WNBA.com’s list of the league’s players currently overseas tipped me off to something that had fallen through the cracks. Forward Camille Little chose a home in Europe, and it’s a familiar one. She is playing in Cyprus for the same K.V. Imperial AEL team as Storm teammate Tanisha Wright. Little and Wright join Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson (Spartak Moscow Region) as teammates here and abroad. Imperial begins play in the EuroCup on Nov. 12.
Archive for October, 2009
WNBA.com is choosing its Photo of the Year, presented by HP. The first round of the voting gives fans an opportunity to select their favorite photo from the 2009 season from a specific team, and right now your Storm is highlighted. Make your voice heard and choose from among 10 great photos that highlight the photography of Terrence Vaccaro, including the picture above of the Storm lined up for the National Anthem before a game.
A week after becoming the last addition to the 2009-10 Euroleague field, Wisla Can-Pack Krakow wasted no time in making noise. Janell Burse’s squad went on the road to defeat one of last year’s Final Four teams, Halcon Avenida. Adding intrigue to the matchup was the fact that Wisla Head Coach Jose Hernandez was facing his old team, having left Avenida fover the winter.
After Wisla took the lead in the second quarter, the game was tight throughout. It was a one-possession difference with 31 seconds left when Burse’s putback made the difference five points and forced Avenida to foul on the final Wisla possession. Two Liron Cohen free throws provided the final 65-60 margin. Burse played 37 minutes, tied with teammate Marta Fernandez for a team high, and finished with a double-double of 10 points and 13 rebounds (second most of any Euroleague player on opening day). Burse added four blocked shots in the win.
Elsewhere, Spartak Moscow Region got off to a winning start in Euroleague without Storm stars Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson. Getting 27 points from Diana Taurasi and a double-double from Sylvia Fowles, Spartak crushed Frisco Sika Brno 95-71 at home.
It was a tough loss on Monday for Maccabi Ashdod, which led talented Electra Ramat Hasharon much of the night before surrendering a comeback and losing 76-73. Ashley Walker had a game-high 22 points on 9-of-18 shooting (including a pair of threes) and nine boards, while Courtney Paris put up 19 points and 19 rebounds, but Maccabi lost its other American import, former UTEP guard Natasha Lacy, to a fractured wrist. Lacy’s absence in the second half helped open the door for a comeback.
In an article on RV manufacturer Jayco becoming the new title sponsor of the Australian Opals National Team, Aussie newspaper The Age has an update from Lauren Jackson – who modeled the new Opals uniforms – on her recovery from a stress fracture in her back sustained during the Storm season. According to the article, Jackson has another month of rehab before joining Spartak Moscow Region in December.
”I’ve had a pretty good run up until the last couple of years and injuries have taken over a little bit,” she said. “‘But what my body needs is a little bit of a break, which I’ve had, and I’m working on other aspects of my body and hopefully I’m going to get a base to push on for the next four or five years. I plan to play forever.”
Another Storm player has found a home overseas. In a video blog on her Web site, swincash.com, the Storm’s All-Star forward tells fans that she plans to spend this winter playing in the Women’s Chinese Basketball Association. Cash will be playing in Foshan, on China’s southeastern coast, for the Guangdong Asia Aluminum team. The WCBA season tips off a week from next Saturday (Nov. 7) and will run through mid-March, giving Cash some time off before the start of training camp. Getting information on the WCBA in English may be tricky, but you can always follow Cash through her site and her Twitter feed.
In Australia, the Sydney Uni Acuvue Flames fell in heartbreaking fashion to Canberra on Friday, 74-72. Suzy Batkovic-Brown split two free throws inside the final 10 seconds to tie the game, but the Capitals’ Natalie Hurst delivered the game-winning shot in the final seconds, hitting a fadeaway. Batkovic-Brown was terrific again, scoring 24 points, grabbing 10 rebounds, coming up with five steals and blocking four shots. Here are photos from the game. Sidenote for UW fans: former Husky Jessica McCormack, who transferred briefly to UConn, made her WNBL debut for Canberra on Friday.
Janell Burse’s Wisla Can-Pack Krakow team got the weekend off from Polish League play, warming up for Wednesday’s Euroleague opener by playing a “control game” (presumably, their odd translation of a “friendly”) against Slovakian team BK PU BAMACO Presov on Thursday. Wisla dominated by a 92-60 final, holding a 43-21 advantage after halftime. Burse led the team with 16 points.
The second round of Isreali D1 play takes place tonight. Maccabi Ashdod and the Storm’s Ashley Walker will host defending champs Electra Ramat Hasharon with a chance to make a big statement with a win.
While we’re barely a month removed from the end of the Storm’s season and still less than two weeks out from the conclusion of the WNBA Finals, most foreign leagues are already under way. That being the case, it’s time to kick off our overseas coverage that will last through next spring.
