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A heartfelt “THANK YOU!” to the two teams and the amazing fans in the Garden last night. You put on a helluva a show for Mr. Adam Silver aka Don’t Be A Wet Blanket, sir!

Also thrilled to see Suuuuuuuueeeeee celebrating great post play, T Edwards on the edge of her seat, and Val Ackerman one of the original “Originals” stalking the Garden steps. I even have a little love for the Dolson family – even though you were cheering for the Mystics. I see why she’s such a lovely woman…

The Lib and Mystics put on quite the show and, as many observers have noted, the electricity was back.With all my intellectual understanding of how important a NY win is to the league (no disrespect intended to the Mystics fans – they have been amazing and need to recover from some serious mis-management) I was taken aback by the surge of emotion that went through me when Stokes sealed the win with her block and Sugar super-sealed it with her free throws. It’s been a long time, kids.

By the way, FiveThirtyEight Sports – I know you say that “we don’t need no steeenkeen threes,” but I have to say that last night we sure enjoyed every single one Wiggins nailed.

Of course, as a reward, we get to play back-to-back games as we’ve been doubly evicted from the Garden.(First it was Madonna, then it was the Pope… I’m expecting Julio Iglesisas’ secret twin brother Jesus to announce a surprise concert.)

The conference finals open Wednesday in the East (ESPN2, 7 p.m. ET) when New York plays its second game at Madison Square Garden in as many days.

No. 1 New York (23-11 in the regular season) vs. No. 3 Indiana (20-14)

No offense to Washington, but from a league visibility standpoint, having New York in the Eastern Conference finals is a boost to the WNBA. But can the Liberty make it to the WNBA Finals for the first time since 2002? The team trying to stop them has more playoff experience as a franchise — 11 consecutive postseason appearances — and beat the Liberty four of five times during the regular season.

From Swish Appeal: Heavyweight battle: 5 major keys to Eastern Conference Finals

A LATE ADDITION from William: As Liberty Seek Title, Tina Charles Can Now Do More Than Dream

Charles played the full 40 minutes Tuesday and will, in all likelihood, have to play 40 more Wednesday.

No rest? No sweat.

“Being born and raised in New York, nothing is easy,” Charles said Tuesday. “Nothing really goes your way. So it doesn’t surprise me that we have to play tomorrow. It’s New York. Things like this happen. You just got to respond.”

For Charles, who was raised in Jamaica, Queens, and starred at Christ the King High School, Tuesday night brought back memories of the rocking Garden of her youth, cheering for women playing in a new women’s pro league that gave young players new horizons, new hope.

In Minnesota, the Lynx led wire-to-wire as Candace’s Superwoman cape wasn’t quite big enough. More of interest to me is the appearance of Sylvia Fowles. It looked like she was finally interested in taking an active role in this whole “pursuit of a championship” thang.

The Sparks, however, fastened their defense midway through the second half and pulled within one point early in the fourth quarter after a pair of Parker free throws.

But the experienced Lynx dug in, leaned on their veterans and rattled off a 9-0 run.

Augustus knocked down a 14-footer. Sylvia Fowles asserted herself in the paint and muscled through Sparks defenders for a couple of buckets. Superstar Maya Moore hit a step-back jumper and earned several trips to the free-throw line.

“We played on the edge every possession tonight,” Lynx point guard Lindsay Whalen said. “A couple lapses here and there, but that’s what it takes to win those games,”

In other news:

Say, what, Texas???!!!

It was a tense game between two third-grade basketball rivals, but it wouldn’t be until two months later that one team’s coach would feel the full effects.

Jessica Curs was coaching a team of 9-year-old girls in Burleson, Texas, when things got so heated that fans started heckling her, her husband and other coaches, she said. But it was when one particular fan, who turned out to be a plainclothes police officer, said he heard the coach fire back with her own comments that things escalated quickly.

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So semi-shouted the gentleman Ohio State fan (now from Florida) with a big grin on his face as the fans at Madison Square Garden roared and groaned their way through a double-overtime playoff loss.

True dat.

Three of the four playoff games have been tight tests as teams shored up their defense, tighten up their offense, and tried to ride through small mistakes that were suddenly magnified to game changers. There simply is no favorite this yearexcept for the team you’re cheering for – and that, Mr. Silver, is something you should be shouting from the rooftops.

In case you were a classroom teacher-parent-admnistrator-scheduler trying to negotiation the silliness that is this September’s school schedule, here’s what you missed:

Phoenix-Tulsa

Tulsa fought hard to get to the playoffs, but Game One was all swatty-swat-swat-swat-swat… well, you know the rest. Defensive Player of the Year made sure the game was all about her.

Brittney Griner literally rolled into the pregame news conference to announce that she had been named the WNBA’s Defensive Player of the Year for the second year in a row.

She arrived at the platform on a hoverboard, one of those two-wheeled contraptions that looks like a Segway without the handles.

The first time Phoenix Mercury general manager Jim Pitman saw his star center riding around on her new toy, he admitted it made him “very nervous.”

“But I’ve seen other people ride it and she is, by far, the best at it,” Pitman said. “So I feel a little better about that.”

Even in the face of the most publicly tumultuous year of her basketball career, it’s really difficult not to feel good about Griner in any context.

Chicago-Indiana

What’s lovely and brilliant about Elena earning the MVP is this simple truth: She’s an extraordinary basketball talent, and we just had no idea if she (and we) would get an opportunity to delight in her skills. For this year, at least, it was a resounding, “Yes!” (Oh, and the Times like one of her skills a lot: Elena Delle Donne’s M.V.P. Year Includes Mastery of Free Throws)

Of course, you’d be foolish to count Indy out. And speaking of counting, Mr. Silver: Indiana Fever among league leaders in sponsorship sales, profitability

New York-Washington – Prince was magnificent, Tina was ferocious, Latta was timely and Lawson modeled the resilience that defined the Mystics. Neither team gave an inch. What. a. game. In the end, as the Times wrote, Once Again, Mystics Have Liberty’s Number

In their first playoff game at Madison Square Garden since 2010, the Liberty treated their fans to a thrilling 50 minutes of basketball, but they now stand one game away from elimination after an 86-83 double-overtime loss on Friday in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

In a game that had 23 lead changes, the Mystics had an 82-80 lead and were on the precipice of closing out the Liberty when Mystics guard Tayler Hill was fouled with 62 seconds remaining.

