The Daily W, 06/17/2014

 

Apologies for this post not arriving until now. The WNBA tends to take Mondays off, and occasionally I follow suit. Analysis of all Sunday’s action below, along with previews for tonight’s matchups.

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Phoenix Mercury 80 @ Minnesota Lynx 72

 

Lineups: The starters were as expected for Minnesota, but Phoenix promoted Penny Taylor for the first time this season, with Erin Phillips dropping to the bench. It was more to shift Sandy Brondello’s rotations than a benching of Phillips. The big perimeter of Diana Taurasi, DeWanna Bonner and Taylor have too often been playing together when Brittney Griner rests this year, highlighting their defensive deficiencies. Starting all three put Griner behind them immediately, helping to cover for them. Minnesota had sixth woman Monica Wright in uniform and available to play for the first time this season after recovering from her knee surgery.

 

Story of the Game: After winning their last 14 encounters with the Mercury, it’s fair to say the Lynx were strong favourites for this game. But it was Phoenix who dominated the first half. They outplayed Minnesota in virtually every area. They moved the ball better, and hit the shots they created around the perimeter. They attacked quickly when they had the chance, with the Lynx transition defense leaving a lot to be desired. They played good enough defense, leaving Minnesota mostly settling for jump shots, which weren’t dropping with their usual rate for the star perimeter of Lindsay Whalen, Seimone Augustus and Maya Moore. And at the head of it all, Diana Taurasi was leading the way, hitting shots, drawing fouls, and flashing the ball around the floor for her teammates to score as well. The Mercury led by 19 at halftime.

It was an odd, unfortunate combination of issues for Minnesota. Sometimes they looked like they were playing in a rush, firing up shots quickly rather than working their offense and picking Phoenix apart as they’ve done in the past. Sometimes they looked lifeless, the ball failing to move around the floor enough to open up the defense. Griner hadn’t even managed to finish any of her efforts in the paint and was barely a factor offensively in the first half, limited by Janel McCarville’s physical defense. Griner finally got involved in the third quarter, especially once McCarville was on the bench and Devereaux Peters was trying to defend her. Peters looked thoroughly overmatched.

There was no real hint of a comeback until late in the fourth quarter, by which stage Cheryl Reeve had given up on all her big names. Rookie big Damiris Dantas was the only starter left on the floor, with Wright making her first appearance of the season with under six minutes left in the game. Phoenix looked nervous in the final stages, almost shocked that they were on the brink of finally beating Minnesota, and unsure of how to finish it off. But ultimately the gap was just too big, and six points was a close as the Lynx came.

 

Key Players: Taurasi was at her imperious best, while Candice Dupree continues to play with her trademark smoothness and happily knocks down the open shots teams keep offering her. That’s how it’s supposed to work for this team on offense – put so many dangerous weapons on the floor that the opponent has to pick their poison, and then you kill them with whatever’s left open. The big starting group clearly worked, and Brondello will probably stick with it for the forseeable future. It’ll be interesting to see if it’s as effective against teams that start quick, nippy little guards, rather than the big, physical perimeter players that the Lynx use.

It was a pretty miserable game all around for Minnesota. None of their star scorers ever really found a flow, and it took players like Tan White and Asia Taylor to really give them any impetus. It’ll be a matchup of two teams trying to regain their energy and end ugly runs when they face the Sparks tonight in LA.

 

Notes of Interest: Griner finished with a +/- of -7 for the game, showing that much of Phoenix’s lead was built when she was on the bench. That’s a big positive for a Mercury team whose defense has been falling to bits when Griner rests for much of the season. They were flowing so nicely by the time she sat that the offense kept going and Minnesota never took advantage.

Reeve picked up two technical fouls, but didn’t get ejected. How did that happen? Well the first was a ‘non-unsportsmanlike’ technical for leaving the coaching box, similar to a delay of game, defensive three-seconds or hanging on the rim technical for a player. The second was the more traditional mouthing-off tech. Those don’t add up to ejection, under the rules, so Reeve got to stay.

