Monday, March 30, 2009

WNBA Draft Viewing Tonight


If you're interested in watching the likely top picks in the 2009 WNBA Draft as they complete their college careers, tonight offers a terrific matchup. Louisville and Maryland will square off at 4 p.m. Pacific on ESPN with a spot in the Final Four on the line. That means a matchup between Louisville's Angel McCoughtry and Maryland's Marissa Coleman, the No. 1 and No. 2 picks in my first mock draft. McCoughtry and Coleman will likely end up going against each other much of the evening.

The Terrapins also feature senior Kristi Toliver, who could be the first guard selected and topped's rankings of the point guards released last Friday. Louisville forward Candyce Bingham is another senior prospect.

Tonight's second regional final, Stanford-Iowa State, is not as big in terms of the draft. Cardinal forward Jillian Harmon is the top senior prospect on display, with Stanford's top players still underclassmen. Still, Iowa State will be looking to complete an improbable run to the Final Four while Stanford looks to get back for a second straight year with the benefit of a friendly crowd in nearby Berkeley. That matchup follows Maryland-Louisville on ESPN2.

While watching Saturday's games, I shared some thoughts on Twitter, including my belief that Coleman might just be the best prospect available.

Dynamo On to Semis

In the weekend's biggest game, Janell Burse and Dynamo Moscow defeated Nadezhda 66-61 in Sunday's Game 3 of their quarterfinal series. It turned out to be home-court disadvantage for Nadezhda, as the road team won all three games. Burse had six points and six boards and Dynamo got a 22-point effort from new San Antonio Silver Star Belinda Snell. Having built a 14-point lead, Dynamo was able to win despite a six-point fourth quarter. The key was defense. Nadezhda's Betty Lennox shot 3-of-15 from the field, and Olga Ovcharenko was 1-for-11 as the team was limited to 31.1 percent shooting.

Dynamo moves on to battle top-seeded UMMC Ekaterinburg in the semifinals. The teams will have this week off as Ekaterinburg and Spartak prepare to face off in the semifinals of the Euroleague Final Four this weekend. The Russian Superleague Playoffs will resume on Easter Sunday, April 12.

Elsewhere overseas ...

The playoffs are also underway in Turkey, where Ashley Robinson's Ted Kayseri Koleji squad is a major underdog against a Fenerbahce squad that features WNBA stars Matee Ajavon, Katie Smith and Tammy Sutton-Brown. My understanding is that in Turkey the higher-seeded team starts with a 1-0 series advantage, so the first game on Thursday was actually Game 2. Fenerbahce dominated that game 87-50 to take a 2-0 lead. Robinson was a bright spot for her team, scoring a game-high 15 points on 7-of-13 shooting and grabbing nine rebounds. It's great to see Robinson playing so confidently overseas. Game 3 is scheduled for Tuesday.

Ibiza-PDV continues looking to move up in the standings after an easy 67-45 win over Celta Indepo moved them within a game of Joventut Mariana for sixth place in the Spanish Lega Feminina. Shannon Johnson had 14 points in the win, while teammate Sancho Lyttle posted 22 points and 15 rebounds to win MVP honors for the weekend. There are just two weekends left in the Spanish regular season.

Tanisha Wright played passer in Tarbes' lopsided 78-55 win over Aix en Provence (pdf), which saw Tarbes hold a 22-4 advantage in the second quarter. Wright handed out nine assists in addition to scoring nine points in 25 minutes of action. At 22-1, Tarbes remains tied atop the LFB.

In Italy, Cras Basket Taranto remained tied with Famila Wuber Schio atop the LegA Feminnile standings with Sunday's 76-57 win over Liomatic Umbertide. Five Taranto players scored double-figures, including Suzy Batkovic's 14 points on 5-of-8 shooting. She added five rebounds.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Spartak Sweeps; Dynamo Headed to Game 3

Thursday saw the Russian Superleague Playoffs continue, with Spartak advancing to the semifinals by sweeping overmatched Kursk Dynamo with an 80-52 road win. The hosts actually were within one at halftime, but Spartak turned up the heat in the second half, outscoring Kursk 21-8 in the third quarter and 20-6 in the fourth. Lauren Jackson paced Spartak with 16 points and nine rebounds, Diana Taurasi adding 16 as well. Sue Bird scored 10 points and handed out five assists.

The two other top seeds also swept, so Spartak will prepare for a challenging semifinal matchup against CSKA Moscow. Meanwhile, Dynamo Moscow is worried about just getting to the semifinals. The Dynamo-Nadezhda matchup is the only one that will go the distance, with Game 3 tomorrow.

