SECAUCUS, N.J., August 23, 2011 – Around here, the ground ain’t shaking.
The earthquake rippling up and down the East Coast on Tuesday might have shaken up your lunch break, but in the world of the WNBA, things are only firming up. And that means that, as playoff spots take shape and veterans’ minutes start dwindling in preparation for the postseason haul, the Race is starting to crystallize.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that anybody is on terra firma – especially in a league that includes the beam of pure energy otherwise known as Angel McCoughtry.
Last ranking: 1
It was a busy week for the Glass Cleana. First, she played 42 minutes – and scored 29 points with 14 rebounds – in the Sun’s 84-81 loss to the Liberty on Aug. 18. Then, a night later, when the Sun went into OT again (and lost to the Dream), she played another 35 minutes, putting up another double-double while she was at it (not to mention five blocks). To top it off, she had an 18-point, nine-rebound night two nights later in a win over the Dream. We know, we know…the last one wasn’t a triple-double. But over the course of four nights, these are Charles’ numbers: 62 points, 34 rebounds, 10 blocks, 110 minutes. In four nights. Four.
Last ranking: 2
The Sky only had one game this week (after three the week before that saw Fowles make her case, loudly, to return to No. 1 on this list), so Fowles got a much-needed break. But she made the most of her lone appearance, leading both teams in points (25) and rebounds (11) as the Sky took down the Mystics on Saturday. That’s five straight double-doubles and double-figure scoring in every. single. game. this. year.
Last ranking: 3
Taurasi missed Saturday night with back spasms, giving her only one appearance in the last week – just like Fowles. And just like Fowles, she made it count. Not only did Taurasi – the leading scorer in the WNBA – drop 24 points with five rebounds and four assists (against only one turnover), she picked off a rare bad pass from Sue Bird with six seconds left and drove in for a bucket to give the Mercury their first win over the Storm in 10 tries. In helping her team complete the second-biggest comeback in team history (18 points), Taurasi scored nine of her 24 in the fourth quarter. In other words, they couldn’t have done it without her.
Last ranking: 6
On July 13, Atlanta was 3-9. Now, the Dream are 13-13 and at .500 for the first time since the 2010 season and just a game and a half out of third place in the Eastern Conference. The resurgence of Sancho Lyttle has been big, but nowhere close to as big as what McCoughtry’s managed over the past month and a half. Not only is she scoring in waves, but she’s doing a ton of everything else, too – she grabbed 21 rebounds in the Dream’s back-to-back games against the Sun on Friday and Sunday, and has averaged four assists per game over her last six. And when she’s scoring, she’s also doing so at big, big times. In Atlanta’s big win over Connecticut in the first of those two, McCoughtry forced OT after blocking a shot at the end of regulation, then sank two huge shots in the extra frame to send her team to the win. There aren’t many hotter teams in the league right now, and McCoughtry’s the one lighting the fire.
Last ranking: 4
After scoring 26 points to send the Fever to a win over the Silver Stars last Tuesday, Catching cooled off a bit. First, it was just an off night (which is saying something), as she scored 16 points on 6-of-15 shooting and grabbed six boards in a loss to the Sparks on Aug. 18. Then, it was just a short night, as she scored 13 in 27 minutes in the Fever’s 31-point blowout win over the Mystics on Sunday. Catchings got the Fever here – a two-game lead in the Eastern Conference, to be exact – so she deserves some rest when she can get it. Also, she’s averaging 21.6 ppg over her last five.
Last ranking: 5
As far as minutes go, Augustus received a bit of a reprieve last week, playing an average of 26.67 minutes in the Lynx’ three games after she’d played in the mid-30’s for about two weeks from the end of July through mid-August. And that’s the plan, she said: “Coach talked about doing our work early,” she said. “We remember those [championship] Detroit teams coming out. We were as team still fighting for pride and they’d come out and be like ‘our starters aren’t gonna play because we did our work earlier in the season.'” Now, thanks in large part to the efforts of Augustus, the Lynx get to rest their starters, having clinched the first playoff berth in the WNBA this year – and the team’s first since 2004. And after scoring just 11 points in a loss to Connecticut on Aug. 16, she came out with 17 and 18 points, respectively, against L.A. and Washington to send Minnesota to two wins. Individually, Augustus falls in the rankings because she’s diluted by her team – but together, the Lynx rise for the exact same reason.
Last ranking: 9
What a week. First, Pondexter comes out on Aug. 16 and scores the last of her 26 points with 13.5 seconds left to put the Liberty up for good against the Mystics. Then, two nights later, she hit a fall-away to beat the shot clock with 18 seconds left in overtime to give the Libs the last lead they would need in a win over Connecticut. She had 27 points in that one, to go along with six rebounds – which she had in all three games this week. And when the scoring toned down against the vicious Storm defense on Saturday (Pondexter had 12 points), she chipped in six assists.
Last ranking: 8
Whalen’s minutes took a hit this week, just like Augustus’ did. But where her teammates all struggled in a 108-79 loss to Connecticut on Aug. 16, Whalen did her best to hold things together, with 20 points on 7-of-11 shooting and two assists. She’s been an absolute rock all year long, with career-high numbers in points and assists, and the Lynx have the record to show for it.
Last ranking: 7
The Silver Stars are falling fast, but Hammon’s doing all she can to prevent it – however, that just might not be enough. Despite a near triple-double (22 points, 10 assists, 8 rebounds) against Phoenix on Saturday, the Silver Stars couldn’t stop a Taurasi-less Mercury, and lost their seven game in their last nine. Earlier in the week, Hammon struggled to one of her worst games of the season, scoring only six points with one assist in a loss to the Fever. But if recent history is any indication, she’s due to get hot: the last time she scored in single-figures in the regular season, she opened up a stretch that saw her score 26, 33 and 22 points.
Last ranking: 11
Without Sue Bird, who knows where the Seattle Storm would be. Swin Cash has been huge, too, in helping Seattle weather the squalls that surrounded the team when Lauren Jackson went down, but Bird has essentially re-invented the Seattle offense in Jackson’s absence. She’s had big ups and equally big downs, but the court general has willed her team to the point where they could once against work off Jackson in the middle. Last week, her 23-point, eight-assist night against the Mercury was nearly enough to win, while her 14-point, four-assist effort against the Liberty helped the Storm win in Jackson’s return.
Last week, Lauren Hill of Mount St. Joseph University courageously took the floor for her first college game, refusing to let an inoperable brain tumor keep her from achieving her dream – and WNBA stars Elena Delle Donne and Tamika Catchings were on hand to lend their support.