Women's Hoops Blog: August 2005

Inane commentary on a game that deserves far better

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Bad news for the Opals: After turning in a series of stellar performances at the U-19 World Championships, Renae Camino has apparently torn her ACL. Renae was in contention for a spot on the 2006 World Championship team; she likely will not be able to compete for the Opals.
The Sun-vs.-Shock best-of-three starts in Detroit tonight. The Shock are the only team that won the reg-season series against the Sun. Ruth Riley strained her back but will play anyway.

Coach Thibault: "We don't fear that team. Everybody is talking about us having to react to Detroit. How about them having to react to us?"

Nyeksha Sales says the Shock "are one of those teams that really get pumped up and get ready to play us... If they had that mentality throughout the season they would be a lot better team right now."

In Detroit, the Freep covers the so-called coaches' feud. Swin Cash remembers her injury from 2004: "Last year I was in bed with my leg propped up screaming at the TV. It was tough knowing I couldn't help them. I watched and learned and hopefully now I can use that knowledge and help my team... I know I'm not 100 percent right now, but I've learned how to be successful."
In Houston, the Storm built a big early lead and held on for the win. Lauren Jackson, despite back trouble, scored early and often. Lennox, her hand still taped, had one point in the first half, 17 in the second.

For Houston, Michelle Snow (21 points) showed focus and power; Swoopes-- who scored 15 but missed her first 6 shots-- didn't exactly carry the team on her back. The Comets tied the score at 49 but couldn't get momentum after that, thanks in part to a game-clogging series of whistles: Seattle attempted 31 free throws, Houston 24.

Snow: "We've got to find a way to stop Sue and Lauren in that two-man game. They gave us a lot of fits, and they ended up getting a lot of layups. That's something that we have a few days to correct."

Jackson described her decision to play through pain: "It could be one of those things where if I wait a day and I don't give everything I've got the next couple of games, we may not have another chance. I'm not going to risk that."

The Comets let hurricane refugees in for free. Storm center Janell Burse, a Tulane grad, still lives in Louisiana in the offseason: 17 of her family members attended the game.
Clay Kallam predicted that the Lib wouldn't have much of a chance in the Indy series. It looks like he was right.

After allowing NY to battle back into the game, the Fever pulled away at the end and took Game 1. Tully's 3-pointer with 1:33 left was the game's biggest shot. "We call her the Tasmanian devil," Natalie Williams said. "She's everywhere. She's like a little pit bull."

"That really hurt," coach Coyle said of Tully's three. "It was huge, actually."

Indy shot 13 more free throws than the Lib did; when asked about the officiating, coach Coyle responded: "I don't make enough money." At least part of the disparity, however, is just -- when Indy gets in trouble late in the shot clock, it drives; when New York gets in trouble, it throws up jumpers.

(Media notes: the IndyStar sent David Woods to the Big Apple. In the first game of the post-Lena Williams era, David Picker covered the Lib for the Times.)
Pelton previews the playoffs, picks Indy, Sacramento, and (gasp) Detroit.

Voepel previews the East, and repeating the criticism made by some fans, says Blaze is silly for saying that Shemeka Christon came from a "small school."
In a story in The New York Times on Sunday, Liberty GM Carol Blazejowski said Christon "played for a small school in Arkansas." Last year, then-Liberty coach Richie Adubato, on a teleconference, referred to Christon as coming from "a small conference." Is this some Liberty myth-making attempt to turn Christon into a totally unknown gem found deep in the Arkansas wilderness? Once and for all … Christon was an outstanding player at a big school, the University of Arkansas, in a big conference, the SEC, which -- across the board in all sports -- almost certainly has the finest collection of female talent in college athletics.
Via pilight, Jan Hubbard argues that the 1-2 series format is bad.

But as Steve says, we don't have the interest for a five-game series in the early rounds, and a 1-1-1 would add considerable cost.

John Lopez at the Houston Chronicle argues inanely that the WNBA has become a wasteland because the league is "afraid to make stars out of individuals," and because it allowed Diana Taurasi to be drafted rather than being "placed in [a] mega-media market."

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Clay Kallam breaks down the playoffs.
The Courant's Mike Anthony turns in a terrific (and lengthy) profile of Margo Dydek, who seems to be enjoying Connecticut, though she can't find a good piano bar.

Coach Thibault: "She's improved a lot. She's trying to stay in a better defensive stance. Habits are created at a young age, and it's hard to create new habits. In fairness to her, there are some teams she matches up with better than others. I still think she's a work in progress. I wish she would be more physical down low, but I see her trying to do that more."

Margo: "I was thinking it was going to be so much easier... This team was kind of already set up, playing together for a long time. It's been difficult. I didn't understand at the beginning what they expected of me. But I like winning."

Taj McWilliams-Franklin has spent the last two days watching game tapes. "Watching that Seattle game, when we got beat for the title, a feeling just starts to churn inside of me," she says. "It gives me the need to play."
USA Today's Oscar Dixon says Detroit and L.A. could go far despite squeaking into the playoffs without winning records.

Bill Laimbeer says his Shock "have the depth at the big position to attack the glass relentlessly and slow down [Connecticut's] transition game. We match up very well with them."

Yesterday Dixon examined the year's big trades, which sent Katie Smith and Dawn Staley-- but not their former teams-- to the postseason. (No mention of Pierson, who's proven less important to Detroit than Katie has.)
DeLisha Milton-Jones's husband says that the Mystics don't give DMJ respect, that the players have too many individual goals, that no one responds to her leadership, and that she might leave.
Nikki Teasley is back on the Sparks active roster but still in pain. "I can do pretty much everything — run, cut, move laterally — but it's going to be painful the whole time," she said. "It's something mentally I have to deal with."
Preparing for the playoffs, coach Chancellor plays the no respect card:
I'm going to tell you now. I've not said this much. Nobody thought we were going to be very good. Nobody picked us to finish in the playoffs, media-wise. We have gone through this year and shown a lot of character. Sheryl Swoopes has done a great job of holding this team together. This team has stayed together. We have missed some games that we could've won.
Freed from the constraints of employment, Ballwinner tells about life in Charlotte.
After years of excellent work as the Times's primary beat reporter for the Liberty, Lena Williams is retiring. It's unclear who will pick up the games now that she's gone. Today, the Times ran this AP report.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Lauren Jackson hurt her back on Saturday: it acted up in practice again today She may not play Tuesday night in Houston. Storm fans: "Yikes."
Here is the league's latest list of players who will be free agents following this season:

Restricted Free Agents
Kiesha Brown
Erin Buescher
Anna DeForge
Marie Ferdinand
Dalma Ivanyi
Deanna Jackson
Lauren Jackson
Asjha Jones
Amanda Lassiter
Tynesha Lewis
Hamchetou Maiga
Coco Miller
Deanna Nolan
Ruth Riley
Kelly Schumacher
Michelle Snow
Tammy Sutton-Brown
Penny Taylor
Nikki Teasley
Ayana Walker
Ann Wauters
Tamika Williams
Unrestricted Free Agents
Janeth Arcain
Elena Baranova
Tamecka Dixon
Simone Edwards
Barbara Farris
La'Keshia Frett
Adrienne Goodson
Becky Hammon
Lisa Harrison
Tamicha Jackson
Vickie Johnson
Shannon Johnson
Betty Lennox
Nikki McCray
DeLisha Milton-Jones
Wendy Palmer-Daniel
Ticha Penicheiro
Tari Phillips
Kristen Rasmussen
Crystal Robinson
Nykesha Sales
Olympia Scott-Richardson
Katie Smith
Charlotte Smith-Taylor
Dawn Staley
Andrea Stinson
Stacey Thomas
Alicia Thompson
Tamika Whitmore
Natalie Williams is on the unrestricted list too, but she's planning to retire. Note also that some of these players will be cored, thus losing both freedom and agency.
The US Open started today at Flushing Meadows. In case you've missed it, there's been a flap over the last few days about Justin Gimelstob's comments in his SI blog about the women's tennis tour. Eric has the rundown here.
Year-end MVP candidate efficiency ratings —

