. Minnesota, unsurprisingly, went with the same regular five that won them a championship last year.
  • The whole game, frankly, was very reminiscent of the playoff series between these two last year. The Lynx can play Phoenix’s style of basketball if that’s what the Merc want them to do, and they can do it even better than Phoenix. Then beyond that, the Lynx can play markedly better defense. Add those things together, and it’s awfully hard for the Mercury to beat this team.
  • That said, they had a nice start. Against her old team, Charde Houston did exactly what we all know she can do – she scored the damn basketball. Firing away at will, raining in threes from outside and throwing in a drive or two to keep the defenders on their toes, she had 11 in the first quarter and 15 by halftime. It’s not like Minnesota were unaware of her capabilities.
  • Phoenix also had a remarkable number of offensive rebounds in the first quarter, which helped keep them in the game (considering Houston was the only one really doing any scoring). The problem was, Minnesota played a pretty crappy first period, while Houston shot the lights out, and the score was still tied. It really wasn’t going to last.
  • Candice Wiggins and Monica Wright came off the bench for the Lynx and did their job in the second quarter, injecting a little extra energy and pace into the lineup. Wright especially had a nice opening day, driving, scoring and creating off the dribble. No sign of Erin Thorn at all (until garbage time at the end of the game), so for now Wiggins remains the backup point guard.
  • Wiggins and Prahalis had a few words and a very mild amount of physical contact. Wiggins got the tech, which probably could’ve gone either way.
  • Prahalis did okay to open her first pro game, but there were several sloppy turnovers from the Mercury as a team, and Prahalis herself is so slight that the physicality of the WNBA will take some getting used to.
  • One of the other new Mercury additions, Latvian center Zane Tamane, looked really, really bad. I’ve seen her in Europe, and know she can do better than that, but some players just don’t fit in the WNBA style. She might end up being one of them.
  • Minnesota led 56-43 at the break, without playing anywhere near their best. Seimone Augustus’s pretty, pretty offensive game was at the fore as ever, and the Mercury couldn’t do anything about it.
  • It was never a contest in the second half. The Lynx eased away, and Mercury coach Corey Gaines didn’t have anyone on his roster who could keep his team in the game. It was really just Houston and their three-point shooting that kept them hanging around in the first half, and that couldn’t hold up long-term.
  • Three minutes into the second half, down 15, we finally saw the Mercury’s other free agent pick-up – and former Lynx – Alexis Hornbuckle. Obviously Gaines isn’t too enamoured with her at this stage, considering he was without Taurasi and still took 23 minutes to bother putting her to work.
  • Candice Dupree wasn’t anywhere close to being involved enough in this game. Playing over 34 minutes, including the entire 20 in the first half, she took 8 shots all night. That’s ridiculous, especially with Taurasi in street clothes. Having a ballstopper like Houston on the perimeter rather than a facilitator like Taylor obviously makes a difference, but Dupree needs to impose herself on the game rather than wandering around expecting something to happen. They’re screwed otherwise, with or without Taurasi.
  • Houston finished with 24 points on 22 shots, and even in a game where she was the main bright spot for the Mercury, you could see why she can be so frustrating. A couple of nice passes for assists were great to see, but most of the time she’s just looking to get hers. Some nights, that’s going to drive her teammates, coach and fans absolutely insane.
  • Regulation early-season win for the Lynx, who look just as good as expected (albeit against an understrength opponent that they enjoy facing anyway). No one broke the 30 minute barrier, Augustus led six players in double-digits, and even Devereaux Peters had a nice, comfortable rookie debut. The one scary moment was when Augustus went hurtling into the crowd during the third quarter while trying to save the ball from going out of bounds, and stayed down on her knees for quite some time. After being taken back to the locker room, it was eventually diagnosed as merely a rib contusion, so basically a nasty shot to the stomach. She seemed fine eventually, receiving a big ovation when she came back out to sit on the bench, and isn’t expected to miss any games. There was no need for her to re-enter this one.

