Saturday, May 20, 2017

May 18th, 2017: Minnesota at New York

Just the Facts, Ma’am: The Minnesota Lynx found their footing after the first timeout and won going away over the New York Liberty, 90-71. Maya Moore had 16 points, 11 rebounds, and six assists to lead the Lynx. Sugar Rodgers had 20 points to lead the Liberty.

For forgotten forks, lackluster stars, catastrophic injuries, jackass kids, ditzes, unseasonable weather, and concerns, join your intrepid and exploratory blogger after the jump.

Another day, another seventy-eight cents (at least I think that’s the current differential between white women and white men on the wage scale), another night at the Garden. I’m assuming the Minnesota Lynx will provide more of a challenge to the Liberty than the Stars did, if only because they have their full roster on hand.

I didn’t expect Maya Moore to stop when she was running off, so I didn’t dare go down. Such is life. Rebekkah Brunson took off running even faster, pursued by an assistant.

I think I would enjoy the pregame dance performance if it looked like the kids were having fun. But too many of them look like they’re going through the motions. This should be fun for them, right? They shouldn’t be doing this if they don’t want to, right? The second group seems to be enjoying themselves more.

The wi-fi isn’t teleporting my dear drunken avatar to Puerto Rico anymore in Pokemon Go. Instead, she’s doing laps of the Garden like Usain Bolt on a Red Bull and Mountain Dew cocktail. GPS drift will gain me soooo much distance, yessss.

We scared off another ticket rep. We’lll miss you, Morgan, you poor unfortunate soul. I wonder what M name we’ll get next? (So far, our last four ticket reps have been Morgan, Melissa, and Megan- oh, and Chris. He was sort of the odd man out.) Good luck to you whatever you happen to be doing, Morgan!

I don’t like the new mashup for “Strike It Up”, but I don’t like “Strike It Up” mashups in general.

The Lynx are very late out- we’re at 15:30 and there’s only one team on the floor.

I wonder if Amanda Zahui B got some kind of warning about her hair. It’s tied down more than usual, looking no more beware-worthy than Nayo or even Brittany.

Solid choral anthem.

At halftime, the Liberty are down 43-40, and it could have been a lot worse. The defense has been intermittent at best. I am not a fan of the officiating, though I recognize that I am also biased. Sugar Rodgers is single-handedly carrying the team with 19 points. Minnesota’s scoring is more balanced; the big stars have been Augustus and Brunson.

Oh my God I want that red top Swin Cash is wearing, I don’t care that it’s a maternity top, it’s brilliant and it’s flowing and I want it.

Rebecca Allen has so far been the only Liberty player who hasn’t played. I don’t know if she’s still hurt or if she’s in the doghouse.

Shoutout to the trio of Lynx fans in the endcourt. You’re kind of obnoxious, but you’re passionate about your team, and that Augustus shirt tells me y’all aren’t just UConn fans here to cheer for Miss Maya or Sun fans who just can’t let Whalen go. And I see you, other dude in the white Augustus jersey. Hardcore and awesome.

Well, that got worse in a hurry. The switching was a hot mess, and right when Brittany Boyd started dragging us kicking and screaming back into the game, she got hurt, and it was bad, and the postgame reports are saying season-ending. I AM NOT OKAY WITH THIS.

The more often I see Minnesota, the less I like them. Unnecessary physicality, ridiculous flopping, and an awful lot of attitude. It might nto be bragging if you back it up, but it’s rubbing it in when you do it after the game’s already been decided.

Alexis Jones entered the game and promptly hit a deep three, because that’s the way things went on this hot, heavy, unpleasant, uncomfortable evening. Temi Fagbenle committed a foul and promptly tied our PA announcer’s tongue in knots. I think someone forgot to give him the pronunciation guide. Natasha Howard got good minutes in the first half, and did a nice job mending broken plays. She’s a nice, well-rounded player.

I know Plenette Pierson shoots threes, but I’m not used to her taking quite so many of them. Defensively, she was up to her old tricks, hooking ‘em like she went to Texas instead of Texas Tech. She drew that T on Tina Charles by hooking the arm and not letting go until Tina had to throw her off. Jia Perkins still has the pretty jumper and the driving moves, but I’m going to need her to skip the dance moves when the Liberty call time out. I’m also going to need Renee Montgomery to lay off the flopping- there was one play where she almost went into the “oh God my knee” position to draw the foul, and especially given what happened later in the game, that’s a cheap play. She brought good speed on defense.

Maya gonna Maya. When she makes a decision, it is swift, efficient, and merciless. She makes one move and bam! There’s a three-pointer, or a midrange jumper. She didn’t have to be the star of the show, but that just made her superstar moments stand out more. Sylvia Fowles got the benefit of the doubt from the officials much of the time, which was frustrating, because I don’t know that she really needed it. She muscled her way along the baseline for nifty reverse shots. Her screens were tough, too. Rebekkah Brunson started off hot, and we should have realized it was going to be a long night for the Liberty when she hit the three in the second half.

I think Lindsay Whalen’s lost a step somewhere- our guards did a surprisingly good job keeping up with her. Her strength and physicality, as a guard, are still hard to match. She took control of the game in the second half for the Lynx. Seimone Augustus has been hitting that pretty little crossover step-back jumper for just about half the league’s existence, and I don’t think she’s going to stop doing it any time soon. She’s so smooth.

We were all rooting for you, Nayo. Bria Hartley set her up for a basket, and our PA announcer absolutely loves her name. (He enjoys long names, somewhat exotic names, and names with long vowel sounds, and Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe qualifies on all fronts.) And then she fumbled the ball and had to pass off. Amanda Zahui B played a few uneventful minutes in the first half, punctuated by one particularly stupid foul. That might have explained why she didn’t play in the second half, even when the bench was emptied in the waning minutes. Kia Vaughn has got to stop telegraphing her moves- there were one or two plays where she hesitated, double-clutched, and missed a shot she probably could have hit on the first try.

