Off the Record - Sep. 2006
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Gold For LJ, Australia
Posted on September 25 | Permalink
Congrats are in order for Lauren Jackson. The Storm forward and her Australian Opals teammates fulfilled their dreams Saturday, defeating Russia 91-74 to win the gold medal and the title World Champions.
Lauren Jackson and Aussie teammate Erin Phillips celebrate winning gold.
"I can't even begin to explain how important it is to all the people who have been involved in our program, and built it to where it is today," said Jackson. "I can't believe that we won. I can't believe we have the gold medal."
Jackson capped her tournament with 16 points and 11 rebounds. She finished averaging 21.3 points (first in the tournament) and 9.0 rebounds (second) per game. It was teammate Penny Taylor, however, who won MVP honors after scoring 54 points in Australia's final two wins - including 28 on 9-for-14 shooting, to go along with nine rebounds - and averaging 18.0 points per game. Kristi Harrower, another WNBA veteran, also played a key role, scoring 15 points on 6-for-8 shooting and handing out five assists.
For the Opals, this is their first major international title after winning silver at the last two Olympics. Those losses both came against the U.S., which was defeated Thursday in the semifinals by Russia. The Americans faced Brazil earlier Saturday for Bronze, and came through with a dominant performance, winning 99-59.
The U.S. had arguably its best offensive game of the tournament, shooting 55.7% from the field and 11-for-20 (55.0%) from 3-point range. After leading in the first half, the USA totally dominated the third quarter, outscoring Brazil 34-11. Sue Bird, focusing on distributing, had two points and five assists. She finished as the World Championships' leading assister with 42 assists. Her 4.7 assists per game ranked second overall.
Diana Taurasi led the U.S. against Brazil with 28 points on 11-for-15 shooting (six of seven on 3s). Tina Thompson added 15 points. Brazil got 16 points from Janeth Arcain, who announced her retirement from international competition after the game. Iziane Castro Marques scored 13 points, but missed six of her seven tries from beyond the arc.
Lauren Jackson and former Storm guard Tully Bevilaqua celebrate.
Brazilian legend Hortencia presents Sue Bird with the award for leading the World Championships in assists.
With the World Championships complete, the focus now shifts to international leagues, which usually get started the first week of October. Off the Record will again be covering all the action as Storm players heard overseas, so stay tuned.
WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS STORM RESULTS
Australia's Chance For Gold
Posted on September 22 | Permalink
When Lauren Jackson was asked last month at The Furtado Center whether winning the gold medal at the 2006 FIBA World Championships would be more meaningful than her 2004 WNBA title with the Storm, her answer came with no hesitation.
"Yes," she said. "It's my country."
Now that chance is here. It's worth noting, however, that the question was phrased as beating the U.S. in Brazil. The assumption was that, somewhere along the way, the Opals would have to face the U.S. to win the tournament, but that's no longer the case following Russia's upset of the USA on Thursday. It's an opportunity for the Aussies, because the U.S. had been a nemesis in years past, but Opals Coach Jan Stirling wants to guard against overconfidence.
"I know back home in Australia everyone will just assume USA are out of the way now, beauty, the Opals have got gold," she told The Age. "They've got no idea of the size and the athleticism of Russia. They've got it over us a little bit in those areas, but it's what you do on the day. We need to get a good start, hold them down, be proactive, do all that and more. But we feel as though we haven't finished our job yet."
It won't help Australia that starters Kristi Harrower (ankle) and Penny Taylor (groin) are banged up. While both players are expected to play, they won't be at 100%. While Stirling is worried about Russia's size, Australia actually matches up better in this regard than the U.S. with 6-5 Jackson and 6-6 Jenny Whittle in the middle.
These teams matched up in the 2004 Athens Olympics in group play, with Australia winning easily, 75-56. In that game, Jackson shot poorly (4-for-15) and was in foul trouble, but did record a double-double (15 points, 10 boards). Penny Taylor picked up the Aussies with 26 points and 10 rebounds on 9-for-17 shooting, while Maria Stepanova had even worse foul trouble, playing just 14 minutes.
Of course, as the U.S. found out, Russia is a much more formidable foe in elimination games than in group play.
Earlier, the U.S. and Brazil play for bronze. Brazil played seven great quarters to start elimination play, but then were dominated by Australia in the fourth quarter of their semifinal loss. Still, barring another night where they can't find the basket, the U.S. should start a new winning streak.
U.S. Upset, Australia Comes Back
Posted on September 21 | Permalink
Throughout this tournament, on weekdays, I've been watching the U.S. games on NBA TV at the lobby of Sonics and Storm HQ here at 351 Elliott, and it's always interesting to see the reactions to the score of co-workers walking by. Today, those reactions could be summed up as ... Shock. And. Awe.