Thursday saw the Nadezhda match Dynamo's opening road victory, winning 87-84 in Moscow. Dynamo took a two-point lead to the final quarter, but never got any closer than four points in the closing stages until the final margin, with Belinda Snell making three free throws just before the buzzer. Janell Burse had 13 points and five rebounds for Dynamo, which was able to score. The challenge was at the other end, where wings Betty Lennox and Shameka Christon got loose for a combined 51 points after hitting for 22 in Game 1. Lennox shot 10-of-20 from the field, while Christon was on fire from downtown, hitting six threes in 10 attempts.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Storm Players Take Russian Playoff Openers

The Russian Superleague Playoffs kicked off today and yesterday, and the Storm players involved got off to winning starts. Spartak is a heavy favorite against Kursk Dynamo and played like that in today's Game 1, cruising to an 86-57 victory. Lauren Jackson (19 points, eight boards) and Sue Bird (17, six assists) were the leading scorers for Spartak before calling it a night early. Even with Sylvia Fowles sitting out and Diana Taurasi quiet, five Spartak players reached double-figures.

Dynamo Moscow has a battle on its hands against Nadezhda, but went on the road to earn a 71-60 Game 1 victory. Janell Burse, who had 10 points and seven rebounds, joined three other Dynamo players in scoring double-digits, led by 19 from Anete Jekabsone-Zogota. The real key to the win, however, was defense. Nadezhda's Betty Lennox needed 19 shots to score 16 points, and Shameka Christon was held to six points on 2-of-16 shooting. As a team, Nadezhda shot 30.0 percent from the field.

Game 2 of the quarterfinal series will be played Thursday, with Spartak going on the road and Dynamo coming home to look for the sweep.

Elsewhere overseas ...

Semifinals series wrapped up over the weekend in Ireland, and both Kristen O'Neill and newcomer Mel Thomas saw their teams eliminated. O'Neill's UL Aughnish squad needed a win by 14 or more points to take the aggregate series and looked good early, leading by 12 after one quarter. Though the Aughnish won 66-61 on Saturday, Team Hotel Montenotte Cork still took the series on aggregate. Thomas scored 17 points, but her Bausch and Lomb Waterford Wildcats squad was too far behind to ever seriously threaten DCU Mercy.

A key game in Italy saw first-place Cras Basket Taranto take on second-place Famila Wuber Schio. Despie playing at home, Taranto was upset by Schio 78-66. Laura Macchi (remember her from L.A.?) scored a game-high 20 points. Suzy Batkovic had a solid game in the loss, scoring 12 points and grabbing nine rebounds.

Ashley Robinson had a big outing in Turkey, scoring 22 points, pulling down nine rebounds and blocking three shots. All of that led her TED Kayseri Koleji squad to a 77-70 triumph over Samsun Basketbol.

In Spain, Ibiza-PDV moved above .500 by beating Gran Canaria 76-64 on Saturday. Shannon Johnson powered the team effort from the point, contributing 10 points, six assists and five rebounds.

Dramatic Finish to Seattle Subregional

If you weren't at Bank of America Arena at Hec Edmundson Pavilion last night, you missed out on some terrific basketball. Gonzaga and Pittsburgh went back and forth all night long before the Panthers overcame a pro-Zags crowd and made just enough plays down the stretch to steal the win.

It looked like Gonzaga might pull the upset when Pitt turned the ball over while leading by one with just under 30 seconds to play, but Janelle Bekkering traveled and a three attempt that would have tied the game in the closing seconds missed.

Pitt star Shavonte Zellous, a sure first-round pick in next month's WNBA Draft, showed why she is considered a streaky but dangerous scorer. Using both man and zone, Gonzaga did an excellent job of keeping Zellous on the perimeter and contesting her shots. Zellous was 1-of-6 in the first half and made six of 21 shots for the game, but she was able to get to the free-throw line to score a game-high 24 points. It was Zellous who had a key three-pointer to tie the game and a transition score in the late stages. She has a WNBA body with athleticism to match, including an impressive vertical.