ACC Efficiency Formula:

Jackson: 1.096
Swoopes: 1.028
Catchings: 0.973
Griffith: 0.962
McWilliams-Franklin: 0.942

Prouty Rating:

McWilliams-Franklin: 0.464
Jackson: 0.463
Catchings: 0.459
Swoopes: 0.456
Griffith: 0.441
On the MVP campaign trail, Anne Donovan meets Rodney Dangerfield:
But there are two things that hinder (Jackson) – people don’t really give us a lot of respect. It’s interesting to hear comments from other coaches in the league, and to hear how people minimize (the Storm). And secondly, I think people take Lauren for granted. She was MVP two years ago, she was runner-up last year. She’s playing really well but people expect that from her. Swoopes is talked about because look at the year she had last year – just night and day.
Jan Hubbard endorses Yo Griffith (and gives Nykesha Sales the scoring title).

Kenneth Harney says LJ should win easily.

Stickney says Swoopes "has set the standard for those to be considered for 2005 league Most Valuable Player."

UPDATE: Ned Griffen asks:
Who is Kenneth Harney and why is he getting credit for something I wrote?
That's a good question, my friend -- looks like whoever is running The Day's website was momentarily asleep at the switch.
Phoenix was 11-4 with Maria Stepanova, 5-14 without her. "Talking about Maria at this point is irrelevant," coach Graf said late last week.

Seth Sulka says he expects coach Graf to be back next year.
Via Helen, Mike Terry addresses the state of the game. Joining the ranks of the "called too tight" crowd, Sparks pres Johnny Buss complains about the officiating.
On the negative side, I think the rules and the way the game is actually played has become boring. The ability to have more exciting games has been taken away. … Referees are calling games so tightly it is taking away from excitement. They are slowing the game to a boring level. And the ability to make rule changes are still in the hands of NBA, and that is wrong.
Sparks attendance fell about 15% this year, Buss says he sees "a lot less interest in the WNBA" than he used to.

(Then again, maybe Buss is mistaking anger for lack of interest. After all, Buss did hire an incompetent and uncommitted coach who took one of the most talented teams in history and ran it into the ground.)

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Voepel turns in a positive column about the Sparks... sort of. (I suspect she's sad that none of her beloved K-State Wildcats made the W's postseason.)
More from Pelton on why LJ deserves the MVP.
In another game with absolutely no consequences, Katie Douglas sat out as the Sun beat the Sting in Charlotte. Derevjanik started; Lindsay scored 18 points in 23 minutes, Asjha Jones 22 (a career high) in 24. Douglas will return for the playoffs.

The Courant's Mike Anthony says both teams played hard. The Sun now prepare for their nemesis: Detroit.
The Phoenix loss guaranteed the Los Angeles Sparks fourth place-- hence a playoff berth-- in the West. In Houston, L.A. responded by mailing it in. The Comets led by 25 points at halftime: no Sparks player reached double figures.

10.5K fans enjoyed the blowout. Sancho Lyttle: "As we started, we knew we were going to win, but we piled it on. We didn't let up."

Houston's win looks more impressive because Swoopes did not play: does she have a stomach virus (as the Chronicle reports)? Or did Van Chancellor simply choose not to risk her?
The Mercury needed a win in Seattle. They lost. Taurasi had 31, a career high; Vodichkova played superbly, but nobody else from Phoenix did much.

Lauren Jackson strained her lower back and sat for the second half. Pelton advises Storm fans not to worry: "the relative lack of importance of this game played into that decision."

Vodichkova finally picked up her ring from last year's championship. "I really miss my fans [in Seattle]," she said. "I felt like home, but when I scored I didn't get the applause."

Anne Donovan got plenty of applause after the game, when Storm fans heard about her new multi-year contract.

Taurasi on the Merc's missed playoff chances: "We didn't deserve to go."
How meaningless is the last reg-season away game, for a team with its playoff position already fixed, against a team that's already out of the playoffs?

For Bill Laimbeer and the Detroit Shock, pretty meaningless: Laimbeer started the end of his bench, gave 40 minutes to Barbara Farris, and gave Cash, Riley, Nolan and Ford DNPs.

Unsurprisingly, Washington won. Laurie Koehn played 25 minutes and made five of seven treys. Detroit stayed in it by getting free throw attempts, but made just 21 of 38.

Alana Beard on yet another up-and-down season in Washington: "It was a hard year, the whole year, I'm not going to lie. I don't feel that I have played like I'm capable of playing.... Temeka had a great rookie year, and she's only going to get better. We're all going to get better. I love this organization, and I think we have a bright future."

For John Whisenant and the Monarchs, a game with no consequences had meaning enough to go for the win. A chaotic, foul-filled first half saw both teams under 10 at the ten-minute mark, serious minutes for the end of Sac's bench (Scott-Richardson, Buescher) and no Lynx points at all for the last few minutes-- a lousy way for Minnesota to end a very frustrating season.

Then Nicole Ohlde found her rhythm, and Amanda Lassiter (not normally an offensive threat) lit up. The Lynx evened the score at 36, fell behind, but stayed within one possession, and kept the momentum. Whisenant chose to send Yo Griffith back in: she took over the paint, scored a couple more points, and Sac went home with the win.

Without Walker or Lawson, the 'Narchs looked again like last year's team, engineered not to score, but to keep you from scoring. Without Hayden, the Lynx got absolutely hammered in rebounding: Sac had 17 offensive boards; Minnesota had three.

Coach McConnell-Serio got it right: "We went down swinging. [Sacramento] was a team that dominated the Western Conference this year, and they had their starters in the game until the end."

Ohlde: "I need to improve on everything -- improve my range, keep working on back-to-the-basket moves. I really wanted to improve myself this season, and I think I was really inconsistent." (No more so than your teammates, Nicole-- but we love the work ethic.)

Minnesota's attendance of 6.7K-- the lowest of any reg-season finale this year-- equals the Lynx season average, down again (by about 9%) from last year. The Mystics drew just 9K, another letdown given their history. Fans may debate the in-arena experience, but this year's best (Indiana, Seattle, Connecticut) and worst (Charlotte, Washington, San Antonio) attendance changes suggest that teams draw more fans mostly by winning.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

The Strib's Pam Schmid covers Minnesota's disappointing season with an array of optimistic quotes.

Lynx chief operating officer Roger Griffith, who pulled the trigger on the Katie Smith trade, says fans' "general feeling... is, 'OK, we'll give this a chance. We'll judge it next year rather than now.'"

Griffith also says coach McConnell-Serio will stay, and calls Lynx/Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor committed for the "long term."