 

New York Liberty 77 @ Connecticut Sun 92

  • An immediate rematch to start the season, which always feels strange.
  • Same starting lineups as the day before. Tan White still unavailable for Connecticut due to concussion, Allison Hightower recovered from her collision with Leilani Mitchell late in Saturday’s game and ready to play.
  • I hate talking about officials, but they really were central to the course of this game, so I don’t have a lot of choice.
  • The Sun couldn’t hit anything early in this game. They literally had three buckets in the entire first quarter – all by Asjha Jones – and only one more by the five-minute mark of the second quarter. But they hung around anyway because of an extraordinary free throw discrepancy. By halftime the Sun had overturned a double-digit deficit and actually led 44-40, thanks to going 23-26 at the line compared to New York’s 5-8. It didn’t make a great deal of sense. Whisenant’s defense does lead to a lot of fouls if you’re just a split-second late rotating, but the Sun weren’t vastly more aggressive than the Liberty. In fact, New York were well ahead in the points in the paint category at the break. For whatever reason, all the calls were going Connecticut’s way. Once they finally started hitting a few shots late in the half, their run was inevitable.
  • We got our first look at Liberty rookie Kelley Cain, and she certainly is big. Not much else to say yet, as she wasn’t out there for long, but as the saying goes – you can’t teach size.
  • After a very quiet first half, Tina Charles looked far more up for the fight in the second. After being injured in the preseason, a back-to-back against the Liberty wouldn’t have been her first choice to open the real games, so maybe it took her a while to get warmed up.
  • The difference over the course of the game was mainly Charles and Asjha Jones. In regard to yesterday’s game I remarked on how the Sun have two top posts, then a big drop-off to their backups – compared to the Liberty’s depth of players who can replace each other without losing much. Here, the basic fact that Charles and Jones were the two best posts on the floor was key. Having lots of 7-out-of-10 level players doesn’t always mean much if the other team has a couple of 9s or 10s.
  • Danielle McCray was central to the sequence that helped the Sun pull away for the win. Just after Essence Carson had dragged the Liberty within two, McCray drew contact on a drive and sank a pair at the line; nailed a three; then drove past Cappie Pondexter on the baseline before making a pretty feed to Tina Charles for a layup. In three consecutive possessions she’d taken the Sun nine points clear and it was never much of a contest from then on (even with six minutes left to play).
  • While McCray had that nice run, Allison Hightower is the Sun wing who’s perhaps had the most impressive weekend. Yesterday her energy and scoring made an impact; today she was 0-5 for zero points but a significant +24 in the +/- column. They used her on Pondexter a lot, and although no one’s ever going to stop Cappie, she makes her work for everything. It’ll be interesting to see how many minutes Hightower continues to receive once Tan White returns (she’s expected back for their next game on Friday). Hightower was last on the perimeter depth chart last season – she might be forcing her way up the list.
  • For New York, I don’t think this has been quite as horrible an opening weekend as many will perceive it as being. Obviously you don’t want to start 0-2, especially with both games being against the same conference rival. But they easily could’ve won Saturday’s game and the officiating significantly limited their chances in this one. I still think this is a pretty solid roster that can win plenty of games – although they’re going to have to get more from somebody on the perimeter besides Pondexter. Essence Carson, Nicole Powell, Leilani Mitchell and Kelly Miller have all been fairly invisible so far.
  • Charles, after playing Miss Invisible herself in the first half, somehow finished this game 11-15 for 25 points and 11 boards. Jones was 8-16 for 20.
  • Oh, and Kara Braxton continues to drive me crazy. So much talent, so much dumb. I’m kinda glad I’m not a Liberty fan.

