The going gets tougher for Hornbuckle and Humphrey

Climbing the Wall

Alexis Hornbuckle helped the Shock win five of six games in May. Tasha Humphrey sparked Detroit to a pair of road wins in June.

But when the Shock defeated the Connecticut Sun Tuesday night to reclaim first place and potentially secure home court for the postseason, neither rookie contributed much. Hornbuckle committed four fouls in four scoreless minutes while Humphrey started and scored once in less than five.

It would appear that the backup guard and starting center are hitting �the wall� as they head into the second half of their rookie campaigns. Or perhaps it�s just their early success catching up with them.

�We�re not a big fan of the �rookie wall� thing, we think that�s an excuse,� said Shock assistant coach Cheryl Reeve. �There are a lot of things that I�m sure could contribute [to it].�

Entering their 20th and 21st games this weekend, Detroit�s first-round draft picks are not pleasant surprises any longer, capable of sneaking up on opponents. Now they�re on tape like everybody else, and teams are taking advantage of what they see.

�You become more of a scouting report,� Reeve said. �And now people are going to make you play to your weaknesses, and I think that�s partially what�s happened to both of them. They�re more of a key now than when they were just balling.�

For a while, ignorance was bliss. In her second start, Humphrey set a Shock rookie record with 28 points against Phoenix on June 14, the first of three double-digit scoring games. The former Georgia star has reached double figures once in the six games since, shooting 16.6 percent from 3-point range (2-of-12).

Over the same stretch Hornbuckle has gone without a field goal thrice, shooting 26.9 percent. In May, she averaged 7.3 points on 39.4 percent shooting and a league-best 3.0 steals.

�At first I was new to the league so nobody really knew what I liked to do,� Hornbuckle said. �But all you have to do is watch film of any player and pick apart their strengths, their weaknesses, and sometimes your strength can be a weakness. The way I like to gamble, I have to get away from that and play Shock basketball.�

Hornbuckle�s risky defense has not paid off the way it did earlier in the season, when she was on pace to become the second WNBA player to reach 100 steals. She�s picked up 16 fouls to nine ball thefts in the past six games. She set a team record with seven steals in her pro debut. If you think Hornbuckle is discouraged by the recent turn of events, think again. �I love that,� she said. �It�s challenge, and I�m so competitive that all I want to do is respond in a positive way in order to help my teammates.�

Hornbuckle�s mettle made her one of the most accomplished point guards in college basketball. She deftly handled the rock in a pair of NCAA Final Fours to help Tennessee win back-to-back championships. But even elite college players do not understand �the value of each possession� the way veteran pros do, Reeve said. Hornbuckle is still learning to appreciate the importance of executing every time down the floor. Detroit veterans Katie Smith and Deanna Nolan have mastered that mind-set during their heralded careers.

�[Hornbuckle] understands the importance of big games, but (not) the feeling of �every possession matters,� locking in every possession,� Reeve said. �It�s one of those things we�re kind of asking Smith and Nolan to raise Hornbuckle�s approach to: following the game plan, know who you�re guarding. It comes down to this much.�

Nolan played all 40 minutes against the Sun, Smith 42 seconds less than that. Hornbuckle, who played 58 seconds after halftime, watched how the veterans battled for a win that may decide the Eastern Conference. It sounds like she�s picked up the lesson.

�Obviously I was watching more than I was playing but it was fun to watch, seeing how hard Nolan and Katie and [Cheryl Ford] were playing,� Hornbuckle said. �Those girls were balling, diving for loose balls, Plenette [Pierson] knocking down open jumpers. And that�s where I want to get my level of play to.�

Reeve, who called Hornbuckle a �20-minute player for us,� has no doubt that the freshmen will steady themselves for the stretch run. �The thing is, we need both of them,� she said. �I fully expect that both of them will be more engaged in the coming games, and hopefully it�s onward and upward to get past this little bump in the road.