William Rhoden wrote: Liberty Relying on Epiphanny Prince to Return to Her Old Ways – but first, they need to hit their free throws.

Leading up to the game, Gene at WaPo wrote: Mystics count on balance in WNBA playoffs, without a star to guide them

Charged with rebuilding the Washington Mystics, Coach-General Manager Mike Thibault arrived in December 2012 at a considerable disadvantage because of some horrible luck. In the WNBA draft lottery three months earlier, the Mystics, with the league’s worst record, had drawn the fourth pick and eventually missed out on Brittney Griner, Elena Delle Donne and Skylar Diggins.

Without a franchise player, Thibault began assembling a team in which every member of the roster would be asked to contribute. The result has been three straight playoff appearances, including this year as the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

WTOP offered: Mystics bring local flavor to WNBA playoff run

As we wind toward October, many Washington sports fans may feel disillusioned about the “P” word. But there’s a playoff-bound team here in the District, one with a chance to break a title drought with a pair of area natives guiding the way.

That team, if you haven’t been paying attention, is the Washington Mystics, who begin their quest for a first-ever WNBA title Friday in New York. And while they received big news this week about their new future home across the Anacostia, they have a chance right now to ensure they have a banner to hang when they open that building in 2018.

If the Mystics can win this year, they’ll do so with two Alexandria, Virginia, natives in the backcourt, rising defensive star Tierra Ruffin-Pratt and one of the league’s icons, Kara Lawson.

After Trader Bill earned COY honors (though, as my seatmate suggested, not coach of the last 20 seconds of the game) honors, Mechelle reflected: Laimbeer really was the best option for New York to succeed

The day the Liberty announced they were not bringing him back, I spoke with Laimbeer, and he didn’t have anything negative to say about the organization. He didn’t sound upset or angry.

He explained how the former Detroit Shock organization was different from New York. In Detroit, Laimbeer felt that as coach and general manager, he had a lot of autonomy and answered to only one person: the president and CEO of the Pistons and Shock.

With Madison Square Garden, which owns the Liberty, Laimbeer thought there were a lot of cooks in the kitchen. Although, that’s my phrase for it. The phrase he used was, “They’ve got a lot of moving pieces.”

My biggest frustration with the Liberty, who are an original WNBA franchise, had always been that there were people who had power — at least in name — with the organization but were not entirely engaged with the Liberty.

The AP’s Melissa Murphy offered this: Liberty Shot-Blocker Stokes Contender for Rookie of Year

Stokes has transitioned from defensive role player for the three-time defending champion Huskies to multifaceted spark plug off the bench for the resurgent Liberty, who face the Washington Mystics on Friday in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series.

“She came in and played like a veteran from the start,” said New York coach Bill Laimbeer. “I think that’s a UConn upbringing, they’ve played so many big games. Her defense has been spectacular for us all season long.”

Minnesota-Los Angeles

Yes, Maya was Maya-esque, but that almost wasn’t enough – even with Augustus and Whalen back.

“This team has great leaders that know how to respond,” Moore said. “Everybody had great focus going into the locker room. People were speaking up, talking about what was going on and everybody was saying things that were great – very helpful – so going into the second half with the right mindset, knowing what we want to focus on as well as our energy – it worked out for us.”

Pregame, Pat Borzi wrote: The Lynx’s title hopes confront a much-improved WNBA

Look closely at the royal blue sneakers the Lynx will be wearing for their Western Conference semifinal series against the Los Angeles Sparks. Seimone Augustus’s number 33 appears on the back of most. Augustus swears up and down this was a mistake, which is interesting, considering Augustus ordered the shoes from Nike herself.

“Nike sent over the ID and told me to ID them,” Augustus said, laughing after this detail was pointed out to her. “I figured I’d ID mine and they would kind of put everyone else’s on. They decided to put 33 on the back of everybody’s.”

In one of the WNBA’s cooler traditions, Lynx players break out identical brightly-colored sneakers for the playoffs. The color choice falls to Augustus, a nod to her seniority (she’s been with the Lynx longer than anyone, since 2006) and impeccable fashion sense. For a team beset by injuries and the general upheaval from two major trades, having even a sneaker order go wrong seemed so apropos to an off-kilter season that Augustus and her teammates laughed it off.

L.A. needs to stop the turnovers, or else….

In other news:

Australia: Carrie Graf: ‘Barefoot with a basketball and a smile, that’s all that mattered’

It’s 35 degrees, the humidity is overwhelming and chooks are scurrying across the court as Carrie Graf coaches village kids in Micronesia.

For the veteran Canberra Capitals mentor, this is well outside her comfort zone.

With seven WNBL championships and an Olympic bronze medal to her name, Graf is used to ordering the likes of Lauren Jackson about. But a chance to give back to a sport which has given her so much convinced Graf to take her young family on an adventure into the unknown.

Cool! (Though I think the headline should read “against”) FSU Women’s Basketball Shooting 24-Hours of Free Throws for Cancer

Take a Minute: Virginia women’s basketball team works with Special Olympics athletes

Good news for the Red Foxes: Marist’s Jarosz to return to women’s basketball team

Loss in Florida: Palm Beach State College sophomore Benetria Robinson was killed in a shooting

From Florida: 

Even before an important step Tuesday toward the start of the college basketball season in two months, FGCU women’s basketball coach Karl Smesko already has been encouraged by fall workouts…he’s already seen enough to feel good about FGCU’s chances to expand on its perennial success and last season’s first-ever NCAA tournament victory.