Cierra Burdick, we need to have a talk about the stupid fouls. Not that I don’t love her hustle, or her ability to hit the three, and not that guarding Maya Moore is an easy task- but in some situations, you have to be subtle about the contact. Rebecca Allen does exist! She’s a couple of steps slow on defense, and I don’t remember her shot release being that slow before, but it’s good to see her back and it’s good to see her being somewhat of a perimeter threat. Bria Hartley was unmemorable. Epiphanny Prince had good looks and blew them. The rim wasn’t fond of her on a couple of jumpers, but I expect more from drives in the lane. She had a golden fast break opportunity and blew it late in the game. I like her defense on the ballhandler- she’s shown a knack for knocking the ball loose.

I don’t know what’s wrong with Kiah Stokes, but I don’t like it. She’s a step slow on defense, so instead of making the big, crowd-pleasing play, she commits the foul. She’s missing bunnies at the rim. We need her to have a breakout year, and she’s regressed. Shavonte Zellous got physical on defense, and often paid the price with fouls. I think we’re going to need her to find some of the offense she left at Pitt. And while playing with passion and emotion is important, I think we’re also going to need her to maybe not wear her heart on her sleeve quite so blatantly in-game. Tina Charles looked lackluster. I assume she’s seen triple teams before in her life, so it was a bit of a surprise when she didn’t seem to know how to handle them. She perked up a little bit in the second half, but not enough. She needs a physical post next to her, I think and neither Kia nor Kiah was really supplying that enforcer material.

(We had about two minutes of Kia-and-Kiah action, brought to you by KIA Motors.)

I was wondering when Sugar Rodgers was going to arrive this season. Her shot was back on point, and it was beautiful. She picked up a lot of loose change rebounds, whether it was on deflections, raw hustle, or beautiful boxing out. And Brittany Boyd was having the game of her life before she went down in the fourth quarter. She pretty much took the game over in the second half with fast drives and utter intensity. Her jumper was working. Her pell-mell drives were working. She would not be denied.

And then she hit the floor. And her ankle rolled. She tried to get up... and crumpled again. She tried to get up again. She tried to shake off her teammates. Tried to shake off Rosie. Tried to walk it off before she finally admitted she couldn’t go. On-site, at the time, we thought it was just a bad ankle sprain.

I think the officials were in a bad mood from the get-go because the clocks kept turning off in the pregame. They were inconsistent, and letting a lot of contact go by Minnesota. I’m not going to say that this led to the Boyd injury, but when a game gets physical and contact isn’t called on one team, maybe they start playing a little more physically than they even normally do.

To the group of half a dozen young punks who migrated to the section next to ours, started rooting for the Lynx for no discernable reason, and apparently knew Kia Vaughn well enough to call her on the bench: why? If Kia’s your girl, why are you rooting for the other team?

(And Kia, you dear sweet ditz. You are so lucky that Bill didn’t see you turn around and have an exchange with people in the stands during play.)

It was bad, but I keep thinking that it could have been worse, given how badly most of our stars played. Tina’s not going to play like that too much more often. Neither is Piph. Granted, we’re probably also not going to get those kinds of nights from Sugar on a regular basis, but I think we can get a reasonable amount of offense from her on a regular basis.

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Saturday, May 13, 2017

May 13th, 2017: San Antonio at New York

Just the Facts, Ma’am: Balance carried the day for the New York Liberty in their opening day win over San Antonio. Tina Charles led six Liberty players in double figures with 12, adding seven rebounds. Monique Currie had 23 points off the bench to power the Stars. Isabelle Harrison added 15 points, while Alex Montgomery led all rebounders with 11.

For spinning, rally rags, shirts, new neighbors, a familiar lie, proper technique in the wrong sport, dubious life choices, and confrontational players, join your intrepid and culinary blogger for chocolate chip cookies and lemon delights after the jump.

Good afternoon, ladies, gentlemen, and nobly mannered non-binary folk! We’re coming to you on tape delay from the World’s Most Famous Arena, Madison Square Garden, for the New York Liberty’s home opener against a sad excuse for the San Antonio Stars.

It’s raining something fierce out there, gray and dull and unrelenting. It’s a good day to be indoors with a few thousand of our closest friends and the team that has shaped who I am.

The unpleasant gentleman and his daughter who plagued us for a couple of games last season appear to have moved their seats; the two seats were being marketed as vacant when we passed them. We moved as well, but two rows straight down isn’t much of a move. (Amusingly, the couple who took our seats moved up from the row we’re now in.) I’m annoyed that they haven’t fixed the seat from when we told Morgan about it during the college season (you may recall that your intrepid blogger did the St. John’s double-header at the Garden this past season).

Sweet summer children. Players who promise to come back never come back. Kelsey Plum did that. She says the ankle’s fine, even as she’s tromping around in a walking boot. Okay, I get it, don’t ask obvious questions.

Long reunion between Spoon and VJ. There was hugging. We miss you, VJ. F--- Blaze.

The kids’ dance troupe wasn’t bad, but I feel wrong for scouting pre-teens for the St. John’s dance team.

Both of the injured Stars looked very nice. (Look, if you have to be in street clothes, be in nice street clothes.)

Very long anthem. Beautiful voice, but she tried to do too much with it.

At halftime, the Liberty are up 37-28, in a half that ended with a couple of long reviews. I don’t think Coach Johnson is happy with the results.

We’re currently enjoying Rob Base sort of singing “It Takes Two”. I can’t tell if it’s live or lip-synced. Finished with a Steam sample… that the organist picked up on and finished.

Very physical game. VJ appears to be coaching turn of the millennium Liberty defense, with mixed results. Isabelle Harrison has been a very bright spot.

Worried about Rebecca Allen for the Liberty- so far DNP and stayed out of warmups. Everyone else has played. Shooting needs work, but defense is on point. I mean, okay, we’re playing a very short-handed team, but I love the hustle.

Play of the day: that Cierra Burdick spinning lay-up doe.

There’s something about the cut of VJ’s suit that isn’t working for me. I don’t know if it’s the flare of the jacket, or the way it falls across her shoulders, or something, but it could look better.