McConnell-Serio opines that the Lynx might have made this year's playoffs absent the Katie trade, but favors the trade nonetheless: sounds like she got tired of the grinding, turnover-plagued, just-good-enough-to-make-the-playoffs basketball the Lynx played in June and July, and chose to lose now in order to go farther (not to mention faster) in years to come.

Lynx faithful can watch their very young team's new up-tempo look tonight against Sacramento; for Sac, the game means nothing at all.
Connecticut blew away the Mystics. Whalen scored 17. Beard, Melvin and Milton-Jones together shot only 10-39.

The win gives the Sun home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. More important, it gives the team confidence. McWilliams-Franklin says her team "came out with incredible energy." Lindsay adds, "It was just fun."

Washington's loss sends the Mystics to the lottery, ensuring Detroit the last Eastern playoff spot (and Minnesota just one lottery pick).

Chas Melvin: "It seemed like our basket had a lid on it. But you know what, if we had picked things up earlier in the season, we wouldn't have been in this position."

Mystics need a true center. Does next year's draft even have one?
The Sparks came from behind to edge out San Antonio. The game meant nothing to the Stars in the standings-- they've felt like a lottery team for several weeks-- but a win would have sent over 9,000 fans home happy.

Instead, Holdsclaw blocked Wendy Palmer-Daniel, then broke a tie on a jump shot with 14 seconds to go. The Stars led by 4 at the break but shot just 17-27 from the line.

The Sparks can breathe easier: either a Phoenix loss today in Seattle, or another Sparks win tonight in Houston, would give L.A. a postseason. Lisa Leslie says they're a real team again: "We played through our offense, as opposed to trying to go one on one, and it was very successful for us."

The Silver Stars look to the future with Dan Hughes, who built solid teams in Cleveland.

Friday, August 26, 2005

The Washington Post profiles enthusiastic Mystics owner Sheila Johnson, who bought the team this May.

Johnson: "The first thing we have to do is reach out to those 2,000 or so fans we lost from last season and get them back in the building.... Obviously, winning will help but I think we can do a better job of marketing."

Mystics season ticket holder Carol Wayman: "With Sheila there's a feeling that there is finally a face of the franchise. We haven't really had that."
Via She's Got Game, Richard Oliver says the Stars did the right thing by relieving Clarissa Davis-Wrightsil of her basketball operations duties.

Oliver says the team is "not even close" to breaking even financially.
Instead, the [Spurs] organization will utilize the women's team, as it does the Rampage hockey operation, as another avenue to create activity at the SBC Center, validating the cost of what suite owners are paying. As long as the Spurs are successful, it's an acceptable arrangement.
From the mailbag, regarding officiating:
It seems to me that one of the problems is that fans do NOT understand the rules. I have a much better feeling about how the game is officiated now that my understanding has increased a bit.
Yeah, that's probably part of the problem. I might add that even fans who do know the rules probably haven't ever actually tried officiating to get a feel of how damn hard it is.

If you've never done so, it's worth reading the WNBA or NCAA rulebooks (available here and here in PDF).

And let me again commend the refs' board as a good source of knowledge. Here, for example, refs expose some common myths about the rules.

Note that when refs on the board cite certain rules, they are usually referring to high school (aka NFHS or "Fed") rules, which are different in some particulars from college rules, which are different in some particulars from WNBA rules.
By defeating the Mercury in Phoenix, the Comets won themselves a trip to the playoffs. Swoopes played all 40 minutes, totaling 15 points, 13 boards, and seven assists.

Van Chancellor: "I've never seen Sheryl more focused."

A home win would have sent the Mercury to the postseason: instead, they're now competing for the last slot. If L.A. loses tonight, the Merc need to win in Seattle or have Houston beat L.A. in Houston on Saturday: if L.A. wins tonight, the Merc need both a win and a Sparks loss.
Seattle's aggressive offense overcame Sacramento's aggressive defense.

Lennox-- who came off the bench, her left wrist tightly taped-- scored early. Things got physical later: Lauren Jackson, who played a superior post game, fouled out. Both Wright and Castro-Marques looked good.

Without Lawson or Walker, Sac needed points from Yo Griffith inside and from Powell outside. They didn't get many, but not for lack of trying-- Yo and Powell shot a combined 8-33. Between the cold shooting and the full-on D, the Monarchs looked much like last year's playoff team.

The win at Key Arena guaranteed the Storm home-court advantage for the playoffs' first round: almost 10K loud fans showed how much a home crowd can help.
Detroit got a key win over a very cold Indiana team. It was the Shock's first win over the Fever this year. "We knew it was in our hands, so we had to play with emotion and be tough," said Cheryl Ford. "We want to win and be in the playoffs."

If the Mystics lose tonight at Connecticut, Detroit is in the playoffs.

The Sun really want to win because they want to get some mo back and they want to secure home court for the Finals -- "We were such a good team, but those last two games out in Seattle, it really made a difference," says Nykesha Sales.

Elsewhere in the East last night, in a game without consequences, Charlotte beat the Lib at the Garden. "I didn't think we played very well," coach Coyle said.

Baranova went out with a sprained ankle. Early word is that she'll miss the last regular season game but return for the playoffs.

Not to be missed: Queenie's rant.
It's days like these, when people are idiots and it's the Sting players who turn around when someone calls while the Liberty walk right on by, that I'm left to wonder how much the Garden cares about people like I used to be, mid-range season ticket holders who drop their $200 on tickets and their $50 on tchochkes and their $50 on food, and they love their team like the child they maybe never had or the first crush they maybe never got over, and they choose going to every game in green seats over eight games in purple seats or two games in folding chairs because they fucking have to be there (doesn't matter where, but they have to be where their heart beats faster and their throat grows sore).

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Phoenix would like to sew things up tonight. "If we win tonight, it doesn't matter what happens Saturday in Seattle," Mercury GM Seth Sulka said.

Which would be comforting, since the Storm are 12-3 at the Key.
Mike DiMauro offers some advice to the too-good-for-their-own-good Sun.
More on coaching and gender, this time from Fran Blinebury at the Houston Chronicle.

Van Chancellor says it's unfair that experienced assistants like Kevin Cook and Karleen Thompson get passed over for the likes of Muggsy. Ann Meyers gives another reason:
The top women who are coaching are in the colleges, and for them to make decisions to leave very, very secure situations, where they've built a lot of tenure, is very difficult and maybe unrealistic. If you're a coach at a top program in college, are you going to leave what you've got? Is Pat Summitt going to leave Tennessee? Is Kim Mulkey-Robertson going to leave Baylor? Why? They'd make less money in the WNBA and have less security.
In a companion article, Blinebury examines whether women will be coaching men anytime soon. The answer is no.

Former Rockets great Hakeem Olajuwon:
The WNBA, where you have women playing for men, that's different. I think the men there can be more like authority figures. If a woman wants to show me something on the court, I can listen. But she cannot execute what she is trying to tell me at that level. She can do theory. But I could block her shot.
Connecticut try to solve whatever's gone wrong.

Katie Douglas: "It's the beauty of basketball. You can get on a roll, and you can get in a funk. You've got [to] just figure it out, work it out. There's not much time."

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The MVP debate hits ESPN: Lieberman says it's Swoopes, Voepel says it's Jackson. If Houston miss the playoffs, I think Jackson's a lock. If Houston do get there... it's hard. Hasn't Jackson had more help?

