Guru's WNBA Roundup: Absences Make Connecticut and New York Grow Wins
By Mel Greenberg
UNCASVILLE, Conn. – As close as the races in both the WNBA Eastern and Western Conferences are expected to be in the 34-game regular season there are no night offs to be had.
A loss now with the attitude that it is early can be costly later when it will come tie-breakers to determine playoffs participants. Furthermore, for those who make the postseason, the seeds that will determine the pairings.
So when there are advantages to be taken going into a game, they must be had or else they will be looked as lost opportunities later on.
Two teams in the first weekend of action were able to cash in off absences from the opposition.
Here is casino-land, the host Connecticut Sun a year older let the regular season Eastern co-champion Washington Mystics take an early jump Saturday night and then roared from behind for an accentuated 89-73 win after former Maryland star Crystal Langhorne scored most of her 16 points in the opening quarter for the Mystics while teammate and newcomer Nicky Anosike, a former Tennessee star, did likewise with most of her 16 points.
Anosike was acquired in a deal with Minnesota.
However, former Duke star Alana Beard’s return from a year’s absence will be held up after spraining an ankle last week in practice in Washington on the same leg and foot that kept her on the sidelines following surgery.
“We knew about an hour before the game when you have to turn in (the roster),” Connecticut Sun veteran Kara Lawson, another former Tennessee star, said of learning of Beard’s absence.
“Injuries, as we all know, is part of this league,” Lawson said, “but the one thing we all know that you have to be careful of is when a player of her caliber is not playing, you don’t relax. You don’t think, `Oh, she’s not playing it’s going to be easier’ and you relax.
“So we knew that Matee (former Rutgers star Matee Ajavon) was going to come out and try to be really aggressive (as a starter) and take advantage of those extra minutes. I thought we did a really good job of really making things tough for their guards.”
Beard, who made the trip from Washington, spoke of her latest misfortune.
“It’s getting better. Same ankle, same foot (as last year), Beard said. “This is nothing compared to what I went through so that’s why I’m taking it as it comes and I know eventually I’m going to be back. It’s a seven to 14 day recovery and considering it’s an ankle injury you don’t want to force things and rush back.”
The game was the official debut for Mystics head coach and new general manager Trudi Lacey, who was an assistant last season.
On Sunday the New York Liberty took advantage of third-year pro Angel McCoughtry’s absence due to a sprained left knee in training camp and gave new coach-general manager John Whisenant his first win -- an upset overtime win 94-88 on the road against the Atlanta Dream who beat the Liberty 2-0 in the Eastern Conference best-of-three finals last season.
More in a minute about that and the rest of the first three days of action that leads to what will be Monday breathers for the 12 teams most of the season on the schedule.
Back here there was much to feel good about on the Sun front, especially involving the return of former UConn star Asjha Jones, who had 14 points, and the one-year delayed debut of former Kansas star Danielle McCray, who impressed with 14 points, shooting 5-for-5 from the field, including connecting on four 3-pointers.
Jones missed the first five games of a year ago after surgery to remove debris from her left Achilles tendon and never was her old dominant self most of the rest of the way.
McCray, who might have been a lottery pick a year ago, suffered a knee injury her senior season with the Jayhawks but Connecticut coach Mike Thibault went for the steal when he selected her in the first round with the seventh overall pick.
Four UConn former stars were in the starting lineup along with Lawson, who scored four points and dealt four assists.
Tina Charles, the overall No. 1 pick of a year ago, scored 18 points, second-year pro and newcomer Kalana Greene, acquired via draft day trade with New York, was scoreless, while second-year pro Renee Montgomery had 15 points to go with the 14 from Jones.
A fifth former Huskies player, Jessica Moore, who was signed as a free agent after the Indiana Fever cut her last week, was in uniform but that not play. Neither did second-year pro Allison Hightower out of LSU.
Former Virginia star DeMya Walker scored eight points off the bench for the Sun and second-year pro Kelsey Griffin out of Nebraska – a high first round pick by Minnesota, who then dealt her a year ago to the Sun – scored seven points.
Liberty’s Spencer Makes Her Lone Shot Count
Down in Atlanta in Sunday Sidney Spencer, a former Tennessee star who played just five minutes, hit a game-tying basket with 0.2 seconds left in regulation against the Dream and then New York secured the win off Leilani Mitchell’s three-pointer in the extra period.
Plenette Pierson, who came to New York a year ago, scored 25 points.
Whisenant said that Spencer’s heroics came off a busted play to extend the game into overtime.
“We wanted to get it in to Plenette or Nicole (former Stanford star Nicole Powell),” he said adding the ball was deflected to Spencer. “She’s a great shooter. She can make an open shot.”
