Sunday, September 30, 2007

U.S. Secures Gold, Olympic Berth

The U.S. Senior Women's National Team traveled to Chile with one goal: Winning the FIBA Americas Championship and qualifying for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Mission accomplished.

In a rematch with a Cuban team that led much of the second half of an eventual 85-79 U.S. victory in Wednesday's FIBA Americas opener, the U.S. Women demonstrated their improvement over the course of the tournament. That was evident from the opening tip, as the U.S. opened the game with a 16-0 run and never looked back in a 101-71 victory.

"Cuba came out and we jumped on them right away," said Storm and U.S. Head Coach Anne Donovan. "I thought we stayed focused throughout the game with our bench. It was a really great effort throughout this tournament, five games in five days. We started with the best team in the tournament, we finished with the best team in the tournament. We could see Cuba start to wear down throughout this tournament and that's where our depth and our bench comes into play."

The depth of the roster allowed Donovan to use a 10-player rotation; 11 of the team's 12 players scored, with only Cappie Pondexter failing to scratch. Tina Thompson's 18 points led the U.S., while Diana Taurasi posted a double-double (15 points, 12 rebounds). Katie Smith also scored 15 points and Kara Lawson added 14 off the bench.

Storm guard Sue Bird led the team from the point. In 20 minutes, she made both of her shot attempts and did not commit a turnover, scoring five points and handing out three assists.

"I think today's game was the sum of everything that we've been working on," said Bird. "Everybody coming together, playing the way we can, being comfortable, being confident."

While winning was the goal, the tournament also provided the U.S. valuable experience as a team leading up to next summer's Olympics. That will continue later this fall with an exhibition tour in the U.S. against several major college teams.

"If we could take this team, this effort that we've made, this progress that we've made in these three or four weeks, if we could pick up where we leave off, this team will be in great shape come Beijing," said Donovan. "I really can't say enough about where we are defensively and where our focus is, our energy and concentration. We have great offensive powers. But it's the other end of the floor that we've figured out. As long as we don't take any steps backwards and every time we get together for a training camp we move forward, we're going to be in good shape."

While Bird and Donovan secured gold medals, Iziane Castro Marques and Brazil claimed bronze. Brazil rebounded from a loss to Cuba in the semifinals by crushing Argentina in the third-place game, 73-41. Castro Marques had a quiet game, scoring eight of her 10 points from the free-throw line and shooting 1-of-6 from the field.

Brazil will attempt to qualify for the Olympics in the FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament, which will be held next June 9-15. Castro Marques has said she will represent her team in that tournament, which would take her away from the WNBA season.

Despite her off night, Castro Marques finished as the tournament's second-leading scorer at 18.0 points per game. The leader? Long-time Storm center Simone Edwards, who averaged 18.8 points. Bird's 4.0 assists per game ranked her second behind teammate Pondexter (4.8).

Once again, for more coverage check out and Adam Hirshfield's live blog at

One last Olympics note: New Zealand took advantage of Australia's automatic berth to qualify for Oceania's spot in Beijing despite losing to the Lauren Jackson-less Opals 87-46 on Saturday. There's a local aspect to the story, as incoming Washington freshman Jessica McCormack is headed to the Olympics. McCormack played 35 minutes against Australia, posting six rebounds and seven boards for the Tall Ferns.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

U.S. Women Blow Out Argentina, Face Cuba Rematch

For the third straight day, the U.S. Senior Women's National Team rolled at the FIBA Americas Championship, beating Argentina 104-53 in their semifinal matchup. The U.S. defense once again proved stout, holding Argentina to 15 first-half points as the Americans took an insurmountable 41-point lead to the locker room. The U.S. Women racked up 24 steals and forced 28 turnovers against the overmatched opposition.

"I thought it was another great effort on our part," said Storm and U.S. Head Coach Anne Donovan. "Defensively we came out focused and took charge of the game right from the beginning, I was really pleased with that. Our running game was top notch. From start to finish I thought we handled it well."