As for Most Improved Player, I've finally found something on which to disagree with Mechelle Voepel: she picks Nicole Powell. Granted, Powell's is a dramatic improvement, though it comes in no small part from a new team and new coach.

But second-years are supposed to improve with experience. Why use this award to recognize players who do what they're supposed to do, or to reward good players for having slow starts?

It seems to me that the league, and the fans, get the most value from having an MIP award if it's used to recognize players who improved their game after they seemed to have peaked, or plateau'd, or even fallen out of the league due to injury or age. (No, I would not have given it to Snow, nor to Coco Miller, though Snow at least improved while playing for the same coach and team.)

Who should be MIP? I dunno, but there are some fine candidates in their third year and up-- even more if you consider players whose teams have tanked.
WNBA Officiating, Part II: "They say this is the best of all possible worlds, and sometimes I'm afraid I agree."

Having kicked around some thoughts about what it means for refs to be bad, now it's time to ask: are WNBA refs bad?

Clay Kallam, who runs Full Court, said recently that "the quality of officiating at all levels of the sport is abysmal, and especially on the women's side..."

Perhaps Clay was just being hyperbolic, but I find the first part of that claim to be so puzzling that I have difficulty ascribing any coherent meaning to it. All basketball reffing is abysmal?

I'm not sure what standard Clay is using, or how good he thinks refs can and should be. Refs have human limitations of perception and cognition. Human refs are going to make mistakes.

Calling refs terrible because they're imperfect is like calling basketball players terrible because they're imperfect. Calling refs terrible because they're not as good as Dick Bavetta is like calling basketball players terrible because they're not as good as Michael Jordan.

Let's start with a more realistic standard for officiating. Let's start with the NBA generally. The job of NBA ref comes with some fame and fortune; it's a highly-coveted position. The NBA is able to choose its small, elite cadre of refs from a huge pool of candidates. The NBA has a rigorous system of rating, review, and training for its refs, and if refs do poorly, they get fired.

In short, NBA officiating, while imperfect, is probably about as good as human basketball officiating can be. (I suppose you can still say that it sucks because it fails to live up to whatever Platonic ideal of officiating you have in mind... but what's the point?)

Using the NBA as a measuring stick, we can ask: how does WNBA officiating compare to NBA officiating, and if it's worse, how can we close the gap?

From watching both leagues, my own subjective sense is that WNBA officiating is materially and noticeably worse than NBA officiating. The same deficiency, though less stark, is evident at the college legel as well.

I recently asked some refs about this. Here are some possible reasons for the disparity between the men's and women's games in the quality of officiating:

1. Pay

At the college level, it seems that some conferences pay men's refs the same as women's refs, but some pay men's refs more. Although some people have suggested that Title VII or Title IX would forbid such a disparity, I don't think that's true.

At the pro level, there's a clearer and larger disparity. I can't confirm the numbers, but I've heard that WNBA refs make about $750 per game. NBA refs, unlike WNBA refs, are unionized employees under a CBA that pays them a salary somewhere in the low- to mix-six figures.

2. Prestige

Even aside from pay differential, men's basketball offers greater prestige in the eye's of many refs. Men's basketball is more popular. It's a bigger stage. It's a faster, more challenging game to ref. Some refs simply believe that men's hoops is where it's at, and women's hoops ain't.

3. Progression

Refs sometimes use the women's game as a stepping stone to the men's game. The NBA apparently still has some control over WNBA reffing, and it uses WNBA (as well as the NBDL and the CBA) as a source of talent — as a farm team.

Several current NBA refs — Matthew Boland, Tony Brown, Derrick Collins, Pat Fraher, Courtney Kirkland, Violet Palmer, Jason Phillips — started in the W before moving over/up to the men's side.

4. Affirmative Action

Folks who hire refs at various levels of women's basketball have made some effort to hire female officials. That may be the right thing to do for a variety of important reasons, but it may also mean that we end up with less experienced refs than we otherwise would.

All of these factors taken together mean that women's basketball ends up with less qualified and less experienced refs than men's basketball. It's easier to get hired and to advance in the women's game.

Said one ref: "If you ask me everyone is advancing too fast on the Women's side." Said another: "It is somewhat frustrating to see women moving up way faster than they would if they were men on the men's side... I've seen officials who have lots of potential but don't have their foundation in place before they're thrown into the fire."

None of this is terribly surprising, and perhaps none of it can realistically be changed. But by isolating these factors, we can talk more seriously about what (if anything) can be done to make officiating in women's game better. More on that tomorrow.
As expected, former Fresno State coach Stacy Johnson-Klein has now filed suit against the school and its administrators, who let her go back in March.
Last night's Eastern Conference games brought nothing but surprises.

1. Charlotte won. The worst team in the league won at home against a supposedly-resurgent Detroit, for the second time this year.

Last time Cheryl Ford missed all her free throws; this time she missed all her field goals, going 0-7 in 40 minutes. She did, however, pull down 16 boards-- more than half the Shock's total rebounds (31 to the Sting's 33).

For Charlotte, Tan Smith missed the game (bruised knee). McCarville started. Teana Miller came off the bench to score 12.

2. Connecticut lost. At home. Again, this time to Indiana. Catchings had 18.

Both teams shot well (though Whalen did not), but the Fever earned their frequent-flyer miles with 22 trips to the line: the Sun got just eight, none in the second half. Coach Thibault got ejected, picking up his second technical in a late dispute over timeouts.

Sun fans remain irate. So do Sun players. Nykesha Sales: ""Mike is very frustrated with us and a lot that's going on, and I don't blame him. We're not playing the basketball we need to play in order to win a championship."

3. In DC, the Mystics took the Liberty to overtime and then ran away with the game. Chas Melvin scored 30, tying her career high.

If Washington wins on Thursday in Connecticut, or if both Detroit and Washington lose, the fourth Eastern playoff berth will go to the winner of Washington vs Detroit on Saturday. Mystics fans have been AWOL for much of this season (last night's 6,010 may be a franchise low): perhaps that matchup can fill the Phone Booth once more.
Every team in the league but one (Houston) played last night. The Western Conference results brought few surprises:

1. Seattle annihilated San Antonio. The road win guarantees the Storm a playoff spot. Lauren Jackson calls it "a huge burden off our shoulders." Betty Lennox, now back from her hand injury, scored 12.

The Stars could neither score nor rebound, though Feenstra did get 14 points and 12 boards. Dan Hughes, as usual, chalked up the loss to poor rebounding: "We weren't shooting the ball well, so we should have been pounding the glass."

2. In L.A., the Sparks beat a depleted, exhausted Lynx, taking a big halftime lead and then holding on. Minnesota came within five points with five minutes to go, but scored no field goals the rest of the way. Nicole Ohlde gave LIsa Leslie a subpar night (3-13 shooting), but nobody could stop Holdsclaw, who finished with 20.

L.A. will make the postseason if they win their last two games, against San Antonio and Houston. Tamika Whitmore: "We know it's up to us."

That Houston game could get... interesting, given what happened when those teams met last week. After reviewing tape, the league has fined Tina Thompson for a flagrant-2 and fined L.A. coach Bryant for his remarks afterwards, but issued no suspension.

Sparks prez Johnny Buss: "The WNBA is creating a situation where violence is now in the minds of players as something they can get away with."

Some might see slight irony here. (Not us.)