While the loss was heartbreaking for the Zags because of missed opportunities and turnovers down the stretch, I came away from the weekend highly impressed with Kelly Graves' squad. Before wearing down in the final minutes, Courtney Vandersloot more than held her own against elite competition, coming up with 18 points, seven assists and a career-high five steals. Heather Bowman was obviously bothered by Pitt's combination of length and quickness, but ultimately found a way to contribute. Of the Gonzaga players who saw action, only defensive specialist Jami Schaefer graduates, while the Zags will add Katelan Redmon, a Pac-10 All-Freshman Team pick at UW in 2007-08 before transferring. Something tells me we haven't heard the last of the Gonzaga women in the month of March.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Mel Thomas in the News

Mel Thomas is not your average training camp invitee. Thomas' scrappy style of play made her a fan favorite during her four years at the University of Connecticut, where women's basketball is a way of life. As a result, Thomas signing on with the Storm to attend camp drew attention from the media that covers the East Coast Huskies, better known as "The Horde."

Joe Perez of the Norwich Bulletin writes about Thomas' continued recovery from a torn ACL that ended her senior season at UConn and has a little more in his blog. Thomas' thoughts appear unfiltered in the Hartford Courant's blog.

Over the weekend, Thomas appeared on NPR's Only a Game to talk about this year's undefeated UConn squad, Head Coach Geno Auriemma and making the transition to the WNBA (the interview starts about five minutes in).

Another interesting weekend link unrelated to Thomas: The Canberra Times reports that the plans for a new basketball arena in Canberra include a scuplture that could feature long-time WNBL Capitals star Lauren Jackson.

"Lauren Jackson is the obvious choice for me," said Carrie Graf, the Capitals' head coach and a former Storm assistant. "She played for six years, she one of the most well known women's sport stars in Australia and the world, she's an icon."

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Gonzaga Pulls Day 1's Biggest Upset

How's your bracket looking midway through the first round of the tournament? I went 13 for 16 on the first day. One of those three misses came in the game I attended at Bank of America Arena at Hec Edmundson Pavilion - 12 seed Gonzaga taking down fifth-seeded Xavier in front of a partisan crowd. In hindsight, I underestimated the energy the underdog Zags would draw from their fans.

As expected, 6-6 Xavier center Ta'Shia Phillips dominated the paint against a Gonzaga team with no player taller than 6-2. Phillips finished with 26 points and 18 rebounds, 10 of them on the offensive end. Alas, she had a lot of chances for putbacks because her teammates shot a combined 13-of-55 (23.6 percent) from the field.

Meanwhile, the Zags were led by their talented inside-out duo of point guard Courtney Vandersloot and post Heather Bowman. Vandersloot controlled the tempo and efficiently ran the team, handing out 11 assists against three turnovers in 38 minutes. Bowen battled Phillips at one end and found multiple ways to score at the other, finishing with 23 points. Vivian Frieson (17 points) relieved pressure when the Musketeers sold out defensively against Vandersloot and Bowman. I was also very impressed by the coaching of Kelly Graves, who kept his team calm as Xavier rallied in the second half and drew up some great plays out of timeouts.

Now Gonzaga, which won its first NCAA Tournament game ever in its second appearance, can legitimately aspire to reach the Sweet 16 by winning Monday's matchup with Pitt, which beat Montana 64-35 in the first game of Saturday's Hec Ed double-header. To do that, the Zags will have to find a way to slow down Panthers star Shavonte Zellous, who scored 31 points and grabbed nine rebounds in the win.

Once again, Gonzaga will have a home-court advantage of sorts. It's possible the crowd may be filled with even more Bulldogs supporters, since today fans had to divide their attention between the Gonzaga women and the men, who advanced to the Sweet 16 with a buzzer-beater against Western Kentucky just as the women were tipping off. Pitt-Gonzaga, which will air on ESPN2, tips off at 6:30 p.m. Monday.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Mailbag: Russian Schedule

Jim writes to ask:

With so much angst surrounding Lauren Jackson's decision, many people including myself, search the web every day for positive signs. However the reality is that Lauren most likely won't say anything until after her stint in Russia has concluded. Therefore, do you know when that will be? Is it soon or are there several weeks left in the postseason?
As I wrote earlier this week, the Russian Superleague playoffs are just about to begin, with Spartak hosting Kursk Dynamo on Monday in Game 1. That is a quarterfinal matchup, with two more rounds to play. The first game of the final series is April 20, and the last possible date if the series goes the distance is April 28. The Storm and Jackson (and her agent) will continue to have dialogue until she's ready to make a decision, whether or not that comes at the end of the Russian season.

Thanks for the question, and remember you can send any questions to, though naturally there are some limitations in terms of what we can answer. "Who will the Storm pick in the draft," for example, might not get a real specific response.

