Washington Mystics 74 @ Connecticut Sun 66
Lineups: Rookie guard Bria Hartley got another start in the backcourt for Washington, maybe hoping she’d be energised by returning to play in front of many of the fans who loved her in college. The Sun stuck with the same lineup from their previous game, which meant the Chiney Ogwumike/Kelsey Bone pairing remained in the post, even though Kelsey Griffin was available again after her illness.
Story of the Game: Washington were on top for most of the first half. Kia Vaughn and Emma Meesseman were the post pair having the most success, and their developing chemistry could be a big plus for the Mystics in the future. Mike Thibault likes to mix and match his lineups, but if he notices a particular unit working well together he’ll use his rotations to make sure they’re on the floor together as often as possible. Meesseman has the all-round game and mobility to be effective in various areas, Vaughn has the size and work rate to fight in the paint and a pretty reliable mid-range shot. They gave Ogwumike and Bone problems.
Their teammates were chipping in as well, and the Mystics shot a high percentage in the first half to stay in front. The primary source of points for Connecticut was Ogwumike, who continues to impress. She gets those same hustle points off energy plays and offensive boards that we’ve been watching her sister Nneka pick up for a couple of years, but she’s also a focus of their offense within sets (something Nneka’s never been given a chance at in Los Angeles). With a lot of jumpers that weren’t going in from the rest of the Sun players, their deficit would’ve been a lot more than eight at halftime without Ogwumike’s efforts.
The Sun came back into the game in the third quarter. They were much more active and energetic on defense, the Washington offense stalled, and the scoreboard evened out. Connecticut also benefitted from a run of scoring from Alex Bentley. When your point guards are Bentley and Renee Montgomery, you have to accept that you won’t always run a perfect offensive set. They’re both prone to breaking off and looking for their own points at times, rather than playing the classic distributor role at the point. But sometimes that’s what you need to kick your offense into gear and wake your team up. Along with drives to the hoop and an answered prayer for three as the shot clock expired, Bentley tossed in a behind-the-back pass to Allison Hightower for a three. Connecticut were right back in the game.
But the fourth quarter didn’t go well for the Sun. The Washington defense collapsed inside and made everything tough for Ogwumike, and the Connecticut guards had gone quiet (Bentley only played three minutes in the final period for some reason). At the other end, Washington weren’t exactly running beautifully constructed offense – it was largely one-on-one stuff – but Monique Currie and Ivory Latta stepped up and made shots. These are the benefits of Thibault trusting 10 players – he can hopefully find someone who’s got their game going on any given night, and they should be fresher due to the depth of his rotation. Connecticut didn’t have an answer at the other end, and Washington held on for the win.
Key Players: The Mystics shot 52% from the field, but Vaughn (with 16) was the only player with more than 12 points. The balance on this team is really nice to watch. There are no superstars, but a smartly constructed squad that are winning games.
Ogwumike was Connecticut’s star once again, with bursts from Bentley and Montgomery helping out. Bone was very quiet against the more experienced Washington frontcourt, and Katie Douglas is still shooting very poorly since returning to the Sun. It was a decent performance in general from the Sun but the shooting percentages made the difference, with Connecticut’s 34% no match for Washington’s 52. Finding anyone to hit a shot to spread the floor around Tina Charles was a problem last year for Connecticut, and it’s still an issue with Charles out of town.
Notes of Interest: Kara Lawson received some scattered applause and a fair few boos when she came into the game, after forcing her way out of Connecticut in the offseason. The way she’s been playing, the Sun fans should probably be happy that she’s on someone else’s books. The crowd response for Hartley and Dolson was, unsurprisingly, much more positive.
San Antonio Stars 87 @ New York Liberty 75
Lineups: No changes for either team among the starters. Both teams had slightly deeper benches, with wing Shenise Johnson returning from her hamstring problem for San Antonio, and post Avery Warley-Talbert available for the first time for New York. They signed her earlier this week after cutting injured guard Kamiko Williams.
Story of the Game: I can’t tell you a lot about the first half, because the first major LiveAccess screw-up of the season left the game unavailable (and there’s still no archive video, either). So I can report that both teams shot an outstanding 59% from the field in the opening 20 minutes, and that neither side led by more than five points at any stage, but not a lot more about how they arrived at a 47-46 lead for San Antonio at the break.
Fortunately, I found a stream of MSG at halftime, the TV channel broadcasting the game locally (which makes it even more ludicrous that the WNBA couldn’t work out how to connect the feed to LiveAccess). So I joined the game in time to see San Antonio blow the Liberty off the floor in the third quarter. New York were playing desperately sloppy basketball, and once the Stars stopped joining in and started taking advantage, they quickly pulled into a big lead. New York couldn’t keep them out of the paint, failing to handle Danielle Robinson off the dribble, or bring help quickly enough when the Stars spread the floor before attacking the heart of the defense. San Antonio picked them apart, and it wasn’t that hard.