Off court: New York Liberty star Tina Charles determined to help her community

From the Huffington Post: Here’s Why You Should Be Paying Attention To The WNBA – “How is it a great time to be a female athlete if you pick and choose who you leave out?” (A Player’s Tribune recap) and How Reshanda Gray Went From South Central LA To The WNBA – “If it wasn’t for where I come from, I wouldn’t be here right now.”

When the WNBA playoffs tip off on Thursday, the Atlanta Dream will be absent in the hunt for a championship. Yet while her team may not have notched a playoff berth, this season caps an unlikely journey from South Central Los Angeles to professional basketball for rookie forward Reshanda Gray.

Raised in the rough LA neighborhood, Gray, 22, shared a one-bedroom apartment with seven other brothers and sisters as well as a difficult upbringing.

“My life as girl growing up, it wasn’t always pretty. I didn’t get the chance to live a normal, happy childhood. There were always challenges,” Gray, choking up, told The Huffington Post in a recent interview.

“Where I’m from, not many people make it out. So it was hard to find that one little push to see something outside of South Central LA,” she said. 

Killing time before the games? Ponder: WHO IS THE BEST [U.S.] [“Modern-era”] WOMEN’S BASKETBALL PLAYER OF ALL TIME?

espnW recently crowned the best female athlete ever. Which got us thinking: Who are the best women’s basketball players in history? Mechelle Voepel and Michelle Smith of espnW, and ESPN’s Rebecca Lobo and Carolyn Peck each ranked their players. We counted the votes and seeded the players accordingly. Now it’s up to you to determine who advances and who is eliminated. Click through the matchups, read Voepel’s take on each player, and be sure to vote in the poll at the bottom of each page — or hit Twitter and vote for your favorite players with the hashtag #WBest(player’s last name). Voting for the first round will run through Monday, Sept. 21.

Might I suggest some write-in votes? From Teresa Edwards.

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(And no, I’m not talking about me watching a record number of games yesterday…)

Catch and the Fever (not related to KC and the Sunshine Band… or Peter and the Starcatcher) arrived in Phoenix and gave the Merc a good rap on the head. In the process, Tamika moved into 2nd place on the all-time rebounding list and Phoenix went 0-13 on threes.

Yah, you didn’t picture that coming: Mystics topple WNBA-best Lynx behind Latta’s offense, Ruffin-Pratt’s defense

Washington Mystics Coach Mike Thibault had challenged his club’s moxie entering Sunday’s showdown with an opponent widely considered the favorite to win a third WNBA title in five years.

Later in the week, players talked about how a victory over the Minnesota Lynx could alert the rest of the league that perhaps the Mystics belong in the championship conversation as well.

And: How the Mystics beat the WNBA’s best team: Latta and Lawson

Both the Minnesota Lynx and Washington Mystics came into Sunday afternoon’s game with a lot on the line. With the best record in the WNBA, the Lynx would look for a win to help them secure home court advantage throughout the playoffs, and Washington would look for a critical win to help them stand out in a packed Eastern Conference. Ultimately, Washington would come out on top. 77-69

And: Stefanie Dolson finds her comfort level, and Mystics benefit

Washington center Stefanie Dolson came to training camp in May looking a little nervous. It wasn’t that she hadn’t prepared well for her second season in the WNBA, because she definitely had. It wasn’t that she didn’t have confidence in herself, because that’s steadily been building since her days at UConn.

Dolson simply wanted to show she was ready to be an integral part of the Mystics, but she was almost getting in her own way in her early practices.

The Sparks took down Chicago behind Parker’s monster game… making me think that Minnesota is saying, “Lose, Tulsa, LOSE (so L.A. gets the 3rd or 2nd seed.)

BTW: Girls Rule, Boys Drool, Elena Delle Donne and Michelle Beadle style.

In Seattle, the Storm hosted Russell Wilson

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson took a break from training camp on Sunday to attend the Seattle Storm’s 72-63 victory over the San Antonio Silver Stars.

Wilson attended the game with his girlfriend, singer Ciara, his mother and his sister, Anna, who is a point guard entering her senior season in high school. She has committed to play at Stanford.

Russell has said in the past that Anna can beat him one-one-one. He also has called her the best athlete in the family.

Oh, and they beat San Antonio, too.

There are two ways Jewell Loyd communicates — playing basketball and barking.

On Sunday, the No. 1 overall draft pick did a lot of postgame wolfing after leading Seattle to a 72-63 win against the San Antonio Stars at KeyArena. Loyd had a team-high 18 points with six rebounds, four assists and no turnovers.

“We’re trying to find the inner dog within us,” said Loyd of herself, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Markeisha Gatling forming the “Dog Pack.” Loyd began the season asking to not start and has since grown to be named July’s rookie of the month.

Filling out the field: Australia, Canada women’s basketball teams qualify for Rio Olympics

Also: Australia’s Opals off to Rio Olympics after win over New Zealand Tall Ferns

OPALS coach Brendan Joyce expected New Zealand to “grow an arm and a leg” and it did, pushing Australia to the brink in an 80-63 Oceania classic in Tauranga.

Don’t let the blow-out nature of the final score fool you – the Tall Blacks gave Australia as much as it could handle and arguably its toughest game of the past three years, the world championship clash against the US exempted.

But in the end, Joyce’s veterans Laura Hodges and Suzy Batkovic, plus budding playmaker Tessa Lavey ensured the Opals would be heading for another Olympic campaign and medal chase in Rio.