3. On ESPN2, the Monarchs stayed ahead of the visiting Mercury. Almost 9,000 people showed up-- on TV, the place looked packed, and loud. Sacramento have now tied Connecticut for the league's best record.

Despite lacking both Stepanova (gone for the year) and Penny Taylor (leg bruise-- she'll be back soon), Phoenix outrebounded the usually board-hungry Monarchs. Australian guard Belinda Snell had the best game of her U.S. career, scoring 16. But the Merc committed 20 turnovers, nine of them from Taurasi, against the home team's ten.

Phoenix can still make the playoffs: three teams (Houston, Phoenix, L.A.) are now competing for the last two spots.

Bad news for Sac: Kara Lawson hurt her shoulder in the closing seconds. It's not dislocated, just separated (or subluxated): she could come back for the playoffs.

Good news for Sac: Kristin Haynie (who has a history of health problems) has recovered from her acute fatigue (she got 12 minutes last night). With Lawson out, the Monarchs may need her.
Voepel praises the Liberty.
I love the "L-I-B-E-R-T-Y" chant … and Maddie the mascot … and the fact that they play the "Partridge Family" theme song … and the timeout contests (which are always funny and usually only mildly humiliating to the participants) … and the "Torch Patrol" dancers, all of whom I imagine to be waiting for their big break on Broadway any day now.
The NCAA has removed Florida State from the list of schools with "hostile or abusive" American Indian mascots.

"Their letter says basically that as long as we have the support of the Seminoles, we are OK," FSU president T.K. Wetherell said. "We are basically saying the same thing. If we didn't have that, if the tribe doesn't want us to do this, we aren't going to do it. We've said that for 20 years."

It's unclear what will happen to schools like Illinois (which has no identifiable tribe to approve or disapprove) or North Dakota (where one Sioux tribe supports and one opposes the mascot).

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

"That's what's killing our league: all these horseshit calls."

-- John Whisenant to Daryl Humphrey. (Hat tip, Paul.)
A couple new sites to check out:

First, WomensSportsInformation.com, which will soon include a blog devoted to Stanford Women's basketball.

Second, a new blog called MisterWNBA.com, run by a Liberty fan.
More bad news in Waco: junior Monique Jones has been kicked off the team after getting arrested on a drug charge.
The debate about WNBA officiating heated up again recently. Mike DiMauro wrote a column saying that it sucks. League commish Donna Orender, who admits that she hears frequent fan complaints about refs, responded by saying that the league takes officiating seriously and puts a lot of effort into training.

The complaints have been around for years. Of course, fans (and coaches and players and writers) in every sport complain about the officiating, and it's possible that our complaints are just another manifestation of a universal (and banal) feature of sports psychology.

Still, given the frequency of the complaints — and given that they often come from some of the game's biggest advocates and most respected observers — it's worth examining the issue in a serious and systematic way. Is the officiating in women's basketball really bad? If so, what is the reason, and what can be done about it?

My own preliminary view is that reffing in women's basketball isn't quite as good as we'd like it to be, but the deficiencies are mostly the result of inevitable financial and other constraints.

I also believe, first and foremost, that reffing basketball is just really damn hard.

Enforcing rules in any system can be difficult. There are some crystalline bright-line rules whose application is clear, but there are also some muddy interpretive standards that don't produce clear results.

The Constitution, for example, says that no person can be President "who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty five Years." That's a bright-line rule. Everyone agrees what it means, and it's easy to apply.

Other provisions are less easy, such as the Fourth Amendment, which forbids unreasonable searches and seizures. Reasonableness is a vague interpretive standard. People disagree about what is reasonable in different contexts, and it's therefore not always clear how to apply the Fourth Amendment to concrete circumstances. (That's why criticism that judges should "just enforce the Constitution as it is written" are so appallingly stupid.)

Some basketball rules are easy. E.g.: a player can't go out of bounds with the ball. We all know what that rule means, and it's relatively easy to enforce.

The great difficulty in basketball officiating comes in interpreting and applying the rules regarding physical contact between opposing players. The governing concepts — whether a player gains an advatage, whether contact is incidental, whether a player has legal defensive position, whether a player initiated contact (when both are moving), etc. — are vague. The interpretive standards are difficult to understand, and even more difficult to apply in the course of a fast-moving game.

The difficulty, moreover, is omnipresent in the game, because opposing players are constantly making physical contact with one another all over the court.

With that in mind, let's try to unpack the arguments and isolate a few different senses in which refs can be bad.

1. Individual Blown Calls

Refs make mistakes. Sometimes, as in the LSU-Bama game, they make a rules mistake. Sometimes they miss calls because they can't see the play — either because they're out of position or looking the wrong place, or because something is in their way. Sometimes they see the play clearly but still judge it incorrectly.

The judgment calls are hard, and there is enough indeterminacy in the standards for physical contact that there will always be some gray area. Some calls could go either way — call or no call, block or charge — and neither is really right or wrong. Some calls, however, are outside the gray area and objectively wrong.

2. Inconsistency

There is an equality norm in basketball: similar plays should be treated similarly. If a certain type and amount of contact is called a foul against one team, it should also be called a foul against the opposing team, and also against another team in another game.

Perfect consistency is impossible, but we should aim for as much as possible. And the WNBA, like other leagues, has an extensive system of continuing education to achieve as much consistency as possible.

3. Calls Too Loose/Calls Too Tight

Some people, like Clay Kallam and Rebkell, complain that refs in the WNBA let too much go, that the play is too physical and too ugly.

Other people, like Mike DiMauro, complain that refs in the WNBA call too much, whistling every bit of ticky-tack contact, slowing the game down to an boring crawl with frequent stoppages.

Note that these two complaints are (at least facially) contradictory, and that the WNBA probably couldn't respond to both at once. Faced with these competing gripes, it's not clear to me what the league should do.

Note also that these complaints are not really directed at the refs themselves. It is the league's job (as legislator) to write the rule book and to decide how tightly or loosely contact should be called. It is the refs' job (as judges and police) to enforce the league's directive consistently.

Those are some of the complaints that are leveled at WNBA refs. Tomorrow we'll talk more about whether WNBA refs are really worse than other basketball refs.
Kevin Pelton weighs in on issues of gender in coaching, and discusses what it will take to get more women coaching in the WNBA. Part of the responsibility, he says, rests with the media:
Potential coaching candidates really haven't been introduced to the public. Evaluating an assistant coach's ability to be a head coach is difficult at any level because such difficult skills are involved, but the media could do a better job of getting the word out about some of the better female assistant coaches in the league.
Meanwhile, the Coaching and Gender Equity Project recently released a report on gender equity in college coaching. (Hat tip, Phil at the Sports Economist.) Greg at the Sports Law Blog says that it's ludicrous to try to make coaching more family-friendly so that more mothers can coach.
At the USA Today, Tim Wendel examines youth sports — how they've gotten too specialized, too competitive, and too time-consuming.

"We have reached the point of saturation — a vicious revolving door of never-ending seasons," says Fred Engh, founder of the National Alliance for Youth Sports. "Children can't even take a couple of months' hiatus from a sport for fear of falling behind their peers and being excluded from teams the following seasons. Those elite teams, all those trophies — that's what the parents want."