Suzy Batkovic-Brown is back home in Australia, playing for the Acuvue Sydney Uni Flames in the WNBL. Sydney has gone 2-2 thus far in four games, falling Saturday to Bulleen by an 80-71 final. Batkovic-Brown contributed 22 points on 9-of-22 shooting and 10 rebounds in defeat, posting her second straight double-double and third 20-point effort in as many games (she sat out the Flames’ opener shortly after returning from Seattle). For the season, Batkovic-Brown is averaging 24.7 points and 9.0 rebounds.
Having a player of Batkovic-Brown’s caliber actually presented something of an issue for Sydney initially.
“They all stood around and watched Suzy for a while,” Head Coach Karen Dalton told The Daily Telegraph after Batkovic-Brown’s debut. “That’s not Suzy’s fault. That’s us getting used to having her on our team.”
The mere arrival of Janell Burse in Krakow was big news. Since making her way overseas on Oct. 8, Burse has played in three games, all of them wins, while averaging 13.7 points and 10.0 rebounds per game. Before her arrival, Wisla Can-Pack started just 1-2 and now sits fourth in the league table at 4-2. However, Wisla got great news when it was selected to replace defunct CSKA Moscow in the Euroleague. Burse, who played in Euroleague with ZVVZ USK Praha for three seasons before spending last year in the EuroCup, joins Storm teammates Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson (who have yet to join their Spartak Moscow Region team) in Europe’s top flight, which tips off next week.
Playing overseas for the first time, Ashley Walker got her season in Israel off to a great start by helping lead Maccabi Ashdod to the championship of the preseason “Winner Cup” tournament. Ashdod narrowly held off Ramla 84-82 last Tuesday to claim the title, with Walker’s double-double (22 points, 14 boards) leading the way. Based in no small part on her performance in the tournament, Israeli DI coaches picked Walker as the preseason favorite to win MVP honors ahead of veterans Deanna Jackson and Noelle Quinn and fellow rookie Kia Vaughn.
Walker’s Ashdod team begins the season one of the favorites to win the league, but got off to a rough start today, losing to Raanana Hertzeliya 79-76. Walker had 20 points on 8-of-12 shooting and five rebounds and teammate Courtney Paris contributed 21 points and 22 boards, but Ashdod could not overcome a 33-point effort from sharpshooting Chicago guard Kristi Toliver.
Follow Storm players during what is only the offseason for fans as they play in Europe with the help of our Storm Overseas page. Already, some Storm players and their teams are in action. We’ll kick off our coverage in earnest with the first overseas recap on Monday.
The U.S. Women’s Senior National Team completed a sweep of the Ekaterinburg International Invitational on Sunday, defeating host UMMC Ekaterinburg 78-63 to finish 3-0 against European clubs in the round-robin tournament. UMMC Ekaterinburg, the defending Russian champs, offered the stiffest test, challenging the USA with a roster including six current or former WNBA players. A U.S. squad that must replace Lisa Leslie and Tina Thompson in the frontcourt squared off against three of the world’s best posts – Connecticut Sun center Sandrine Gruda, Russian star Maria Stepanova and Ann Wauters of the San Antonio Silver Stars.
Gruda scored 15 points to lead Ekaterinburg, but Stepanova and Wauters were held quiet by a stingy American defense that limited Ekaterinburg to 30.0 percent shooting from the floor. Still, the hosts led 33-30 midway through the second quarter before the USA took control of the game by finishing the first half with a 17-0 run. Consecutive Shameka Christon three-pointers just after the break extended the U.S. advantage to 20 points, and Ekaterinburg never threatened thereafter.
Storm forward Swin Cash started at the four as U.S. Head Coach Geno Auriemma sought to exploit his team’s advantage in quickness. Strong in the first quarter, Cash finished the game with 13 points on 6-of-9 shooting and six rebounds.
“Swin was unbelievable in the beginning,” said Auriemma. ” We went into the game wanting to attack them a little bit one-on-one because of their size, they were just so big and I thought if we could use our quickness that would be to our advantage. I started Swin because I know she plays great in big games. She won gold on the Olympic team; she’s won two WNBA titles; she was MVP of the All-Star Game and she just has a way of coming up big in big games. Once we got a lead with her in there it just made everything a little bit easier for us.”
Sue Bird added 11 points for the USA. She finished the three games averaging 6.3 points and 4.7 assists per game and was honored as the tournament’s top point guard.
“We obviously haven’t been together long and sometimes it’s hard to build a chemistry,” Bird said. “So the best thing you can do is play tough defense, rebound run. You don’t have to set anything up, you can just play off each other and it’s very similar to pick-up basketball. You just go out there and utilize your talents and we were able to do that. It started on the defensive end.”
On Saturday, the U.S. women defeated MKB Euroleasing Sopron 79-64 in their closest matchup of the weekend. Sopron trailed by just nine entering the fourth quarter before the USA was able to put the game away. Bird had four points and four assists in the win, while Cash came off the bench to score eight points.
While defeating club teams may not seem impressive for the reigning Olympic champions, the tournament was a good test for the U.S. women because their opponents have had more practice time and have plenty of WNBA-caliber talent. In 2007, a USA squad featuring half of the roster that would win gold the following summer in Beijing went 3-2 in the similar FIBA World League Tournament.