 

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New York Liberty 72 @ Connecticut Sun 76

 

Lineups: Plenette Pierson was out for New York, after the renewed knee injury she picked up against the same opponent on Friday night. Avery Warley-Talbert stepped into the hole. Connecticut were also missing their starting power forward, with Chiney Ogwumike attending her graduation ceremony at Stanford. Kelsey Griffin filled that spot, with Alyssa Thomas continuing to start as well due to Allison Hightower’s knee strain keeping her out again.

 

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The Daily W, 06/15/2014

 

Los Angeles Sparks 74 @ San Antonio Stars 101

 

Lineups: As expected on both sides. At time of writing, Kristi Toliver is preparing to tip-off for Slovakia in Wladyslawowo, so obviously she still wasn’t available for the Sparks last night. The ‘professional business overseas’ excuse for her absence that commentators keep regurgitating is getting tiresome, but at least it’s more factually accurate than the ‘professional business in Russia’ the Sparks originally tried to spout.

 

Story of the Game: Neither side had much success stopping the other in the first half. As always, LA tried to push whenever they could to avoid playing halfcourt offense, but they were fairly successful in slicing through San Antonio’s defense even when forced to set up a play. Their only real difficulties came with turnovers – some offensive fouls, some sloppy passes. When they managed to hold on to the ball, the scoring was highly efficient.

But San Antonio were getting it all back at the other end. Danielle Robinson repeatedly went streaking by Lindsey Harding, leaving the Sparks point guard in her dust. Occasionally it led to baskets for her teammates, but mostly it resulted in layups for Robinson herself. It’s far too simplistic to blame Harding. Robinson’s lightning quick, but everyone on the floor knows that her main threat is the drive, and if she’s forced to shoot jumpers or pull up in the lane, you live with it. LA’s help defense behind Harding just wasn’t there in time, and it’s a fairly common failing with the Sparks. There needs to be a more collective responsibility in their defense.

The Stars also shot 19 free throws in the first half (and made all 19), a sign of reaching and late-arriving defense (and admittedly some bad luck with the officials). As a result of both that and the offensive foul issues, both Alana Beard and Nneka Ogwumike were in foul trouble and spent much of the first half on the bench. LA shot 58% in the first half and still trailed by five points at the break.

The game was decided in the third quarter, when San Antonio kept scoring but the Sparks could no longer keep up. Robinson had developed so much offensive rhythm and confidence by this point that she was knocking down shots from 15 feet with ease as well as the layups, and her teammates were joining in. Kayla McBride made a living all night by hanging out at the three-point line, watching her teammates force the LA defense to collapse, and then drilling shots when the ball was kicked to her. LA’s rotations weren’t even close to fast enough to challenge her shots and make her miss.

The Sparks tried some zone in the third to change the momentum, but their zone really is a last resort. Becky Hammon immediately nailed a deep open three over the top of it, then hit another one moments later when LA quickly quit on the zone. The Sparks missed a series of layups in the third quarter, which only helped San Antonio build momentum, but the major problem for LA was the ease with which the Stars were scoring points. San Antonio led by 18 at the end of the third.

The fourth quarter was largely garbage time, with LA playing five different kinds of defense simultaneously even before they totally quit and cleared the bench. The Stars and their fans enjoyed it immensely of course, and everyone was delighted when rookie guard Heather Butler made her first field goal as a pro, taking them over 100 points for the night.

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The Daily W, 06/14/2014

 

Chicago Sky 68 @ Washington Mystics 79

 

Lineups: Chicago had the same major injury problems as Tuesday night, with Elena Delle Donne (illness related to Lyme disease) and Jessica Breland (shin) joining Sylvia Fowles (hip) as absentees. Gennifer Brandon started at power forward again, while Epiphanny Prince got her first start of the season after her strong finish to the Seattle game on Tuesday. Allie Quigley went back to the bench.

Washington promoted Monique Currie back into the starting lineup, moving Tierra Ruffin-Pratt back to the bench.