With 50 straight wins in either the World Championships or the Olympics and several blowouts in this tournament, the U.S. was thought to be invincible - at least until a potential final matchup with Australia. Russia, despite a subpar tournament thus far, had other ideas. The Russians blitzed the U.S. from the opening tip, leading by 12 after one quarter and 20 after a dominant third quarter (Russia outscored the U.S. 21-6 in the period).
With their backs to the wall, the U.S. rallied and was able to get somewhat in the game. After Oxana Rakhmatulina missed two free throws with 30 seconds left, the U.S. took possession trailing by five. They were unable to get a 3-pointer, however, and Candace Parker missed in the paint. Russia put the game away at the free-throw line, ultimately winning 75-68. A comparison could be made between this game and Game 3 of the Storm's series with Los Angeles. In both games, the losing team started slowly on offense, seemed out of it and rallied, but still fell short.
The U.S. offense just wasn't there for the first three quarters. The team shot 27-of-70 (38.6%). Diana Taurasi scored a game-high 21 points, but needed 20 shots to get them. In fact, Parker (13 points on 6-for-11 shooting) was the only U.S. player to attempt at least two shots and shoot at least 50%.
Sue Bird started quietly, though she finished with a solid line of eight points, seven assists and no turnovers.
Five Russian players scored double-figures, and the team was hot from 3-point range, shooting 53% (8-for-15).
The other favorite, Australia, almost fell victim to another upset bid. With 10 minutes left to play, the host Brazilians had taken 64-57 advantage. The Opals, unbeaten in the World Championships thus far, got it going with little margin for error. Australia ended up dominating the fourth quarter, outscoring Brazil 31-12 to erase the deficit and earn the victory.
67 of Australia's 88 points came from three players. Penny Taylor was the leading scorer with 26 points on 8-for-10 shooting. Belinda Snell had one of the best international games of her career, scoring 22 points on 8-for-12 shooting. Despite 19 points, seven rebounds and three blocks, Lauren Jackson found herself overshadowed.
While Australia has shown a potent offense during the World Championships, this win came in large part on the strength of the Opals' defense. Australia held Iziane Castro Marques to 16 points on 6-for-17 shooting. Janeth Arcain was even quieter, shooting 1-for-7 from the field and scoring seven points.
The Opals advance to the World Championships final for the first time, and with a 7-0 record, they look to be the favorites against Russia. If the Russians stay hot from outside and clamp down defensively, however, they could certainly pick up another upset.
For the U.S., it's unfamiliar territory in the bronze-medal matchup with the hosts, Brazil. The last time the U.S. lost was in this same round of the 1994 World Championships to Brazil, which went on to win the gold in Australia.
We'll be back tomorrow with analysis of the battle for the gold and the USA's chance at bronze.
All Three Storm Teams Into Semis
Posted on September 20 | Permalink
All three teams with Storm ties have advanced to the semifinals of the 2006 FIBA World Championships, as the four favorites entering this tournament played to form on Wednesday.
The day tipped off with the only matchup without any Storm flavor to it, Russia - a disappointing 3-3 in pool play - taking on Spain. The Spaniards looked poised to pull the upset, holding the lead in the final minutes, but Russia went ahead with 2:04 left on a three-point play by Tatiana Shchegoleva. Amaya Valdemoro's 3-pointer got Spain back within 58-56 in the final minute, and they took possession with a chance to tie or take the lead after a Maria Stepanova turnover. Valdemoro, who has had a brilliant tournament, missed two shots on the possession, and two free throws by former Storm forward Natalia Vodopyanova produced the final 60-56 score.
The hosts, Brazil, then took the floor in São Paulo against the Czech Republic. A game that was tied after one quarter at 19 apiece got blown open in the second quarter, as Brazil outscored the Czechs 27-9 in the period. The Czech Republic never got close again as Brazil cruised to a 75-51 win. Iziane Castro Marques was outstanding, leading all scorers with 23 points on 9-for-17 shooting. Janeth Arcain chipped in a double-double - 15 points and 10 boards. The Czech Republic attempted 26 3-pointers, making just five.
Next up - Australia against France. The Opals weren't dominant, but they advanced with a comfortable 79-66 win, taking a 10-point lead after one quarter and not looking back. The French front line was outmatched against Lauren Jackson, sending her to the free-throw line 16 times - on more than their attempts as a team. Jackson finished with 19 points and 11 rebounds. Penny Taylor was the other Aussie in double-figures, scoring 18 points.
The day closed in São Paulo with the U.S. against Lithuania. In the early going, it looked like the Lithuanians might give the U.S. a scare, as their male counterparts have done several times in recent years. It took a score late in the first quarter to give the U.S. the lead after one as Lithuania rolled up 26 points. Thereafter, however, it was all USA. The Americans put together big runs to start the second and third quarters and outscored Lithuania 42-11 in those periods, opening up an enormous advantage. The U.S. rolled 90-56.