“It was rewarding because I think it’s a pre-gold medal to what we want next September (FIBA World Championship),” explained Cash. ” So anytime you can come over and win a championship in a tournament like this it’s important, especially for the younger guys to see that and understand what the standard is with USA Basketball.”
Believe it or not, it’s been five years since the night of Oct. 12, 2004, when the Seattle Storm defeated Connecticut 74-60 in front of a sellout crowd of 17,072 at KeyArena and hoisted the championship trophy. For anyone who was there, that night is an indelible memory. It remains – and always will – one of the favorite days of my life.
Here’s some of the content we’ve put together on stormbasketball.com to relive the experience of the championship:
- 10th Anniversary video (Part Four focuses on the championship season)
- Video of the final seconds and postgame celebration
- Audio of David Locke and Elise Woodward calling the last five minutes and postgame celebration
- Staff memories of the evening
- My column celebrating the 2004 Storm
Phoenix 94, Indiana 86 (Phoenix wins series 3-2)
Offensive Ratings: Phoenix 125.5, Indiana 104.4
The WNBA Finals were a matchup of contrasting strengths, pitting the Phoenix Mercury’s high-octane offense against the Indiana Fever’s disruptive defense. Sorry, believers in defense winning championships. Ultimately, offense won out. The Fever could not get the stops it needed down the stretch of last night’s Game 5, allowing Phoenix to pull away late to win the game, the series and the franchise’s second championship in three years.
For one quarter, the Indiana defense controlled the game. Using crisp rotations and traps that took the ball out of the hands of Cappie Pondexter and Diana Taurasi, the Fever limited Phoenix to 16 first-quarter points. With Tammy Sutton-Brown crushing the Mercury’s interior defense at the other end, Indiana took a seven-point lead after one quarter.
Then, without warning, the Phoenix offense reached nirvana. The Mercury made its first eight shot attempts in the second period and finished the quarter 13-of-17 from the field, a dominant display of offense the likes of which we’re not likely to see again any time soon. The Fever was nowhere near finished – and would in fact go on to tie the game deep into the fourth quarter – but the visitors’ best chance at victory vanished in 10 minutes.
Down the stretch, Phoenix relied as much on defense as offense, surprisingly. Over the final 3:30 of the game, Indiana shot 2-of-11 from the field with a turnover. Perhaps the Fever ran out of gas – the team got some makeable looks but simply could not finish. Meanwhile, the Mercury was relying on spreading Indiana out and making use of its incredible talent for playing one-on-one basketball. Penny Taylor may not have Pondexter’s dynamic crossover or Taurasi’s ability to score on an opponent with a hand in her face, but she has an incredible knack for finding her way to the basket and scoring or getting fouled (as she did with 37 seconds left in what was at the time a two-point game).
Taurasi, the Finals MVP, and Pondexter (my pick for the honor) deservedly got the bulk of the headlines along with Taylor. They combined for 64 points, including a game-high 26 from Taurasi, shaking off a series-long shooting slump that probably had more than a little to do with Tamika Catchings‘ defense. That said, Phoenix doesn’t win this game or the series without two timely three-pointers from center Tangela Smith and 13 points in 14 minutes from DeWanna Bonner, emerging from her own rough stretch. When the two starting lineups were on the floor, the teams were roughly even. It was the Mercury’s bench advantage that went a long way toward deciding this game.
While Corey Gaines ended up cutting his rotation, benching Ketia Swanier the final two games in favor of more minutes for his stars, Lin Dunn trusted her bench, going 10 deep in the season’s final game. That paid off in the cases of Jessica Davenport (18 points in as many minutes on 8-of-11 shooting against overmatched Phoenix defenders) and Christina Wirth (who had a timely shot in the fourth quarter), but was a dismal failure with Tamecka Dixon. The WNBA veteran was a -37 in the series in terms of plus-minus despite playing just 28 minutes. Indiana was outscored by more than a point per minute with Dixon on the court, and she was in for the Mercury’s series-changing run at the start of the second quarter.
It was tough to see Catchings get so close to the WNBA title she covets only to fall short again. Certainly, the Fever’s loss had nothing to do with anything Catchings did or failed to do. She nearly averaged a double-double (16.6 points and 9.2 rebounds), while handing out 6.6 assists per game, coming up with 3.2 steals a night and chasing Taurasi around most of the time. However, Catchings did not get enough help on offense, and Taurasi was a big reason why. Her defense helped limit Katie Douglas during a tough series for the MVP candidate. Douglas shot 37.0 percent from the field and just 28.6 percent from downtown, good for a subpar 49.4 percent True Shooting Percentage. The contributions the Fever got from Davenport and Sutton-Brown, as well as Ebony Hoffman and at times Briann January, were unable to make up the gap.
Game 5 capped a WNBA season that was, in my objective opinion, the best in league history. (As far as my subjective perspective goes, 2004 will be tough to top.) The quality of play on the floor, especially during the Finals, inspired positive press and has created a tremendous amount of momentum as we look ahead to the league’s 14th campaign. 2009 is in the books. Now it is time for the Storm and everyone else to set to work trying to knock off the Mercury.