Rebekkah Brunson powered the U.S. with 20 points off the bench on 7-for-9 shooting. Candace Parker added 17 and Seimone Augustus, also off the bench, 15. All 12 players scored as Donovan was able to continue the democratic distribution of playing time she has favored over the last three blowout wins.

Storm guard Sue Bird handed out four assists and had three steals, scoring two points in 18 minutes.

The final test for the U.S. comes tomorrow at 1:00 p.m. against Cuba, which proved a troublesome opponent in a six-point U.S. win in the first game of the tournament for both teams. Cuba reproved its legitimacy Saturday by upsetting Brazil 69-67 in the other semifinal matchup to advance to the finals.

Storm forward and leading Brazilian scorer Iziane Castro Marques had a weird game in scoring 16 points. She made eight of her 11 two-point attempts, but was a dismal 0-for-9 from long distance. Meanwhile, U.S. nemesis Yakelyn Plutin had a huge game, scoring 28 points on 12-for-19 shooting.

"They're playing with such confidence and with an intelligence we haven't always seen from them before," said Donovan, who has cited the scare from Cuba as sharpening the team's focus over the last three games. "We're going to have to come out and play just as intelligent, take care of the basketball and take advantage of some of the things they do and switch defensively. We really didn't capitalize on that the first time out. The second time out we need to take advantage of the mismatches that they give us."

"I think it served as a wake-up call," confirmed Bird. "The bottom line is that we really haven't played together that much. The Cuba game, when we went back and watched film we saw a lot of miscommunications. Passes that people thought players were cutting one way when they weren't. Little things like that. I really think we've been able to sharpen things up since then."

We'll see just how much the U.S. has improved over the course of this tournament tomorrow. A spot in the Olympics is on the line. The loser of this game will have to attempt to qualify for the Olympics via a worldwide qualifying tournament which will be held next summer.

As always, the links: and Adam Hirshfield's live blog for

Friday, September 28, 2007

U.S. Sweeps Into Medal Round

It was all about defense for the U.S. Women's Senior National Team Friday. The U.S. held Canada to 23.8% shooting and just 24 points over the final three quarters of an 85-37 win in the final game of group play.

Again, a lopsided victory afforded Storm and U.S. Head Coach Anne Donovan the opportunity to empty her bench. All 12 players played at least 10 minutes, none more than 22. Balanced scoring saw six players score at least eight points, led by Tina Thompson's 14.

This game, however, was more about the other end of the floor. No Canadian player scored more than seven points and only one (Sheila Townsend, who was 1-for-1) shot 50% from the field or better.

"Our defense got better as we went," said Donovan. "We gave up a total of 18 points in the second half and I thought did some really good things offensively."
Sue Bird had four points, six rebounds and two assists in 16 minutes of turnover-free basketball.

"Like coach said, tonight was a very good game," added Bird. "We knew Canada was going to be a tough team for us, a team that would never give up and we played very well and stayed with it for 40 minutes. I'm really proud with what everyone did and hopefully we can continue this into the next round."

The next round is the semifinals, where the U.S. will face either Chile or Argentina tomorrow at 5:00 p.m. Argentina at 1:30 p.m. on NBA TV. For more coverage, remember to keep checking and Adam Hirshfield's blog.

Elsewhere, Brazil joined the U.S. in sweeping through group play with a lopsided 119-44 win over Mexico. Iziane Castro Marques, the tournament's leading scorer so far, had 20 points for the victors. Jamaica fought hard but dropped to 0-3 with a 76-64 loss to Cuba despite 18 points and eight rebounds from Simone Edwards, who missed her first three-pointer in four attempts thus far.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

U.S. Women Swamp Jamaica

After getting tested by Cuba in their FIBA Americas Championship opener Wednesday, the U.S. Senior Women's National Team enjoyed a much more comfortable victory Thursday, defeating Jamaica 115-47. Already leading 48-28 at the half, the U.S. women outscored Jamaica 67-19 over the final 20 minutes.

The lopsided margin gave Head Coach Anne Donovan an opportunity to substitute freely. No player saw more than 21 minutes of action, and Donovan was pleased with all of her players.

"Everybody got to play and everybody did very, very well," Donovan said. "You look at our bench statistics and they're right in there helping us shoot 60 percent from the floor. There were a lot of good things on both end of the floor tonight."