Sue Bird had three points, five assists and three steals, but was also atypically careless with the basketball, committing four turnovers. Backcourt-mate Diana Taurasi also struggled, shooting 2-for-7. The bench keyed the run in the second quarter, with Candace Parker scoring a game-high 18 points on 7-for-11 shooting. Tamika Catchings was the player of the game, however, posting 12 points, eight rebounds and three steals and changing the game with her energy. Jurgita Streimikyte, who has played well when she's joined the Indiana Fever in the WNBA, had a miserable game, going scoreless on 0-for-9 shooting.
The contrast between the Barueri arena and São Paulo was obvious right away. While the stands weren't much more packed, it was much louder, with horns blaring - and fairly anti-U.S. The win was the USA's 50th straight in World Championship or Olympic play.
We move on tomorrow to the semifinals, where we know one Storm forward will be eliminated. At 11:15 a.m., Brazil and Australia square off in a rematch of their matchup on Sunday. Australia, now 6-0 (plus a forfeit) will be a tough matchup, but Brazil will have the home crowd on their side. The U.S. takes on Russia in another rematch of a preliminary match won by the Americans. While Russia has struggled at times in this tournament, they remain a dangerous foe whom the U.S. is sure not to overlook.
Fun fact: Did you know that the semifinals are exactly the same as they were in Athens two years ago? Australia beat Brazil and the U.S. beat Russia, which is the expected result tomorrow as well.
Some Stats Through Pool Play
Posted on September 19 | Permalink
It may be the World Championship, but I just can't analyze basketball without at least a few statistics, so I used the FIBA Web site and some Excel manipulations to come up with advanced stats for the eight teams which are in the quarterfinals of the World Championship. Click here for more on these stats.
Team ORating Team DRating Team Pace ------------------- ------------------- ------------------- Australia 114.0 USA 70.2 USA 79.8 USA 108.8 Australia 84.7 Russia 78.9 Brazil 108.5 Czech Rep. 85.4 Czech Rep. 78.2 Russia 104.1 Lithuania 90.8 France 74.4 Spain 103.3 Spain 92.0 Australia 74.2 Lithuania 94.7 France 92.9 Brazil 72.8 Czech Rep. 94.3 Russia 94.3 Lithuania 72.1 France 91.8 Brazil 95.8 Spain 70.8
Any questions as to which two teams are the favorites? The U.S. and Australia rank one-two, though in reversed order, at both ends of the floor. Anne Donovan's team has been amazing defensively, holding opposing teams to sub-30% shooting (29.9%) from the field over the course of the tournament. The Opals are the dominant offense of the World Championships. The U.S. has been potent offensively but hurt by turnovers - 22.9% of their possessions have ended in TOs, the third-worst mark of any team.
Brazil is a really interesting case. Offensively, the hosts have played right with the U.S. and Australia, but they've been lit up on defense. Brazil is the only team to advance to the quarters with a below-average Defensive Rating. This will make for a really interesting matchup with the Czech Republic, which has thrived on defense so far. Looking forward to tomorrow's games ... .
Pool Play Complete
Posted on September 18 | Permalink
Brazil did its part, but got no help Monday as pool play concluded at the 2006 FIBA World Championship. The Brazilians crushed Canada 82-41 in their final Group E game, holding Canada to 31.3% shooting. I projected about 43 points in my last post, but 41 points turned out to be sufficient to give Brazil a better point ratio than Spain. That doesn't matter, however, because Argentina was pounded by Australia 83-49, eliminating Argentina from the World Championship and ending the possibility of a three-way tie with Brazil and Spain that would have favored Brazil.
Both Storm players in Group E had strong games. Iziane Castro Marques led all scorers in the Brazil-Canada game with 17 points on 7-for-13 shooting. She added three rebounds and three assists. Lauren Jackson - battling Amaya Valdemoro to lead the tournament in scoring - scored 30 points in fewer than 20 minutes, shooting 13-for-21 from the field.
Now we move to the single-elimination portion of the World Championship. Australia, the top team in Group E, will face France on Wednesday. Brazil, third in Group E, will match up with the Czech Republic. That matchup means finishing third might actually be a blessing in disguise - Spain, which did finish second, will have to face Russia. The Russians came into the tournament as medal favorites, but surprisingly fell to both the Czech Republic and France in the second round of pool play.
Then there's the U.S., which got a scare from the Czech Republic but stayed undefeated with a strong second-half performance, winning 63-50. After struggling defensively in the second quarter, the U.S. led by just three at the break, but they opened with the first nine points of the second half and led comfortably the rest of the way.
Sue Bird had just two assists, but she did not commit a turnover (the USA was more sure-handed than in previous games, turning it over but 12 times as a team while forcing the Czech Republic into 22 miscues) and scored 10 points, getting out in transition effectively in the third quarter. Tina Thompson and Candace Parker had 14 points apiece for the Americans. The Czech Republic shot just 30% from inside the 3-point line and was stymied most of the day by a U.S. defense that is proving the team's trademark.