Also: Canadian women’s basketball team wins Olympic spot – Kia Nurse leads host nation with 20 points in final match

Couple of things about the game:

Hey, that’s my sis! Darnell Nurse inspired by sister Kia’s performance in basketball this summer

Darnell Nurse doesn’t know how he can keep up with his younger sister Kia.

Kia helped Canada win the FIBA Americas women’s championship on Sunday night, clinching an Olympic berth at the 2016 Rio Games. She was also instrumental in Canada’s gold-medal performance at the Pan American Games in Toronto earlier this summer.

“I’m not sure what I can do,” said Darnell, a defenceman in the Edmonton Oilers’ organization. “Maybe I’ll have to get out of my comfort zone and challenge her to a one-on-one game on the street before I leave for Edmonton. We’ll see, I’ve got a lot of practising to do.”

Asked if he’d played Kia at basketball recently, Darnell said that discretion had been the better part of valour.

More on the Canadians – and women’s basketball history: Grads’ influence on women’s basketball a dream for Canadian crew – National team did a decent imitation this week at Saville Centre

This isn’t the first time that Edmonton has seen this kind of dominance in the women’s game, but there are very few people still alive who saw it the first time.

With each day they spend in Edmonton, whether training out of the Saville Community Sports Centre or chasing a spot in next year’s Olympic Games, Canada’s women’s basketball team is breathing life into the 100-year-old legacy of the Edmonton Grads — even if that legacy is somewhat under the radar.

Speaking of Canada: Basketball leader recognized

To see Keith Brown coaching at a basketball tournament one would see a quiet reserved gentleman, not your typical coach. However, the passion he has for the sport of basketball is evident.

It’s this passion and dedication to girls’ basketball, and its growth in Grand Falls-Windsor (GFW), that has earned him the award of “Minor Coach of the Year” from the Newfoundland Labrador Basketball Association (NLBA).

During the last basketball season, Keith coached three junior high basketball teams!

Girls’ basketball has grown over the years.  Brown’s passion, knowledge and love of the game has been beneficial to the basketball program in GFW.

Three years ago, it was the East and West Coast teams that were dominating basketball. This past season, Brown brought the sport of basketball to a whole new level with several gold and silver medal wins between his three teams.

Speaking of history (MA): Pioneering Spirit Part I: First a Tiger, then a Friar, Ipswich’s Benirowski Canty ruled the court

The girls athletic programs at Ipswich also blossomed during that period, especially basketball under coach Kiki Papagiotis. She carved out a Hall of Fame career at the school by producing a 209-37 record, including a state championship in 1979-80.

Papagiotis did it with some extraordinary players, of course. Kathy Paganis, who was a field hockey All-American, was one of the keys for the dominant basketball team along with Ellen Galanis, who was the first Ipswich girl to net a college scholarship, ending up at Division 2 Bentley in Waltham. Both Paganis and Galanis graduated in 1977.

Then along came future Ipswich Hall of Famer Jayne Benirowski, who became Jayne Benirowski Canty after she was married. She was the baby of that group, if you will, a sophomore when Paganis and Galanis were seniors.

In NCAA news: In light of the “new violations” self-reported by UNC, Doc Kennedy of the Tar Heel blog is trying to Sort Through The Silly and the Specious of the Weekend

I readily admit I was among those who had consigned Hatchell to the dustbin, given the weight of the NCAA mess coupled with the mass defections from her program by the outstanding recruiting class of 2013. But other than rampant speculation and the lack of an extension of a contract on which three years still remain, is there any evidence that Hatchell is being scapegoated or sacrificed to save Williams or the men’s team?

An editorial in the News & Observer offers their answer: A double standard at UNC-CH over contracts for Williams and Hatchell

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is already facing enough allegations in its academic and athletic fraud scandal to make it one of the broadest sets of charges against an athletic program in NCAA history. Somehow, however, the university’s leadership has found a way to add an entirely new allegation to the mess – sexism.

Encouraging: NYC Vows 500 More High School Teams for Girls

Last spring, administrators at Beacon High School in Manhattan handed out a survey to students.

Rising sophomore Anjali Rao says no explanation or context was given for the questionnaire, which probed her school’s sports offerings and her sports preferences.

The survey didn’t seem like a big deal to Rao. “Beacon is known for its sports,” said the 15 year old in a recent interview at Women’s eNews’ office here. “Girls play the same sports as boys.”

But the information gained from it–due out this fall from the New York Department of Education–may help the country’s largest school system provide girls with more team sports opportunities at its more than 400 high schools.

In February, the U.S. Department of Education determined that many female students in the system did not enjoy equal athletic “opportunities,” a violation of Title IX, the federal law mandating that all schools with public funding provide equitable educational opportunities and benefits; sports included. (A participation opportunity is defined as a roster spot for one athlete on one team in one sport.)

Two shout outs:

  1. To friend, friend of the blog, friend of women’s basketball Phil, who is putting together an amazing “Coaches reaching milestone wins.” HUGE amount of work, but essential so folks across the Divisions and high school get the recognition they deserve
  2. To the folks who have signed up to join me at the Maggie Dixon Classic in the Garden on Monday, December 28th. We’re up to 100. If you want to come with, drop me a line: womenshoopsblog @ gmail.com

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even after my fabulous trip to Omaha (with a drive by workshop with the amazing folks at the Omaha Community Playhouse), visits with various parental units book-ending an intense Summer Professional Development Institute with Early Childhood educators…and then my cable/internet access goes out (Thanks TWC!) …I find that nothing much has changed in the W. Folks are still pounding the heck outta each other and nothing seems guaranteed. Unless you’re Phoenix. (Now if that doesn’t put the kibosh on ’em, NOTHIN’ will…)

Catching up on the games I missed with Richard at WNBAlien.

On the good news side: Catch is back. (No, the pun wasn’t intended, but I’ll take it!)

Faith, fitness and a new pregame routine are allowing Tamika Catchings to perform as if she is 25 again — not 35, which is what she turns on her birthday Monday.

