Wednesday, September 19, 2007

U.S.A. prevails

Candace Parker finished with 23 points, leading U.S.A. to a 70-66 win over Australia in the team’s final exhibition before heading to the FIBA Americas championship on Sept. 26.

U.S.A. trails at half

In a somewhat surprising development, the U.S. trails Australia, 36-35, in their exhibition at Mohegan Sun Arena. U.S.A. committed 11 turnovers, but has eight points apiece from Seimone Augustus and Candace Parker.

Uniform watch: The Australia team is wearing tight-fitting uniforms that look more like those out of a college volleyball game than a basketball one. But I guess most international teams fashion “jerseys” similar to these.

U.S., Australia full lineups

Here are the full lineups for each team for tonight’s exhibition, including coaches:

United States
4 Candice Wiggins (G)
5 Seimone Augustus (G)
6 Sue Bird (G)
7 Swin Cash (F)
8 DeLisha Milton-Jones (F)
9 Kara Lawson (G)
10 Jessica Davenport (C)
11 Tina Thompson (F)
13 Rebekkah Brunson (F)
15 Candace Parker (G/F/C)
16 Courtney Paris (C)

Head coach: Anne Donovan
Assistant coach: Dawn Staley
Assistant coach: Gail Goestenkors
Assistant coach: Mike Thibault

4 Alicia Poto (G)
5 Tully Bevilaqua (G)
6 Jenni Screen (G)
7 Carly Wilson (G/F)
8 Abby Bishop (C)
9 Hollie Grima (C)
10 Rohanee Cox (F)
11 Laura Summerton (F/C)
12 Emily McInerny (F)
13 Emma Randall (F/C)
14 Natalie Porter (F)
15 Samantha Richards (G0
– Michelle Brogan (F)

Head coach: Jan Sterling
Assistant coach: Gary Fox

One more note:

Tuesday, Sun coach and U.S.A. assistant Mike Thibault talked in length about what it takes to put this U.S.A. team together. A couple important issues included defense, chemistry and especially, filling roles on the team instead of just filling it with All-Stars.

Taurasi, Pondexter not playing tonight

The official rosters for tonight’s game were released and neither Diana Taurasi nor Cappie Pondexter were on them. It remains to be seen if they’ll even be present to watch the game, but Sue Bird and Swin Cash will be the only players on the U.S.A. roster with Connecticut connections. (Obviously, Pondexter has no connection to the state, but many fans probably remember her from her Rutgers days.)

On the Australian side, Penny Taylor also isn’t listed. Fans may not recognize too many names on the team, but there are a few. Indiana Fever guard Tully Bevilaqua is expected to start and wears No. 5 and former Sun player Laura Summerton is also on the team, wearing No. 11. Aside from them, no other player on the team played in the WNBA this past season.

When these two teams met on Sunday in Trenton, N.J., U.S.A. cruised 96-64. With Swin Cash’s addition to the American lineup and Australia still without Taylor and Lauren Jackson, fans may be in store for a similar result.

Check back around 8 p.m. for a halftime update.

Low-down on the Down Under showdown

Some information that didn’t make it into today’s stories about the U.S. national team’s and Australia’s exhibition tonight at Mohegan Sun Arena:

(1) Though tonight’s game won’t feature any Sun players, fans can get a glimpse of the future of women’s basketball in Candace Parker, Candice Higgins and Courtney Paris. Parker, a red-shirt junior at Tennessee, is universally considered the best player in college basketball, and according to U.S. coach Anne Donovan, she can start any on WNBA team right now. Higgins, a senior at Stamford, gives the team a true point guard and Paris is the team’s youngest player and perhaps the country’s’ top upcoming inside presence

Louisiana State center Sylvia Fowles was also training with the team, but she had to return to school last week. Parker and Paris are doing work on the road, and Higgins’ classes don’t begin until Sept. 27 (Stamford works on the quarterly schedule). If selected to the final roster, all three can make the trip to Chile for the FIBA Americans Olympic qualifying tournament.

(2) Australian Penny Taylor, like her Phoenix teammates Diana Taurasi and Cappie Pondexter, may make it in time for tonight’s game, but that remains to be seen until tip-off. Donovan said she would not hesitate to play Taurasi and Pondexter if they made it in time. There was no word on Tuesday what the Australian team intended to do about Taylor. The squad’s (and the world’s) best player, WNBA MVP Lauren Jackson, also will not be playing. She wasn’t with the team during its first exhibition against the U.S. last week, either.

(3) When the new WNBA Collective Bargaining Agreement is signed and the league’s free agents are free to talk to teams, Swin Cash can be one of the year’s best signings. After the falling out she had in Detroit, she sounded more motivated than ever to prove she still is the same player she was before her 2004 knee injury. In her session with the media Tuesday, she went from sounding hurt to angry about what she went through with Shock coach Bill Laimbeer.