 

Story of the Game: It was a scrappy first half, with Washington eventually developing a small lead via a few transition baskets in the second quarter. Emma Meesseman’s interior passing was an early highlight, while Kara Lawson came in and got the ball where it needed to be later in the half. Her shooting touch is still proving pretty elusive, but she’s an experienced guard who can run the team as well.

Chicago had Prince breaking down the defense early on, but it failed to result in many points. Quigley hit several shots once she came off the pine, which kept the game close. Washington weren’t really moving the ball well enough as a team to exploit all the holes in Chicago’s defense that Seattle had illustrated in their previous game.

Mike Thibault keeps talking in interviews about how they need Meesseman to be a more forceful player offensively, to look to score and be a central figure for them when they have the ball. She’s young and doesn’t have the selfish personality to make her naturally want to do that, but maybe Thibault reinforced the message again at halftime. We saw more aggression from Meesseman in the second half, finally going right at defenders like Brandon who really can’t guard her. When Brandon sat, Tamera Young was the emergency power forward, which gave Chicago even less chance of surviving inside.

The Mystics finally started to take over the game early in the fourth quarter, perhaps awakened by the scare from Chicago taking a brief lead. Washington used Meesseman and Tianna Hawkins together in the post for that stretch, a pair we haven’t seen much this season (they usually sub in and out for each other). They were both too big and too quick for the Chicago options. On the perimeter Washington had rookie guard Bria Hartley providing a scoring balance, and also ran a couple of plays specifically designed to get shots for Lawson – and she actually knocked them down.

After growing tired of the ineffectiveness of both Courtney Vandersloot and backup Jamierra Faulkner, Chicago had Epiphanny Prince playing as a virtual point guard for much of the second half. Just setting a high pick for Prince and letting her try to make something happen was typically a better option than trying to run an offensive set. It worked for a while, but didn’t hold up in the fourth, and Washington held on for a relatively comfortable final few minutes.

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The Daily W, 06/13/2014

 

Phoenix Mercury 95 @ Connecticut Sun 96

 

Lineups: Both teams started with the groups that have become their ‘regular’ lineups – Phoenix since the start of the season, Connecticut since Anne Donovan finally settled on a point guard and a center. The only unavailable players were the Mercury’s Shay Murphy and Ewelina Kobryn, both in Europe representing national teams in EuroBasket Women 2015 qualifiers.

 

Story of the Game: On a per 100 possessions basis, the best teams in the WNBA are averaging about 106 points so far this season, the worst about 92. For this game alone, both sides finished at over 120. It’s fair to say that offense ruled the roost virtually all night long.

Neither team led by more than five points in the first half. Connecticut had easily the most active, energetic post on the floor in Chiney Ogwumike, who’s already earning points on the pro level purely by outworking opponents on the glass or by running harder down the floor. Fellow Sun post Kelsey Bone struggled in the first half, and it’s not the first time she’s had problems defensively this season. She doesn’t always use her size and bulk to good effect on that end, and opponents bypass her too often. That was partly why Connecticut ended up using Kelsey Griffin at power forward for much of the first half, pushing Ogwumike over to do her best against Brittney Griner.

Phoenix were moving the ball with their typical fluidity and unselfishness, finding the open player – often Candice Dupree – and converting those chances into points. Griner is also developing as an offensive force, becoming a better roller after setting screens, and doing a better job at recognising and reacting to double-teams. Her instinct is still to turn away from the second defender and try to score, which can still be a good option, but she’s also realising that someone’s open when extra defenders come to her, and that with the offensive talent around her that person is likely to score. Phoenix had 13 assists on 18 baskets in the first half, and Griner had three of the dimes.

The Mercury continue to be a work in progress on defense. They’ve vastly better with Griner on the floor, inevitably, because she protects the paint against drivers and post-ups, even if she sometimes has problems when pulled into space. But their rotations and weak-side help still break down far too often, giving up open shots or easy layups. When Erin Phillips sits, it usually creates a perimeter of Diana Taurasi, Penny Taylor and DeWanna Bonner (although Anete Jekabsone-Zogota and Shay Murphy, when she’s around, are also options). That group looks scarily long on paper, but none of them are great defenders (Taurasi’s never been too interested in defense, Taylor’s lost a step from all the injuries, and Bonner’s deteriorated horrendously on the defensive end). The similar sizes ought to make things easier by allowing them to switch almost anything, but sometimes it just makes them even more confused because the communication isn’t great. Switching is fine as long as both people involved know when it’s happening and do it in sync – it gets you in all kinds of trouble when you half-switch or take an extra half-second to agree on what you’re doing.