She scored 14 of her 25 points in the fourth quarter Thursday night, leading the Indiana Fever to a rare 82-64 blowout of the Chicago Sky at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

On the bad news side: Delisha is out. How is it possible that she is 39? Yes, I know she didn’t start with the league in ’97, but I still group her and Becky as “one of the originals.” Totally sucks. 

And yes, I was surprised when Milton was switched out of Cash. Really? Why? But, Swin Cash is happy to be in New York

On the “huh!” side, just when I thought Cappie and the Lib were on their deathbed, the revive enough to annoy the heck outta the Dream. Still, my eyes aren’t shining with joy when I think about NY.. sigh.

Looking at the standings, it’s a bit shocking to see where Chicago has landed – even with all their injuries. (I point to Indiana and coach Dunn’s effort.) The Sky has a helluva a lot of talent, and yet??? (Oh, and Delle Donne won’t attend WNBA All-Star Game.)

The same could be said for LA – and they don’t really have an injury excuse. Makes me wonder about chemistry and coaching.

It just shows that coaching in the W IS important — and hard to quantify/qualify. Just like Donovan hasn’t been the “disaster” that some folks presumed, Mike hasn’t been the Mystics’ miracle worker (yet?). Albert Lee wonders: Who will be the Washington Mystics’ best player over the next several years?

Lots to look forward in the second half of the season — especially if Augustus and Brunson return. Ditto for EDD. Games I’m looking forward to:

  • July 22: Atlanta @ Minnesota (How does the Dream hold up against the West second time through?)
  • Juy 24: Phoenix @ L.A. (This is the time for LA to make their push)
  • July 29: L.A. @ Phoenix (see above)
  • August 5: Atlanta @ Phoenix (Deja vu West Coast Test)
  • August 7: Chicago @ Minnesota (If they have their full compliment, and they’re making a run at the playoffs, this game could be key)
  • August 8: Connecticut @ New York (This game could be about draft picks and/or a playoff spot.)
  • August 10: Atlanta @ Chicago (Again, health and a run for a playoff spot could be at stake)
  • August 16: LA @ Phoenix (These two teams don’t like each other… the end of the season is approaching… playoffs are at stake…. what’s NOT to like?)

From Mechelle: WNBA first half: The good, the bad

Right now, there is no WNBA team flying higher than Phoenix, which has the best record in the league and is host to the All-Star Game on Saturday (ESPN, 3:30 p.m. ET). Now there’s some serendipity.

When the 2014 season began, defending champion Minnesota appeared to be the favorite, and the Lynx are still a threat to win it all. But they need to get healthier, and they know that the Mercury’s confidence is brimming.

Phoenix and Minnesota also have Diana Taurasi and Maya Moore leading the MVP race, along with Atlanta’s Angel McCoughtry. The Dream are atop the East but are thinking bigger than that. After coming away empty-handed from three trips to the WNBA Finals, Atlanta — with Michael Cooper now as its coach — wants to get past that ceiling. 

In terms of the schedule, we are actually already past the midway point of the season. Seattle, in fact, has just 10 games left. But it’s still a good time to assess where every team is and  hand out some grades. Considering most of the league is around or below .500, it stands to reason that there’s a pretty big gap between those earning A’s and everyone else.

From Swish Appeal: How is each WNBA team faring at the All-Star break?

Speaking of the All Star Game: Albert is cranky at these decisions: 2014 WNBA All-Star Game: Sue Bird and Ivory Latta named as injury replacements. Which is a little goofy (infuriating?). Mostly, I think, because, even when they DON’T intend to, it always seems folks are blaming the players for the selection process. (Flashback to Sue Wicks’ selection). ‘sides, Sue herself is honest enough to wonder how she got the nod to attend. But, USA Basketball thinks she’s still got enough to do a feature on her: Before They Made It: Sue Bird

Nate points out the “snubs.” (Another word I dislike, ’cause it brings it to the personal, where there are always so many intangibles involved…)

Obviously, folks on Twitter weighed in about the selections almost immediately. Swish Appeal readers have already commented and voted about the matter. And I pre-emptively posted a table of statistics that should make it pretty easy to glean who I think the biggest snubs, er, candidates for replacement spots are.

With some time to think things over, let’s try to bring that together to see who are the players most deserving of a replacement spot.

Oh – and it bloody-well be a sellout so the West Coast franchises will stop ducking the responsibility for hosting the beast. (And West Coast fans can stop whining about it “always being on the East Coast.”) Put your money and your organizational skills where your mouth is, I say….

More on the game:

Can’t avoid it: Diggins an All-Star on, off the court

Not even Drake’s infatuation can throw Skylar Diggins off her game.

From Elliot: Stanford graduates Chiney and Nneka Ogwumike meet again as WNBA all stars

Nneka Ogwumike could afford to play the charitable big sister last weekend when her Los Angeles Sparks demolished Chiney Ogwumike’s Connecticut Sun 90-64 in basketball’s version of Family Feud.

While running down the court in the second half, Nneka told Chiney, “Hey, tie your shoe.”

Always the protector, Chiney recounted this week as she and her sister prepared for round two Saturday in the WNBA all-star game at US Airways Center in Phoenix.

More on the sisters from Doug: Ogwumike sisters headline WNBA All-Star reserves

Chiney and Nneka Ogwumike became the first pair of sisters to be chosen to participate in the WNBA All-Star game when the league announced the reserves on Tuesday night.

“It means the world to me because, honestly, I didn’t expect to come to the league and be able to feel like a confident player,” Chiney Ogwumike said of the honor. “You expect rookie struggles, and I have struggled at times, but I have great teammates who lift me up, and I have an organization that gives me so much confidence. And to be there alongside my sister. … I think it’s just awesome and I feel blessed.”

