Hornbuckle sets Shock record for steals in first game

Stealing Victory

The Detroit Shock looked like defending Eastern Conference champions in their 2008 season opener against the Houston Comets Saturday at The Palace.

It just took them two and a half quarters to work out the kinks.

The Shock ended the third quarter on a 13-1 run, which snowballed into a 22-3 runaway stretch and culminated in an 85-66 Detroit victory.

“I think we just increased our intensity on defense. We got some steals. We didn’t give up second shots. That was the big key,” head coach Bill Laimbeer said. “They didn’t get any second shots in that stretch and we started to take control of the game.”

With All-Star guard Deanna Nolan limited to 17 minutes, all but two in the first half, rookie guard Alexis Hornbuckle stole the show. Literally. The guard from Tennessee set a Shock record with seven steals to go along with eight points.

“I thought Hornbuckle did a great job defensively for us,” Laimbeer said. “Franchise record in steals - that’s pretty decent for a first-game rookie.”

The Shock led throughout the first half but had their lead trimmed to 44-43 at halftime on a 3-pointer by Tina Thompson, who had a team-high 17 for Houston. The Comets took the lead on the first field goal of the third quarter and was leading, 51-49, after a jump shot by rookie Matee Ajavon.

Then Hornbuckle drained her second 3-pointer and Cheryl Ford finished a three-point play to put Detroit back in charge, 55-51. It was the start of nine unanswered points. Defense figured large in the run, with Hornbuckle making three of her seven steals in the last minute of the third quarter.

“It’s an honor and a blessing,” Hornbuckle said of the franchise mark, which she accomplished in just 19 minutes on the floor. “I just went out there and wanted to play hard. I know I wanted to try to give that extra effort. And I just happened to be at the right place at the right time.”

The Shock entered the fourth quarter ahead, 62-52, and extended the lead to as many as 19. The Comets committed 23 turnovers that led to 25 Detroit points.

“I thought our defense was a lot better. I think the second half was pretty much all about our defense,” said guard Katie Smith. “We really kind of limited them, we got better rebounds, got down the floor and didn’t turn the ball over so I’m really happy how we responded after the first half, coming out in the second half.”

Smith scored Detroit’s last eight points of the first quarter, including two 3-pointers, putting the Shock ahead 21-17. Smith finished with a game-high 21 points on 7-of-16 shooting, including five 3-pointers.

On the injury front, Plenette Pierson and Ford fared better than Nolan.

Nolan scored seven of Detroit’s first nine points. But she was clearly favoring the sprained left ankle that made her a game-time decision and she played only two minutes in the third quarter before calling it a day. She is questionable for Sunday’s game in Minnesota.

“Deanna has a bad ankle. We know that. That she was even on the court to play was remarkable,” Laimbeer said. “She gave us a good lift in the first half offensively. But in the second half she couldn’t get it loose and we had to sit her.”

Ford grabbed 11 rebounds, scored seven and bounced back fine from a few spills to the floor in 26 minutes. “First time she’s really been out there playing hard and getting hit,” Laimbeer said. “I thought she did well. She didn’t get frustrated because she can’t do things that she used to, just because of repetition - not because of injury - but because she hasn’t practiced enough.”

After the bench was combined 0-for-8 shooting in the first quarter, Pierson again proved why she was the inaugural Sixth Woman of the Year, scoring Detroit’s first six points of the second quarter. Pierson, who sprained her left ankle in Monday’s preseason game, had 17 points on 6-of-13 shooting.

The Shock are now 5-6 all-time in season openers.

AfterShocks: The Shock got down to their final opening day roster of 12 players on Thursday by releasing rookie guard Wanisha Smith from Duke and training camp invitee Michelle Campbell, a forward from Rutgers.

Besides veterans and drafted rookies, 5-foot-11 guard Chrissy Givens rounds out the final roster. Givens, a 2007 graduate from Middle Tennessee State, did not play in the WNBA last season. She was inactive Saturday.