The wi-fi at MSG seems to share an address of some kind with a museum in Puerto Rico. My Pokemon Go avatar keeps jumping back and forth between San Juan and New York.

That was closer than I would have liked it to be, but a win is a win, and I love what our defense is doing. San Antonio had very little to lose for this game- after all, everyone knows that their starting backcourt is not going to be Sydney Colson and Sequoia Holmes.

Kayla Alexander was inserted in the second quarter, primed to slide into position for rebounds- and then she got two quick fouls, which put her right back on the bench and made sure she didn’t have a groove to get into. She added one more in the second half for good measure. I kept overlooking Nia Coffey, and apparently I wasn’t the only one; I don’t know how she got those rebound numbers. I don’t know if the long-range shot is going to work for her, but can’t judge on one day, right? Isabelle Harrison stole the show inside. She’s going to be brilliant, if she isn’t already. She’s physical and tough, not afraid to get down low. I like the arc on her jumper; I don’t usually see post players arc it so high. (I wonder if practicing against Griner has that effect on players. If you’re going against 6’9” on defense regularly... I’ll need a larger sample size.) She boxed out well and got good position inside. Really great work.

I like Monique Currie as a person off the court. I do not like Monique Currie as a player on the court. I do not like Monique Currie as a person on the court. I do not like Monique Currie with a midrange jumper. I do not like Monique Currie running her mouth. I don’t know how this turned into a Green Eggs and Ham parody. She was the offense for San Antonio, drawing contact early and going to her jumper late when the defense shied away. And then there was the mouth. She and Shavonte Zellous were jawing for much of the game, and eventually it exploded, but we’ll get to that later. Haley Peters is tall, and I get the feeling Coach Johnson wanted to use her as an outside threat, but she wasn’t getting into position.

Has Sequoia Holmes always been this jittery? That’s the only word that comes to mind when I look at her. Her movements are short, sharp, and jerky, whether she’s backpedaling on defense or smacking away a pass. I wasn’t expecting her to have this good of a shooting day, and I get the feeling her jumper is heavily based on luck. Sydney Colson brought speed, and she and Alex Montgomery were a really good double-team on defense, trapping along the sideline. Montgomery brought the defense, and rebounded well underneath. She seemed to be one of the few players willing to shoot when the clock was running down, which is a bit of a surprise.

Dearica Hamby has yet to learn that the pell-mell drive to the lane that ends in a low scoop shot is not going to work in the WNBA the same way it worked at Wake Forest. Either she’s got to get up more, she’s got to get the shot up more, or she’s got to do a better job of drawing contact when she does it. Defenders in the WNBA are bigger, stronger, and faster, and they’re going to disrupt that shot, or at least ensure that you don’t have the angle that you want when you take it. She’s still a work in progress, to put it politely. Érika de Souza is not terribly mobile, and when officials catch it, it leads to 3-second calls. When officials don’t catch it, it can lead to points. She’s still a whole lot of woman down low, even after all these years. (After remembering how young she was when she started, it’s sort of jarring to realize she’s one of the oldest players in the league.)

San Antonio, once they have all their parts in place, seems like the kind of team that can sneak up on a more talented team and ambush them for a bad loss. The kids are going to be all right, Isabelle Harrison can ball, and when all else fails, they have the crafty veteran to come up with baskets (or tackles).

Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe was last off the bench, and she still needs some work to be fully on the W level. But I like her smarts and I like her hustle. She does, however, need to realize that the Canadian step is on par with the American step; it’s a travel any way you slice it. I’d like to see Amanda Zahui B be more offensive-minded- there were a couple of plays where she had position on the low block and passed out of it. She’s got to realize that we need her to be a low-post player, especially if Tina Charles isn’t in the game. Kia Vaughn is still entirely too hesitant for my liking, but she’s been in this league since 2009, so I don’t think she’s going to speed up any time soon. I like her physicality, and her strength down low on defense.

I need Epiphanny Prince to remember that she is no longer at Rutgers; this means that a) she only has 24 seconds to get into the offense, 14 off an offensive rebound, and b) if she keeps running the shot clock down to three seconds, someone’s going to strangle her and it might not even be me. Her work in the passing lanes was beautiful; she had some great steals that got the fast break offense working. She drew contact well, too. Clock awareness is key. I like what Cierra Burdick brings to the floor; she’s heady and she’s aware of the game, not just what’s in her immediate vicinity. Her jumper was working today, but the play of the game was this beauty. Her defense needs a little work, but on the other hand, getting caught in a double-team of Currie and de Souza is not something I’d wish on a player with limited experience.

Tina Charles was strong in the first half; for a rather large chunk of it, she was our only consistent offense. She took an awful lot of off balance shots and contested shots, and I wasn’t sure she needed to take them. She’s a little slow on the boards, but it’s early and she’s still awesome. Kiah Stokes was a disappointment on the offensive end- she had easy shots in the lane and blew them. Her defense was solid- she had a nice block on Sydney Colson. But if she’s going to start, she needs to be a target on the inside. If she doesn’t score, she shouldn’t play. Shavonte Zellous kept busy on defense, and I’d love to have heard the jawjacking between her and Currie. It looked intense.

Sugar Rodgers continues to display the shot selection she showed in her early years with the Lynx. I know she has to step up, but part of stepping up means not putting the team in a bad situation with a bad shot. Her defense is improving, but I don’t know if that’s a tradeoff I want to make. Someone on this damn team needs to be a long range threat. Brittany Boyd made good passes, though perhaps a little too hard much of the time. She had a strong stretch in the fourth quarter where her speed, ability to draw contact, and defensive intensity all came together in a hurry. And then she lost her temper juuuuuuust a little bit.

So late in the game, that happened. As mentioned above, Currie and Z had been doing a bit of talking. I suspect there was some chatter between Currie and Boyd too. So Currie and Boyd went for a tie-up on a loose ball, and after the whistle blew the play dead, Boyd snatched the ball out of Currie’s hands. Currie took exception to this. Words were exchanged, with some heat. It took a couple of Libs to persuade Boyd, with a bit of force, to exit the confrontation. What made me think there was more to it than Boyd completely losing her head was the fact that her teammates gave her low fives afterward. (On the other hand, this was followed by Spoon grabbing her and having a head-to-head talk right in her face. So I’m thinking Spoon thought this was a terrible idea, though given that it is Spoon, there is a non-zero possibility that Spoon was giving her tips on technique.)