Top-seeded in Group F, the U.S. will take on Lithuania in Wednesday's quarterfinal action.
Posted on September 18 | Permalink
With the second round of pool play a day away from completion, the U.S. women continue to roll on. On Saturday, the Americans dhandily defeated Cuba, 90-50. A balanced offensive attack saw nine of the 12 players on the U.S. roster score at least five points. Youngster Candace Parker paced the onslaught with 16 points and nine rebounds off the bench. Diana Taurasi and Tina Thompson scored 13 points apiece, while Sue Bird had eight points and four assists.
On Sunday, it was all about defense. France shot just 22.1% from the field as the U.S. romped 76-41. The French kept it close before halftime, going into the locker room down just nine, but were limited to 14 points in the second half and but two in the fourth quarter. The U.S. was a bit sloppy, committing 20+ turnovers for the fourth straight game, but saw all 12 players score. Taurasi was the offensive star, scoring 15 points on 6-for-8 shooting. Bird had a quiet game, finishing with four points and four assists.
"I think 17 points is what Cuba had in the second half yesterday and 14 points were scored today in the second half," said Anne Donovan. "This team is really getting after it at that end of the floor and it speaks a lot to the kind of players they are. They’re not just all-star, superstar players, but they’re committed to the little things, the things that typically your all-stars want to do and that is defend."
The U.S. concludes pool play with a challenge against the Czech Republic. At 4-1, the Czech Republic could still claim the top spot in Group F with a win today.
On Sunday, the first inter-Storm showdown took place as Australia and Brazil squared off in a key matchup for Group E positioning. The Opals dominated the second quarter, scoring 30 points, and maintained that advantage throughout an 82-73 victory. Penny Taylor led all scorers with 27 points on 10-for-16 shooting, but Lauren Jackson certainly played a key role as well, scoring 21 points and grabbing 13 rebounds. The Aussies limited Iziane Castro Marques to 13 points on 6-for-16 shooting. Brazil shot poorly from the 3-point line (3-for-14) and the free-throw line (8-for-14).
Both teams won on Saturday. Australia downed Spain 72-68. Jackson was bothered by foul trouble and limited to 23 minutes of action, but still put up a double-double (11 points, 12 rebounds). The Opals seven players score at least seven points to narrowly overcome Spain, which got 19 points from Amaya Valdemoro. Brazil defeated Lithuania 84-67. Castro Marques scored a team-high 18 points on 7-for-10 shooting.
Australia, which has already secured the top spot in Group E, closes today with Argentina. Brazil faces Canada looking to finish second in Group E, which is a total mess after Australia. Brazil, Spain, Argentina and Lithuania all came into the final day tied at 3-2. Australia could actually do Brazil a favor by losing to Argentina, because early this morning Spain defeated Lithuania. Spain defeated Brazil head-to-head, so a two-team tie would favor Spain, but if both teams and Argentina finish 4-2 it will come down to points for and against (not differential but ratio, points divided by points allowed). Spain is currently at 1.16, Brazil at 1.08 and Argentina at 1.03, so Brazil would need to defeat Canada by about 44 points (on top of Argentina beating Australia) to finish second in Group E.
Opening Round Concludes
Posted on September 14 | Permalink
The first part of round-robin play is complete in the 2006 FIBA World Championships.
Brazil kicked off the day's Storm-related action, facing Spain with a chance to clinch the top spot in Group A. Instead, the hosts fell victim to a 67-66 upset after missing two attempts in the paint in the closing seconds. Brazil had used a Helen Luz 3-pointer and three Janeth Arcain free throws to tie the game after trailing 66-60 with 1:22 left. Previously, Brazil went scoreless over a five-minute stretch as Spain took control.
Iziane Castro Marques led Brazil once again in scoring with 19 points on 8-for-19 shooting. Spain got a gutty 19 points from Amaya Valdemoro, back after missing almost all of Wednesday's game due to injury. Center Eva Montesdeoca, who was in training camp with the Storm in 2005, had 10 points and nine rebounds.
Brazil finishes second in Group A behind surprising Argentina (both teams and Spain went 2-1, but Argentina had the best point differential) and will face Australia, Canada and Lithuania in the second round-robin pool.
Australia finished unbeaten and atop Group B, beating up on Canada 97-65. After the Opals led by 11 after one quarter, Canada made a nice comeback to get within two at the break. The Aussies put the hammer down after halftime, outscoring the Canadians 56-26 to win going away.
Lauren Jackson continued her fine play with 23 points on 9-for-16 shooting. Belinda Snell led the Aussies with 24 points on red-hot 9-for-12 shooting - including 5-for-6 from downtown. Kristi Harrower posted 17 points and six assists.
