WNBA Report: The New York Defense Meets Minnesota's Powerful Offense in Marquee Matchup
By ROB KNOX (@knoxrob1)
Tuesday’s nationally televised matchup on ESPN2 between the reigning WNBA champion Minnesota Lynx and New York Liberty offers a classic conflict.
With venerable Madison Square Garden serving as the battleground for this contest, New York (2-2 overall) will look to use its strong defense to hand the undefeated Lynx (5-0) its first setback of the season. Game-time is 8 p.m.
While it’ll be New York’s impenetrable and bedrock-like defense against Minnesota’s dynamic offense, this game also features the WNBA’s top two scorers in Tina Charles and Maya Moore.
What’s scary is both UConn products are better than ever as the past and future USA Olympic teammates prepare for the first of three meetings against each other this season.
“It’s a clash of two worlds,” Liberty head coach Bill Laimbeer said on Friday during a conference call to preview this matchup. “It’ll be our defensive prowess against their execution. It’ll be a war of attrition over the course of 40 minutes.”
Through four games, the Liberty has kept opponents under suffocating surveillance as it is limiting foes to .336 shooting. That pace would be historic.
The Liberty, who also lead the WNBA in rebounding by a significant margin, could be undefeated as well, but it’s dropped its last two games in overtime at home to the Sparks and Dream, teams with a combined 9-1 mark.
In each game, the Liberty controlled majority of the action, but couldn’t finish.
“Tanisha Wright is a big key to our defensive success,” Laimbeer said. “Right now it’s an historic number. We are better defensively, but I don’t know if that efficiency number is sustainable. However, I do know that our defense gives us a chance to win every game.”
Two weeks into the season, Charles ranks near the top of the WNBA in most major statistical categories. She has recorded a double-double in all four games so far this year, and she is second in scoring (23.5 ppg), first in rebounding (12.0 rpg), third in steals (2.8 spg) 12th in assists (4.0 apg) and first in minutes (35.5 mpg).
Also playing a high level for the Liberty is guard Sugar Rodgers, who is averaging 16.5 points and 6.3 rebounds per contest. Her season-best 24-point effort against Dallas was complemented by six 3-pointers. She has scored in double figures in every game this season.
“Minnesota is just another team in the league right now and another team on the schedule,” Laimbeer said. “It’s nice to be on ESPN, but this is another game on schedule we want to win badly. There are a lot of good teams in our league.”
Meanwhile, the Lynx arrive into this game as the league’s top shooting team. In addition to averaging 85.8 points per outing, the Lynx have made 48.4 percent of its shots.
Minnesota held off a furious Fever rally last Friday, holding to on to win, 74-71, after sprinting to an early 24-point advantage. The Lynx scored five points in the fourth quarter.
Still, the Lynx have Moore and she’s doing what she does, averaging 21.8 points per contest after a 10-point outing against the Fever. Even spookier is that Moore continues to outdo her prolific past since arriving in the WNBA as the Lynx overall No. 1 pick in 2011 when Minnesota won the first of three titles in the past five seasons.
“Maya wants to get better and better,” Minnesota head coach Cheryl Reeve said. “The word that’s music to our ears with her is efficiency.
"No one needs to take a hard shot or do any extraordinary things; we just need to continue to do ordinary things really well.
"We have played well because Maya does draw a lot of attention. She’s understanding how to use that to help our team. Her understanding, ball-handling and creativity has gotten better.”
She’s one of four Minnesota players averaging double figures as the Lynx have relied on a committee of contributors during the early part of the season.
Sylvia Fowles has been super consistent, averaging 14.8 points and 9.8 rebounds per game. Seimone Augustus (12.0) and Lindsey Whalen (10.6) are doing their usual damage during the game.
All three are also Olympic bound to Rio as is Reeve who will be one of UConn's Geno Auriema's assistants as she, South Carolina's Dawn Staley and DePaul's Doug Bruno were in 2014 at the FIBA World Championship World Championship won by USA.
The Lynx have also gotten a boost from veterans Jia Perkins and Renee Montgomery. The dynamic duo have combined to score 11.6 points per game.
Unlike past years, each game takes on added significance thanks to the new playoff format this year in which the top eight teams, regardless of conference qualify for the playoffs.
This is the first of three regular season meetings thanks to the league’s balanced schedule. The next two matchups between the Liberty and Lynx will occur at the Target Center.
“In the past, you could lock in on collecting tiebreakers in your conference and focus on being the best in the west,” Reeve said. “Sure you wanted to beat the east, but the emphasis was in conference wins. Now, that it’s broad across the league, it increases the importance of each game.”