Wendel notes that only 3.1% of students who play high school girls basketball go on to play in college.
Mystics owner Sheila Johnson has given $1 million to the MLK Memorial effort. The memorial is planned to go on the Mall near the Lincoln Memorial.
Mel Greenberg praises the Liberty Front Office, says they're good at finding hidden gems like Cathrine Kraayeveld.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Over at Full Court, Christine Baker gets lyrical about Liberty fandom, obsessions, missed chances, and the virtues of... the Charlotte Sting.
In recruiting news, Jackie Gemelos has rescinded her verbal to UConn.

Gemelos described her uncomfortable conversation with Coach Auriemma:
I have the utmost respect for Coach Auriemma. He wasn't happy at all when I told him. I don't want to get into everything that was said, but he basically said that I should pray to God that I never play against his team. He was [angry], but I still totally respect him. What he was saying made sense, and I just had to take it.
Voepel takes on the Sparks' coaching dilemma... and the league's.

Where can I get my VOEPEL FAN T-shirt?
In case you missed it over the weekend, make sure to check Jo's post on Latasha Byears. See also the continuing debate on Rebkell.
Behind 19 and 14 from a rejuvenated Lisa Leslie, the Sparks beat Houston and stayed in the playoff hunt.

But the big story came after the game, when a brawl nearly erupted after Tina Thompson sent Laura Macchi to the floor on the final play.

Mike Terry's report:
By the time it was over, players from both teams had exchanged shoves, fists were raised, Bryant and Houston Coach Van Chancellor exchanged harsh words and reportedly even Spark owner Johnny Buss joined the dispute on the court.
Rough Sunday for the Minnesota Lynx.

The Lynx lost in Phoenix, and lost their chance at the playoffs. Taurasi was everywhere, and Sandora Irvin came off the bench for a career-high 13 points and 6 boards.

And adding insult to Minnesota's injury, Detroit beat Washington, greatly reducing the chance that the first-round pick from the Katie Smith trade will be a lottery pick. Detroit owns the tie-breaker with the Mystics, so the Shock's magic number is down to one.

(But at least Minnesota is guaranteed one lottery pick...)

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Displaying the depth and power of a championship team after the loss of forward DeMya Walker on Thursday, Sacramento dispatched Seattle, 75-65 in a nationally televised game the defending champion Storm never seemed a threat to win. The Monarchs were paced by Yolanda Griffith's season-high 26 points. Kara Lawson chipped in 18. Seattle would have clinched a playoff spot with a win, but added to its spotty road record (5-11) and wasted a 16-point, 15-rebound effort from Lauren Jackson.

Sacramento, winners of three in-a-row and 10 of 11, clinched the conference title and homecourt advantage through the first two rounds of the playoffs. The Storm fell into a second-place tie with Houston in the Western Conference.
Baylor's Emily Niemann, the hero of last spring's national championship, will transfer to UC-Santa Barbara. Gaucho fans rejoice.

Niemann on UCSB coach Mark French: "He's very different from any college coach I've ever met or the coaches of anyone I've known... He's not consumed with winning basketball games at the expense of what's good for his players. At the same time, he's very motivated to win games and works very hard to win."
The New York Liberty ran their winning streak to five and halted conference leader Connecticut's winning streak in a 64-58 win at Mohegan Sun Arena. Connecticut was ice-cold in the opening minutes, but the New York's post-deficient lineup had no problem scorching the league's best 3-point defense. The Liberty connected on 4 of 5 long range shots at the outset and hauled in 12 for the game. Connecticut head coach Mike Thibault blames himself for the the open looks - and the loss. Sun beat reporter Mike DiMauro of The Day writes that Thibault was guilty of thinking ahead.

"This one's on me,” Thibault said. "I could have played a different lineup to start the game, but I chose not to. I think it was better to try it now than in the playoffs and have this happen. This gave us answers to things we need to see and when we get to the playoffs. If we played them in the playoffs, the strategy would probably be a little different. We tried some things that I needed to find out."

Liberty head coach Patty Coyle had no time for the 'Thibault Bullpen Theory'. "After losing Ann (Wauters) we're fighting for our lives," Coyle said. "Hold anything back? No, not at all. This is who we are."

Some of Steve's thoughts. "The Sun came back in the second half but the Lib traded them a layup for a three. Lindsay Whalen was unstoppable in the second half-- if she made all of her crazy twisting driving layups and short-range jumpers rather than just most of them," he said, "the Sun would have won. Keesh's long-range shots weren't falling and she didn't drive the lane. Katie Douglas and Ashja Jones showed up, but Margo is useless against New York because with Wauters out they don't take many close-range shots. New York put out five perimeter shooters who passed well to one another and the Sun didn't play effective man-to-man. Kraayeveld was as good as the box score shows."

"The Lib put in a true team effort," Steve continued. "The Sun's first half comeback started with Patty's scrubs on the floor. The Sun cut it to two points late but ran out of time. One of the best games I've seen, in many ways. I knew CT could go all the way to the finals, but now I think New York could, too - as long as the threes keep falling."
Charlotte's Sheri Sam posted 15 points while Tangela Smith added nine, but it wasn't enough as Tamika Catchings and Natalie Williams scored double doubles in Indiana's 62-53 triumph at Conseco Fieldhouse. Catchings 18 points and 16 rebounds paced Eastern conference 2nd place Fever, while Charlotte kept its winless road record (0-16) intact.

Charlotte fell behind early as Indiana staked a 10-point advantage on a 13-3 run, but the Sting shot the ball well and put together several runs of its own as it kept chipping into the Fever's advantage. After coming within two, however, the Sting offense shut down with 9:06 left on the clock

Janel McCarville chalked up another limited action learning experience in 7 minutes of play as Catchings and Williams dominated the inside play and controlled the boards.

Sting head coach Muggsy Bogues said, "We played hard tonight but we can’t give up 21 offensive rebounds. It made it a long night" Sam added, "That was the game right there".

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Following up on the slightly glum post below, here's cheery news about tonight's attendance: 13,027 in Sacramento, 9,823 in Indiana, and 8,304 in Connecticut, which felt like a sellout nevertheless, thanks partly to visiting New York fans. (Full game accounts tomorrow, most likely from Jo.)
Warning: attendance geek post.

With more sponsorships (even in Charlotte), and a record-smashing, perhaps even revenue-generating All-Star Game, why is attendance down a bit, especially over the past month?

Donna Orender says "attendance is on par with last year." Kim Callahan answers: "Granted, the numbers won't be too far off last year's, but down is still down."

Granted, down is down, but I think there are somewhat reassuring reasons for it. First, the best teams this year play in the smallest markets. Hartford, Connecticut has just 125,000 residents; Norwich and New London, Connecticut, the cities closest to Mohegan Sun, combine for about 50K. Fewer than 800K people live in Indianapolis, just 560K in Seattle proper, and just over 400K in Sacramento.

By comparison, there are almost 3.8 million people in Los Angeles itself (never mind the suburbs), two million in Houston, almost 1.2 million in San Antonio.

So the teams with the buzz and the winning streaks this year-- and the team with the championship from last year-- are teams with smaller pools of potential fans. In the case of the Sun, the disparity extends to arena size: Connecticut could sell out every game and still come in under the 1999 league average, as the casino knew when it bought the team. (The tribe's businesspeople sound happy about the investment.)

