Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Rob Knox's WNBA Report: Despite Acclaim, New York's Kiah Stokes Seeks Improvement

By Rob Knox @knoxrob1

When informed of the recent preseason acclaim lavished upon her, New York Liberty center Kiah Stokes reacted like she was sentenced to drink a pint of Castor Oil.

In the preseason poll by WNBA general managers, the rapidly improving Stokes, a former UConn star, received votes for defensive player of the year and was labeled as one of the players who could enjoy a breakout season.

“I haven’t proved myself yet in this league,” Stokes said during a conference call Wednesday. “It’s nice to get recognition. I also know that I have to keep working hard and getting better every time I step on the floor. I also have to continue to be more physical and aggressive defensively and offensively.”

Stokes has come a long way in a short time. In a city known for its skyscrapers, the affable and athletic 6 foot, 3 inch Stokes stands as tall as the Empire State Building.

She shuts down the lane, builds a moat around the basket and intimidates opponents with her breathtaking shot blocking ability. Just one game into her third season with the Liberty, Stokes is fifth all-time in franchise history in blocked shots with 106.

“I have to continue to work hard to be a better defender and rebounder,” said Stokes, who ranked seventh in the WNBA in rebounds (7.4) and was sixth in blocked shots (1.4) per game last season. “Instead of jumping over people for rebounds. I am making more of an effort to box out. I just want to improve my game.”

Stokes and the rest of her New York Liberty teammates are excited to return to action Thursday night against the Minnesota Lynx. The game from Madison Square Garden begins at 7 p.m. on ESPN2. Both teams are 1-0.

Fifth-year Liberty head coach Bill Laimbeer wasn’t pleased with his team’s performance following their harder-than-necessary 73-64 win over a shorthanded San Antonio squad missing three of its top players, including No. 1 draft pick Kelsey Plum, last Saturday.

Tina Charles led five Liberty players in double figures, finishing with 12 points and seven rebounds. It was nearly a wire-to-wire victory for the Liberty, who fell behind 1-0 and then led the rest of the way, peaking with an 18-point advantage early in the fourth quarter. The Liberty held a distinct advantage in fast-break opportunities, outscoring the Stars 15-2.

The Liberty won’t give back the victory, but it since it has championship aspirations, each player understands that the effort has to be better.

“Our team heard (Laimbeer’s) message loud and clear,” Stokes said. “We expected more. Practice has been great this week and his words as well as our performance has lit a fire under us. (Playing Minnesota) is a great test for us. We have to step up fight, work hard and be more intense.”

Several outlets have these two teams meeting in the WNBA Finals later this year. This is the first of three meetings against the Lynx, who also opened the season with a 70-61 win over the Chicago Sky last Sunday at the Target Center.

The schedule comes at the Liberty fast. Starting with Thursday night’s game, seven of New York’s next eight games are against teams that qualified for the WNBA playoffs last season.

“It’s exciting and we’re really looking to show what kind of team what we’re made of,” Stokes said. “Really, we are taking one game at a time and we’re going to focus on that. I don’t even know we play after Minnesota.”

Meanwhile, the Lynx are fueled this season by last season’s tough ending where it lost the championship at home to the Los Angeles Sparks. However, as Seimone Augustus pointed out, the Lynx never struggle to find motivation even though it has three championships in the last six years and have been the WNBA’s gold standard during that span.

“The media gives us something to motivate us,” Augustus said. “Some years we’re not ranked high enough in preseason or people say that we’re too old. We always find little things to get us going. We understand that with New York, a lot of their players pose different problems. We believe that if we can make Tina Charles’ night difficult, then hopefully it can disrupt New York’s offensive flow.”

In its win over Chicago, the Lynx was led by Sylvia Fowles, who scored 26 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. It was her 108th career double-double.

She also swiped four steals and blocked three shots. Despite that, competitive Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said postgame, she believed that Fowles should have had at least 15 boards. Reeve and Laimbeer coached together in Detroit.

The Lynx held Chicago to 35.3% shooting (24-of-68) from the field. Minnesota has won 35 consecutive games when keeping its opponent under 40% shooting, including 84-1 since the 2011 season. Minnesota dished out 23 assists on 24 made baskets led by Maya Moore with six dimes.

“Everytime we play New York, it’s always intense,” Augustus said. “It’s funny how we always have a few days off to prepare for New York leading into the game. It’s never a back-to-back or play one game, then have an off day, and play New York.”