Here’s a transcript of that session, conducted on the gym floor inside Mohegan Sun Arena:

Question: Early morning for you, huh?
Cash: Yeah, I got out about 4 a.m. Flight about 6 o’clock. And it was a connection.

It was my legs. At some points shots that I make with my eyes closed, I just felt like, Tina kept saying, ‘Don't worry about it. You gotta keep playing.’ But I was like, ‘Come on, just give me a little lift.’

But overall I thought I did pretty well knowing how much running I did yesterday and then to come here, pack everything, be prepared. I felt good.

Question: How tough was it to come straight here after the finals loss?
Cash: I'm not gonna lie, it was tough. It was tough. I mean, it was an emotional finals, a lot going on, and then to bounce back its kind of refreshing. Physically it's a little tough but it's refreshing to be around U.S.A. basketball because it's a whole other beast than the WNBA, and it makes me feel really good.

It's not even so much putting the season behind me. Obviously there are things that I have to tackle this offseaosn but it puts thing in perspective for me. I can really just focus in on U.S.A. basketball right now and deal with whatever I have to deal with it when I get back.

So for me, it's a good thing because it kind of breaks that cycle of sitting at home, even if I had to do a lot of stuff, it still would be on my mind.

Question: How’s your back feeling?
Cash: It's fine. It's just going to take some rest. Once we get done with everything else that's happening, I'm going to take some time off. The doctors say if I take a month off, I would see night-and-day results. And for me, I didn't take any time off like I should have, being hard-headed last offseason, it was all about trying to work out and doing other things. But I'm going to be smart. I feel like I have to get in the gym and take some time off and physically get stronger.

Question (abridged version): Can you talk about the breakdown in the relationship with Bill Laimbeer, and everything you went through during the season?
Cash: It's difficult. Now I'm getting choked up now. Hold on. (Cash stepped away to wipe tears away from her eyes and to gather herself)

Because, uh, (fighting back tears) it's not the relationship with me and Bill that hurts the most, it's how invested in the city that I was. And when an organization is on their way out the door, they come to you and they ask you to do things, I felt like I stepped up. I felt like not only committed, passed up opportunities overseas, money, I committed to making that franchise basically to be what Connecticut was, having tradition year in and year out, win championships. That's what I've always been about. I always put the team before myself, my own accolades.

Even he brought in Katie (Smith) and wanted to change up to a different offense and I had to take more of a backseat, I was OK with that because we were winning. But I still had respect. But when a coach loses that respect for you and treats you the way he did me, it's tough to deal with.

Question: (Cash was asked about being left on the floor during the final minutes of the Shock’s Game 5 finals loss to Phoenix when all the other starters were taken out)
Cash: It is what it is. He's never done that before my whole career and there's no way you can miss me being out on the floor. I've had so many people e-mail my Web site, put in phone calls to my business. People in Detroit just talking about it and (being) upset. I would never have spoke on it if I didn't have those people. But it's tough because I love Detroit. I love the organization, it's one of the best in the league. It has nothing to do with Detroit why I can't be there. It's all about a relationship and once you do that to somebody, I don't know how you get past it.

Question: Did you seek out (UConn coach) Geno (Auriemma) while you were there? (Auriemma was in the broadcast booth for the finals)
Cash: I actually had dinner with Coach and D in Phoenix, and Shuey (UConn grad and Phoenix center Kelly Schumacher) and that's when you need your family around and that's what I needed. I have dealt with hard coaches. Coach Auriemma was hard as ever. There were times he was screaming at us and going crazy but at the end of the day, he cared about making us better basketball players. I can deal with a coach attacking me to make me better. But I can't deal with someone attacking my character. I can't deal with someone attacking my integrity, what I stand for and what I believe in. And that was the hardest part for me.

(Cash was asked other questions regarding UConn before she again asked about her experience this year in Detroit)

People questioned me all season long because I didn't say anything. They questioned, 'Oh Cash is inconsistent.' But if you watch basketball, you understand that a player can't go in and out of games and still have the production or the confidence to do the things they're supposed to do. Once somebody is playing mind games with you, that's hard.

He (Laimbeer) asked me to come back and be more consistent with my outside shot. And I think if you look at the earlier games, before all the mind games starting coming on, I was playing fine. I was rebounding, I was doing the things he was asking of me. Physically I had lost a few pounds and that's something that comes with stress. But other than that I felt like I was my old self. My speed was back, and then after the All-Star break, a lot of that just comes with a lot of other things that weren't related.

Question: Are there areas you feel like you’ve improved in?
Cash: With my game, yeah, I felt like there were some things I've gotten better at. Old Swin, this is the thing I always tell people. You ask me what I did and what I established in this league at the 3-position (small forward position), I posted up 3s, and I was dominant in there because I was able to post up a 3 that was smaller.