The Opals are also in the newly-formed Group E with Brazil and will take on Argentina and Spain in addition to the inter-Storm matchup with Brazil (there are no winners when Storm takes on Storm).
The U.S. had a day three showdown with Russia and passed the test. Shooting a sizzling 11-for-17 (64.7%) from 3-point range, the Americans started well again, leading 18-4 early, and never relinquished the lead. Russia kept the game close in the third quarter despite losing star center Maria Stepanova to her fifth foul midway through the period, but more hot shooting - back-to-back 3s by Diana Taurasi plus one more by Sue Bird - pushed the U.S. lead to 81-63 with a little over six minutes left. Anne Donovan went to her bench down the stretch and saw some sloppy play, but the U.S. held on for the 90-80 win.
"We feel very pleased that we were able to beat a very good Russian team tonight," said Donovan. "I thought we played well at the start of the game and had moments in the second half where we looked very good and we had moments where we struggled a little bit. So I was very pleased to get a win against a very good team."
Bird had seven points and three assists in her quietest statistical performance of the tournament so far. Tina Thompson's 19 points led the U.S., while Candace Parker scored 17 and DeLisha Milton-Jones had 14. In addition to dominating downtown, the USA also had a big advantage on the offensive glass (13 offensive boards to just 17 defensive rebounds for Russia). Russia got 16 points from Stepanova and 13 from former Storm forward Natalia Vodopyanova.
The U.S. is in Group F and will take on Cuba, the Czech Republic, and France in this round robin. See above for dates and times.
Strong Day For Storm's Players/Coach
Posted on September 13 | Permalink
Day two of the 2006 FIBA World Championships is in the books, and the three teams with Storm ties remain undefeated.
After yesterday's scare, Brazil cruised past Korea 106-86. Iziane Castro Marques led the way with 21 points on 8-for-14 shooting, adding five rebounds. Alessandra Santos de Oliviera had 20 points and Helen Luz 19 for Brazil, which scored 63 points after halftime and advances to the second round.
Australia got on the court for the first time Wednesday after winning by forfeit on Tuesday. Wednesday's game was only slightly more challenging as the Opals crushed Senegal 95-55. At halftime, Australia led 44-24 with Lauren Jackson (22 points) nearly matching the Senegalese output. Jackson finished with 31 points on 10-for-14 shooting, making all nine of her two-point attempts. Jackson added five points in 24 minutes, while Penny Taylor - charmingly referred to by her full name, Penelope, by the FIBA boxscores - added 16 points, seven assists and five steals.
The U.S. improved to 2-0 with another blowout victory, defeating Nigeria 79-46. It didn't look like the matchup would be anywhere near that close in the early going. Nigeria did not hit a field goal until 1:20 remained in the first quarter, and the U.S. led 25-4 after one quarter. Nigeria eventually got going behind 15 points from Itoro Umoh-Coleman and 10 from Mfon Udoka. Starter Enjoli Izidor, a Seattle native who went to Roosevelt High School and was once a member of the Storm practice squad, had seven points but shot just 2-for-13 from the field.
Anne Donovan's charges were paced by the 13 points of DeLisha Milton-Jones, who started very well. It was a balanced scoring attack, though not one that could match the USA Basketball World Championships-record 119 points from the opener. Sue Bird's shot was a little off, as she scored seven points on 3-for-7 shooting, but she handed out six assists without a turnover. Turnovers were troublesome for the U.S in general, as they committed 22 as a team after just eight in the opener.
Now, the competition gets more difficult for two of the three teams with Storm ties. The U.S. squares off with Russia, number two in the FIBA rankings, in a clash of heavyweights. Brazil draws Spain, which is battling for second place in Group A (technically, Spain could be eliminated, but that would require blowout wins by both Brazil and South Korea, the latter improbable). Spanish star Amaya Valdemoro was limited to four minutes today by a calf injury, but is expected to play against Brazil, making for a great matchup with Izi. Lastly, Australia will again be heavily favored taking on Canada.
Lastly, it was great to hear Storm forward Adia Barnes in a slightly different role as color commentator for NBA TV's coverage of the U.S. game. For a rookie, Barnes did an excellent job. She'll do color for the Russia game as well.
U.S. Opens With Blowout
Posted on September 12 | Permalink
The U.S. kicked off the 2006 FIBA World Championship by blowing out China, 119-72. Some thoughts from watching the USA game:
Remember that this game will be rebroadcast at midnight Pacific time tonight on FSN if you missed it this afternoon. The U.S. returns to action tomorrow against Nigeria at 3:45 p.m. on NBA TV.
