Over the Hump
No one told Tasha Humphrey.
In only her second career start, Detroit’s rookie forward had 28 points and eight rebounds in an 89-79 victory over the defending champion Phoenix Mercury. The former Georgia Bulldog scored 14 in each half and made 10 of 15 shots, including 4-of-5 from 3-point range.
The Shock’s other first-round draft pick, Alexis Hornbuckle, added 11 points and 15 rebounds, including seven on the offensive glass. With neither team shooting lights out, Detroit’s 51-41 rebounding advantage loomed large in the victory.
“Our rookies really played great tonight,” Shock head coach Bill Laimbeer said. “We knew about Hornbuckle and we know that she is really a solid player. Humphrey just got her opportunity recently and she has been working really hard for this. We know she can score we just never knew she could score like this.”
The new kids on the Shock took the load off the veterans. Katie Smith scored 18 points, and Deanna Nolan had 14 points and eight assists. The two shooters combined for an efficient 11-of-27 from the field (40.7 percent). Forward Plenette Pierson, the team’s third leading scorer at 12.2 points per game, had four points and four rebounds in just 14 minutes.
Humphrey’s breakthrough performance also overshadowed a miserable afternoon for Taurasi and Pondexter, the WNBA’s top two leading scorers. Both players, who average better than 25.0 points per game, gave Detroit fits at various times in last year’s championship series, which Phoenix won in five games.
Coming off a 37-point performance against Seattle – the most in the league this season – Taurasi made a 3-pointer in the first quarter, then didn’t score again from the floor, missing 12 straight shots. She fouled out with nine points. Pondexter, the 2007 Finals MVP, went 0-for-12 in the first half and finished 5-of-24. She made two 3-pointers in the third quarter and 15 of 17 free throws to score a quiet 28 points.
“It was a definite focus of our team,” to stop them, Laimbeer said. “They are the two leading scorers in the league and if you don’t focus on them you’re not doing your job. I thought we made them take shots when they didn’t want to take shots, and they missed them fortunately.”
Even with their stars struggling, Phoenix was within five points, 71-66, in the closing minutes. It was 77-71 when Humphrey tipped a loose rebound to Hornbuckle, who was planted right in front of the Detroit basket. She laid it in for an eight-point lead. When Phoenix cut it to six again, Humphrey banked it in from close range, 81-73.
Humphrey had scored just 11 points in 11 minutes all season before starting on Wednesday. She shot the ball well, scoring eight points in the loss to the Sparks, and then took her game to another level right from the get-go Saturday. She drained two jumpers and scored on a put-back before the game was three minutes old, giving Detroit a 9-7 lead.
“It felt great. Coming to a team that has all-stars and an Olympian and being a rookie I have to capitalize on my opportunities that I am given,” Humphrey said. “That’s what Coach Laimbeer has been telling me to do and that’s what I made sure to do tonight to help our team get this win.”
Nolan knocked down two 3-pointers during an 11-0 run, giving Detroit a 20-11 lead. Though the Mercury would close within 20-17 to end the first, Humphrey never lost her scoring touch, and the Shock never lost control. Her 3-pointer on a pick-and-roll with Smith sent Detroit to the locker room ahead 43-31 at halftime. The 31 first-half points were a season-low for Phoenix, which drops to 2-6.
During one fourth-quarter sequence, Humphrey showed all the tools that made her Laimbeer’s choice at No. 11 in this April’s draft. She rebounded a Katie Smith miss and scored on a floater in the lane, zipped a pass from the top of the key to Cheryl Ford for a layup, then beat the expiring shot clock with a 3-pointer. Humphrey’s triple gave Detroit a 71-59 lead.
The Shock (8-3) return to Detroit with a 2-2 split on their four-game West Coast swing. They don’t play again until hosting Minnesota on Friday.