Alex Bentley was the most effective guard option for Connecticut, and she’s been giving the Sun a real weapon from the perimeter lately. Five different players made threes for them in the first half, helping keep up with the Mercury, and Renee Montgomery rounded off the scoring by banking in a 40-foot heave at the halftime buzzer.

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The Daily W, 06/12/2014

 

Seattle Storm 68 @ Indiana Fever 76

 

Lineups: The expected groups for both teams. Tamika Catchings continues to sit and watch in street clothes

 

Story of the Game: Indiana got off to the slightly better start with Seattle’s posts settling for – and missing – too many mid-range shots, rather than fighting to get to the rim. The pick-and-pop into space is a nice play, but an open 15-footer is usually still a lower percentage shot than an open-ish layup. Indiana attacked a little better, and led by as many as nine points in the first quarter.

The Fever had Erlana Larkins and Natasha Howard giving them drive in the paint, but when Seattle started hitting their shots in the second quarter they moved in front. First it was Sue Bird, actually nailing a few perimeter jumpers – a sadly rare sight since her return from injury for this season. Then it was Jenna O’Hea, who appears to have returned from her broken toe with a newly refreshed jump shot. She was 2-11 (18%) from three-point range before the injury, getting off to a rocky start with the Storm offensively. In the two games since returning she’s 4-8 from outside. As with many teams, Indiana’s posts tend to sag towards the paint on picks to protect against the drive and corral the ballhandler. So when you’re using a player like O’Hea as your power forward – meaning she’s usually being guarded by a post – she often finds a lot of room on the perimeter simply by setting a screen. Her second consecutive triple gave Seattle a nine-point lead, and they were still up by six at halftime.

After a first half where they’d relied on outside shots, Seattle did a better job of finding ways to the basket in the second half. Slip screens, backdoor cuts and drives combined to give the Storm more points in the paint in the third quarter alone than they’d managed in the opening 20 minutes. They had a noticeably different approach in this game from the experimentation against understrength Chicago the night before. More off-ball movement, screening and re-screening to try to confuse the defense, rather than constantly basing everything around on-ball screens. The Storm defense was far less switch-happy as well – it was Indiana who were the more willing team to switch and let their guards battle with Seattle’s posts in the paint when necessary.

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The Daily W, 06/11/2014

 

New York Liberty 57 @ Tulsa Shock 72

 

Lineups: As expected for both teams, with both trying to build on big wins – New York in a blowout over Washington on Sunday, Tulsa with their first victory of the season over Phoenix on Friday.

 

Story of the Game: After a desperately scrappy opening – often the case in these day games that take place before players’ body-clocks say they should be playing – it was Tulsa who eventually got themselves into gear and took control of the first half. It was mostly on jump shots from their perimeter players, but with enough drive-and-kick beforehand, or the occasional post-up or offensive rebound from Courtney Paris and Glory Johnson, to keep the defense honest.

New York weren’t hitting shots like they did in the first half against Washington, so nothing looked as smooth. Paris did a decent job contesting against Tina Charles in the paint early on, and then the turnover issues started kicking in. It’s been a recurring problem for New York over the last couple of years, but generally not too bad in the early games this season. They were just sloppy, in a game where they should’ve been taking advantage of one of the weaker defenses in the league. The answer they tried for their misfiring offense midway through the second quarter was to post-up Cappie Pondexter, and it actually worked a couple of times. But a gimmick like that isn’t going to salvage your whole performance, and the Liberty trailed by 13 at halftime.

New York dragged themselves back within four points in the third quarter, as Tulsa started firing up a lot of bricks from mid-range. With Tulsa largely leaving Paris to guard Charles on her own, rather than sending the endless double-teams that come from many opponents, Charles became more aggressive and started carrying the Liberty offense.