Also, a reminder that the Women's NCAA Tournament tips off tomorrow, but there's still some time left to join our pool.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Tournament Pool

With the Men's NCAA Tournament tipping off today, I've got brackets on the brain, and I'm sure I'm not alone. I set up a Women's Tournament pool on so you can compete against fellow Storm fans and even some employees. I hope you'll join us before the tournament begins Saturday morning.

Taranto Advances to EuroCup Final

It was all Cras Basket Taranto this morning in the highly-anticipated return leg of the EuroCup semifinal matchup between Taranto and Dynamo Moscow. Dynamo returned home hoping to make up a six-point deficit from last week's matchup in Italy, and led by three after one quarter. From there, the visitors took control by outscoring Dynamo 23-12 in the second quarter. Taranto cruised to an 85-75 victory that gave them a 161-146 aggregate advantage.

Getting 17 points from Janell Burse on 6-for-9 shooting, Dynamo had a good day on offense. However, the home team simply could not stop Taranto defensively. Taranto shot 58.6 percent from the field and scored at least 20 points in all four quarters. It was Storm center Suzy Batkovic who powered the attack, scoring 24 points and knocking down a pair of three-pointers, hitting 9-of-15 from the field. Megan Mahoney added 19 for Taranto, which also got a strong all-around game from former Storm guard Michelle Greco (six points, three assists and seven steals).

Batkovic and company will play Galatasaray for the EuroCup title after Galatasaray beat Kursk Dynamo 62-39 - holding them to 11 second-half points - to come from behind and take that aggregate series. Galatasaray is led by Seimone Augustus, who had 38 points today to nearly outscore Kursk Dynamo all by herself, as well as Sophia Young. Taranto hosts the first matchup on April 2 before visiting Turkey to complete the EuroCup finals on April 9.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Goodbye, P-I

This morning, for the first time, there is no printed edition of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. The P-I ran its last edition yesterday, ending a run that dated back to 1863 and moving to a new role online-only at In a 10th Anniversary season where the Storm's history is a focal point, it seemed appropriate to look back at some highlights of the P-I's coverage. Here are a handful of my favorite stories and columns on the Storm from the many writers who have written about the team for the P-I.

Bryant's the woman at the center of the Storm - Greg Johns, May 16, 2008
"She's experienced the high of the Storm's 2004 WNBA championship and the devastating low of the day the Reign folded in 1998. She's worked out of a little basement office and now a Seattle high-rise. She's been there with every player from Kate Starbird to Sue Bird."

It was over in 5 letters: L-O-S-E-R - Jim Moore, June 20, 2007
"A gracious winner, Bird didn't rub it in. She joked that she had been nervous all morning. As the result of yet another losing bet, I will donate $200 to one of Bird's favorite charities -- the Sonics and Storm Foundation."

Bad rep became bad rap on Storm's Betty Lennox - Ted Miller, July 21, 2004
"A Storm player called Lennox a sore loser. Said she was hard to approach. Outspoken. Intimidating.

"That assessment was supplied by Lennox herself."

Storm coach: A woman of stature - Ted Miller, September 24, 2004
"She was good. She was respected. She belonged.She was clutching the MVP trophy for her fifth-grade Catholic Youth Organization basketball team.That was the seminal moment for a serendipitous union: basketball and Donovan."

Burger with fan brightens Bird's day - Mark Bergin, August 23, 2003
"After a coincidental meeting with her idol in the hallway of a Pittsburgh hotel, Veilleux felt compelled to invite her new friend to lunch. While visiting family in Seattle last summer, she did just that, hollering to Bird from the crowd after a Storm game at KeyArena."

In a life of great expectations, Jackson has found her comfort zone - Molly Yanity, July 10, 2003
"Here's the thing with Lauren Jackson: Behind those sparkling blue eyes and radiant smile is a complicated woman.You can't pigeonhole her because Jackson, the Australian center who makes her third WNBA All-Star Game appearance Saturday in New York, is a 77-inch tower of contradictions."

WNBA's continued existence is something to cheer - David Locke, April 23, 2003
"The young girl who enters KeyArena on a summer evening to watch women play professional sports leaves the arena with an expanded view of the world. She has seen women in the spotlight. She has seen women with insane competitiveness, and she has seen strength. Most importantly, it was those qualities that were applauded with gusto."