Of course, many fans live in suburbs. You can get populations for metropolitan statistical areas, rather than just for cities, right here if you don't mind downloading a PDF: L.A.-Long Beach- Santa Ana has 12.4M, Houston 4.7M, San Antonio 1.7M, Indianapolis 1.5M, Sacramento plus outlying cities 1.8M, Seattle-Bellevue-Everett 2.3M, Hartford 1.1M. But if city populations produce one set of distortions, MSAs can produce another: some of the people in these areas live quite far from the relevant arenas. In Seattle, some of them live on islands. (By the way, comparing stats within New England to stats outside it is harder than it sounds.)

The other reason for the slight overall decline is, simply, the Washington Nationals. If you think the Nats don't compete with the Mystics, not just directly, for individual ticket-buyers, but indirectly for space in the news and the like, you haven't been to DC this year. This yearlong effect more than cancels out the rebound in Liberty attendance from the Radio City Music Hall stint, which only lasted six games.

Could we bring more people to games? Sure we could. But when there's no new franchise this year, Seattle holds the title, Connecticut leads the league, and L.A. and Washington languish below .500, nearly-flat attendance isn't so bad. Fans use attendance numbers as proxies for the league's financial health, when in fact sponsorship revenue, paid gate, and even merchandise sales might say as much or more. And attendance should perk up next year because new franchises always do well in the first year, and because we won't be comparing pre-baseball to post-baseball figures for the Mystics.

For really roaring attendance trends, though, wait till New York, L.A. or Chicago win a championship. As Clay put it: "When the Sparks are good [and] when the Liberty are good, it's good for the league." Good for attendance numbers, anyway.
UConn guards Thomas and Swanier report on their week at point guard college. Mel Thomas: "I learned way more than I thought I would."
Phoenix throttled San Antonio. The 34-point margin was a franchise record.

The Merc hold the last playoff spot by a game over LA and 1.5 over Minny, whom they play Sunday night. "At this point, we're taking it as a one-game season," said coach Carrie Graf. "Right now, that one game is Minnesota."

In LA, the Sparks stayed in the hunt by beating Detroit. It's was Jellybean Bryant's first official game as coached, and, as promised, he stressed the fun.

"Tonight we had fun. We just went out there and played basketball," said Chamique Holdsclaw, giving some insight into the problems under Bibby. "I wouldn't say the fun was missing but … we know the position we're in. And you can't go to work and say, 'Oh, this is grueling.'"

"I think that teams take on the personality of their coaches. Coach Bibby was very disciplined, structured and serious, and that's how our team was," Lisa Leslie said. "Jellybean's loose and fun and kind of silly. Maybe we feel a little bit of relief. Or maybe I just do."

Friday, August 19, 2005

When WNBA commissioner Donna Orender retrieves her 'To Do' pile from the weekend, the Los Angeles Times' Sunday edition will go off like the M40 firecracker my brother tossed in the neighborhood saltbox on Independence Day.

The city tucks away stores of street salt in curbside wooden boxes. The WNBA tucks away scores of same sex partners in glass boxes. Both boxes are marked, 'Do Not Open'. On either, the effect of a high impact detonation device like an M40 is predictable. The sides blow off and come Monday, driving is a bit slippery.

The first firecracker of the post-Henry Bibby, neo-Jelly Bean Bryant era comes courtesy of Los Angeles Times freelance writers Sandra Kobrin and Jason Levin. Read the entire feature here.

'In June 2003, a few weeks into LA's drive for its third WNBA title, Sparks forward Latasha Byears was accused of sexual assault following a party at her Marina del Rey condo. Less than a month later, a similar allegation was made against Kobe Bryant'.

Now Latasha Byears is suing the Sparks for wrongful termination. Last month, authorities officially closed their two-year investigation and cited 'insufficient evidence' to pursue a case against her. Byears was never arrested or charged, but she hasn't worked a day in the WNBA since. She says that the same team that stood thick and thin by Kobe Bryant 'left me for dead'.

Byears alleges the Sparks discriminated against her on the basis of her sexual orientation. She talks about life as a lesbian in the WNBA. Byears says when she came into the league she was told by Kristal Shipp, then the team communications director of the Los Angeles Sparks, "not to speak to any gay and lesbian magazines and to use discretion regarding the clubs I like to go to." Shipp declined comment on any specific conversations with Byears but acknowledged that all players receive media training.

Kobrin and Levin follow Tot's story with the Lavender interview . Michele Van Gorp, discussing her playing days with the New York Liberty, said that a Liberty coach went so far as to schedule lunch with her to discuss her sexual orientation. "It was actually a big issue, and a big part of why, the game of basketball aside, I didn't like being in New York," Van Gorp said. "Within the organization, it seemed very taboo."

RebKell's board was on topic before the news article posted. "Sue Wicks has said publicly and privately that it is WNBA 'policy' to keep the sexual orientation of its gay players under wraps. Wicks coming out to the press was, in part, her way of challenging that policy." Also, "It was the league that suggested that (Liberty general manager Carol Blazejowski) edit her bio" to eliminate references to a same sex partner and two children.

Sample reaction to the Times story? Reb's board. "Sickening stuff. And a long overdue view into the twisted heart of the WNBA's thoughts on this issue." ESPN's board. "The article whitewashed the situation. Not that it was untrue (but) a whole lot was left out" and "Byears is innocent. She has suffered much."

For the history of the Byears story, see here.
In Houston, the Comets pulled away from the Stepanova-less Mercury. Tina Thompson scored 20, Swoopes 16.

Michelle Snow got ejected. Shereka Wright got hit in the head and may have a concussion. (The Houston Chronicle reports an injury to Ashley Robinson instead; Phoenix fans confirm that Wright got hurt.)

The game had serious playoff implications: despite the loss, Phoenix remains fourth in the West.

All in all, eleven technical fouls got called in last night's five games, none of which involved Detroit, nor L.A.
Indiana secured a place in the playoffs with a solid win over the visiting Mystics. Catchings had 23 on 9-11 shooting; the Mystics' Milton-Jones and Melvin scored 20 apiece.

Like Seattle, Indiana are simply a different team this year at home and on the road: the diffference between second and third in the conference may be the difference between a trip to the conference finals and an early exit.
Sacramento had some trouble beating the Silver Stars; the Monarchs led by three at the half and won by seven, thanks to a massive rebounding advantage.

The Monarchs clinched their first-ever Western Conference title... but DeMya Walker sprained her knee. (No word yet on whether it's the same knee she hurt before, nor on when she'll be back.) UPDATE: Walker sprained the same knee she injured earlier this season: she'll be out two to four weeks, meaning that we could see her again in the playoffs, and that it's not something much worse beginning with A.

Chelsea Newton and Sac coach Whisenant discuss (what else?) defense. Coach Whiz calls Newton "a defensive point guard but an offensive [shooting guard]. This allows Ticha to guard the opponent's shooting guard - which is usually their best shooter. And like Ticha, Chelsea is a great defender, too. Chelsea can still shoot when she needs to. That's another reason we like her."
Connecticut handled the Sting in a high-scoring game with plenty of whistles. Lindsay Whalen racked up 28, a new career high. McWilliams-Franklin had 24; is she back in the All-Star debate now too?

Nykesha Sales: "We just basically kind of watched [Lindsay] do her thing. We all felt that was an easy offense for us - just let her go."

Katie Douglas: ""[Charlotte] definitely worked at not letting me and [Sales] have open looks.... But if they're going to guard us that way, we'll give Lindsay a big night."
Seattle walked all over Minnesota in Key Arena. The game may have been decided in the first minute, when Tanisha Wright fell on top of Vanessa Hayden, who left the court in pain and did not return. Word is she has a shoulder subluxation (less severe than a dislocation): she could be done for the year.