But in the fourth quarter, Tulsa took the game back. Skylar Diggins’s one-on-one attempts to prop up her team’s offense were more successful than Pondexter’s at the other end, with a series of drives and pullups from Diggins creating the points they needed. Pondexter couldn’t convert her attempts, going 0-7 in the period, and that was the game.

 

Key Players: Paris was solid for Tulsa, doing a decent job for much of the afternoon battling Charles without a great deal of help. Paris also came up with 16 rebounds, often out-fighting Charles for them and showing more desire to claim the ball. Beyond that Diggins was the key figure for the Shock, being a willing passer for most of the game but stepping up late as a scorer, and continuing to play with increasing confidence. Odyssey Sims gets the primary defensive assignments – in this case Pondexter – but Diggins has been the superior offensive force in most games this year.

Charles finished 11-19 for 25 points and 10 boards, but didn’t get a lot of help. Pondexter’s shot wasn’t falling, and the supporting players continue to disappear for the Liberty. Essence Carson has been MIA for a while now, Plenette Pierson was invisible, and rotation pieces like Anna Cruz and Alex Montgomery are sometimes a little too comfortable fading into the background. The roster was built around two stars with a supporting cast, but the players can buy into that format a bit too much at times. It’s hard to win games with only two real threats on the floor, especially when both rarely hit form on the same night.

 

Notes of Interest: Maybe that dominating first half against Washington really was just a fluke. Sometimes that first swallow flying by was just lost.

 

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Phoenix Mercury 81 @ Washington Mystics 66

 

Lineups: As normal for the Mercury, with Bria Hartley coming back into the starting lineup for Jelena Milovanovic for Washington.

 

Story of the Game: It felt like Phoenix were in control for most of the first half, but they never managed to convert it into a significant advantage on the scoreboard. They were moving the ball well, and finding open shooters off pick-and-roll actions, with Brittney Griner, Candice Dupree and even DeWanna Bonner all producing points. But it wasn’t efficient enough to pull away.

Washington got a nice run of points from Emma Meesseman in the opening period, but otherwise spent too much time firing mid-range jumpers and missing most of them. An 8-2 advantage on the offensive glass, and the resulting edge in second-chance points, helped them keep up with the Mercury. Tianna Hawkins, the young power forward acquired from Seattle in the Crystal Langhorne trade, played a central role in that and continues to produce well on a per-minute basis (but not play that many minutes). Even with the desire to feature Meesseman (who mostly plays the same position), if Hawkins keeps performing they’ll have to find more playing time for her.

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The Daily W, 06/09/2014

 

Washington Mystics 64 @ New York Liberty 81

 

Lineups: New York started the same as in other recent game. Washington went back to the lineup they used the last time they played the Liberty, nine days earlier. That meant Tierra Ruffin-Pratt sliding to shooting guard, and Jelena Milovanovic coming in at small forward. Bria Hartley went back to the bench. It worked last time against New York.

 

Story of the Game: Nothing worked this time for the Mystics. This game was essentially over by halftime, as Washington floundered and were blown off the floor by a Liberty team that suddenly found their stride. New York scored the first 10 points of the game, largely on jump shots from Cappie Pondexter and Essence Carson, while Washington forced up a lot of jumpers at the other end and hit nothing. The Mystics eventually found a few points when Kara Lawson came off the bench and showed some signs of the Lawson of old, who’d barely made an appearance this season. She hit a three on a kick-out, a pullup three in transition, and then capped off the first quarter with a last second steal and bomb from about 30 feet. All that only allowed the Mystics to stay within five points at the end of the opening period.

Without any more Lawson heroics in the second quarter, New York blew the game open. Some of the Liberty’s success was simply down to one of those freak exceptional shooting nights. They only scored six points in the paint in the second quarter, but totalled 32 behind the jump shots raining in from all over the floor. But you also have to give credit to the Liberty for the pace they played at, the way they moved the ball and exploited the opportunities presented to them, and the energy and enthusiasm they carried through the game. They created good shots, which always increases your chances of a night like this where the basket looks a mile wide. They were up by 22 at halftime.