Elsewhere, Lauren Jackson and Australia caught a break when Lithuania was forced to forfeit its opening game because of major travel issues. It looks like Lithuania will be able to make it into Brazil for its final two games, but Australia got the day off and Jackson got to rest. Despite 12 points from Storm forward Iziane Castro Marques, Brazil got a big-time scare from Argentina in its opener. The game was tied at 69 in the closing seconds when Brazilian guard Helen Luz rebounded her missed 3-pointer (she thought the clock was lower than it was) and shot in the same motion, knocking down an 18-footer with a little over three seconds left to untie the game and give Brazil a 71-69 lead. Argentina had a chance to tie, but missed before the buzzer. Australia will open its tournament tomorrow against Senegal, while Brazil faces South Korea.
Counting Down to Tip-Off
Posted on September 11 | Permalink
courtesy USA Basketball
After the game, the Storm's contingent posed for a quick photo (at right).
Interesting article by the AAP (I'm assuming that's the Australian Associated Press) about the Opals' plans for Lauren Jackson in the World Championship. Australian Coach Jan Stirling plans to severely limit Jackson's minutes during preliminary group play. Stirling is confident in her team's depth up front, but the Opals will be playing without center Suzy Batkovic. Batkovic, who played for the Storm in 2005, is still on the mend after undergoing surgery to correct a sinus problem.
The U.S. will open with China tomorrow. That game will be televised live (3:45 p.m. Pacific) on NBA TV and on a tape-delayed basis at midnight on FSN. Australia faces Lithuania, while Brazil takes on Argentina in a showdown of South American rivals.
Congrats are in order for the Detroit Shock. Defying my prediction for the series and for Game 5, the Shock won 80-75 on Saturday to lay claim to their second WNBA Championship in the past four years.
U.S. Takes Exhibition
Posted on September 8 | Permalink
In a low-scoring, defensive affair, the U.S. defeated Australia 56-49 yesterday at Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium in an exhibition prelude to next week's World Championship.
With both teams still working to build chemistry and institute offensive sets, defenses were ahead of offenses on both sides. The Opals shot just 31.6%, the U.S. 35.9%, though both warmed up after halftime. During the decisive second quarter, Australia managed just four points as the U.S. built an eight-point lead at the break that held up.
"We have been focusing on our defense a lot, which is a tough thing to buy into, and I thought the girls did a great job with that end," said Donovan. "Offensively we stayed with just our motion offense for the most part so you didn't see a lot of variation of what we ran and I thought we did a good job considering that one offensive set. I was really pleased with the effort."
The U.S. was led by forward Tina Thompson, who had 15 points (albeit on 6-for-15 shooting) and 11 rebounds. Diana Taurasi, with 10, was also in double-figures. Storm guard Sue Bird, who started in the backcourt alongside fellow UConn product Taurasi, had six points and three assists in 26 minutes. Donovan is confident her team will pick things up offensively.
"I looked up at one point and couldn't believe me had 23 points for the longest time in the first half," Donovan said. "I believe that will come, in particular when we utilize more of what we've got."
Having a full complement of players will help. Guard Katie Smith and forward Cheryl Ford have yet to join the team as they complete the WNBA Finals, while Sheryl Swoopes sat out because of back spasms.
All 12 players on the Australian roster were able to compete, but for Storm forward Lauren Jackson - who was limited to seven points on 2-for-8 shooting and six rebounds - the exhibition was still very much a chance to get into rhythm with her Opals teammates.
"We've had one session where I've been on the court all year, pretty much," said Jackson. "I think that for me with a couple more days before worlds start I just need to get in the groove of things and play with my team again and get out there with the Aussies."
The World Championship, held in Brazil, tips off on Tuesday.
Between now and then, the focus will be on Game 5 of the WNBA Finals. While the Finals has gone to a deciding game before (and, in 1997, was just a deciding game), this is the first time we've seen a Game 5. And it should be a doozy, because this has been a wild series.
Until Wednesday's Game 4, while this series had been wild, it had been predictable - and had generally played to my expectations. In the early moments of Game 4, I begin to doubt my pick (Sacramento in a tight game) when the Shock came out quickly with a "world against us" mentality. Unfortunately, in the name of full disclosure, I had to leave early in the first quarter for a prior engagement that lasted the rest of the game. While at dinner that evening, I still had no idea of the outcome until it came on SportsCenter, which I was watching out of the corner of my eye. I jumped out of the booth and ran closer, where I was stunned to see Detroit having blown Sacramento away, 72-52, with the Monarchs scoring just two points in the fourth quarter.
