The Watch: This Weekend in the WNBA
Game of the Week: Sacramento at Detroit
The Shock overcame a 2-1 deficit in the 2006 Finals to top the Monarchs and earn their second WNBA title in four years. Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC, they open up the defense of their championship against the Monarchs, just moments after receiving their rings in front of what will be a rowdy crowd in the Motor City.
Both teams return their core players from 2006. From gritty post player Cheryl Ford to super-slick Deanna Nolan to ultra-rugged Katie Smith, the Shock are still the team to beat in many experts' minds. As if they weren't solid enough, new point guard Shannon "Pee Wee" Johnson and center Katie Feenstra will be making their debuts for Detroit after joining the champs in the offseason in separate deals from San Antonio.
"Obviously they're a great rebounding team and they take a lot of pride in their power game," says new Monarchs coach Jenny Boucek, a former WNBA player and an assistant on Seattle's title-winning team of 2004. "(Shock coach Bill Laimbeer) goes for power players at all positions. That's why he went after Pee Wee. He's got Katie Smith. He's got power players at every position."
"We're not built that way," Boucek continues. "We're built more on athleticism and agility. So we have different types of athletes. The styles are different."
Sacramento favors a defensive-minded approach to the game, and they would clearly prefer a lower-scoring, grind-it-out contest on Saturday. Though center Yolanda Griffith, forward Nicole Powell and guard Kara Lawson can all put points on the board, defense is their hallmark, a notion well exemplified by shut-down guard Chelsea Newton, who returns to the Monarchs after a season in Chicago.
But defense won't be the only thing on the Monarchs' minds on Saturday. Though a season-opening win surely wouldn't make up for their loss in the Finals, revenge has to be part of the mindset, doesn't it?
"I'm sure our players will be extremely motivated to play Detroit again," says Boucek. "They ended last season with a bitter taste in their mouths.
"But I'm more concerned with us just getting better and getting more comfortable with what we do because we've had such a short period of time (playing) together establishing our system and our continuity. It's going to be a lot of mind over matter in these early games for us."
Matchup to watch: Shock's two-headed monster at center of Katie Feenstra and Kara Braxton vs. Yolanda Griffith. With the departure of Ruth Riley, which of these youngsters will step up for Detroit? And, more importantly, how will they hold up against an established veteran like Griffith?
Connecticut at Washington:
A rematch of playoff teams from 2006, this is another good one. The Sun are hoping that Asjha Jones and Erika De Souza together can make up for the loss of longtime star Taj McWilliams-Franklin, who was traded to Los Angeles.
Minnesota at Indiana:
Indiana begins its quest for its first league title against a rebuilding team in Minnesota. It will be interesting to see how Indiana's veteran guards Tully Bevilaqua and Anna DeForge fare against the last two No. 1 picks in the draft, Minnesota's Seimone Augustus and Lindsey Harding.
San Antonio at Phoenix:
The Silver Stars made some serious strides in the offseason transaction market, picking up Becky Hammon and Ruth Riley to play alongside Marie Ferdinand-Harris, who is returning after missing last season to give birth, and rising star Sophia Young. Phoenix, on the other hand, returns superstar Diana Taurasi, young guard Cappie Pondexter and the highest scoring offense in the league. This one could be a shootout.
Houston at Seattle:
With Lauren Jackson and Sue Bird just recently arriving at the Storm training camp, Seattle is in the process of putting things together. Houston returns three stars in Sheryl Swoopes, Tina Thompson and Michelle Snow, but their backcourt is very unsettled at this point after the retirement of Dawn Staley and the departure of Dominique Canty to Chicago.
Chicago at New York:
These are two teams that are rebuilding in 2007, but both still bring exciting players to the table. Sky forward Candice Dupree is a bona fide star who will only get better, Monique Currie is looking to make an impact after coming over from Charlotte, the aforementioned Canty should provide stability in the backcourt and many are tabbing Armintie Price as a Rookie of the Year candidate. In New York, Shameka Christon will take over much of the scoring burden after the loss of Hammon, Sherill Baker is improving at shooting guard and rookie bigs Jessica Davenport and Tiffany Jackson could form a formidable duo down low.
Sacramento at Minnesota:
The Monarchs play their second game in two days against the up-and-coming Lynx and their new coach Don Zierden. Don't be surprised if Minnesota's younger legs heal a little more quickly than Sacramento's and they get out to an early advantage.