Pierson Powers Shock in Opener
Fortunately, Plenette Pierson was in town a few weeks longer.
Pierson had 22 points, eight rebounds (six offensive), four assists and three steals – all individual or shared game-highs – to lead the Shock to a 75-68 victory over the Sacramento Monarchs. Pierson began to emerge in the 2006 postseason and continued her strong play overseas during the winter, to the delight of Shock head coach Bill Laimbeer.
“We knew when Plenette came back we had something special on our hands,” Laimbeer said. “Her confidence level was tremendous. She’s in great shape. She knew what she wanted to get accomplished and we openly talked about (it). She’s at another level right now, which is great to have.”
With Braxton and Ford both in foul trouble, forward Plenette Pierson had to play like a starter, shooting 7-of-15 from the field and 8-of-9 from the free-throw line in 31 minutes. “I know any game any of our post players get into foul trouble I’m going to have to step up and do whatever Bill asks me to do, and tonight it was just working for me,” Pierson said.
The Shock starting lineup was in foul trouble almost immediately as Katie Smith and Braxton each picked up a pair of fouls in the first four minutes and were on the bench the rest of the quarter. Detroit managed to take a 20-17 lead behind guard Deanna Nolan.
Nolan, a game-time decision after slightly spraining her left knee in practice, started the game wearing a knee brace. Nolan made her first three field goal attempts and led the Shock with eight points in the first quarter on 4-of-8 from the field. She finished with 12 points, seven rebounds and four assists.
“I was little concerned,” Nolan said about her comfort level with the knee and the brace. “I came up here earlier in the morning to warm up to see how it feels. It was a game-time decision. It felt good, but then again I had to get adjusted to it, getting more lift. It’s just little stuff that I thought would matter did when game-time actually came.”
Between 3:08 of the first and 3:07 of the second, the Shock outscored Sacramento, 28-7, including a 16-2 run, to turn a three-point deficit into an 18-point lead, 42-24. The Monarchs, however, ended the quarter with 11 unanswered to make it only a seven-point game at halftime.
The Shock were able to bump the lead back to 10 in the third quarter, but it was far from their best basketball. They opened the second half with four straight turnovers and Ford and Braxton each picked up their fourth fouls early on.
“I thought we got off to a great start, we got up 15, 17 points and then we started making careless turnovers and passing up shots and dumping it and turning it over,” Nolan said. “But fortunately we were able to pull it out, but we’ve got to learn to put people away.”
Sacramento’s Kara Lawson hit two 3s and former Michigan State guard Kristin Haynie added another triple, helping the Monarchs come within three points, 69-66, with less than two minutes left. Lawson and Chelsea Newton each had 14 to lead the Monarchs.
Down the stretch, the Shock got the stops and rebounds they needed and went back up nine, 75-66, on two Pierson free throws with 17 seconds left.
The Shock won the rebounding battle, 36-22, despite both Ford and Braxton being limited to 17 minutes apiece. Ford, the league’s 2006 rebounding leader, scored 10 points but had only four boards. Braxton was 1-of-5 from the field for two points and five rebounds. With only one game in the next 11 days – Tuesday at The Palace against Minnesota – Laimbeer expects their play to improve with practice.
“That’s a good thing,” Laimbeer said of long layoff between games. “We need some time because Cheryl just got back this past Sunday, Braxton just got here two days ago, so we need to work on a lot of different things.”
The Shock’s pregame championship ceremony wasn’t the only celebration for Laimbeer Saturday. It was also his 50th birthday.
“All I cared about was winning,” he said. “That was a great birthday present.”
On the first day of training camp, Laimbeer said second-year forward Jacqueline Batteast “has to be the one who steps up this year and shows that she’s able to play in this league or she’s not going to make it.”
After shooting 2-of-12 from the field with six turnovers in three preseason games, Batteast did not make the Shock’s opening day roster, losing out to training camp invitee Amy Sanders. A 5-11 rookie guard from Hawaii, Sanders had nine rebounds in 27 minutes. Batteast had 13 rebounds in 42 minutes.
“It’s exciting but everyday I have to come and work hard because that spot, right now I have it, but it could go at any time,” said Sanders, who played 17 seconds Saturday.
To say the least, Sanders had an outside chance of making the Shock’s 11-player roster, but she said she didn’t let that diminish her hopes or her confidence.
“It’s definitely tough, especially with this team being the champions and all but I always go in thinking I can make the team,” Sanders said. “I never think I’m going to get cut. I think if I did that I would be a nervous wreck. But it was nice to actually know (I made it).”