At the other end, New York struggled horribly when San Antonio switched to a 2-3 zone midway through the third quarter, repeatedly tossing turnovers directly to Stars players. When the Liberty did keep the ball long enough to run something resembling offense, San Antonio constantly crowded the lane to make life difficult for Tina Charles and force the Liberty into costly errors. New York couldn’t handle it, and left Bill Laimbeer irate on the sidelines.
After being a one-point game at halftime, there was an awful lot of garbage time at the end of this one. Laimbeer made a line change with six minutes left, subbing all five of his regular starters simultaneously in disgust at their performance.
Key Players: Sophia Young-Malcolm had her first effective game for the Stars since returning from her ACL tear, but unfortunately most of it came in the first half so went unseen by this reporter. Robinson, Jia Perkins, Kayla McBride and Danielle Adams were strong in support. Adams in particular destroyed the Liberty in the second half, both attacking in the paint and firing from outside. Her varied offensive arsenal can be tough to guard, especially with the older, less mobile posts that New York have alongside Charles.
New York were just bad, again. The offense looked poor for most of the second half (obviously it must’ve been better in the first), but it was the defense that was most concerning. San Antonio’s shooting threats around the floor make them more dangerous when they spread you out than most teams in the WNBA, and the Liberty utterly failed to cover the shooters while providing the necessary help in the middle. That’s a basic element of any team’s defense, and it broke down repeatedly. They have a lot of work to do, and it’s not all down to what Charles and Cappie Pondexter can will them to on the offensive end. If either – or ideally both – can manage that anyway.
The Phoenix Mercury admitted yesterday via tweet that they’ll be losing Ewelina Kobryn and Shay Murphy for a stretch of games while they represent Poland and Montenegro respectively in EuroBasket Women 2015 qualifiers. Well, they called them World Championships qualifiers, but we know what they meant. Kobryn will miss at least four games (leaving June 11th) while Murphy misses at least six (already gone).
Indiana @ Washington, 7pm ET. The long wait to see if Tamika Catchings starts playing for the Fever continues. Otherwise this is a clash between two hard-working, ‘blue collar’ teams that could easily go either way. The young power forward matchup between Emma Meesseman and Natasha Howard should be fun to watch, and the Mystics may have trouble finding anyone in the Fever backcourt that Kara Lawson can guard. It’s time for Shavonte Zellous to step up and attack if they try to cover her with Lawson, who’s having some back problems and has looked painfully slow so far this season. It’s the second half of a back-to-back for the Mystics as well, which won’t help her.
Phoenix @ Tulsa, 8pm ET. Tulsa have to win a game sometime, right? The question for Phoenix is whether they can maintain their strong start now that they’re going out on the road. This is the start of a five-game trip that criss-crosses the country, and we might have more of a sense of how good they really are once it’s finished. If they play like they did in picking apart Seattle on Tuesday night, the Shock are probably in trouble. That said, Phoenix’s defense still has some holes, and the speed and shooting of the Shock on the perimeter could give them some problems. But if the game is close in the final minutes, we all know which team the smart money’s on.
Los Angeles @ Chicago, 8.30pm ET. This could be very interesting. The Sparks were embarrassed on national TV on Tuesday night against Atlanta, playing some atrocious defense and giving up a ludicrous amount of paint points. That LA squad is not supposed to be below .500. They need to bounce back. The Sky don’t tend to drive that much, but their confidence is high right now and they’ve been playing the kind of quick, mobile basketball that could exploit LA if they’re sloppy again. As with Catchings in Indiana, we also continue to wait and see if Chicago’s Epiphanny Prince is ever going to appear in a uniform rather than street clothes.
Minnesota @ Seattle, 10pm ET. After six out of seven on the road to start the season, Seattle get to play a home game and it’s against the 7-0 reigning champs (before another four-game road trip next week). The Lynx have been a little porous early in the season defensively, but they’ll collapse heavily on Crystal Langhorne in the paint, and look to force Seattle to beat them from the perimeter. The Storm haven’t looked particularly capable of doing that against anyone this season. Guarding Minnesota on the other end will be as difficult as ever, even if the Storm get back in transition and cover the interior with their usual help. That just leaves Moore and Augustus to shoot over your defense, and they haven’t been missing much. Seattle have given Minnesota some problems over the years, especially with the Key Arena crowd behind them. But it’s going to be hard work to pull this one out.