McCoughtry, an overall No. 1 choice in 2009, was rookie of the year out of NCAA runnerup Louisville that season and has quickly become one of the league’s top overall players.
“Angel brings so much to our game,” Dream coach Marynell Meadors said. “When you take away 25 or 30 points, it affects the rest of the team.”
Iziane Castro Marques scored 19 for Atlanta, while teammate Sancho Lyttle scored 18, and newcomer and former Duke star Lindsey Harding dished nine assists but missed a key free throw that might have won the game in regulation.
She was acquired in a draft day trade with Washington.
Atlanta was 18-for-28 from the foul line.
Lynx Get Even With Sparks
In the only other game Sunday, Minnesota quickly struck back and avenged Friday night’s 82-74 loss in Los Angeles when the Lynx squandered a 10-point lead. On Sunday, the Lynx made Maya Moore’s home debut a success with a dominating 86-69 win.
Moore, the former UConn sensation and overall No. 1 pick of this year’s draft, scored 14 of her 16 points in the second half as the Lynx snapped an 0-for-8 drought against Los Angeles.
“It’s about damn time we beat L.A.,” second-year coach Cheryl Reeve, a former star at Philadelphia’s La Salle University, said.
Former LSU All-American Seimone Augustus wasn’t injured like last season but she practically invisible in a manner of speaking on Friday night in the loss.
But the Minnesota All-Star woke up Sunday with 17 points after scoring just six on 3-for-11 from the field in Friday’s overall WNBA opener.
The Lynx outscored Los Angeles 24-10 in the third quarter to take control.
Former Tennessee all-American Candace Parker, who missed most of last season after shoulder surgery, had a big game Friday night with 19 points and 10 rebounds, but was held to 11 Sunday while Tina Thompson, also the last of the original 1997 WNBA players, scored 11.
Former Maryland star Kristi Toliver, who made the famous three-point shoot in the 2006 NCAA title game that sent the action into overtime and gave the Terrapins the crown over Atlantic Coast rival Duke, had 13 points for the Sparks.
The Chicago Sky dealt her to Los Angeles last season, her second in the WNBA.
The win was important for the Lynx on Sunday because the two teams won’t see each other for a long while now and the Lynx, had they lost, would have had to sweep the remaining three games to win the season series and get the tie-breaker over the Sparks.
Minnesota ruled the boards Sunday with a 44-28 rebounding advantage.
Furthermore Lynx second-year pro Monica Wright out of Virginia scored 11 points as did rookie and fourth overall pick Amber Harris out of Xavier.
The Rest Of The Weekend
On Saturday, three other openers occurred with the defending chamipion Seattle Storm raising the banner in their Key Arena and picking up where they left off, this time beating the Phoenix Mercury 78-71.
Former North Carolina star Camille Little came up big for the home team with 18 points while former UConn great Sue Bird scored 13 points and dealt 10 assists.
Bird's ex-Huskies teammate Diana Taurasi, playing for the Mercury, scored 31 points.
The Indiana Fever, which lost to New York in the conference semifinals after winning the East in 2009, won at home in Conseco Fieldhouse beating the Chicago Sky 65-57 as Tangela Smith, who was previously with Phoenix, scored 16 points and Katie Douglas scored 10.
Former Rutgers star and second-year pro Epiphanny Prince had 20 points for Chicago while teammate Sylvia Fowles scored 10 in the game that was the debut for former LSU coach Pokey Chatman. She is also the Sky's new general manager.
Indiana, which took a 10-1 lead, beat Chicago for the sixth straight time.
San Antonio in its home opener with Dan Hughes returning to the sidelines to go along with his general manager duties, routed the Tulsa Shock 93-73 as Sophia Young, a former Baylor star, scored 20 points and veteran all-star Becky Hammon scored 18 for the Silver Stars.
Liz Cambage, the 19-year-old Australian who was the second overall pick behind UConn’s Moore, scored 18 points, while former North Carolina star Ivory Latta scored 15 and Amber Holt had 11 for the Shock.
When action resumes on Tuesday the Shock will travel to Minnesota for the WNBA’s only game on the slate.
On Thursday, Washington travels to Atlanta for their first meeting since the Dream put the Mystics out 2-0 in the Eastern semifinals.
Later Thursday, Minnesota visits Seattle in yet another key early game for the visiting Lynx trying to show they are a bonafide playoff contender.
On Friday New York is at Indiana; San Antonio comes right back against the Shock, but in Tulsa; Connecticut is at Chicago while Phoenix visits Los Angeles.
The Guru will focus on these games and the rest of the weekend slate later in the week.