Anyways, Game 5 looms as particularly difficult to predict. The best thing about this series has been that it's now a neat counterpoint to the concept of momentum within a series, which probably does happen from time to time but is also probably totally overrated. If there's one thing we've learned so far in this series, it's that the analysis I did before it started was totally meaningless. Why? I focused entirely on whether Detroit could score against the Monarchs, but that's had very little to do with the outcome of the four games - they've been all about the Sacramento offense and the Detroit defense. Here are the Offensive Ratings for both teams in the four games so far:
Detroit's offense, while it surged in Game 4, has been surprisingly consistent. And while the Shock avoided turnovers, got on the offensive glass and got 22 points from Katie Smith in Game 4, that still wouldn't have been enough had the Monarchs scored as well as they did in their two wins. So really, it appears what this series comes down to is, do you believe the Monarchs are going to be lights-out or ice cold in Game 5?
I could totally see Game 5 going either way, but I suppose I have to make a prediction, so I see the answer as somewhere in between but more like Games 1 and 3: Sacramento 79, Detroit 70.
U.S., Australia to Clash
Posted on September 6 | Permalink
Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images
"It will be competitive; it always is," said Jackson after the end of the Storm's season, "but that will be the first team our team (will be together)."
Jackson is one of four players who will be playing for the Opals for the first time this summer because of their WNBA commitments. Most of the U.S. roster has been practicing in North Carolina under Donovan for the last week and a half, but this is the team's only formal exhibition. With the World Championship just days away, both teams - who squared off in the Gold Medal Game in Athens two years ago - are looking to build chemistry.
Adding intrigue to the exhibition is Australia's 76-65 victory over the U.S. the last time these two teams met, in April in Canberra as part of the Opals World Challenge. It was the Aussies' first win in any game against the U.S. since 1999. While the USA was short-handed in that matchup, with several members of the World Championship team playing overseas, it still serves as a motivational factor.
"I expect it to be very competitive, because Australia will have their team intact," said Donovan. "It will be a good challenge. The last time we played Australia, we lost, so our players will remember that."
"We're real excited about Candace and Michelle, having worked with us in the spring in our spring training and then now here with us in this camp since we started last week," said Donovan. "They have proven in a very short period of team their value to our team and how they can help shore up the void that we have in the post that was created when Yolanda and Lisa had to withdraw. Excited to see Cheryl Ford join us at some point, who also will bring good experience into the post, a nice, strong presence as well. I think all three of these young players are going to be great additions as we continue to strive for that gold."
As Donovan alluded, Ford is still busy with the WNBA Finals (Game 4 is tonight at 6:00 p.m. Pacific on ESPN2). Picking a collegian in Parker is a shift from USA Basketball's typical roster construction, but she earned her spot during the spring, joining Jackson on the All-Tournament Team for the Opals World Challenge. Still, the young players - all in their first major international competition - face a difficult challenge trying to replace USA veterans Yolanda Griffith and Lisa Leslie, both of whom withdrew from the roster, Griffith because of fatigue after the Monarchs made the WNBA Finals and Leslie because of a family emergency.
Monarchs Can Close Out
Posted on September 5 | Permalink
With Sunday's 89-69 blowout of the Detroit Shock, the Sacramento Monarchs moved within a win of repeating as WNBA Champions. Sacramento never trailed and led by double-digits throughout the second half. An 11-2 run to end the third quarter gave the Monarchs an insurmountable 22-point advantage.
What can we expect from Wednesday's Game 4 (6:00 p.m., ESPN2)? Maybe not as huge a shift as we've seen so far between games in this series, which has sandwiched a Detroit come-from-behind win between two Sacramento blowouts. With the possible exception of Scholanda Dorrell (a 29.4% 3-point shooter during the regular season) hitting both triples she threw up in the second half, there were no extreme performances on either side. The Shock players who struggled - most notably center Ruth Riley, who had two points and five fouls in 15 minutes and was called on repeatedly by Detroit Coach Bill Laimbeer - have done so all series. At this point in the series, adjustments also have become less meaningful.
Ultimately, I see Game 4 being decided down the stretch. Detroit will need to show more composure and hunger than in its two losses, but the motivation of their season ending with a loss should be plenty to produce a sense of urgency (of course, being in the Finals should be motivation enough, shouldn't it?). That won't necessarily be enough to win at ARCO, however. I expect Yolanda Griffith to make enough big plays to earn her Finals MVP honors and her team a second straight title.
Before Game 3, Los Angeles center Lisa Leslie was named the WNBA's MVP. Despite a remarkable statistical season, Storm forward Lauren Jackson finished fourth behind Phoenix's Diana Taurasi and Connecticut's Katie Douglas. Sue Bird also received five voting points.
"The AIS ranks as the most important time in my development as a world-class basketballer," Jackson said via a video played at a gala dinner to celebrate her and the other three players named Best of the Best. "The skills I learned and support I received in my two years there are the foundation upon which I've built my career."
Jackson was at the AIS from 1997 through 1999, making her WNBL debut with the AIS team and leading it to the WNBL Championship in 1998-99, when she first won WNBL MVP honors.
Lastly, be sure to check out a nice article in Sunday's Seattle Times about Bennie Mae Collins, the 81-year-old who stands guard outside the home locker room at KeyArena and is a favorite of both Sonics and Storm players.
