How the West Was Fun
By Rob Peterson
Architecture springs to mind when you look at the two teams -- the Houston Comets and the Los Angeles Sparks -- atop the Western Conference standings. You see two cornerstones of the WNBA. You see two pillars of success, built on strong foundations of sustained excellence.
The teams' stability comes from the ability to keep their foundations intact. Comets coach Van Chancellor has four rings and players who run rings around the opposition. Tina Thompson, an MVP candidate, and Janeth Arcain have strapped the Comets on their backs and carried them through the first half.
Yet, peek inside these facades and you'll find even the familiar has a new twist. Who would have expected the Comets, who lost 2000 league MVP Sheryl Swoopes to a knee injury and four-time WNBA Championship MVP Cynthia Cooper to retirement, to reel off nine straight wins, lose the use of their arena because a fierce tropical storm and still be within one game (as of July 9) of the Sparks? And who would have expected the Sparks to reel off a league-record nine consecutive wins to start the season, LOSE three in a row, then win five straight as of July 9?
With the two conference stalwarts this wild and unpredictable, imagine what the rest of the West resembles.
Uniforms don't come with holsters, but they should as long as gunslingers like Minnesota's Katie Smith, the league's leading scorer, can go off for 40 or more points on two separate occasions.
Here are our team and individual Western Conference highlights from the first half of the season.
1. Sparks 100, Lynx 96 in OT as Minnesota's Katie Smith's
scores a WNBA-record
Leslie had a career-high 32 points and grabbed 13 rebounds. And while the Sparks were thanking their lucky stars (but not so lucky in the All-Star voting) after nearly blowing a 17-point lead, they couldn't help but be impressed as Smith tallied a WNBA-record 46 points. Sparks coach Michael Cooper, who witnessed a few outbursts like that in his NBA days, made an apt comparison.
"Katie was unbelievable," Cooper told the Orange County Register. "I don't think anyone could have stopped her. Tonight, her exhibition reminded me of some of those games that Larry Bird used to play. He would get into a zone and couldn't be stopped. It was pleasurable to watch.
"I'm glad we won. Even if we hadn't, we still would have been treated to a good game of basketball."
This year, the Sparks invaded Houston for the season opener. They defeated the defending champs and were gone, reeling off a WNBA-record nine consecutive victories to open the year.
One by one they fell. Some by a basket (Los Angeles defeated Minnesota, 62-60) and some by many baskets (the Sparks clobbered Portland, 90-75). But fall they did until arch-nemesis Houston stopped the streak on June 21.
All of which brings us to...
3. Houston's nine-game winning streak
But the Comets, the only champion the league has ever known, found some resolve. They reeled off nine straight wins, including the win over the Sparks. What made the win over Los Angeles and the streak all the more remarkable was the adversity the Comets endured during the streak.
Flooding from Tropical Storm Allison destroyed the court at the Compaq Center, forcing the Comets to reschedule four games of a five-game homestand. Houston's victory snapping the Sparks nine-game winning streak on June 21 came 11 days after their last game. The Comets won three more before losing to the Monarchs in Sacramento.
4. Margo Dydek's triple-double
5. Yolanda Griffth's 20-rebound game
Against the Mystics on June 5, Griffth grabbed an astounding 20 rebounds, one shy of the league record held by Lisa Leslie. Unfortunately for the Monarchs, the Mystics escaped with a 76-72 win. Griffith has been amazing on the boards this season, and throughout her career in the WNBA. She has four 19-rebound games in her career and two 18-rebound games this season. In fact, she has the top five rebounding performances in the Western Conference this season.
Single-Game High Scorers
Single-Game High Rebounders