Now if you try to put me at the four (power forward) position and ask me to post up against a 6-5 player, you be the judge. Is my advantage to face them up or is my advantage to post them up? And I was asked because of our system in Detroit this year to post up against 4 and 5 players. It's like me posting against Cheryl Ford. So people were like, ‘Why isn't she in the post doing stuff?’ Well give me the ball and let me pull somebody out and there’s nobody in the league that can stop me.

Question: Has this only made you a stronger person?
Cash: I grew up in Harrison Village and I just didn't grow up under Cynthia Cash. My mother's a strong woman, the people in my family are strong women. But that community brought my adversity than I'm going to get from Bill Laimbeer or any other coach. I'm not going to break, I'm not going to crumble. I may hurt but you best believe like Coach Thibault said, I'm going to be an All-Star again, I'm going to be at the top of this league like I know I can be because I have that God-given ability and for me not to use it, for me that would be a sin. I'm not going to let anybody hold me back from doing that.

I'll tell you one thing: It's made a stronger person than I already was. You ask Coach Auriemma, you ask anyone. I've always been a strong person. Sue will tell you that. But at the end of the day, there is non one — no one — that could have been through what he put me through and what I had to deal with this season and come back and have the year that I'm going to have next season. And I can guarantee you that.

(Cash then detailed the injuries she's had to come back from in recent years, including her knee and back injuries) I played the whole season with the same thing that Sheryl Swoopes has, and you tell me I can't get a little respect and come off the floor at the end of the day? No, because I played out there and I played through pain like anybody else. At the end of the day, and everything is a learning experience.

(End of recording)

Cash went on to say she plans to put her house in Detroit on the market, further demonstrating her intentions of not returning to the Shock.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

WNBA Awards Run-down

In case you missed it, here is the complete run-down on all the WNBA season award winners. Detroit and Phoenix kick off Game 2 of the WNBA Finals tonight, with the Shock up 1-0 in the best-of-five series.

Most Valuable Player:
Lauren Jackson (Seattle Storm forward/center)
Low-down: An obvious choice, Jackson led the league in scoring and rebounding, and was second in blocked shots per game.

Defensive Player of the Year:
Low-down: Coupled with her MVP Award, Jackson is playing better than anyone in the world right now. Connecticut fans can check her out on Wednesday, Sept. 19, when she and the Australian National Team visit Mohegan Sun Arena to play the U.S. Senior National Team at 7 p.m.

Coach of the Year:
Dan Hughes (San Antonio Silver Stars)
Low-down: Hughes led San Antonio to the Western Conference Finals after finishing the regular season with its best record since it moved from Utah. Hughes was out during a portion of the season and returned wearing a protective boot after he tore his Achilles tendon.

Rookie of the Year:
Armintie Price (Chicago Sky guard)
Low-down: Price was the popular choice after Lindsey Harding went down with a torn ACL. She averaged 7.9 points and 6.0 rebounds per game.

Sixth Player of the Year:
Plenette Pierson (Detroit Shock forward)
Low-down: Pierson had a career year averaging 11.6 points and 5.8 rebounds in more than 25 minutes a game.

Most Improved Player:
Janel McCarville (New York Liberty center)
Low-down: The former University of Minnesota teammate of Sun guard Lindsay Whalen, McCarville finally showed the potential many saw in her when she was selected with the first overall pick in the 2005 draft.

Sportsmanship Award:
Tully Bevilaqua (Indiana Fever guard)
Low-down: For the media at least, this is usually the hardest award to vote on because frankly we don’t see every team enough to make a fair assessment of who the best sport is. But Bevilaqua, a gritty but clean defender and always a gamer, is a great choice here.

All-WNBA First Team:
Center – Jackson
Forward – Penny Taylor (Phoenix)
Guard – Diana Taurasi (Phoenix)
Guard – Deanna Nolan (Detroit)
Guard – Becky Hammon (San Antonio)

All-WNBA Second Team:
Forward – Tina Thompson (Houston)
Forward – Tamika Catchings (Indiana)
Forward – Sophia Young (San Antonio)
Guard – Katie Douglas (Connecticut)
Guard – Seimone Augustus (Minnesota)

All-Rookie Team:
Forward – Camille Little (San Antonio)
Guard – Harding
Guard – Marta Fernandez (Los Angeles)
Guard – Sidney Spencer (Los Angeles)
Guard – Price

All-Defensive First Team:
Center – Jackson
Forward – Catchings
Forward – Douglas
Guard – Alana Beard (Washington)
Guard – Nolan

All-Defensive Second Team:
Center – Margo Dydek (Connecticut)
Forward – Rebekkah Brunson (Sacramento)
Guard – Chelsea Newton (Sacramento)
Guard – Bevilaqua
Guard – Loree Moore (New York Liberty)

Peak Performers (given to league leaders in scoring, rebounding and assists):
Jackson (scoring and rebounding) and Hammon (assists).