There was never even a hint of a comeback in the second half, and the entire fourth quarter was garbage time. New York shot 26% in the second half, scored just eight points in the fourth quarter, and yet it was probably the most relaxing 20 minutes of basketball for Liberty fans all season.

 

Key Players: Cappie Pondexter was a ridiculous 10-11 from the field, with the only shot she missed all day a forced three under heavy pressure to beat the shot clock. Not a single one of the 11 attempts came from within 12 feet, as she just dropped in jump shots at will. If that Cappie showed up every night this team would not be 3-5 and looking up at most of the Eastern Conference. Anna Cruz and Alex Montgomery had nice games alongside her as well, with Tina Charles not needing to be any more than solid.

The whole game was an example of how easy basketball can seem when your shots are dropping, because the Liberty looked like a completely different animal from what we’ve seen for most of the season. But they were never tested. There was never a period of adversity that posed any tough questions for them, or forced them to keep their heads up while things looked like they might be going wrong. It takes more than one swallow to make a summer, so let’s see if any more come flying by before we get too excited. But that very first swallow can sometimes be a lovely sign of things to come.

Washington are going to have games like this. They’re solid, and organised, and they can beat anyone on a given day, but they’re not super-talented and sometimes teams will just out-play them. The solitary positive for the Mystics from this game was that Lawson hit some shots. Just like with the Liberty, we don’t know yet whether that was a fluke or a sign of future continued success, but it’s a damn sight better than all the bricks she’s been throwing up in previous games.

 

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Minnesota Lynx 85 @ Los Angeles Sparks 72

 

Lineups: Same group for Minnesota that they’ve been using all season. After dropping to the bench for one game due to her ankle problem, Candace Parker was back in the starting lineup for LA, with Jantel Lavender back on the bench. The starting perimeter was Lindsey Harding, Alana Beard and Armintie Herrington again, leaving Kristi Toliver to continue coming off the bench. This was expected to be Toliver’s final game before rejoining the Slovakian national team for their remaining EuroBasket Women 2015 qualifiers.

 

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The Daily W, 06/08/2014

 

Indiana Fever 71 @ Connecticut Sun 88

 

Lineups: Tamika Catchings was still back in Indiana, but Briann January returned from her ankle injury and Shavonte Zellous’s knee issue from the previous night wasn’t serious enough to keep her out. So Indiana’s lineup looked the same as it has for most of the season. Connecticut started the same group as in recent outings.

 

Story of the Game: A desperately scrappy first half was largely brightened up by the performance of Sun point guard Alex Bentley. Her gunning from the perimeter gave the Sun the offense they needed and carried them into the lead. Katie Douglas also did a better job of attacking off the dribble rather than settling for outside jumpers (very few of which have been dropping for her this season).

The box score told you at halftime that the Fever had shot 58% from the field in the opening 20 minutes, but it certainly hadn’t felt like it. The reason for that was turnovers, which had flooded the Fever’s performance and constantly broken up any flow they might’ve developed. They had 17 turnovers in the first half alone, struggling to handle any pressure Connecticut exerted on the perimeter, or keep hold of the ball inside when surrounded by collapsing defenders.

Indiana looked like they might make a game of it a couple of times in the second half, with rookie forward Natasha Howard crashing the glass and finishing putbacks, then backup post Lynetta Kizer hitting several shots when Howard picked up her fifth foul and had to sit. But Connecticut always had an answer, through Bentley, or Chiney Ogwumike inside, or a nice little run from Chiney’s fellow rookie Alyssa Thomas. Out running the break, Thomas is a lot of fun to watch, and hopefully we see more of that as she settles in as a pro. But she’s also a strong, athletic finisher inside, and a useful rebounder from the small forward spot. She hasn’t exploded onto the scene quite like some of this year’s rookies, but give her time.

The Sun eventually held on without too much trouble in the final period, and on the second half of a back-to-back Indiana didn’t have the energy or the drive to sustain a comeback. Although they at least took slightly better care of the ball in the second half.

