Thursday, May 22, 2008

A Husky Update (1st edition)

Every Thursday, we’ll take a look around the league at UConn alums and how they’re performing in the WNBA. Twelve former Huskies started the season with teams, a number that could have been more if Nykesha Sales (Connecticut), Kelly Schumacher (Phoenix) and Svetlana Abrosimova (Minnesota) were still playing this year. Here's a team-by-team breakdown.

Atlanta Dream:
(1) Ann Strother, G/F (UConn, 2006): 0.0 points, 1.0 rebounds, eight minutes played (one game)
Low-down: Strother told reporters prior to the Dream’s 100-67 loss to the Connecticut Sun on Saturday that she hoped for a larger role as she starts her third year in the league with her third different team. That remains to be seen, but the sharp-shooting guard hopes to improve upon her quickness to keep up with smaller perimeter players. The Dream, though, do like the attitude she brings to the locker room; league GMs picked her as one of the league’s top 10 most easy-going players on the court.

Connecticut Sun:
(1) Asjha Jones, F (2002): 17.0 points, 5.5 rebounds, 61.9 shooting percentage (two games)
Low-down: Jones hasn’t missed a beat since returning to the Sun last Thursday. The team hasn’t looked exclusively to her often, but she’s shown good range, has finished around the rim and looks a little quicker this season. There have been times they’ve run plays directly through her, the most noticeable being early in the third quarter against Atlanta. The forward had her breakout season last year. If she continues this, she will have another.

(2) Tamika Raymond, F (2002): 5.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 36.4 shooting percentage (two games)
Low-down: All the talk of a re-motivated Tamika Raymond was justified in the Sun’s opening weekend sweep. Raymond was active on the boards, finished well at times and looked energized by the start of the year. The newest member of the Kansas Jayhawks coaching staff, Raymond only needs to stay healthy to make an impact on the floor. There’s no doubt she’s been — and will continue to be — a major factor in the cohesion of the locker room.

(3) Ketia Swanier, G (2008): 0.0 points, 1.0 assists, four minutes played (one game)
Low-down: Swanier may see long stretches of little time with Lindsay Whalen and Jamie Carey in front of her, and with Jolene Anderson playing well and Evina Maltsi set to arrive, time will be hard to come by at the off-guard spot as well. She’s not particularly suited there, but Mike Thibault has been known to run two-point guard sets in the past. Either way, Swanier’s quickness will help her when she does see time, but at least in the beginning, it may be more of a learning situation.

(4) Barbara Turner, G/F (2006): 7.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2-of-6 from 3-point range (two games)
Low-down: Turner was absolutely electric in the opener against Atlanta, tying her career high with 15 points while providing instant offense off the bench. She didn’t look for her shot often in New York, and when she did, she didn’t nearly look as comfortable as she did the night before. But Turner, capable of starting, may be the energy/impact player off the bench the Sun lacked early and late last season.

Los Angeles Sparks:
(1) Jessica Moore, F/C (2005): 0.0 points, 1.0 rebounds, five minutes played (one game)
Low-down: When the Sparks were ravaged by departures and injuries last year, the 6-foot-3 Moore was solid in stretches, finishing the year with averages of 4.2 points and 3.0 rebounds while starting 17 games. But with Lisa Leslie back and DeLisha-Milton Jones and Candace Parker in the fold, she’s probably looking at a scarce minutes on a loaded Los Angeles team.

Minnesota Lynx:
(1) Charde Houston, F (2008): 21.0 points, 1.0 rebounds, 9-of-12 shooting (one game)
Low-down: Outside of Parker’s 34-point outburst, no rookie made as big a debut as Houston when she shredded Detroit in only 16 minutes of action. The performance was Houston’s best since her junior year at UConn; she hadn’t scored more than 15 points her entire seanior year nor did she ever shoot as well. Right on the fence to make the team to start training camp, the third-round pick was solid during the preseason and at least in one game, has been spectacular. It will be interesting to see how she impacts this team going forward.

New York Liberty
(1) Ashley Battle, G/F (2005): 3.0 points, 10 minutes (one game)
Low-down: Like several of the Liberty players, Battle was held in check against the Sun. But the fourth-year pro will continue to be an integral part of the Liberty’s bench. She’s New York’s top backcourt reserve and assuming Essence Carson doesn’t turn into a world-beater (I think she’ll have a solid rookie year), Battle will stay in that role as New York seems primed for a playoff berth.

Phoenix Mercury:
(1) Willnett Crocket, F (2006): 4.0 points, 3.0 rebounds (two games, one start)
Low-down: Technically a WNBA rookie, Crocket played her way onto the defending champs with a solid preseason that included a 12-point performance at Connecticut, and so far, projects to be a key part of this year’s Phoenix team. She made her first career start the other day and has seen 28 minutes of action through the team’s first two games. Until Penny Taylor returns, she’ll figure for decent time, though it may be a competition between her and former Sun player Le’Coe Willingham for more minutes.

(2) Diana Taurasi, G/F (2004): 22.0 points, 3.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists (two games)
Low-down: The Mercury are an uncharacteristic 0-2, but Taurasi again figures to be one if not the best scorer in the league as she and Cappie Pondexter try to carry more of a load left by Taylor’s absence. Taurasi is coming off another highly-successful season in Russia, and though I haven’t got a chance to see her play in person yet, there’s no reason to believe she won’t be as good or better than she has been already.

Seattle Storm:
(1) Sue Bird, G (2002): 15.0 points, 6.0 assists, 42.9 shooting percentage (two games)
Low-down: Bird has been one of the team’s top scorers through two games, but with the options around her, expect her assists totals to rise this season, too. Her durability, however, may be the most important part of her season. As much as the Storm added this offseason, their bench may be the thinnest it’s been in years, meaning Bird may have to be ready to duplicate the 70 minutes she played through her first two games.

(2) Swin Cash, F (2002): 15.0 points, 5.5 rebounds, 45.5 shooting percentage (two games, one start)
Low-down: Part of said makeover, Cash is one of the league’s best bets for a re-emergence. Under a new coach in a new team with expectations that rival those she’s had in Detroit, Cash has been renewed out West. The key, of course, is staying healthy and continuing to score like she did through the first two games. Last season, when Cheryl Ford went down, she’d go through stretches where she was relied upon more for rebounding than offense. Now, the Storm need her for both all the time.

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