The sisters are amazing enough for the NY Times to have given them some space: Rivalry Begins for Sisters With Ambition – Chiney and Nneka Ogwumike, Sisters and No. 1 Picks, Face Off

Shortly after she was selected in April as the No. 1 overall pick in the W.N.B.A. draft by the Connecticut Sun, Chiney Ogwumike moved into her own apartment. During her first visit, Ify Ogwumike, Chiney’s mother, presented her second-oldest daughter with a housewarming gift that carried a not-so-subtle message, a study guide for the Graduate Record Examination.

“She put it purposely on my night stand,” Chiney Ogwumike said this month. “It’s ominous, watching me all the time.”

Brittney Griner set for 1st healthy WNBA All-Star Game

Around this time a year ago, Brittney Griner wasn’t in a good place. The Mercury center was struggling to recover from a sprained left knee and brooding over the realization that she would have to miss the 2013 WNBA All-Star Game.

Sitting out any game is no fun for an athlete. Sitting out your first All-Star Game after being voted in by the fans in your rookie season — that takes disappointment to another level.

“It sucked,” Griner said. “It definitely sucked, not being able to play and having to sit there and watch everybody else. It was horrible.”

And yes, we noticed: Griner blossoming in WNBA after rough first year

Which is why Swish Appeal has a Q&A with Diana Taurasi: Phoenix Mercury’s hot start, Brittney Griner’s improvement, the WNBA title chase

What about those Merc? Deflecting Brondello leads Mercury rise

Right, the players make the plays and it’s wise for a coach to keep everyone aware of it.

“Obviously, the organization and detailed work that Sandy’s put in every day has kind of made us really focus going into games,” Taurasi said of Brondello, a former world-class guard from Australia whom she played for in Russia the past two winters. “Knowing what we’re doing on both sides of the ball … that’s really helped.”

VIDEO: From Ben and the .com: Taurasi and Catchings (Please, please, pleeeease let them both be in Turkey!!!)

From Jayda: The Storm’s Brian Agler talks about his team and its struggles

Q: The roster has suffered a few setbacks. How do you think the team has handled adversity headed into the All-Star break?

Agler: There’s been a lot of inconsistencies with our team this year. Like a lot of teams, we haven’t had a lot of time to practice because the season is 2½ weeks shorter. … I don’t think our defense has been up to par with the (Storm) teams in the past. I see that as a lack of court time because there are some things that need practice repetition. But we talk about it and understand the importance. So, that’s our focus, to become consistent on the quality of our play.

Shoni rules the World of Jersey. (The jersey that you wear, silly!)

Speaking of Shoni, from the Journal-Courier: Schimmel, McCoughtry stick with U of L roots

Shoni Schimmel and Angel McCoughtry are enjoying their first season as teammates on the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream, and the partnership of the two greatest alumnae in University of Louisville women’s basketball history will reach new heights on Saturday when they both start in the league’s All-Star Game in Phoenix.

From USA Today, David Woods asks: Who is the greatest women’s basketball player ever?

It’s easy to ignite discussion in a bar or chat room on who’s the greatest male basketball player of all time. M.J. or Kareem? Wilt or Russell? What about LeBron?

What about the female players?

That might be a more difficult conversation. Not because there aren’t candidates, but because it’s a list that can’t easily be pared.

“It’s just like the NBA or the NFL. You can’t say there’s one player because that’s how good the game is, and that’s how much it’s evolved over the years,” said Kelly Krauskopf, president and general manager of the Indiana Fever. “That’s the way it should be.”

In other news:

Catching up with Texas Tech’s “no tolerance” policy: Texas Tech reinstates Nigel Bethel II and Video of Nigel Bethel Punching Amber Battle During Texas Tech Pickup Basketball Game Emerges After Grand Jury Dismisses Charges

Cool: Sugden makes history at the Women’s World Wheelchair Basketball Championships

From Paul (who I hope to cross paths with in Istanbul): Waiting for the youth scene to catch fire in 2014

Having written last week about the various shortcomings on court at the FIBA U17 World Championship for Women, I have to confess my spirit was barely lifted by the U20 European Championship Women.

The play seemed to me at least, to be of an inferior quality to many previous editions. The Final itself, between eventual winners France and their opponents Spain, was exciting in terms of its conclusion due to the fact it went to overtime.

But, whichever way you dress it up and even taking into account the mitigation of some excellent defense – which was highlighted by Spanish senior team boss Lucas Mondelo – it was not the spectacle you would expect and epitomised much of the tournament.

From Connecticut: KML ready for senior moment

For three years, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis has talked about looking up to the likes of Kelly Faris, Bria Hartley, and Stefanie Dolson on the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team.

But the tables have now turned on the Anaheim Hills, Calif., native. She and Kiah Stokes are the only seniors on the Huskies’ 2014-15 roster.

“There is definitely a lot more pressure, and a lot more responsibility,” Mosqueda-Lewis said. “But the people on this team, they take care of themselves.”

Oops and ouch: Naje Gibson, a talented women’s basketball recruit, will not attend Pitt this year as she is academically ineligible.

From the Ames Tribune: “Fab Five” freshmen add versatility, depth to ISU

Rare has been the year in Iowa State women’s basketball coach Bill Fennelly’s tenure that he could call upon nine or 10 players in a given game or even play a proper five-on-five scrimmage without one team blowing out the other.

That may change this season.

More from Iowa: Polish team takes a chance on injured Poppen

Chelsea Poppens knew that her stock was down after rupturing her ACL in January during her stint in Australia and that any overseas professional team picking her up for the upcoming winter season would be taking a chance.

Lublin of the Polish league took that chance on the 6-foot-2 former Iowa State forward this week, signing Poppens for the upcoming season that starts in September, about one month after she is tentatively projected to fully recover from her injury.

More international basketball news: For Fort Gibson ex, this move requires a passport

Slowly, over the course of time, Carissa Crutchfield has drifted away from home.