The intro video this year, to Beyoncé’s “Freedom”, is amazing, and is a fantastic choice of music on multiple levels.

Monique Currie tackles better than half the Giants defense and three-quarters of the Jets defense. Great follow-through, full wrap-up, she finishes the job all the way through to the ground. I mean, you’re not supposed to do that in basketball, and they did eventually call the foul (but not until she had Nayo all the way to the ground- I guess process of the catch applies to opponents too?).

Officiating was inconsistent, wavering between complete anarchy and calling touch fouls. And then there were three reviews. It took a while to get through everything.

Cierra Burdick has no fear. She stood next to the big torch during intros and didn’t even flinch when the flames roared up.

This should have been a bigger win than it was. But a win is a win. We’ll need to be better against Minnesota.

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Tuesday, May 9, 2017

May 7th, 2017: Connecticut at New York

Just the Facts, Ma’am: Sloppy, physical play doomed the New York Liberty in their 79-57 loss to the Connecticut Sun at Columbia University. Tina Charles led the Liberty with 20 points and nine rebounds, but no other New York player mustered more than nine points. Morgan Tuck had 20 points to lead Connecticut.

For bleacher creatures, the wrong entrance, lost Connecticut fans, sloppy play, distressing starters, and offensive concerns, join your intrepid and peripatetic blogger after the jump.

Is it Mother’s Day? My family’s celebrating next week, but I honestly can’t remember if it’s this Sunday or next Sunday. In either case, felicitations and joy to all the moms out there, just for the heck of it. (Especially you, Mom.)

We’re on our way to the Liberty’s last preseason game, their only home preseason game (for a given value of home), as they take on the Connecticut Sun. It’s a few more stops on the C than usual. All right, it’s 10 more stops from Penn Station to Levien Gymnasium. Good thing all my batteries are fully charged.

Things I learned today: there’s another entrance to Levien! I’m spinning this as a positive, but it was a bit hairy at moments. Maybe letting people know which entrance to use, or at least leaving a note with the Columbia kid manning the gate at the usual entrance, would have been helpful. People who have been to Columbia games (which, granted, is a farily small subset of Liberty fans) are going to automatically go in the way they always have, not through the entrance at the other end that says NO ENTRY.

Court was cleared fairly quickly. I only even saw one Sun player. (I’m assuming Connecticut brought more than one player.)

Good to see the Usual Suspects again (and shoutout to the proud Johnny who greeted us in the stands).

Y’know, I’ve been to Levien before. I have GNoD to prove it. I should really have remembered to bring seat cushions.

Protip: if MTA’s trip planner tells you to take the C and walk across, do not do this thing. Trip Planner does not take elevation into account. So many stairs. If you like stairs, however, Morningside Park is very pretty.

I’m not sure how I feel about Amanda Zahui B’s hair. I think she needs to freshen it up.

At halftime, it’s 37-27 Connecticut, and that’s after the Liberty recovered from a hellacious first quarter where we had no field goals. Tina Charles basically decided in the second quarter that she did not approve of these shenanigans and scored 15 of her 18 points. The offensive schemes need some work. A lot of work. At the very least we need to not pass into triple-teams. Connecticut is being very physical and very handsy.

Fantasy game at halftime, coached by Sue Wicks and Kym Hampton. And I’m pretty sure someone with a quirky sense of humor put A’riel Hampton on Sue’s team... I guess that’s one way to make sure the coach doesn’t play favorites.

Anthem by one of the Knicks City Dancers, accompanied on keyboard by the Garden organist. Or, as I like to call it, the easy listening version of the anthem.

Sue is really into coaching this fantasy game. It’s adorable. She’s hamming it up. Kym has gone for the more stoic approach.

I really want one of those Liberty warm-up jackets. The new design is fire emoji.

That could have gone better. I suppose it could have gone worse, but I’m a bit hard pressed to figure out how. Two of our projected starters looked like hot trash on a platter, one looked like she didn’t care for two quarters of the game, and I have no idea who’s going to be on our bench. And if I were a Connecticut fan, I might still be slightly worried about the overly physical play. (I might also be wondering why Williams is starting over Banham.)

Brionna Jones got all her run in the in the second half, and she brought physicality down low with those shoulders. She had a nice putback off a miss from the corner. Danielle Adams showed some of the outside touch, and surprising mobility for her size. (And for all of her legendary flopping expertise, I think the charge she took was legit. Nayo got leverage on her. Shoulder right under the breasts. I winced in sympathy.) Reshanda Gray needs to work on her ballhandling, or the post equivalent thereof- she had a lot of trouble holding on to the ball. I like her hustle on the inside, but I think she’s going to be on the outside looking in with this roster. I think the Sun are very happy to have Lynetta Kizer back, both for the power she brings down low on both ends of the floor and the midrange jumper she flashed. She never stops, and I admire that about her.

For all her shooting woes, I thought Rachel Banham actually had a pretty good game. She looked like she was settling into a lead guard position, and her defense was better than I was expecting. It probably didn’t help her that the vagaries of switching defense often left her with a faceful of Zahui, the one player on that court who probably knows her better than any other. Kelly Faris brought a lot of good, scrappy, hustle defense; somehow it seems appropriate that with a game like this, she came up with the final rebound. Shekinna Stricklen’s height caused problems, and she’s still in love with that three. Jessica January did not impress, except in the sense that she made someone else look worse.

Courtney Williams is a little waterbug, and I mean that in the nicest possible way. Like Betty Lennox once did, she can juke and slice her way through a defense. She’s aggressive defensively, sometimes to a fault. She might be a little more headstrong going to the basket than her coach would like. Jasmine Thomas didn’t call glass on the three, but since this isn’t the playground it doesn’t matter. The hand-checks were getting called on her. She’s got to be smarter than that, especially with Banham breathing down her neck.

