WNBA: Shock Absorb Sun
UNCASVILLE, Conn. _ Back in the days of the short-lived American Basketball League in the mid-1990s, Katie Smith used to visit this state with the two-time champion Columbus Quest in the winter to beat the New England Blizzard up the road in Hartford.
Now that the former Ohio State all-American (1992-96) performs in the WNBA for the Detroit Shock, Smith has changed her seasonal approach to the summer and her visits her involve beating the Connecticut Sun.
Smith hit a 22-foot, three-pointer yesterday with 1.3 seconds remaining in regulation to force overtime and the Shock went on to beat the two-time defending Eastern Conference champions, 77-73, in the Mohegan Sun Arena.
“Obviously, we needed a three,” Smith described her heroics. “I had a decent look at first, I got the ball to Cheryl (Ford) and I thought she was gonna shoot it, but I got it back and tried to get a little space and it went through the bucket and that is all she wrote.
“We came into the overtime, got a little lead and then they made some shots, but we were able to withstand that,” Smith said.
Ford also described Smith’s play.
“Huge. It was a huge shot,” the daughter of former NBA star Karl Malone said. “She gave it to me to shoot it, I was gonna, but they (Connecticut defenders) came down on me, so I got the ball back to her and she put it in.”
Connecticut coach Mike Thibault said he did not consider fouling in the closing seconds to prevent a trey.
“We rarely ever foul, especially if you have somebody locked up,” Thibault said. “If somebody start to drive by you, grab them, then, before they can get into a shooting motion, but not if you’ve got somebody.”
Of Smith’s trey, Thibaut described it, saying, “She threw in that shot. She literally threw it in.”
A 5-foot-11 guard, who came to Detroit in a late-season trade involving the Minnesota Lynx a year ago, Smith finished with a game-high 23 points.
Smith is the all-time career points leader for professional women’s basketball in the United States with a combined total of 5,213 points to date involving her stints in the ABL and the WNBA.
“She’s the leading scorer in professional women’s basketball for a reason,” said the Sun’s Taj McWilliams-Franklin, who used to compete against Smith in the ABL as a member of the Richmond and Philadelphia Rage.
“It’s not because she looks great,” McWilliams-Franklin smiled while discussing her longtime opponent. “It’s not because she’s got nice legs. It’s because when she goes out there, she’s a great competitor who’s in great shape. You expect that in every game from her now.
“She shot that three-pointer with three people in vicinity of her,” McWilliams-Franklin said of Smith’s desperation shot. “I couldn’t tell where she was in relation to the basket, but it went straight through.”
Smith has talked about going into dentistry when she retires meaning that she’ll be drilling teeth with the same proficiency she drills shots such as last night’s 4-for-9 effort on three-point attempts.
Detroit coach Bill Laimbeer spoke of Smith’s dagger at the end of regulation.
“We wanted Katie to have the ball and take a three-ball,” he said. “She is the history leader in three-ball shooting and she is a great guard. We wanted the ball in her hands. The intial shot was not there and she went and created for herself.”
Laimbeer said he made the deal for Smith last season to get another veteran into the mix and then he gave her a new set of tricks by involving her in the point guard position.
“I don’t like labels,” Smith smiled in discussing her role with the Shock, who are now 2-1 on the season. The Sun suffered their first defeat after leaving the starting gate 2-0.
“I think we just consider ourselves basketball players, and if he (Laimbeer) needs me to get someone the ball, that’s my role,” Smith said. “I kind of relish it, I’m learning it … This team can be really good. I just hope I can continue to improve.
“Every night’s going to be different,” Smith said of the Shock’s versatility this season. “We have all to come ready to go, but it might be a different thing. Obviously, the defense has to be steady. People have to rebound. People have to knock down shots. We have so many weapons, whether it’s starters, bench, whatever.
“We can keep it going, just as long as we don’t hurt ourselves with turnovers,” Smith added and also spoke of the difference in the team’s makeup compared to last season after she arrived from Minnesota.
“I think we have an understanding you just can’t go out there and get it done,” Smith said. “Yeah, you might have the talent and you won it before (2003). But that doesn’t mean anything. You have to come out every game and prove it and show it and get it done. It’s the little things that are the key.”
Smith was named to the eight-member core group last week that will compete for USA Basketball in the FIBA World Championship in Brazil in September after the WNBA season.
“I’m excited about that,” Smith said, noting the transistion of the roster as veterans such as herself and Sheryl Swoopes near the end of their careers. “We just want to keep that thing rolling. We want to teach and lead by example for the younger kids who are going to come up and take our place. But it’s going to be a challenge.”
Ford had another big night in the post for Detroit with 18 points 11 rebounds.
Katie Douglas led Connecticut with 18 points, but she missed the front end of a two-shot free-throw with 10.4 seconds remaining in regulation that could have sustained Smith’s heroics instead of the 69-69 deadlock.
The former Purdue star also made a crucial turnover in the final seconds of the overtime when the Sun were going for a tie.
Nykesha Sales also scored in double figures for Connecticut with 17 points, but the Sun shot an anemic 33.3 percent for the game.
To the Connecticut crowd, the flow of the game and the outcome was a holiday giveaway that wasn’t scheduled on the list of promotions.
The Sun started slow, falling behind, 20-6, late in the first quarter. But Connecticut stayed with it and ultimately took a lead late in the contest and went ahead by as much as 67-61 with 1:45 left in the fourth quarter after Douglas nailed a trey.
In the overtime, former Georgia star Deanna Nolan hit a jumper off one of Smith’s eight assists to break the tie. Ford then hit a layup and also hit a pair of foul shots to give the Shock a 75-69 lead with 3:05 left in the extra period.
Asjha Jones and Douglas got Connecticut to within a basket on consecutive shots, but then came the turnover and Smith finished the scoring for Detroit with a pair of foul shots.
Overall, Detroit had a 50-33 advantage on the backboards.
Although the game was just the third of the season for both teams, the rivalry between the two created a playoff atmosphere for the nationally-televised contest on ABC.
“These two teams would probably play this way if it was a pick-up game,” Thibault said. “That’s good. I’m glad we play with that intensity level. But it’s a shame to give away a game that we had won.”