Seimone Augustus came off the bench to score a game-high 19 points on 8-of-8 shooting. She was one of two reserves to score double-figures (Kara Lawson, with 11, was the other).

"We knew we were going to come in after the starters played their 10 minutes in the third quarter," explained Augustus, "and we didn't want to have any kind of drop off."

Lawson also deserves to be singled out for an impressively well-rounded effort: seven assists, seven boards and five steals.

As for Storm guard Sue Bird, she shot 5-of-7 from the field and scored 11 points, handing out two assists.

Former Storm post Simone Edwards led Jamaica with 18 points and nine rebounds, but only three Jamaican players had more than two points.

For more coverage of the game, be sure to check out and Adam Hirshfield's live blog. The U.S. Women take on Canada tomorrow in their final game of group play at 1:00 p.m. That game will be televised live on NBA TV.

Elsewhere in Chile, Brazil defeated Chile 104-60 to join the U.S. as the only teams undefeated through two games (stats remain unavailable for that game). Barring stunning upsets, the U.S. and Brazil will be the top seeds from their respective groups.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

U.S. Survives Scare in Opener

In their opening game of the 2007 FIBA Americas Championships, the U.S. Senior Women's National Team was tested by Cuba. The U.S. trailed 58-55 after three quarters and the game was tied at 71-all with a little more than four minutes to play.

A veteran guard keyed the decisive U.S. run. Katie Smith hit back-to-back three-pointers to untie the game as the U.S. went on a 11-2 run over the next two-plus minutes to take command of the game. The U.S. Women held on for an 85-79 victory.

"I’m glad I could do my part," Smith said after the game. "It gave us a little energy when it was needed, but I got some good picks from my teammates in that zone, Sue (Bird) got me the ball and I’m just glad I was able to contribute and do my part. It kind of got us on a little bit of a roll, gave us a little bit of a cushion in the home stretch. Then everyone else helped take it home."

Bird and Head Coach Anne Donovan both lauded the Cuban team, which got 23 points and 10 rebounds from post Yakelyn Tizon.

"Cuba is probably the second or third best team in this tournament," said Bird. "To play them in the first game, we knew it was going to be a challenge and we knew it was going to be a test and I’m glad we passed."

"I think it was a great win for us," added Donovan. "Cuba is a great team and we’ve known that for a long time, they’re very solid. The difference between this game and games in the past is that we’ve come out strong and shot the ball real well in the first quarter to make them lose their confidence in themselves. Tonight that wasn’t the case and they kept their confidence throughout the game. I have to hand it to Cuba, they played a great game. You could see how well they play together and then give credit for us for pulling that nice win out with good execution in the fourth quarter."

Bird led the U.S. attack, scoring six points and handing out nine assists in 28 minutes of action.

"Sue did a great job of controlling this game and keeping everyone into it, focused and trying to fight through some pretty bad shooting," said Donovan.

Tennessee forward Candace Parker scored a team-high 21 points, while Diana Taurasi - fresh off a WNBA Championship - scored 16. Veterans Smith and Tina Thompson scored 13 points apiece.

In other Day 1 action, Canada handed Jamaica a 68-47 defeat despite 25 points and seven rebounds from long-time Storm post Simone Edwards. Brazil was leading Argentina 67-59 at last check, with Iziane Castro Marques leading all scorers with 19 points.

The U.S. Women take on Jamaica tomorrow at 10:30 a.m. Pacific. Adam Hirshfield's live blog will have coverage and you can also check out FIBA's live stats if you're unable to watch all the action on NBA TV.

Monday, September 24, 2007

U.S. Prepares for Chile, Storm Prepares for '08

Less than eight months until the Seattle Storm tips off 2008.

Okay, that still seems like an awfully long wait, but now we can put the opener on the calendar in pen after Professional Basketball Club, LLC Chairman Clayton Bennett announced Friday that the Storm will play the 2008 season at KeyArena.