Jonquel Jones is a freakin’ beast. She barely played and she still stole the show, rebounding by sheer force of will and wingspan. She had a monster, perfectly timed and executed, block on Nayo. That trade with LA is starting to look really good for both teams. Alyssa Thomas can be a one-woman fast break, but she didn’t need to be. She had trouble with the defense closing in on her. Morgan Tuck was solid, taking advantage of horrific baseline defense to cut to the basket. She drew a lot of fouls and hit her free throws. She looks recovered from the knee surgery.

If I’m Connecticut, based on the three games I’ve seen, my last three cuts are Gray, January, and Adams in that order, depending on the cap. (Sorry, Too Tall. Love you, but you need more seasoning overseas.)

Ameryst Alston brought a little offensive pop in garbage time. I don’t know if she has what it takes to make the regular season roster, but I like how hard she works. Lindsay Allen did not impress. She’s got good speed, and she’s willing to work on defense, but a point guard has to be able to pass, and I’m not seeing that passing eye from her. (My favorite-in-the-sarcastic sense play was the one where she essentially turned the ball over twice on the same possession, first passing it right at Faris, getting the bounce off Faris’s hands, then throwing it away towards Amanda.) Brittany Boyd has got to hit those free throws she draws, but I love her hustle. Her defense was good, and she’s really mastered the art of drawing contact (though to be fair, Connecticut was fouling everyone at every time). That woman deserves all the ice baths.

If Jacki Gemelos wants to make this roster as a three-point specialist, she needs to hit three-pointers. Barring that, she needs to bring it on defense. You can’t get caught with your hands down on a shooter. I remain utterly unimpressed. Kai James should have finished a lot more at the rim- she got some beautiful looks (including one from Lindsay) and either handed them off (resulting in turnovers) or took soft shots as if she were afraid to take contact (resulting in turnovers). If she was supposed to prove anything in this game and in the DNP-CD of Kia Vaughn, she didn’t. Cierra Burdick hustled, but not much else. Getting crossed over by Kelly Faris and then owned on the glass by a rookie is not a good look for a bubble player. Amanda Zahui B was inconsistent on the offense, not taking post shots she should have taken and surrendering to the urge to take the outside jumper.

Sugar. Sugar, we need you to take better shots. Too many of them were ill-advised quick shots (including that one-armed heave from the sideline with, like, seven seconds left; it looked like a terrible life decision from my angle, but I’m not sure if she was falling out of bounds or not). I don’t know what to make of her, especially with the repetitive offense we were running. Maybe she’ll be all right when we have more of the post offense installe dand she isn’t under as much defensive pressure. Bria Hartley took her turn at the lead guard, and she was all right offensively, but mostly in terms of looking for her own offense, not in terms of setting up other people. She might be effective as a three-point threat, which is something we really don’t have.

Rebecca Allen was a hot mess, and I’m worried about her. She’s not moving effectively on defense, and she didn’t look to shoot at all. If she’s going to start at three, she’s going to have to shape up right quick. Tina Charles woke up in the second quarter, looked around, and decided to impose her will on the game. Then she got bored with that, and she didn’t play most of the second half. We already know what she can do in the high post. I’m still annoyed that her rebounding was lackadaisical. Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe showed strength on the boards, but I’m not happy with her timidity on the offensive end, or her ability to hold on to the ball.

The offense was a disaster. I almost said hot mess, but I don’t like being repetitive. There are so many times you can pass into the teeth of a triple team before I start doubting the entire team’s sanity, including the coaching staff. Yes, you have to install your sets, but you also have to recognize when that set might not be working and maybe tinker with it a little more before you unleash it on unwitting opponents.

I suspect we’re going to keep Lindsay Allen just so we can say the draft wasn’t a complete waste, but I’m not seeing what they’re seeing in her. I still think Cierra Burdick and Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe are the last survivors of the cuts, but we’ll see what goes down at the deadline. Trader Bill and the crew have pulled last-minute magic before.

The officials called a lot of touch fouls and a lot of cheap fouls. I don’t think either side was thrilled. Curt Miller spent a lot of time expressing his opinions of the matter at halfcourt.

What was up with the Sun staff all wearing red sweaters? They looked like some kind of demented Christmas photo.

The Columbia-Subway concession connection remains intact, and the Liberty provided vouchers for what was essentially a value meal. I like when we get free stuff.

Despite the fact that this was supposed to be open only to New York Liberty season subscribers, there were a couple of people there in Connecticut Sun gear. I don’t know if they cadged tickets off friends, or they were related to Sun people, or if they’re two-timing their teams, but they should not be able to catch our shirts.

I’m not going to completely panic yet, since we don’t have one of our starters and one of our best interior defenders, and Kia Vaughn was a DNP. But I’m going to worry just a touch. I don’t know who’s going to start alongside Tina in the front court, and I don’t think Rebecca Allen came in ready to play.

I’m looking forward to real action. See you on Saturday!

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Friday, May 5, 2017

May 3rd, 2017: Los Angeles at Connecticut

Just the Facts, Ma’am: A second quarter outburst set the tone for Connecticut in their 79-62 win over Los Angeles. Danielle Adams led all scorers with 17 points, all in the second quarter. Odyssey Sims paced Los Angeles with 12 points.

For one-woman wrecking crews, foul counts and miscounts, endless reviews, disappearing fans, camouflage, culinary tips, and rude mascots, join your intrepid and annoyed blogger after the jump. (Dear bus driver, why didn’t you pee before we left Mohegan, instead of waiting until we hit the state line?)

We’ll do this backwards again, second game first, once I can get my eyes to stop bleeding. Can we cut refs in the preseason? Because I’d really like to put Tiffany Bird on waivers. Suzanne she is not.

I have adopted protective coloration to better fit in with the locals. (Look, man. It took me years and years of collecting to finally find a 2003 Sun jersey in my size, damn right I’m going to show it off.) (As an aside, Champion and Reebok have wildly different opinions as to what constitutes XXL.)

