UNCASVILLE, Conn., July 7 –
Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi return to Connecticut -- as WNBA All-Stars.
Barry Gossage/NBAE/Getty Images
WNBA All-Star games past have largely been a one-sided affair, with the Western Conference squad claiming all five contests. The East team, however, figures to reverse that trend in Saturday’s game, televised on ABC beginning at 4:00 p.m. ET from the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn.
“From what I've been told the East has never won a game, and everybody is telling me we're not very good,” Eastern Conference coach Mike Thibault said to laughter in a teleconference with the media this week.
“My message to our players,” Thibault added, “is, ‘Go play as hard as you can, be unselfish, pass the ball, run up and down, enjoy the experience. You are here because you have been recognized for being amongst the best players.’”
The league’s best players grace both rosters, with each boasting a balance of veterans and Olympians. Each side also features three first-time All-Stars. First timers for the West include Houston’s Michelle Snow, Sacramento’s DeMya Walker and 2004 WNBA Rookie of the Year Diana Taurasi of the Phoenix Mercury. In the East, Detroit’s Ruth Riley, New York’s Ann Wauters and Washington’s Alana Beard make their initial appearance in the league’s showcase event.
Chamique Holdsclaw, Lisa Leslie and Nykesha Sales, meanwhile, have made an All-Star roster all six years.
The Western Conference is led by Houston’s Sheryl Swoopes, who topped all vote-getters in fan balloting for a fifth time. Swoopes is the second-leading scorer in the WNBA this season, averaging 18.3 points per game, trailing only fellow West-teamer Holdsclaw (19.4 ppg) of the L.A. Sparks.
Of the 11 All-Stars who participated in, and won medals at, last summer’s Olympics in Athens, seven will wear the road jerseys in Saturday’s game. The list includes Lauren Jackson, Sue Bird, Leslie, Katie Smith, Swoopes, Taurasi and Yolanda Griffith. An eighth, Holdsclaw, was an Olympian in 2000 when the U.S. defeated Australia to capture gold.
Tamika Catchings of the Indiana Fever leads the Eastern Conference after recording the second-most votes in fan balloting. The three-time WNBA All-Star is leading the league in steals and ranks fifth in assists.
Joining Catchings in the starting lineup for the East will be New York’s Becky Hammon, Charlotte’s Dawn Staley and Detroit’s Riley and Swin Cash – all but Hammon were members of last year’s gold-medal winning U.S. women’s team.
While women’s basketball fans around the world are certain to receive a good show, Connecticut basketball fans are in for a real treat when the All-Stars take the court on Saturday.
“I think it'll be a tremendous atmosphere,” Seattle Storm and Western Conference All-Stars head coach Anne Donovan said this week about the All-Star Game being held in Connecticut, “whether it's a Sun home game or now the All-Star Game. I think you're going to have fans from all over come, not just Connecticut fans, but from all over the league. Surely, they'll be rooting for their own – for Taj [McWilliams-Franklin], Nykesha [Sales] and the East – but I think they're going to see spectacular players from the West. This All-Star Game is about the festivity of it all – really getting to see the best players in the world showcase their skills.”
Four of this weekend’s participants – Sales, Bird, Cash and Taurasi – helped establish the state’s dominance in women’s hoops, helping lead the University of Connecticut Lady Huskies to national titles in 1995, 2000 and 2002-04 – Sales won in '95; Bird and Cash in 2000 and 2002; and Taurasi three-peated from 2002-04.
That success has translated to the WNBA, where Bird and Cash guided their teams to WNBA titles the past two seasons; Taurasi captured Rookie of the Year honors; and Sales is leading the Connecticut Sun, the reigning Eastern Conference champion, to a league-best 12-3 record in her seventh professional season.
Fans at the arena and around the United States will not be the only to catch Saturday’s action. The game is set to be broadcast by 52 telecasters in 193 countries and 31 languages – the most widely televised WNBA game in league history. In addition, WNBA.com will provide fans with video highlights of the game as well as pre- and post-game press conferences, live chats with players and coaches and extensive photo galleries. During the second half of the game, fans can take part in selecting the MVP by casting their vote on WNBA.com.
While many experts view the Western Conference as favorites to again win the All-Star contest, don’t count the Eastern Conference out.
“The East has certainly raised their level [of competition],” Donovan said, “and I don't think you'll see either team really run away with it. We can all expect to see tremendous players having a great time.”