That current joins with a tidal wave in a few weeks.

From Fort Gibson to Oklahoma State to the University of Arizona, Crutchfield will head to Krasnoyarsky Russia, to begin a pro basketball career. It’s Russia, but smack-dab in the middle of Siberia, 2,500 miles or a five-hour flight from the capital city of Moscow.

From the Daily Californian: Cal women’s basketball must develop role players

Depth was a major issue for the Bears last season, and it was evident in their lack of a second-string point guard to back up Boyd. When Boyd left the floor to rest or because of foul trouble, Gottlieb was forced to play Afure Jemerigbe at point guard. The Bears also had little depth behind Gray and hit lulls in scoring whenever she left the floor.

Despite losing a major cog in Brandon, Cal projects to bounce back, improving its role players as well as its main stars. Gottlieb’s quick-paced tempo complements Boyd and Gray with the Bears running up and down the court every chance they get. Gottlieb plays to the team’s strengths, allowing Boyd and other wings to gamble and trap around the perimeter to force turnovers, leading to easy buckets in transition.

Tough news from down the road:

Former Campbell Hall girls’ basketball standout Lauren Holiday has taken a medical retirement from basketball at UCLA.

She will remain with the team as an undergraduate assistant.

Holiday suffered from multiple concussions and was the subject of a Times’ story last February looking at head injuries among women athletes.

Fun stuff: Central Kitsap’s new girls basketball coach Nikki Nelson a dribbling phenom

Nelson, a Chewelah native (that’s about an hour north of Spokane if you didn’t know) was a ball-handling wunderkind and can probably still get it done today.Check out this video of Nelson performing at halftimeat a Seattle SuperSoncis game (remember them?) on April 4, 2014

More from the Courier-Journal crew: Walz ready to replace U of L women’s vets (and congrats on the munchkin, Jeff!)

On Tuesday, U of L coach Jeff Walz said his program is on task and headed in the right direction, despite the challenges presented by the departures of WNBA All-Star Shoni Schimmel, standout forward Asia Taylor and two other key seniors.

Having five freshmen ready to play is a big factor in that transition, Walz said.

“I’m really excited about where they are now and even more excited about where they’ll be in two or three months,” Walz said.

The freshman class is built around wing Mariya Moore, a McDonald’s All-American who will play for the USA under-18 team this summer. Walz is an assistant coach for that team.

A little more from Louisville: Jeff Walz summer Q&A, WNBA, newcomers, more

All right, I’m going to admit something. University of Louisville coach Jeff Walz held a news conference to update some news with his women’s basketball program today, but I got distracted by his 13-month-old daughter, Lola, during the news conference and only caught about half of what he said.

So here’s a transcript of a portion his news conference from today — with the obligatory Lola photo gallery attached

Good news in Nashville: Vanderbilt’s Rebekah Dahlman back after health scare

“I stepped off the court and I was like, ‘Something is wrong,'<TH>” Dahlman said. “I took off my arm sleeve and I just noticed that my arm was completely black and blue and very swollen. Like double the size of my left arm.”

What happened next is a blur in Dahlman’s memory. Trainers rushed her to the emergency room at the university’s medical center.

“I’m kind of freaking out,” Dahlman said. “I didn’t know what to think and didn’t know what to do.”

From Georgia’s Telegraph: Lady Vols’ Massengale eager for comeback

Tennessee is preparing to welcome back a senior point guard while monitoring the status of an ailing post player.

Ariel Massengale is looking forward to returning for her senior season after missing the final 16 games of the 2013-14 season with a head injury. Massengale, who also underwent offseason surgery on her right knee, says she’s hoping to be 100 percent by the start of the school year next month.

While Massengale awaits her return, sophomore center Mercedes Russell is recovering from offseason surgery to her right foot. Lady Vols coach Holly Warlick said Russell is out kind of indefinitely right now” and was uncertain whether the injury would affect the 6-foot-6 center’s status for the start of the season.

Sports Illustrated on a former Vol: Where are they now: Catching up with Chamique Holdsclaw

She turned herself in to the police two days later and spent a night in jail, where heckling inmates challenged her to  games of one-on-one. Holdsclaw finally decided to deal with her depression. “This wasn’t the court saying that I had to do therapy or anything of that sort,” she strains to note. “This was all me trying to get things right in my life.”

On her lawyer’s recommendation, she hired a forensic psychologist to audit her medical records; he referred her to another psychologist who, after a 15-minute review, revealed that she didn’t just have clinical depression she also had bipolar II disorder. “And I’m like, Man, you got all that in 15 minutes?”

The news was upsetting but also came as a relief. Now there was and explanation for the the emotional swings she had experienced. Furthermore, the psychologist noted, Holdsclaw was not only taking the wrong drugs to treat the wrong ailment, but also taking them at the wrong times. After switching to a new drug, Depakote, a mild mood stabilizer, and a new therapist with whom she meets with once a week, she has noticed a major difference. “Looking back,” she says, “I really should’ve been in therapy more. It’s changed my life. It’s like you come in one person and leave another.”

The fabulous Nancy Fahey and her amazing Washington U (St. Louis) program goes dunlin‘.

Dicky V is all wet:

And are the stripped shirts!

Signing off! Thank you, oh Coffee Shoppe, for your internet access….

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Vets, rookies give Mystics new life

Snow, an 11-year veteran, and Hill, the No. 4 draft pick in April, represent the extremes in experience for the Mystics.

On one hand, you have the 6-foot-5 center who has seen it all in the pro game and been able to steadily keep a job. On the other hand, you have a 5-10 guard who’s learning more every day about what it takes to earn minutes in this league.

“When you’re young,” says Mystics point guard Ivory Latta, “you need that veteran who will get in your grill and say: ‘Hey, you are at the next level. Everybody is faster, quicker, they jump higher, they get in the passing lanes. You have to adjust.’