Do not go to Geno’s late on a weeknight, the night shift is utterly clueless.

I love Brittany Brown’s enthusiasm on the floor, on the bench, and in the stands (she watched her former Florida State teammates in the first game). I think she’s playing at too fast a speed, not letting the game come to her. Her teammates weren’t helping, either, but we’ll get to Sydney Wiese in a little while. Chelsea Hopkins brought the quickness and the adroit dribbling moves. I don’t know how well she meshes with the rest of the roster, but I like her. I am spectacularly unimpressed by Jamie Weisner, fourth-quarter mini-surge not withstanding. I am even less impressed with Mikaela Ruef. She’s more versatile than Weisner, but she isn’t as good at the things she does as Weisner is at the things she does. That made sense to you guys, right?

Nina Davis is sneaky at getting to the inside. I love her rebounding instincts- as soon as she knows a shot is off, she’s off to the races to the rim. She just can’t get through the higher, denser trees around the basket the way she could at Baylor. I think she’ll have a very successful career in Europe, but I don’t think she’s going to translate well to the W. Heart and brains can only get you so far. I really don’t like Saicha Grant-Allen. She flops, she’s unduly physical, and I don’t think she knows how to set a legal screen. I’m not even sure she should have been in the game at the end; the stats I keep show her with only five fouls, but the official scorer and the scoreboard had her at six. I think one may have initially been announced for Tiffany Jackson-Jones and later corrected, or something, because that’s where my stats and the box score differ. Part of me wonders if she knows she doesn’t have a chance and is taking it out on everyone.

Sydney Wiese’s handle was abysmal, especially in the early going. She was fumbling, missing passes, and not taking good care of the ball. She was hassled by the Connecticut defense, but when you’re getting schooled defensively by an offensive specialist, you might have a problem. Odyssey Sims decided she had to go it alone, which is not a good plan if she wants to integrate herself into the returning core of the Sparks. Lavender, Ogwumike, and Parker don’t need another hero. She drove fearlessly and had a nifty steal, but driving into traffic is a bad plan.

Karlie Samuelson continues to be the best of the crop of blondeish Pac-12 shooters that Agler brought in, at least in game action. I thought she did a good job getting her shot off and helping her teammates get open. I thought her game was the most balanced out of the four (who I presume are all scrapping for the same roster spot). Tiffany Jackson-Jones was physical, and had a ridiculously bad time finishing at the rim. It was bad. She was defended decently, but not well enough to explain all of those misses. Avery Warley-Talbert rebounded like someone with something to prove. She also showed good leadership on the court, helping signal her teammates go where they needed to be.

No minutes for Gamble, Go, or Jackson, so I think we know who’s on the chopping block. If my math is correct, there are eight roster locks (Beard, Carson, Gray, Lavender, Ogwumike, Parker, Sims, Williams), and cap room for three bench players. Based on the last two days, I’d keep Samuelson, Warley-Talbert, and Hopkins. If there’s room for one more, coin toss between Davis and Wiese (only to save face).

These games tell us nothing about Los Angeles. How can they tell us anything when their top five are out of the picture? At most, they tell us that Odyssey Sims needs to slow her roll. (And also stop flopping. Friggin’ drama queen.)

This was the kind of game where you understand why fans could fall in love with Kelly Faris. She was all over the floor, making hustle plays and making smart plays (there was a sequence where Connecticut inbounded with one second on the shot clock, and I’m pretty sure she deliberately took the shot short so she could get the rebound and the partial reset). Her offense and her offensive thought are still lacking, but on nights like this, she might just earn you more points indirectly than you lose from direct scoring. Allison Hightower was inexplicably in love with the sweeping scoop shot, and it was a love that languished unrequited. I love, love, love her defense, and the movement is back. Rachel Banham set up for corner threes and had one particularly nice rebound under the Sparks’ basket in the second half. Jessica January had a three go halfway down and pop out in the first half, and another one go awry. Turns out she needed to take another couple of steps further back to recalibrate. She got a lot of run in the fourth quarter, and I’m not sure what Curt Miller thought of her ability to handle pressure defense. Being the one person on the floor with a handle couldn’t have helped.

Danielle Adams’s second quarter was the stuff of which legends are made and folk heroes born. Three after three after three, and the crowd went wilder with every one. She had Connecticut’s first 17 points of the quarter on five treys and a midrange shot, then made the pass on the next basket. But either Los Angeles adjusted their defense to take her out of the game or she didn’t like the angles on the other side of the floor, because she had nothing in the second half. I think that’s where the strength and conditioning problem kicks in. Brionna Jones was physical inside and is catching on to the art of the screen. She did a nice job keeping balls alive inside. (Uh. As it were.) All the fouls on Reshanda Gray were bad calls. I mean it. All of them. I have no idea what even they were thinking with that flagrant. She was tough inside, but one can only do so much when the deck is stacked against you. Jennifer Hamson was very tentative, and I have to remember it’s admirable, not hilarious, when tall post players dive for loose balls like they know what they’re going to do with them when they get them. Something seems off about her shot mechanics, but that might be a height thing. Very tall posts seem to develop odd shooting motions. I’m not sure what to think of Shekinna Stricklen, or even how to categorize her. She needs to stop committing stupid fouls, this I know.

I still don’t know how Courtney Williams fits on this team, but I like her stubbornness. She’ll be in your face on either end of the floor. She had a nice defensive sequence on Wiese that led to a Los Angeles shot clock violation. Jasmine Thomas seriously needs to lay off the ticky-tack hand-check fouls. They’re starting to impede her ability to stay on the floor, or at least to keep the game flowing. She didn’t see the floor a lot, which makes sense considering the margin.

Alyssa Thomas is a one-woman fast break party. When she gets going, there’s no stopping her. I don’t know if you can even draw up offensive sets for her, or if it’s like improv. “Alyssa, you just find points somewhere, okay? You’ll figure it out.” Jonquel Jones set the tone with a big early block. I think it was on Sims, but I can’t see the tiny number in this light. The three-pointer is not necessarily her friend at this point in her career, but it’s good for her to try. Morgan Tuck was solid, especially early on, getting jumpers and points in the paint. Her services weren’t required for most of the game, and I think it was the right decision for Miller to use her as sparingly as he did.