Of course, my favorite Storm coverage came the day after the team won the 2004 championship, with stories by Miller and Bergin and a column by Robert Jamieson. I leave you with the cover of the P-I from Oct. 13, 2004:

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Seattle Field Set for NCAA Tournament

The University of Washington and Bank of America Arena at Hec Edmundson Pavilion will be playing host to one of 16 subregionals during the first weekend of the NCAA Women's Tournament. The four teams coming to Seattle, as revealed during yesterday's selection show, are:

  • No. 4 seed Pittsburgh
  • No. 5 seed Xavier
  • No. 12 seed Gonzaga
  • No. 13 seed Montana
Pitt takes on Montana in the early matchup at 5:00 p.m. on Saturday, with Xavier and Gonzaga squaring off a half-hour after the completion of the first game. On Monday, the winners of those two teams will meet for the right to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.

Tickets for all sessions are available now through The teams will also hold open practices on Friday, starting at Noon.

If you're interested in scouting next month's WNBA Draft, Pittsburgh guard Shavonte Zellous is a likely first-round pick. WNBA Draft Net currently has Zellous as the seventh pick by Sacramento. Zellous averaged 22.9 points per game in Big East play, but was the only Panthers player to average double-figures.

Xavier, which advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the 11th time in the last 12 seasons, is led by sophomore center Ta'Shia Phillips. Phillips was named A-10 Player of the Year after averaging 13.5 points and 11.9 rebounds per game, shooting 61.3 percent from the field. The Musketeers were 13-1 in A-10 play to win the conference regular-season crown, but were upset by Dayton in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament.

Gonzaga needs no introduction to Hec Ed, having defeated the Huskies 64-59 in Seattle in November. The Zags won the West Coast Conference tournament for the second time in three years, as well as the WCC regular-season title. Guard Courtney Vandersloot won WCC Player of the Year honors, while Heather Bowman averaged 19.5 points and 7.6 rebounds for Gonzaga, which is sure to have a healthy contingent of supporters from the Seattle area and making their way across the mountains.

Montana is returning to Seattle after losing at Hec Ed in the opening round of the 2005 NCAA Tournament, the last time the Huskies hosted a subregional. Under legendary coach Robin Selvig, now in his 31st season at the helm, the Lady Griz has made 18 trips to the NCAA Tournament. Senior guard Mandy Morales, an Arizona State recruit who transfered back home before suiting up for the Sun Devils, is the Montana player to watch. Morales averaged 17.1 points, 6.1 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game and was named Big Sky Conference MVP for the second time in three years. (In between, the award was won by 2008 Storm training-camp invitee Natalie Doma.) WNBA Draft Net has Morales going in the third round.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Russian Regular Season Wraps

The last week concluded regular-season play in the Russian Superleague, and Spartak played a pair of crucial games to wrap things up. On Thursday, Spartak played host to red-hot UMMC Ekaterinburg. Sue Bird's three-pointer tied the game with 1:45 left to play, but Spartak would not score again, committing two key turnovers as Ekaterinburg pulled out the 76-70 win. Lauren Jackson led Spartak with 18 points, Sue Bird adding eight points, five rebounds and five assists.

Earlier today, Spartak faced CSKA Moscow. They took an eight-point lead to the final period, but saw CSKA rally to tie the game at 80-all with an 11-0 run. This time, it was Spartak that came up with the big plays down the stretch. Bird forced Edwige Lawson-Wade into a turnover with 42 seconds left and was fouled in the process, knocking down both free throws to give Spartak the lead. After Jackson blocked Ann Wauters' shot and Diana Taurasi split two free throws, Ilona Korstin turned the ball over. Bird made two more free throws to secure the 85-80 win, giving her a game-high 25 points on 8-of-11 shooting for the game. Bird also handed out seven assists. Jackson also scored 13.

In its finale, Dynamo Moscow cruised past Slavianka 84-60. Janell Burse scored 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting and pulled down nine rebounds in 20 minutes before calling it a day. The overmatched Slavianka finished the regular season 0-18.

Spartak and Ekaterinburg both completed the regular season at 16-2, but Ekaterinburg's head-to-head win gives them the top seed in the Superleague Playoffs. Spartak will host seventh-seeded Kursk Dynamo in a best-of-three series beginning next Monday. Dynamo (11-7) is the fifth seed and will go on the road for an intriguing matchup with Nadezhda, which also finished 11-7 behind Betty Lennox and Shameka Christon.

In advance of St. Patrick's Day tomorrow, the Irish Superleague kicked off its two-game aggregate semifinal series Saturday. Kristen O'Neill's UL Aughnish squad hosted Team Montenotte Hotel Cork Saturday on an eventful day. Despite leading the Aughnish to the postseason, coach Sasa Punosevac was relieved of his duties early in the day.