Twitter Debut A Hit 

The WNBA had its first live streamed game on Twitter on Sunday as part of a new three-year deal with the social platform featuring the Dallas Wings at the Phoenix Mercury. It was a smashing success as it received more than 1.1 million unique viewers and an average minute audience (AMA) of 62,459.

“The numbers were outstanding for the first time,” Minnesota guard Lindsey Whalen said. “It’s a digital and a hand-held world. The more we can put our game into people’s hands, the better it’ll be. The more people that can access our games, the better it is for us. I am excited to see where the league and technology takes us. Big credit to the league for (the Twitter deal).”

The next game streamed on Twitter will be Friday night when Phoenix visits San Antonio beginning at 8 p.m. Hopefully that game will feature the debut of Kelsey Plum, who missed last week’s games at New York and Washington.

“It’s great that we’re getting more eyes on the game, which can help get more fans in the stands,” Augustus said. “The deal with Fan Duel opens up a whole new world for us. We want to continue evolve as a league and bring awareness that women’s basketball is going on.”

Mystics Head West

After their sterling 89-74 season opening win over the Stars on Sunday, the Mystics begin a three-game road trip Friday night at the reigning champion Sparks (10 p.m.). After that, the Mystics visit Seattle on Sunday (7 p.m.) before Elena Delle Donne plays her first game in Chicago since being traded from there on Wednesday, May 24 at 12:30 p.m. It will be the first of a home-and-home against the Sky, who visit the Verizon Center on Friday, May 26.

Delle Donne tallied 24 points and four rebounds in just over 23 minutes of action in her Washington debut. Delle Donne was 8-12 from the field, including 8-9 from inside the arc. Guard Tayler Hill and forward Emma Meesseman each scored in double figures, tallying 15 and 13 points, respectively. The Mystics outrebounded the Stars 39-22 overall and 14-6 on the offensive boards. Washington finished with a 21-6 advantage in second chance points.

“It’s a good start,” Washington head coach Mike Thibault said following Sunday’s game. “It’s a win. Particularly at home, I think it’ll get people excited about us. Far from perfect, some defensive lapses occasionally, especially in the second quarter. I thought we got our defensive mojo back in the second half.

"We held them to 35 percent in the second half. I don’t think we played great, but yet we scored 89 points and held them to 74. They’re certainly going to be a whole lot better when we see them later in the year when they have [Kelsey] Plum, [Moriah] Jefferson, and [Kayla] McBride. We’ll take the win.”

Magnificent Monique

One of the best performances of the opening weekend was turned in by San Antonio veteran forward Monique Currie, who turned back the clock. Now in her 12th year, Currie finds herself leading the WNBA in scoring with a 27.0 point per game effort.

Currie led all players in scoring against the Mystics, amassing a career-high 31 points. Her previous career-high was 28 points vs. Connecticut on June 8, 2008. Her 18 first-half points ties her first-half points career-high. Currie previously scored 18 first-half points twice with the Mystics - June 8, 2013 vs. Minnesota and May 16, 2010 at Minnesota.

Despite the two losses, Currie remained optimistic that the Silver Stars will be formidable and contend for the playoffs this season.

“I think its a few things; we're young, we're missing three players who play a big role in this team, and that makes a difference,” Currie said. “Even still, I think we have enough talent and enough work here that we can still win games. We can't bank on when players will return, but I think everybody needs to step it up a little bit. We're going to go back home, and keep working. Our home opener is this weekend, so we'll try to get a win then.”

Taurasi Signs Contract Extension

Three-time WNBA Champion, seven-time WNBA All-Star, two-time WNBA Finals MVP and 2009 WNBA MVP Diana Taurasi signed a multi-year contract extension with the Phoenix Mercury Tuesday afternoon.

“As long as Diana Taurasi wants to play in the WNBA, we want her in a Mercury uniform,” said Mercury General Manager Jim Pitman.  “As we’ve said before, she is the heart of our franchise, the first face on our Mount Rushmore, the best winner and competitor in the women’s game.  The trajectory of our organization changed the day we drafted her 13 years ago, and we are excited she will be here into the future.”

Taurasi owns the most 20-point games in league history (191), the most 30-point efforts (41), the single-season record for scoring average (25.3 points in 2006) and total points (860, 2006).


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Worth noting that Kiah had an exceptional season in Turkey. In a competitive league chock full of WNBA talent, she led the league rebounds and blocks per game. Also, and perhaps more importantly, she averaged more than 11 points per game.

She has the ability to do the same for the Liberty. She just needs to have the confidence and avoid the silly mistakes with her hands. Nobody should be able to take the ball away from her.

7:40 AM  

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