I think these Sun kids (Sunkids? Sunkidt?) have a lot of potential, and they’re developing together, which might be just as important as each player’s individual development. They’re getting ready to gel as a team, to rise or fall together. That’s really cool.

So many reviews. Too many reviews. Really out of control officiating. Tiffany Bird did not leave a good impression yesterday, and she didn’t leave a good impression today. I’m almost tempted to ask Daryl Humphrey how he got saddled with these two clowns.

Good win for the Sun- yes, it’s a meaningless preseason game against a JV roster, but it had to feel good for the kids.

Reshanda Gray was utterly adorable in the “This or That” feature. First car? “A bicycle!” Spirit animal? “A unicorn.” Come to New York, Reshanda! We will love you and appreciate you and be socially active with you and appreciate your beautifully unique dorkiness!

I don’t completely understand why people get tickets for a doubleheader, show up for the second game, and leave in the middle of that. I don’t understand why it’s a thing. Why commit to the event if you can’t watch more than half of it? Sun fans are a strange breed- the season ticket holders can be passionate, but so many of the people who appeared on camera looked like they didn’t want to be at the game. Then why are you here?

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May 3rd, 2017: Chicago at New York

Just the Facts, Ma’am: The Chicago Sky steadily built a second-half lead in their 86-75 win over the New York Liberty. Cappie Pondexter had 15 points to lead four Chicago players in double figures. Tina Charles had 14 to lead New York.

For disjointed play, wild passes, dubious footwork, not rebounding, carelessness, clever plans, and a good book, join your intrepid blogger after the jump.

Six hours of sleep, give or take, and here we go again. I probably could have slept another hour or two, but my alarm clock left around 8ish, and I didn’t dare let him let me sleep in. Last thing I’d need is to sleep until noon and miss the bus that I’ve already paid for.

I’m killing the next half hour or so at the Flushing library, recharging the tablet and typing this very prologue. I should probably be weirded out by the fact that the dude across from me just pulled out a bottle and chugged a gulp of something. I think it might be rum.

It’s cooler today. Good thing I’m already wearing my jersey.

I’m sure y’all were waiting with bated breath to find out whether my clipboard was located. It was. We’re all good. It’s now currently in my backpack with all its usual contents.

Well, that could have gone better. It could have been worse, to be sure, but that’s not a Chicago team we line up well against.

I married a very smart man, who suggested I call Mohegan directly to see if any comps were available, and lo and behold they were. Hurray for free stuff!

Chicago came off the court in a neat, orderly manner that made it easy on the two of us collecting autographs. New York came off neatly, too, but at the other end of the floor. If I’d known that was going to happen, I would have left my hat home.

The box score claims that Jessica Breland started. The box score lies. Breland didn’t start. She came off the bench and played more four than three this time out. Her three was well-timed. I just really love what she brings to the floor. I like what she brings off the floor, too; I was impressed with the headdress she made out of her towel and disappointed when she had to disassemble it to go back into the game. Cheyenne Parker brought good height off the bench, but I don’t remember precisely what she was doing with it. Amber Harris has good size, but you get the feeling sometimes she wishes she didn’t, that she’d rather be a smaller player and spend more time on the perimeter. There’s something about Shayla Cooper that sets my teeth on edge, and I don’t completely know what it is, but it makes it hard to write about her, and for that I’m sorry.

I don’t know if Chicago knows what they’re doing with Betnijah Laney. I think they want to convert her to three; I think it’s equally likely this project will fail. Rebekah Gardner hustled hard and had a really nice chasedown of a rebound. I don’t think she’ll make the roster, but she’s doing the important job of pushing the people who will. (I think that’s an underrated aspect of fringe players- they have to be willing to work harder than anyone else with less guarantee of a reward.) Makayla Epps was out of control. I don’t think Stocks trusts her- I mean, she is a rookie in her first couple of weeks of action, so that’s not inexplicable or inexcusable, but she’s going to need some time to adjust to the speed of the game. Tori Jankoska seemed more in her groove than she was the night before, getting the deep three looks and making good decisions on the baseline.

I think Tamera Young heard everyone coming for her roster spot and was like “LOL NO”. Maybe the jump shot is a preseason mirage, but if it is, it’s a convincing one. It’s not the most beautiful jump shot in the world- it’s still flat and her follow-through isn’t great- but it’s there. She had trouble with pass-catching, though. Imani Boyette got a lot of support from her teammates on the bench- more than anyone else, they were cheering for her every time she hit a shot or had a big block. Trying to pass over the top of her is not the greatest decision in the world. Stefanie Dolson seemed to let her emotions get to her at times. Either she’s gotten more physical or I’ve started noticing her being physical more, because in these two games she definitely looked like she’d been studying the Plenette Pierson Playbook. (That’s not necessarily a bad thing! It’s just a thing I as an opposing fan don’t like.) She still has the pretty jumper, though.

Cappie Pondexter’s been in the league a while. She’s been in the spotlight longer, between starring in the W and starring at Rutgers. You’d think enough young players coming up would have seen her play. You’d think coaches would know her. And yet she had plenty of space to put up that fallaway, off-one-leg jumper that she’s been doing for years. She had a solid game, though I don’t think I’d have her running point. (On the other hand, the options in that regard are rather limited for Chicago until playoffs are over in Turkey and wherever Quigley is.) Keisha Hampton has settled in well in Chicago. I think she might have found a home, or at least a place she can be a solid temp if roster constraints leave her the odd woman out. She brings size, but she also brings that DePaul shooting touch that I think Stocks likes.

I don’t think Chicago is going to go with the big lineup for very long during the regular season, but it’ll be a change of pace that other teams might have trouble with. Depending on suspensions and contract manipulation, they might have some real tough times making cuts.