Playing under new coach Des O'Sullivan, UL took a 29-24 lead to the locker room. The second half was all Montenotte, with the visitors outscoring the Aughnish 37-19 to win 61-48. O'Neill led her team with 19 points, but Montenotte was able to limit her to 6-of-19 shooting. O'Neill added nine rebounds.

The teams will play the return leg at Montenotte next Saturday, with UL needing to win by 14 points to advance to the finals.

Make it 22-0 for Athinaikos, which defeated Ano Liosia 79-63 over the weekend. Katie Gearlds did it all for Athinaikos, starting with 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting. She also contributed six assists, five rebounds and four steals in her 33-minute outing.

In France, Tanisha Wright and Tarbes continue to roll along, beating Challes Les Eaux 64-58 yesterday to move to 20-1 on the season. Tarbes rallied after trailing 22-6 after one quarter, and Wright came up with a key bucket in the final minute to seal the win. She had 21 points, six assists and five rebounds.

TED Kayersi Koleji fell 78-54 yesterday to Galatasaray. Ashley Robinson had a solid effort in the loss, scoring 12 points, grabbing five rebounds and blocking three shots. She shot 5-of-9 from the field.

Ibiza-PDV and Shannon Johnson gave Spanish leaders Ros Casares a good run before coming up short in a 68-60 loss. Johnson had nine points, five assists and four rebounds, while teammate Sancho Lyttle scored 25 points.

Suzy Batkovic, with 10 points, was one of five Cras Basket Taranto players to score double-figures in an easy 76-53 victory over Phonica Pozzuoli. Batkovic added six rebounds and three assists in 25 mintues of action as Taranto stayed atop LegA Basket Femminile at 18-4.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Cash Discusses Back Surgery

Storm forward Swin Cash, who underwent back surgery on Monday, discussed the procedure and her rehabilitation schedule yesterday with's Brian Martin. Before you go read the whole thing, here's an excerpt: You mentioned on your site that this has “been a long time coming.” How much of a relief is it to finally have this done?

Cash: It’s the biggest relief. You can’t even really imagine it. I didn’t realize for how long and for how many years now that I’ve been trying to play through injuries and show that you’re tough enough and that you’re there for your team. Whenever you do that, a lot of times you basically lose yourself, and I think that’s what happened to me for so many years. I made excuses of why not to have it done and feeling like I had to be there for my team, or I couldn’t take off time, or I just needed to rehab and do it a different way instead of following my own heart.

It really just feels like a burden is lifted right now and it feels like I’ll be able to train as hard as I need to train to get back on top of my game. For the last few years it feels like I’ve been rehabbing more than I have been training. And as you know with basketball, the skill level is becoming so great in this league from all of the girls in college coming to the WNBA. It’s so competitive; you have to be able to train and work out in order to get better.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Taranto Takes EuroCup Opening Leg

Bragging rights and much more are on the line as Storm centers Suzy Batkovic and Janell Burse square off with their respective teams in the EuroCup semifinals. In Thursday's first game, Batkovic's host Taranto squad emerged with a 76-71 victory. Because of the aggregate scoring format, the outcome itself was not necessarily as critical as the differential, with teams playing through to the end of regulation. Michelle Greco scored with two seconds on the clock to provide the final margin and give Taranto an extra bucket's worth of breathing room going into the return leg in Moscow next Thursday.

It looked for a while like Dynamo might head home with the advantage. A Burse jumper midway through the fourth quarter gave Dynamo a four-point advantage, but Taranto would outscore the visitors 15-6 the rest of the way. The key was Greco, the former Storm guard who scored eight points in that span, adding three steals and an assist.

Burse scored 14 of her 17 points after halftime, adding nine rebounds. She was part of a trio of Dynamo players, along with Belinda Snell (23 points) and Anete Jekabsone-Zogota (15) who had strong games. The rest of the team, however, combined for 16 points on 4-of-16 shooting from the field.

Taranto got more balanced production, with four players scoring double-figures. Megan Mahoney led the way with 19 points, with Batkovic adding 13 points, six rebounds and three steals.