That announcement shouldn't come as a surprise to fans who heard Storm COO Karen Bryant express her optimism about 2008 at the viewing party with Lauren Jackson a couple of weeks ago. Here at Storm HQ, efforts have already been directed toward next season, but it's good to have confirmation the Storm will be here.

On the other coast, the U.S. Women's Senior National Team was preparing for the FIBA Americas Championship. The U.S. swept a pair of exhibitions with a short-handed Australian Opals squad (playing without Lauren Jackson and Penny Taylor), winning 96-64 and then 70-66.

Now the U.S. Women are in Chile, where the tournament to qualify for the FIBA Americas spot in the Olympics begins Wednesday.

While the U.S. was in Connecticut for the second exhibition,'s Adam Hirshfield caught up with Sue Bird and Anne Donovan for Q&As.


Q. How do you feel the team is coming together at this point with just a
couple of days until your opener in Chile?
A. "We've only been practicing for two weeks or so, but I think we're coming together great. Even though we play on different teams in the WNBA, almost all of us have played together at some point in our careers. And when you have a group of people that just wants to win -- a group that doesn't care about points, rebounds, any of that stuff, and is just focused on winning a gold medal -- good things are going
to happen and chemistry comes pretty quickly."


Q: How does the current wide range of ages on the team benefit the
future of USA Basketball?
A: "I think the women have done very well with that over the years, where we have always had our steady players that are two-, three-, four-... sometimes five-time Olympians that bring the experience and bring the heart and bring the know-how of what it takes to compete at this level and win gold medals. It's also nice to bring along the younger players that get to be a part of that in a smaller role. But as the older players leave the program, Teresa Edwards, Katrina McClain, they have passed that torch on to Dawn, and she is now passing it on to Lisa Leslie, Sheryl Swoopes, Katie Smith, Diana Taurasi, Catch and Sue Bird."

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Redd Joins PLU Staff

Inaugural Storm player Jamie Redd, who played collegiately at UW, has joined the staff of newly-hired PLU Coach Kelly Warnke.

"It's a great opportunity for me being that it's not too far from where I live," Redd told the Seattle Times. "Obviously, the program has had some success, but they're moving in a new direction and I wanted to be a part of that."

After the conclusion of her three-year Storm career, Redd has remained in the area and been a regular at KeyArena for Storm games. She had worked as a corrections offer for the Washington State Department of Corrections and will continue that work in addition to her coaching duties.

Redd joins a sizable group of former Storm players now coaching basketball. One interesting note: When Storm assistant Heidi VanDerveer returned to the NCAA level as an assistant at San Diego State, she replaced former Storm guard Kate Paye. Paye moved on to coach under VanDerveer's sister, Tara, at Stanford, where she replaced ... former Storm guard Charmin Smith, now part of the Cal coaching staff.

Small world, isn't it?

Monday, September 17, 2007

Congratulations to the Mercury

A year and a half ago, I decided the big question of the WNBA preseason was whether Paul Westhead's fast-paced style of play - better known as "Paul Ball" - could succed in the WNBA.

That question was firmly answered in the affirmative Sunday when Westhead's Mercury became the first team in league history to win a WNBA Championship on the road, rolling up 30 first-quarter points and never looking back in a 108-92 victory.

In that column, I concluded that, "Based on Westhead's NBA track record, it's fair to apply the same assessment to him as most any other coach: He's won when he's had talent, and has struggled when he hasn't had it."

(Then I cited Sandora Irvin, whose breakout I am still awaiting, as an example of the talent Westhead might have.)

Anyways, I don't think any of us realized back in May 2005 quite how special Phoenix's talent was. We knew Cappie Pondexter was talented, but who would have imagined she would average 23.9 points per game in the Playoffs in her second season, hit the winning shot in Game 4 of the Finals and earn Finals MVP? I've long considered Penny Taylor underrated, but who saw her playing power forward at 6-1, dealing with nasty, physical defenders and still scoring a game-high 30 points in the deciding Game 5 by shooting 18-of-18 from the free-throw line?