"I love her," Jackson said. "Every game since I've been here she always gives me a hug and a smile. She's loved by all the girls."
Series Turns to ARCO
Posted on September 3 | Permalink
Quick, late pick by request on the morning of Game 3 (1:30 p.m., ESPN2) - which will be competing with the gorgeous weather for fans' attention in Seattle today.
I don't mean to suggest my analysis is repetitive or anything, but there are two main themes I want to hit on, one of which was apparent in my Game 2 pick: The losing team has an advantage the following game, and don't read too much into extreme performances.
Taking those in order. I want to do a study to prove that it's true that the losing team has an advantage the following game, but in the absence of that, I believe it's true because more adjustments are available to the losing team than the winner. The biggest thing Sacramento must adjust to is the flare screens Detroit ran repeatedly in the second half to get Katie Smith free on the weak side of the offense. This will be tough for John Whisenant since his entire defense is based on defending the ball side and keeping the ball from getting to the weak side, but I'm confident he'll come up with something.
The other adjustment Detroit made was counter-intuitive: Despite Sacramento shooting the lights out in Game 1, the Shock packed it in the paint more in Game 2, including some 2-3 zone at times, daring the Monarchs to beat them from the perimeter again. Sacramento couldn't do it: Kara Lawson (2-for-7 on 3s) and Nicole Powell (0-for-1 on 3s, five points in 30 minutes) were non-factors after dominating Game 1, while Ticha Penicheiro was a dismal 0-for-8 from the field. I wouldn't bet on that happening again.
Penicheiro blamed herself after the game. She was outplayed by backup Kristin Haynie, who had 11 points on 5-for-9 shooting and handed out three assists in 17 minutes of action. The Monarchs were +3 with Haynie on the court and -13 with Penicheiro on the court; if Haynie outplays Penicheiro again, will Whisenant have the faith in his youngster to have her in the game down the stretch, or does he stay with the veteran? That's not a call I envy.
When you add the adjustments, improved shooting by Lawson and Powell and a raucous crowd at ARCO Arena, I think the Monarchs take Game 3 comfortably.
Sacramento Slams Detroit in Game 1
Posted on August 31 | Permalink
In my preview of the WNBA Finals, I speculated that the key for the Detroit Shock was shooting well from the perimeter. In Game 1, Detroit saw starting guards Deanna Nolan and Katie Smith hit a combined 13-for-29 from the field, 5-for-8 on 3-pointers, and score 35 points. Cheryl Ford chipped in 25 points and eight boards. And the Shock still got blown off its home floor, 95-71.
What I didn't anticipate was the Monarchs scoring virtually at will, posting an Offensive Rating of 118.8 points per 100 possessions. Sacramento sharpshooters Kara Lawson and Nicole Powell saw Nolan and Smith and raised them, putting up 43 points and shooting a sizzling 10-for-15 from downtown. The Monarchs shot 53.0% from the field and 52.6% from beyond the arc, forced 24 turnovers and never led by fewer than 13 points after halftime.
Lawson and Powell have been key to the Monarchs undefeated postseason run, which has seen Sacramento defeat opponents by an average of 16.8 points per game. Lawson is playing the best basketball of her career, averaging 15.2 points and shooting 48.4% from 3-point range in the postseason. Powell has hit a cool 50% of her triple attempts while averaging 13.0 points. Remember the days when the book on the Monarchs was that you beat them by forcing them to shoot from the perimeter? No more, my friends.
While the way the Shock reacted to the off night was hardly encouraging, I think they'll win Game 2 tomorrow (4:30 p.m., FSN). Why? Well, the fact is that the Monarchs win was primarily keyed by the hot shooting, and they're not going to shoot that well in Game 2. The ability to make adjustments - primarily to cut down turnovers - favors the Shock, as does Detroit's need to win one of these first two games at home.
Elsewhere, USA Basketball has begun its preparation for the September World Championship, practicing in Durham, North Carolina and surrounding areas. After a brief break following the end of the Storm's season, Anne Donovan and Sue Bird are back in action wearing red, white and blue.
"I'm going to talk with my staff in the next hour," Donovan said last Friday, "and then I'm all USA Basketball."
11 players, including Bird, are currently practicing under Donovan and her coaching staff. Smith is busy playing in the WNBA Finals, while Lisa Leslie is absent due to personal reasons. Three of the players currently in Durham - Cappie Pondexter, Michelle Snow and collegian Candace Parker - are battling for the final two spots on the roster, with players in the Finals right now also in the mix. A second spot on the 12-player World Championship roster opened up earlier this week when Yolanda Griffith withdrew from the roster, citing her inability to play at 100% after the WNBA Finals.
Sue Bird shows off her beloved Sidekick.
Anne Donovan in action.