In Thursday's other semifinal opener, Kursk Dynamo triumphed 61-47 at home over Galatsaray. The two-game aggregate series will be completed next Thursday, with the winners advancing to meet each other wih the EuroCup championship - and a spot in Euroleague for the 2009-10 season - on the line.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Robinson Heads Overseas

Add a new name to the ranks of Storm players overseas. Center Ashley Robinson, having completed her internship for the Dallas Mavericks and her time working with a prep team in the Dallas area, is now playing for Pankup TED Kayseri Koleji in Turkey. If that club sounds familiar, it's because Camille Little played for Kayseri before deciding to return to the U.S. Robinson has in effect taken Little's spot on the roster. Robinson had six points, six rebounds and two blocks earlier today as Kayseri lost 71-61 to Besiktas Cola.

Good news from Ireland, where Kristen O'Neill has been named the Irish Superleague Player of the Month for February. O'Neill finished the regular season as the Superleague's leading scorer at 25.5 points per game. She also ranks in the top 10 in rebounding (9.9, sixth), steals (3.1 spg, fourth), blocks (1.6, fourth), free throws (58, third) and three-pointers (26, tied for second)

O'Neill's UL Aughnish squad hosts the first leg of a two-game aggregate semifinal series against Team Montenotte Hotel Cork this Saturday.

Gearlds Blog: EuroCup Season Ends

Hey y'all! Man, I can't believe it's March already - time is really flying by.

A lot has happened since my last blog both back home and in Greece. Back home, we've had a few signings that I am sure have everyone giddy with anticipation to get the season started. But of course the whole world of women's basketball is waiting on just the one person, right? I am sure you all have your opinions just like we have our opinions, too. In the end, though, we really just want her to be happy. But, come to think of it, won't she be the happiest in Seattle?!?! No, seriously, we all know she'll make the best decision - she owes it to herself.

In my Greek world, my team was able to slide right by the Israeli team without any problems. We were one of the final eight teams in Eurocup contention and had the opportunity to play a Russian team - the trip there was miserable. We left here pretty early in the morning for a three hour flight to Moscow, had an eight-hour layover and then an eight-hour train ride to Kursk. The layover wasn't horrible, but of course we couldn’t do any sightseeing - it was too cold in Moscow for my Greek buddies to be outside. We arrived relatively early in the day, drove around, ate lunch and then watched the opening game of the Spartak vs. Ros Casares match. We stayed until midway through the third period before having to leave to catch the train. I wasn't able to speak to Sue or Lauren, but it was nice being able to watch them play. My teammates were amazed with Sylvia Fowles because of the six blocks she collected in just the first quarter!

The train ride back to Kursk was long, but relatively smooth. We passed the time with a few card games - I recommend Phase 10. The other Americans and I also taught a few of our Greek teammates to play B.S. (don't think I’ll spell that out) and Spoons. We had a great time, but now that seems to be the only game they want to play!

The game in Kursk was awful. The only thing I remember is us turning the ball over on our first five possessions. Before we could catch our breath in the first quarter, they were up by 15 points. No question about it, that was our worst game of the year by far! We ended up losing by 25 points, but honestly felt confident that we could beat them in Athens by 26 to advance to the Final Four. Well, we sure did give a run for the money! We were up by 23 and had the ball with 35 seconds to go, but unfortunately we turned the ball over. There went our chance to advance - it was definitely heart-breaking. We are a little team from Athens (I think I’m the tallest player on the team) going up against a Russian team stacked with players over 6-4 and we nearly pulled it off. Yeah, of course it was great for us to make it to the final eight because no one expected us to even come close, but we knew we were better than them and it hurt. In the end, I think we made a strong statement for Greek basketball and I hope that it will continue.

In the Greek league, we are undefeated with only four games left. I’m confident we’ll be able to take care of business. Even though we only have four game there is about a month and a half of the season left. This weekend is the Greek Cup, but my team didn't qualify after losing the qualifying game early in the season. The game was my second and we were matched-up against the second-best team in Greece. Things hadn’t clicked yet, and even though I was 9-of-12 from three-point range that game, but we could have used a few more - we lost by seven on the our opponent’s court. That was the game that set the tone for the rest of our season - we knew we wanted to go undefeated the rest of the way.

So, with a month and a half left and just four games left I'll be doing a lot of extra work in the weight room and on the court. My plan to is have my body ready for training camp. My mom and brother arrive next week, which will help pass the time. And, of course, it's March which means tone of college basketball!



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Monday, March 9, 2009

Europe Takes Euroleague All-Star Game

Sue Bird's prognostication proved accurate. Last week, Bird told she wasn't upset to miss the Euroleague All-Star Game because of a rule limiting each club to two representatives, but that fans were missing out on the chance to see Sylvia Fowles dunk.