Looking to kill a few hours? Find a WNBA fan and debate which of the Mercury's "big three" is the most valuable. The conventional answer is Taurasi. She is Phoenix's emotional leader and without her dominant Game 2 performance, the Mercury would not have won this series. Taylor was my regular-season pick for Phoenix's MVP and I don't think Paul Ball would work if not for Taylor's ability to play out of position and score so efficiently. (Plus, is anybody in the world better at initiating contact and drawing a foul?) Then there is Pondexter, unquestionably the MVP of the Finals and Westhead's choice to create whenever the team needed a bucket down the stretch.

Maybe that discussion needs to include four players, not just three. At the start of this season, my question about the Mercury was whether they could replace the grittiness provided by departed posts Kristen Rasmussen and Kamila Vodichkova. That was never an issue, in large part because Kelly Miller had enough toughness to go for two or three teams. Westhead has described Miller as "the engine" of Phoenix's attack, and her ability to run the break is without parallel. Miller deserves to be considered the honorary MVP of sorts.

You have to give Westhead credit for his unbending faith in his system even as doubters appeared at every turn. He put his players in situations that allowed them to take full advantage of their skills and they rewarded him by embracing Paul Ball.

“People were saying, ‘You can’t win shooting threes, you can’t win playing zone, you can’t win playing run and gun,’" Taurasi said after Game 5. "But you know what? You can, and we did.”

I thought Phoenix's Game 3 loss might be one of those "what if?" games that would haunt the team for the foreseeable future. Instead, it is now the Shock that is left wondering what might have been had Cheryl Ford - who managed just 12 minutes in Game 5 - been healthy. The final possession of Game 4, which did not result in a good look with the Shock down one, is an even more direct "what if?"

I figured home-court advantage would be enough for Detroit, but the Mercury was unfazed. I should have known better. Phoenix ended the postseason 4-1 on the road with three lopsided wins, and it took foul trouble for Taurasi to produce that one loss. Truly, the Mercury earned a WNBA Championship. So did Paul Ball.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Game 5 on Tap

By tomorrow evening, we will have a new WNBA Champion ... or not.

For the second straight year, the Detroit Shock is hosting a winner-take-all Game 5 of the WNBA Finals. Last year, the Shock defeated Sacramento to earn a second championship in four years. Can Detroit win again and make it a dynasty?

A pair of knee injuries could go a long ways toward answering that question. When we exchanged Finals previews a couple weeks ago, Steve Burt from the Women's Hoops Blog (and Full Court Press) pointed out "When we look back on it in two weeks we're going to be looking at somebody's injury or somebody's declining health as the key."

If that somebody was Cheryl Ford, who is doubtful for Game 5 after reinjuring her left knee late in Game 4, that wouldn't be a surprise. However, Ford had a surprise companion on the Shock's injury report; guard Deanna Nolan is also listed as doubtful with a hyperextended left knee.

The headline in the Detroit Free Press, in part: "title chances look bleak."

I'd be surprised if Nolan didn't play in the deciding game, but it is tough to imagine the Shock winning without her. Nolan has been a primary source of offense, particularly down the stretch, in addition to guarding Cappie Pondexter.

The Mercury pulled out a close Game 4 at the US Airways Center, but if this game goes down to the stretch and Nolan is healthy Detroit has to be the favorite. Phoenix's offense has tended to bog down in the fourth quarter, and I think part of the issue is how often the Mercury tends to simply go one-on-one with either Pondexter or Diana Taurasi on the perimeter or Penny Taylor in the post.

I'd love to see more pick-and-rolls with Taylor as the screener - Pondexter scored off just such a play late in Game 4 before making a brilliant individual play to beat Nolan for the game-winner.

Of course, the Mercury's offense might seem fine if Tangela Smith could buy a shot. She was 0-for-10 from three-point range in Phoenix after hitting 7-for-10 in the first two games of the series.

If Nolan sits out, the Mercury should steal Game 5. If not, however, home-court advantage will probably prove the difference in favor of Detroit.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Merc Comes Up Empty at the End of Game 3

There are some games that stay with you, that haunt you because of missed opportunities and remind you of the thin line between victory and defeat. Something tells me Game 3 is going to be one of those games for the Phoenix Mercury unless the Mercury wins the next two games and its WNBA Finals series against the Detroit Shock.