“Tayler — she’s going to be great. She just has to get into the rhythm of how the WNBA is played, and it takes some time.”

Where I’m going to be tonight: Liberty Host Eastern Conference Rival Connecticut Sun, by Ros Gold-Onwude

The Connecticut Sun (2-3) are hampered by injuries of their own. Streaky shooter and solid defender Renee Montgomery is out with an ankle injury. Shooter Tan White is out with a broken finger. Kara Lawson missed a game with a sore back but returned to play on Wednesday against the Indiana Fever. Due to all the injuries the Sun brought in veteran guard Iziane Castro Marquez who brings size and another scoring option to the wing. The Sun bounced back after a three game losing streak with a 73-61 win over the Indiana Fever on Wednesday June 12th. Reigning MVP Tina Charles carried the Sun with 30 points and 10 rebounds in an inspired effort. Lawson returned to the court to add 12 points but seemed limited, only shooting 5-14 and giving up 6 turnovers.

Speaking of New Jersey,  C Viv in the Nine for IX Short: ‘Coach’ Preview

Check out a preview clip from the Nine for IX digital short film “Coach,” the Best Documentary Short winner at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. “Coach” will debut on espnW.com on June 18, while the Nine for IX documentary series begins July 2 on ESPN.

Nate ponders the Three keys to the Atlanta Dream succeeding without Sancho Lyttle

Adding to the discussion of rosters and money, Clay says, In the WNBA, injuries change everything

So even though the Liberty knocked off Atlanta Sunday, starting 75-year-old Katie Smith every night is simply not the way to win consistently in this year’s very tough and competitive WNBA. As time goes on, the 12 teams are not only getting more talented, they are developing identity and pride, and a group like the San Antonio Silver Stars, hampered as they are by their own injuries, are going to play tough almost every night out. Even downtrodden and unlucky Tulsa is not guaranteed win, as the Shock have taken some of the league’s best into overtime.

This flew under my radar — and it’s interesting, because about five years ago, a NCAAW coach was talking to me about “concerns” at Nike. Nike LGBT Sports Summit underway in Portland

Folks are tweeting the event: #LGBTSportsSummit

The second annual Nike LGBT Sports Summit started this week at the same time the city gears up for the Portland Pride Festival.

The summit held in downtown Portland includes more than 100 leaders in LGBT sports community.  There are various initiatives, all centered around ending bias and discrimination of LGBT athletes and their fans.

Cyd Zeigler of OutSports.com is one of the founders of the summit, and credits Nike for hosting the event.

And Nike unveils line of sneakers celebrating gay pride – The colorful #BeTrue Free Run 5.0 shoes are available in the U.S. for $115, and profits will benefit the LGBT Sports Coalition.

In addition to the professional activists and media, the attendees include athletes, coaches or representatives affiliated with colleges and universities around the country, as well as the NCAA, USOC and USA Wrestling. And there’s an anticipated increase in the participation of active and former athletes and coaches. More than a dozen current college athletes (gay and straight) will be joined by another dozen coaches, including Portland State women’s basketball coach Sherri Murrell. Murrell is the lone out coach in Division I, and her perspective — on her responsibilities as a mentor to her athletes and as a responsible citizen to the wider community — might help move the national conversation beyond questioning an LGBT person’s fitness to coach, or beyond concerns over sexuality or gender identity, and back to simple ability.
Bill Laimbeer is standing in a piece of real estate that he used to own. Both his feet are firmly planted in the paint as he’s calmly instructs the players that Bill Laimbeer the GM has provided him how to feel for the balance and weight of a defender. Later he’ll show some of his guards how to properly curl off of an off-ball pick. Every now and then he’ll smile, too.In their 16-year existence, the New York Liberty, one of the WNBA’s original eight teams, have never won a title. There have been three finals appearances, but the last one was in 2002. Last year they finished the season 15-19. Laimbeer, on the other hand, is a three time WNBA champion—2003, ’06 and ’08—the second most in league history. It took him less than two full seasons to lead the Shock to their first WNBA title. The Liberty are hoping for an even faster clock this time around.

And some sad news that I saw, but couldn’t get to: Memorial service set for Melissa Erickson, former Washington player
Melissa Erickson, a former Washington basketball player, died Wednesday after a seven-year battle with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). She was 34.
A public memorial service has been set for June 21 at 5pm at Alaska Airlines Arena, or Hec Ed as Erickson and her teammates knew it when the Huskies advanced to the NCAA Elite Eight her senior season in 2001.

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again.

The east has top v. low standings going up against each other: CT v. NY and IN v DC.

The game that should generate the most should be, of course Phoenix and Seattle: the return of Diana and LJ? (Be early if you want a Lauren bobblehead.  I want one! And a Bird one, too! *whine*)

The .com has a Midseason Report up.

Until then, how about this news:

WNBA’s Atlanta Dream hosts first LGBT Pride night

Latta having career year for Shock

While we were all busy mastering the time difference between the US and Great Britain, over at Swish Appeal, thewiz was gathering links:

A Collection of Atlanta Dream Links During Olympic Break, and A Link to the Previous Team Link Pages

A Collection of Chicago Sky Links During Olympic Break

A Collection of Connecticut Sun Links During Olympic Break

A Collection of Indiana Fever Links During Olympic Break

A Collection Of LA Sparks Links During Olympic Break

A Collection of Minnesota Lynx (pun intended) During Olympic Break

A Collection of Phoenix Mercury Links During Olympic Break

A Collection of Silver Stars Links During the Olympic Break

A Collection of Seattle Storm Links During Olympic Break

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That would be 22pts, a whole lotta Latta, and suddenly: a 2-game winning streak for the Shock. This time the victim was Connecticut.

Nate explained Tulsa’s win over LA. Looking forward to his breakdown of this one.

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