Lo and behold, Fowles ended up playing in the game in place of Spartak's scheduled players (Lauren Jackson and Diana Taurasi) and threw down in the third quarter. Fowles' dunk was the highlight for a "Rest of the World" squad that barely shot 40 percent from the field and was outscored 33-15 in the fourth quarter of what had been a close game. Behind 24 points from game MVP Becky Hammon--who made six three-pointers in seven tries--the Europe squad ran away with a 101-78 victory.

According to the discussion at RebKell, Jackson and Taurasi were unable to participate after a flu bug hit Europe last week.

Besides the Euroleague All-Star Game, last week was all about national cup tournaments, most notably the Cup of Russia. Spartak crushed Kursk Dynamo 101-66 in the quarterfinals with Bird playing just 11 minutes and Jackson sitting out entirely. In the semifinals, Spartak took down archrival CSKA Moscow, 72-61, dominating the fourth quarter with a 23-10 advantage in the period. Bird had 11 points and eight assists in the triumph, Jackson 16 points and eight boards.

Friday's championship game matched Spartak against a revitalized UMMC Ekaterinburg squad. Trailing by nine heading to the final period, Spartak railed within two and took possession with 36 seconds to play. Kelly Miller's go-ahead three attempt missed, and Ekaterinburg made its free throws to secure the 70-64 win. Ekaterinburg did a great job defending Jackson (a task I suspect fell largely to Sandrine Gruda), who went 2-of-14 from the field. Jackson had just 10 points and four rebounds. Bird scored nine points with four boards, and Fowles too was quiet. Spartak might have been blown out if not for the 26 points scored by Diana Taurasi. Gruda also scored 18 points to lead four Ekaterinburg players in double-figures.

Ebe Ibiza-PDV made a surprise run to the finals of the Copa de la Reina tournament. Behind 26 points from Sancho Lyttle, Ibiza took out Perfumerias Avenida 80-65 in the quarterfinal. Shannon Johnson came up big in a 76-63 semifinal win over Celta Indepo. She scored 22 points on 7-of-10 shooting to lead Ibiza. In the final, Ibiza squared off with two-time defending champ Ros Casares. A balanced scoring attack led Ros Casares to a 65-60 win over Ibiza. Johnson scored seven points in the game.

In the annual Coppa Italia Final Four, Suzy Batkovic and Cras Basket Taranto were edged 66-63 in the semifinals by Lavezzini Parma. Batkovic scored 12 points and grabbed five rebounds in the loss, while former Storm guard Francesca Zara led all scorers with 16 points for Parma. Club Atletico Faenza would go on to knock off Parma and take the Coppa Italia final.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Weekend Thriller Overseas

A great finish in Spain saw Ibiza-PDV hang on for an 88-87 overtime win over Lega Feminina power Perfumerias Avenida on Saturday. In something of a Comets reunion, Ibiza's Shannon Johnson and Sancho Lyttle defeated Avenida's Michelle Snow. All three players put up big numbers. Johnson had 21 points and five assists, shooting 9-for-17 from the field. Lyttle was monstrous in the middle, posting 28 points and 14 rebounds while shooting 10-of-15. Snow countered with 20 points and 15 boards. Avenida dropped to 17-4 with the loss, while Ibiza improved to 11-10.

Lauren Jackson and Sue Bird were Spartak's leading scorers in an 84-67 win Sunday over Kursk Dynamo. Jackson scored 21 points, powered by seven free throws, and grabbed seven rebounds. All Bird contributed was 15 points, five assists and five rebounds, including a trio of three-pointers. Ho hum. Diana Taurasi and Sylvia Fowles were atypically quiet, combining for 12 points.

Elsewhere in Russia, Dynamo Moscow fell 81-72 at UMMC Ekaterinburg. Janell Burse had 11 points and nine rebounds in the loss. The difference in the game? UMMC's Agnieszka Bibrzycka (perhaps better known to you as "Biba") was red-hot from downtown, making five three-pointers during a 23-point night. Dynamo's Marina Kuzina was equally as cold, shooting 6-of-18 from the field.

Suzy Batkovic scored 19 points and grabbed nine rebounds as Cras Basket Taranto ran past Pool Comense 84-46 to stay atop the LegA Basket Femminile. Batkovic shot 7-of-13 from the field in 27 minutes of action, adding four assists. Megan Mahoney led Taranto with 20 points in the win.

Athinaikos moved to 21-0 by swamping Siemens 81-58. The game was so mismatched that Katie Gearlds and Athinaikos' other American, LaToya Davis, got the day off.