How many chances was Phoenix unable to convert in the fourth quarter tonight in front of 12,000-plus at the US Airways Center? Too many to count.

The Mercury held a 47-42 advantage on the glass, including an astounding 18 offensive boards, and shot 38 free throws to Detroit's 15. Both numbers boded well for a Phoenix win, but the Mercury simply could not make enough shots, hitting 34.7% from the field and a dismal 16.1% (5-of-31) from downtown (not to mention just 73.7% at the charity stripe).

Part of that reflects shot selection, as much as anything Phoenix's Achilles heel in this postseason. The Mercury hoisted up 31 triple attempts despite misfiring on the vast majority; center Tangela Smith was 0-of-6, Cappie Pondexter 0-of-4 (of course, Pondexter was just a 33.3% three-point shooter during the regular season, making her an odd choice to attempt a game-tying three on Phoenix's last best chance).

At best, the Merc's propensity to fire a shot at any time and from almost anywhere on the floor makes the team impossible to defend. At worst, it leads to the extended scoring droughts we've seen in three of the team's last four games, dating back to the Game 2 victory over San Antonio in the Western Conference Finals. I don't mean to be too critical here; the conscience-free style has worked very well for Phoenix overall (obviously) and is essentially impossible to change now, but it has played a major role in why Detroit holds a 2-1 lead in this series.

I watched the game with several dozen Storm fans at the jam-packed Spitfire Sports Bar. Fans crowded the back room during halftime to congratulate Lauren Jackson on winning MVP honors. The love affair between city and player only continues to grow, as Storm COO Karen Bryant could scarcely make it through the list of highlights from LJ's 2007 campaign because of the regular rounds of applause directed from the fans to an appreciative Jackson.

Jackson did share, as has been reported in the Australian press, that she will not be joining the Opals in their exhibition matches against the U.S. National Team later this month after feeling under the weather following the conclusion of the Storm's season. Jackson will get a well-deserved chance to head home to Australia and relax at week's end.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Game 3 Viewing Party

Join your 2007 WNBA MVP Lauren Jackson and Storm staff for a special viewing party when the defending WNBA Champion Detroit Shock takes on the Phoenix Mercury in Game 3 of the WNBA Finals!

What: Viewing Party for Game 3 of the WNBA Finals
When: Tuesday, September 11 at 5:30 p.m. (Tipoff is at 6 p.m.)
Why: A good excuse to see our most loyal fans, and to congratulate LJ on her MVP award!
Where: Spitfire Sports Bar
2219 4th Ave
Seattle, WA 98121

As a courtesy, please RSVP by clicking here. Enter Finals in the subject line and include how many people will be attending. All fans over 21 years of age are welcome! We apologize to our younger fans and appreciate your understanding.

Coach's Corner: Detroit Takes Game 1

Storm Assistant Coach Shelley Patterson will provide the perspective of a veteran WNBA assistant throughout the WNBA Finals, giving fans an indication of what to watch for in the Coach's Corner. Today she offers her thoughts on Detroit's 108-100 Game 1 victory and how the Mercury can even the series in Saturday's Game 2 (12:30 p.m., ESPN).

What stood out to you from Game 1?
I figured both coaches would stick to their gameplans. Phoenix would try to play up-tempo and use their zone. Detroit did play a little smallball, but then they went to their bigs and started pounding the offensive glass and getting to the free-throw line.

Diana Taurasi's absence [because of foul trouble] hurt Phoenix, especially in their rover defense. She makes that zone defense go. Without her, Detroit found more gaps in the zone. Also, her size helps with rebounding.

Still, Phoenix was in the game at the end and the score (a 108-100 final) plays into their hands.

Do you see the Mercury making many adjustments going into Game 2?
I don't see them changing their philosophy. I think Paul Westhead is hoping his guards break out of their slump. He figures it's a case of his team not making shots.

Phoenix does have to tighten up their defense. Detroit took advantage of the short corner [on the baseline about 10 feet away from the hoop] and really overloaded one side of the zone. Phoenix's posts have to box out so they can get out and run as well as cut down on Detroit's second-chance points.