 

Key Players: Bentley was the catalyst for almost everything good that happened for the Sun, and now that Anne Donovan seems to have settled on her at the point and Renee Montgomery as the regular backup, it should help both of them. Players are always more comfortable when they know their spot in the rotation, even if there’s some flexibility depending on who plays well on a given night. It was also a good sign for Connecticut that they managed to put a decent performance together despite Ogwumike being in foul trouble early on, forcing other players to step up. Kelsey Griffin made some hustle plays coming in for her off the bench, several players drew contact for all the fouls the officials wanted to call, and they came away with a solid win.

Rarely will you shoot 53% from the floor and lose a game by 17 points, but that’s what Indiana managed. All those turnovers killed them, and while it was partly how the referees called the game, all the fouls were partly down to tired players reaching rather than playing proper defense. But the Fever will settle for 1-1 on their weekend Eastern road trip.

 

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Chicago Sky 59 @ Atlanta Dream 97

 

Lineups: Same again for both teams. Chicago had Epiphanny Prince in uniform again, ready to finally make her debut this season. Atlanta continue to start Jasmine Thomas at the point, with Celine Dumerc and Shoni Schimmel snapping at her heels from the bench.

 

Story of the Game: Chicago got run off their own floor by Los Angeles the night before, and Pokey Chatman would’ve been hoping for a response from her team. She didn’t get one, unless an even more dramatic capitulation counts as a response.

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The Daily W, 06/07/2014

 

Before reading today’s column, there’s an extra WNBAlien article for you to enjoy over at Hoop365.com HERE. It covers the strong starts from Chicago and Minnesota, plus various items of interest from around the WNBA. Please check it out.

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Indiana Fever 64 @ Washington Mystics 61

 

Lineups: Tamika Catchings was still out for the Fever (and didn’t even travel with the team, so is also very unlikely to be playing tonight in Connecticut). Making things worse for the Fever, point guard Briann January – who’d been shooting the lights out lately – was also out after tweaking her ankle in practice. Layshia Clarendon started in her place, allowing Sydney Carter to continue her role coming off the bench. Washington opened with the same group that helped them beat Connecticut the night before, with rookie Bria Hartley in the lineup ahead of veteran Kara Lawson.

 

Story of the Game: Indiana were horrible for the opening 12 minutes of the game. Couldn’t hit a shot, no movement, no rhythm, no finishing – ugly. That was with both Clarendon and Carter trying their hand at running the team. After falling behind by as many as 16 points, the Fever finally got something going when Lin Dunn without a point guard, unless you count rookie gunner Maggie Lucas (which you really shouldn’t). Neither of the backup point guards had been doing anything at either end of the floor, so they simply let the likes of Shavonte Zellous and Marissa Coleman start with the ball in their hands and went from there.

With Zellous and Coleman leading the way, and finally hitting a couple of shots, the Fever came back into a game that Washington had been leading almost by default. The Mystics weren’t playing that well themselves, but had moved into the lead due to how poorly Indiana had played. Washington still led by nine at halftime.

Fever center Erlana Larkins had managed to pick up four fouls in the first half, the final one on a harsh call where she chased down a loose ball, slipped to the ground, and an opponent fell over her. Despite that foul trouble, she started the second half as normal, and proceeded to be the best player on the floor for the next 20 minutes – while playing all 20. She was a beast on the offensive glass, finished via post moves and putbacks, hustled after everything, kicked out for several open threes by teammates, and generally led the Indiana turnaround. With Washington continuing to be as mediocre as they’d been for most of the night, that swing changed the game.

Behind drives and bombs from Hartley and Ivory Latta, Washington managed to pull within a point late in the game. After a pair of Coleman free throws, the Mystics needed a three to tie in the final nine seconds. Natasha Howard extended her long limbs to block Hartley’s effort, and when the ball dropped to Stefanie Dolson she made the mistake of passing off to Kia Vaughn well inside the three-point arc. By the time Vaughn kicked it back out to Lawson, time had expired and the Fever had held on.

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The Daily W, 06/06/2014

 

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.

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