 

Notes

  • Suspension notes: there are two different types of suspension, as I’ve explained before. One takes the player out for the year but removes her number from the salary cap; the other allows her to be activated at any point during the season but the player counts against the cap even while suspended. Janel McCarville and Quanitra Hollingsworth are both suspended for the full season in New York, as is LaToya Pringle in Washington. We already knew McCarville wasn’t coming, and due to their cap situation the Liberty had no choice around Hollingsworth unless they wanted to swallow up one of their 11 active roster spots with her. Pringle is dealing with family issues and has bigger things to worry about right now.
  • On the other hand, Erika de Souza, Lauren Jackson and Elizabeth Cambage are all eligible to be unsuspended by their respective teams whenever they become available (after the Olympic break is the expected date, obviously). Also eligible to return, slightly surprisingly, is Jenna O’Hea in Los Angeles, who’s said openly that she was expecting to miss the whole 2012 WNBA season. Maybe they’re hoping they can entice her back if they need her for the stretch run. Silvia Dominguez seems to be in some kind of limbo position with regards to her suspension that I admit to not fully understanding, but it seems very unlikely that we’ll see her this year. She’d be in Seattle by now if they wanted her to come over.
  • Some teams are expecting players to miss games later in the year to join European national teams. Shay Murphy in Chicago (Montenegro), Becky Hammon in San Antonio (Russia), and Sancho Lyttle in Atlanta (Spain) may miss time. It all depends on various agreements and what the player decides. All three teams have enough cap room to temporarily sign a replacement if their player should leave for a while (although Atlanta’s would need to be cheap).

 

Upcoming Games

 

Monday May 21st:

None

 

Tuesday May 22nd:

Minnesota @ New York, 7pm ET

Phoenix @ Tulsa, 8pm ET

Seattle @ Los Angeles, 10.30pm ET

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8 comments on “WNBA Today, 05/20/2012: First Impressions

  1. Martha says:

    I like your new format. Thanks for the blogging I always read as soon as I know a new one is out.

  2. DAMIAN says:

    I totally agree with you on the Liberty having a solid roster but do you also agree if the libs lose to Minnesota on Tuesday then they should get rid of Whisenant and Cappie need others to step up?

    • As I mentioned, Cappie is definitely going to need more help. You have to wonder at this point just what it would take for Carson to get more of the minutes Powell swallows up on the wing, but maybe it’ll happen eventually if Powell stays anonymous. Three games is awfully fast to change coach, even in the WNBA. And there’s not a lot of time to make any decent changes at that point. If they’re in the tank at the Olympic break, then it might be possible then – I wouldn’t get your hopes up for anything changing until that stage.

      And of course, everyone’s going into this season with that little voice in the back of their minds saying “well it wouldn’t be too bad if we ended up in the lottery this season…”

  3. Matt says:

    Wonder if Danielle Adams grabbed a burger at halftime?

  4. Damian says:

    Rick who is the x-factor for New York to have success and if its not Nicole Powell than who is or if its too early to make any moves.

    • I think one of the good things about this New York team is that they don’t necessarily have to rely on anyone in particular to show up – besides Pondexter – in every game. It could be any of a variety of people on any night, but the problem is obviously when you don’t get enough from anyone. Braxton could be big for them on some nights, but she’s been in this league for long enough now that she’s not going to change – very impressive one moment, a complete nightmare the next. Otherwise it’s the usual suspects offensively – Pierson, Carson, hope you get something from Powell, and maybe Vaughn if Braxton isn’t working out that night. It already looks like it’s going to be an unexpected bonus whenever they get anything much from the Mitchell/Miller combo at the point.

  5. Damian says:

    New York just lost to Minnesota, so what’s next for them a new coach or personnel changes because the sounds like desperate times calls for desperate measures for the liberty.

  6. Ava says:

    Why is Courtney Paris still on the Dream’s roster. Can they get a trade for her. She is extremely overweight, short, and slow as Christmas. She has showed how undisciplined she is by once agian returning to camp fat, slow and out of shape. I mean she has the vertical of an elephent. She is a big waste of space. MM needs to get rid of her, she is garbage. Can’t shot, can’t jump and is half way ok at rebonding. She looks like a D-linemen.

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