Looking back at Phoenix vs. Detroit, one or two of the Mercury's perimeter players haven't played well in each of the matchups. Diana just wasn't there in Game 1 [she scored 10 points on 3-for-8 shooting]. As a coach, you hope somebody is off, but Detroit is able to lock down on the perimeter and matches up really well. They really did a good job of containing dribble penetration and staying away from having to give help 2-on-1, which gives up open shots. Katie Smith is a really tough matchup for Diana.

How important is whether Cheryl Ford plays?
Kara Braxton had a big Game 1 [19 points and 12 rebounds in 20 minutes] to help replace Ford, but will she show up in every game? Ford is still going to give you that rebounding edge despite her knee injury. There's also a psychological edge - Detroit feels better if she's in the game. With her knee, though, you do wonder - can she keep up with the pace? Phoenix will want to make her run.

Is the outcome of Game 2 critical?
I think Westhead is thinking we have to get one of the two games in Detroit. When they get home and have the crowed behind them, their shots will fall a little more, but they have to get a win in Detroit to win this series and Game 5 would be tough to win on the road.

I also think Phoenix needs one game to get their confidence back against Detroit, having lost all three matchups this season.

Catch LJ

Short notice: Lauren Jackson will discuss her new MVP trophy and more on KJR 950 AM at 1:35 p.m today.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Coach's Corner: Finals Preview

Storm Assistant Coach Shelley Patterson will provide the perspective of a veteran WNBA assistant throughout the WNBA Finals, giving fans an indication of what to watch for in the Coach's Corner.

What do you look for in the series?
First of all, this is the classic matchup: the fast-paced game of the West vs. the half-court, physical game of the East. Two very different styles. ... One thing to look for, especially in Game 1, is how Detroit handles that rover defense the Mercury plays. Because Detroit finished its Eastern Conference Finals series a little later, they're getting only one practice and one shootaround to prepare for that style Phoenix plays. That makes it very tough for them, especially tonight.

Three keys for Phoenix?
1. Keep doing what they're doing. They can't change now.
2. Force Detroit to shoot outside and get into more of a run-and-game game.
3. Rebound and box out. They have to focus on the rebounding aspect of the game..

Three keys for Detroit?
1. Take advantage of every missed Phoenix basket and capitalize on them. When Phoenix misses, Detroit has to make them pay for it.
2. The Big 3 have to come to play - Katie Smith, Cheryl Ford and Deanna Nolan. No days off, no plays off until the series is over.
3. Force Phoenix to guard them inside. Put the pressure on rebounding.

What's the X-factor in this series?
Homecourt, for both teams. Detroit has great fans. The atmosphere there can really push Detroit to another level. But Phoenix has the same thing. I went to the game against San Antonio, and they feed off that sixth man energy. You can just feel it happening, you feel the roar. That extra energy makes you want to go get that loose ball a little more. ... The other X-factor, obviously, is the play of the bench.

For the series, I think Phoenix is going to win it. They're confident. Tonight? I'm hoping for a great game. Detroit has had slow starts in the playoffs. If that happens tonight, they could be in trouble.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Finals Matchup Set

So it will be the Detroit Shock (as many people predicted entering the season) and the Phoenix Mercury (as few people predicted) playing for the 2007 WNBA Championship. My impression is this should be a very entertaining matchup, and I don't have a pick yet pending my research for my Finals preview (which should be up later today).

There's interesting stories with the losers. I've been a San Antonio hater all year, honestly, first doubting how much good their off-season additions would do and then questioning their mediocre point differential. In the end, however, the Silver Stars were very impressive despite being swept, and put together something of a blueprint for beating the Mercury - even if they weren't ultimately able to execute it.

Indiana's defeat is much more tragic because of the Achilles injury suffered by Tamika Catchings. Who knows how the game might have gone had Catchings been able to go the entire way. The Fever hung tough during the third quarter without Catchings, but Detroit's advantage in talent was too much to overcome. That's tough luck for the Fever, which was more than talented enough to win it all.

Ah, well. For everybody except Detroit and Phoenix ... wait 'till next year.