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Inside The W with Michelle Smith

Swin Cash was on a conference call for the WNBA on Monday morning, talking with reporters in conjunction with Tuesday night’s nationally televised game between the Sparks and Liberty, which is an anniversary rematch of the first-ever WNBA game back in 1997.

She was, as always, a passionate, eloquent advocate for the league, a veteran spokeswoman for her team, and as it turns out, a soon-to-be-retiree.

Cash announced Tuesday morning via a personal essay for The Players Tribune that she will be ending her decorated WNBA career at the end of the 2016 season.

She’s won three WNBA titles. Two Olympic gold medals. Two All-Star games MVP Awards. Two NCAA Championships.

And at the age of 36, Cash is ready to call it a career.

“This wasn’t an easy decision,” Cash said in her essay. “It never is, now matter how well you’ve prepared. Most people don’t get to wake up every day and do something they’re passionate about. You always feel you can give more, but at some point, you have to do what’s right for yourself.”

In fact, Cash may have been preparing these past few months.

She was waived by the New York Liberty in a salary-cap saving move early in May and 10 days later, she was back in the league, back on the Liberty roster playing for Bill Laimbeer – who she won two of her titles with back in Detroit – and back in the New York starting lineup in the frontcourt alongside star Tina Charles.

Last year, as the Liberty ran to the best regular-season record in the WNBA and to the Eastern Conference Finals, Cash was a stabilizing presence. She averaged 4.5 points a game in a little more than 17 minutes on the floor.

Cash’s last season as a double-figures scorer was in 2012 when she averaged 10.6 points a game for the Chicago Sky. But Cash is going to close her career as a champion, a mentor, a role model – and she’s hoping a winner again as the Liberty looks to stay in contention for a title.

An accompanying article in The Players Tribune quoted friends and teammates Sue Bird, Tamika Catchings, Tanisha Wright and Laimbeer.

Sue Bird called Cash “An experience.”

Laimbeer called her “The difference.”

Tanisha Wright called her “Royalty.”

Tamika Catchings called her “Determined.”

The article was titled “The Gold Standard.”

You will get no argument here.

Click here to view the Swin Cash video vault

SPARKS FLYING IN L.A.

Edgy is not the first word anyone would use to describe the intense, yet light-hearted Los Angeles Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike.

But there was a little bit of a detectable edge in Ogwumike’s voice on Monday morning when asked about whether the 7-0 Sparks felt like they had to keep pace with the 7-0 Minnesota Lynx and whether that was a motivation in their stellar start.

“We don’t think about Minnesota. We are thinking about Los Angeles. They aren’t thinking about us,” Ogwumike said. “Whether they are undefeated or not, we are focused on what we do. Everybody likes talking about all kinds of hype, but we aren’t worried about any of that.”

The Sparks are off to the best start since going 9-0 in 2003, unbeaten through their first seven games of the season heading into Tuesday night’s nationally televised matchup with the
New York Liberty (ESPN 2, 10 p.m. ET)

Most impressively, the Sparks are 5-0 on the road.

Los Angeles has been wearing an “underachiever” label for the past few years as Minnesota and Phoenix have reigned supreme in the Western Conference and the league. The Sparks, meanwhile, have too often ended up eliminated earlier than they hoped, falling out of the playoffs by painfully narrow margins.

Ogwumike said nothing was different when this season started than previous seasons.

“What’s different are the results,” Ogwumike said. “We’ve had three more years of development, but I wouldn’t say anything has been that different than previous seasons.”

Except, objectively, that’s not completely totally true. The Sparks are playing their second season under Brian Agler, and settling into Agler’s offensive and defensive expectations.

“We are a veteran team and it’s not like we are starting fresh,” said guard Kristi Toliver. “The additions we made have been great. The European players have been playing professionally since they were 16 of 17. So, we really just added a lot more experience.”

The Sparks lead the league in 3-point percentage at 42.5 percent per game, are third in assists and have committed the fewest turnovers per game at 12.7. They are also playing some of the WNBA’s best defense.

Toliver said the Sparks as a team aren’t motivated by slights or predictions. But she admitted that individual players might have their own fires burning.

“I’m speaking for myself, I’m not following a lot of that,” Toliver said. “But certain people can be motivated for different reasons, whether it is USA Basketball or something else. But our focus is really at a high level. We’ve always had the talent, but now we have maturity together.”

EARLY RETURNS

How can it be possible? The Phoenix Mercury and the Minnesota Lynx will meet for the final time during the regular season on Tuesday – on the seventh day of June.

The league’s new balanced schedule means all teams meet each other three times during the regular season and just one team a fourth time. But that also means that thanks to early-season scheduling – three matchups in the first eight games – the Mercury and the Lynx will be done until possibly early fall.

Phoenix heads to Minnesota still in search of its first road win and of its defense. The Mercury are giving up a league-high 88.6 points a game, and on paper, that is an unfortunate match for a team with as many scoring weapons as the Lynx.

In Minnesota’s last game, an 80-63 win over Dallas, the Lynx had all five starters in double figures.

YOUNG GUNS

Young guards sometimes have the steepest learning curves in the WNBA.

But a pair of rookie guards are making their presence felt in the first month of the WNBA season, and given their successful college careers, maybe that should come as no surprise.

Indiana’s Tiffany Mitchell has scored in double figures in her first eight games as a pro. The South Carolina product put up 21 points on Sunday against Connecticut, going 7 of 12 from the floor with three 3-pointers.

Meanwhile, in San Antonio, Moriah Jefferson is coming off a career-high 18 points against the unbeaten Sparks, pushing her scoring average to 8.0 points a game.

Mitchell and Jefferson could get some good advice from Seattle’s Jewell Loyd on how to make an immediate impact. The second-year guard, who was the No. 1 pick in 2015 and the Rookie of the Year, is making a big sophomore leap, even as her teammate Breanna Stewart becomes increasingly impactful on the floor.

Loyd already has a pair of 30-point games this season, both of them coming against the struggling Mercury. Loyd is averaging 18.1 points a game. She ended a run of three straight games in double figures with a season-low three points against the Liberty on 0-for-8 shooting in 31 minutes. She scored all three points from the free-throw line.

BACK IN THE SADDLE

Two of the league’s best point guards are back on the floor after opening the season on the bench with injuries.

The Indiana Fever got Briann January back on June 1 and they’ve gone 2-1 since. January put up eight points to go with five assists in 24 minutes on Sunday against Connecticut.

In Washington, Ivory Latta has returned and has given the Mystics another needed scorer. Latta has scored in double figures in four of the five games in which she has played, including 12 points in a key win over Atlanta on Sunday to end a three-game losing streak.

STREAK CHECK

Washington defeated Atlanta Sunday to end the Dream’s five-game win streak.

Connecticut is now mired in a six-game losing streak and off to the worst start in franchise history at 1-7.

The Chicago Sky have won three in a row to move to 4-4 and into a tie for third place in the Eastern Conference.


Longtime WNBA reporter Michelle Smith will have a weekly column on WNBA.com throughout the 2016 season.

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