When Hayden sees limited minutes, the Lynx lose unless jump shooters do well and Ohlde turns in a superb performance: the visitors got the latter (17 points from Ohlde), but not the former, and the Storm put the game away early in the second half.

Anne Donovan became the third WNBA coach (and the first woman coach) to garner one hundred wins. Lauren Jackson had 18 points and 11 boards; her MVP case depends partly on what happens in Houston, and maybe in Indiana, but it's not too early to say she's having a good year.

As for attendance, 9,245 last night might look good for another franchise, but a Seattle columnist wants more. Sue Bird: "Once the playoffs start, we're going to have 17,000 people in here."

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Coach Bibby says he and the Sparks had a "great parting." "Overall, I loved my time here. This is the most I've learned from any of my 30-something seasons of coaching. I'll miss all of these ladies. These women wanted to learn more so than the guys. It sharpened me up as a coach."

The plan is to have Joe Bryant finish the season... maybe. "I haven't talked to Joe to make sure he really wants to finish out the season. I assume he will finish out the season," Johnny Buss said.

In the meantime, Bryant has a plan: "I will demand we have fun."

Yesterday at FoxSports.com, Jan Hubbard recounted the strange Bibby saga, including an inexplicable interview where Bibby insisted that Nikki Teasley has been injured all season and "hasn't played at all for us." Teasley in fact played 19 games.

What are we to make of this all?

It's a curious universe, and LA is the capital of curiosity. A year ago, Kobe Bryant may have pushed Michael Cooper out the door, and now Kobe's dad is the head coach of the Sparks. Is there any chance that we'll complete the cycle, and that Coach Coop will come back?

You'll say it's impossible... but you would have said the same thing about Phil...
Anne Donovan goes for her 100th win tonight. She would be the 4th WNBA coach to reach that milestone.
Oscar Dixon ranks the rookies; 1-2-3 are Temeka Johnson, Katie Feenstra, and Suzy Batkovic.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Tying up the grammatical issues related to team names, and whether they should be treated as singular or plural --

The Sports Writing Blogger says:
As I've gotten older, I've gotten more used to the idea that style isn't so much a matter of right and wrong as to just getting it standardized. I used to be fanatic, for example, about getting hyphenation right; now I realize that that can lead to insanity. There's no way to get it right. So I just take it as it comes.

So, with regard to subject/verb agreement on team names, especially the singular ones, I've worked places where it was done both ways. Just make sure it's right every time. My current place goes plural on everything. "The Heat are 2-3"..."The Lynx are 11-1"...I've kind of decided I prefer that style, and take my confirmation from the way the English do it.
Grammar writer and Garner cohort Jeff Newman agrees:
Seems to me that two things are complicating matters here. The lesser thing is a grammatical nicety about when a collective noun (board, couple, audience) takes a plural rather than a singular predicate. Far more important is the influence of British sport (we'd say "sports") where "Manchester are" is the absolute rule.

As an American lawyer and part-time sportwriter myself, I'd always use "Coyboys are" but "Dallas is." (OK, probably "aren't" and "isn't" lately.) Where the sense is the single entity, such as a party in a lawsuit, I might be tempted to fudge the subject in order to get a singular verb, such as using "Cowboys' management." But I'd still probably stick with the mixed American conventions ("Cowboys are," "Heat is").
Fowler probably should have had the first word, so he shall have the last (from his entry on collective nouns or "nouns of multitude"):
In general it may be said that while there is always a better and a worse in the matter, there is seldom a right & a wrong, & any attempt to elaborate rules would waste labour.
Business Week marketing editor David Kiley saw his first WNBA game last week. Now he's a fan. Nice. (Via Mysticwiz.)
Bad news for Hawkeyes: both Johanna Solverson and Lindsay Richards will miss the whole year with ACL tears.

Solverson became a significant scorer on last year's Iowa team, which reached the semifinals of the postseason WNIT.
"This is not a firing" -- Sparks president Johnny Buss explains coach Bibby's sudden departure.
Henry and I have come to a very cordial and mutually agreed upon understanding to part ways. This, in no way, will be regarded by us as a "firing." We both understood that a different direction would be the best for both Henry and the Sparks.
Lieberman handicaps the playoff race, but doesn't discuss the Lynx, even though they're currently ahead of LA.
Via Eric, a remarkable blog post from Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban about why he released Michael Finley.

Cuban speaks in detail about his team's financial status under the new NBA TV deal and CBA. He explains the contractual and financial dynamics that shape basketball personnel decisions, for better and for worse. He also admits to past mistakes and takes full responsibility for making them.

Can you imagine a WNBA official or owner speaking with such candor?
Tracy McGrady attended last Sunday's Sun win. On the Sun's site, he praises Nykesha Sales, a friend from both players' Orlando days.

T-Mac also gives props to the W in general: "You can’t even compare it to the NBA as far as their salary, and how these girls are living. They’re on a real serious drive.... I don’t think a lot of people appreciate women’s basketball, and I think they should."
Yesterday, Mechelle Voepel criticized now-former Sparks coach Henry Bibby for calling his players "girls."

Jelly Bean Bryant, after taking over last night: "I'm here for the joy of the game and to help the girls."
Henry Bibby was fired yesterday amid bizarre circumstances.

The decision by Sparks owner Jerry Buss apparently came just minutes before last night's home game against Sacramento. Warm-ups began without Bibby or Lisa Leslie, and then the PA announced Joe Bryant as the coach.

The official report was cryptic and silly: "Los Angeles coach Henry Bibby was not with the Sparks due to personal reasons, a situation that likely will not change. Assistant coach Joe Bryant ran the squad."

"I don't want to comment on what he will say," Buss said of Bibby. "But this is the way it's going to be."

Although no one was willing to comment on the record, Sparks officials told reporters that Bibby had in fact been fired, and that the offical word would come today.

"It's difficult to work under these conditions," Lisa Leslie said. "Everything is just crazy. You just don't know what to expect. I'm emotionally drained from everything that goes on in this organization."

The Sparks lost, putting them a game and a half out of the last playoff spot.
The playoff picture got a bit clearer last night, but not much. LA's loss put them further out and New York's win put them further in, but they remain in a muddle with Phoenix, Minnesota, Washington, and Detroit.

Minnesota beat Houston behind strong efforts from Nicole Ohlde and Chandi Jones, who had a career-high 17 points.

"It was a great game, exciting to watch," coach McConnell Serio said. "This is a stepping stone for us into our future. We have four games ... and we expect to win all of them, but whatever happens this is what our future looks like. We're very excited about that."

But in Phoenix, the Mercury also won to stay one game (and two losses) ahead of Minny. Diana Taurasi, after receiving an undisclosed fine for calling the refs "stupid" last game, scored 0 points.

It was the last game for Maria Stepanova. "If the Mercury is in the WNBA Finals, I will be back," she said. (Not terribly likely.)

But while Detroit lost in Phoenix, Washington also lost in New York. The Mystics and the Shock are now both 14-15.

Vickie Johnson had a big night, mostly by getting to the line, and then by making the game-winning play in the final minute.

The Lib can breath a little easier, because they've now put 2.5 games between themselves and their challengers. "This game hurts so much because we would have only been a half-game behind them," said coach Adubato. "Now we're two and a half."