I’m glad I don’t have to choose between Cierra Burdick and Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe, since I’m not any of the decision-makers for the Liberty. Cierra does a lot of good things on the floor, but she isn’t as strong and she has shown a tendency to commit stupid fouls. Nayo is stronger, but not as offensively polished, and she’s shown a tendency to assume that she’s playing for the Rangers, not the Liberty. Cross-checking people in the open floor is not legal. Kai James brought size, but she needed to go in stronger against the Chicago defense- I felt like she was shooting too soon and not comfortable with the contact she was taking. I think she’s serving as an adequate understudy, and a good target to practice passes on. Ivey Slaughter brought a lot of good energy, and in another year I think she’d make this roster, but she’s too far behind Cierra and Nayo to have a chance. Renee Bennett needs to watch her footwork- this wasn’t as good a game, or a matchup, for her. Nice kid, I’m sure, but not WNBA material.

I don’t know what Bill Laimbeer has seen in Ameryst Alston twice. I don’t know what he saw in her the first time. She brought nothing I could see on the court. Shacobia Barbee looked a little more confident than she did the previous night, but I still wasn’t impressed. Bria Hartley showed some promise at lead guard (even though I’m not a fan of the “lead guard” concept) and picked up a lot of loose balls. Lindsay Allen had a little bit better luck getting her shot to drop, but I don’t like what I’ve seen of her court vision (or lack thereof) and I’m not impressed with her decision-making. I know it takes time to develop that, but I don’t know if she’s going to develop it, or if she has the physical tools to compete while she’s doing so. She’s so small! Jacki Gemelos brought good shooting from beyond the arc. She might be too one-dimensional to keep, though.

Kia Vaughn did not fare well against the larger defense of Chicago. Drawing the defense like they are moths and you are one big honkin’ flame only works if you can either pass out of it successfully or fight through the contact. She didn’t do either. She didn’t make smart decisions with the ball. Tina Charles showed her offensive firepower, but either she doesn’t care about the preseason or she’s under orders not to care about the preseason, because if she’s still standing and watching rebounds on Sunday, I’m going to say a few things that I probably shouldn’t say in front of children in a small gym. Rebecca Allen looked to have gotten her feet back under her, fitting back into the offense. She had issues with passes, both sending and receiving, but I’m loving the shot-blocking she brings.

Brittany Boyd was solid, though she committed stupid fouls- no need to ride Cappie Pondexter in the backcourt. She fits the system better, though I recognize she has the advantage of experience. Sugar Rodgers was feeling her shot, both in the good way by hitting them at opportune times, and in the bad way by stopping and popping with no rebounders ready to recover. That’s an old Sugar move, and one I’d like to see a little less of. But she wasn’t really being tested in this game either; between the oddities of Chicago’s lineup and Bill’s propensity to back off the gas in the preseason, she wasn’t needed. She did the thing she’s best at, and that’s all that seemed to be asked of her.

We’ve got to do better on switching on defense. The offense seems to be running at a higher pace than last year, and it’ll be fun when everyone’s back.

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Wednesday, May 3, 2017

May 2nd, 2017: Chicago at Connecticut

Just the Facts, Ma’am: A big fourth quarter powered the Connecticut Sun through a dubious start to a 81-72 win over the Chicago Sky. Danielle Adams put up 12 points, nine in the fourth, to lead Connecticut from the bench. Keisha Hampton and Tamera Young each had 11 to pace the Sky.

For big forwards, sweet passes, Matrix time, imbalanced rosters, rim protection, and stars in the making, join your intrepid and bloodshot blogger after the jump.

Gonna start with the second game first, while it’s still fresh. I’m currently standing at Geno’s waiting for dinner. Taco bowls are not available and I am very sad. Combine that with training the new guy, and I think I might try somewhere different for dinner tomorrow night.

Chicago certainly believes bigger is better, I’ll say that. So much size. It’s almost a shame half of it has no idea what to do with itself.

I don’t think trying to work on her outside jumper is going to work for Betnijah Laney. If you’re going to take a perimeter jumper, you have to have a little lift on it, and her shot is as flat as conspiracy theorists believe the earth is. I recognize that most of the emphasis at Rutgers is how to keep the ball out of the basket, but at some point that intuitive leap must be made that your team requires points. Amber Harris loves to stand and watch her shot. It’s not that pretty a shot. She shouldn’t be doing that. 6-6 centers should at least pretend to rebound. I’m not entirely certain why Cheyenne Parker was out there taking threes, unless someone either slipped her some of the really good stuff or Amber Stocks genuinely thinks she can run Parker out there as a three. It’s not working. She has strength in the paint- use her there. Box score watchers, your eyes did not deceive you and it wasn’t a joke. Tamera Young actually hit a three. She hit another jumper too; honestly, I think that was after the shot clock buzzer but everyone was so surprised that it happened that they were willing to just roll with it. Lots of hustle on the inside- I think she knows someone’s going to come for her job and is ready to defend it against all comers.

Shayla Cooper didn’t impress me at Georgetown, and she didn’t impress me at Ohio State, and clearly she didn’t impress Curt Miller in Connecticut, and she didn’t impress me here either. Has she always fancied herself a three-point shooter? It doesn’t look right on her somehow. Makayla Epps was sloppy- uncomfortable with the level of play, I think. Connecticut brought defense on her and she coughed it up. The box score credits her with an awful lot of assists; I think some of them were panic passes that she got lucky on. Rebekah Gardner brought the kind of heart and hustle you expect out of a training camp temp, but she’s not going to make this roster. She doesn’t have the skills and she doesn’t have the speed. Tori Jankoska is all right, I guess? She certainly has range- the three-pointer she hit was very deep. I think she might have a better shot of adjusting to the WNBA level than Epps does. Neither of them is a long-term solution.

Imani Boyette looked really tentative out there. I follow her on Twitter, so I don’t think she’s injured, but she looked like she was shying away from contact. I’d have liked to see her be more offensive-minded at the basket, though the existence of Jonquel Jones did a lot to shut down her offense. Jessica Breland seems to be adjusting well to the three spot, physical enough at both ends of the floor, but willing and able to stretch the opposing defense from the perimeter. She kept Chicago afloat in the early going. I love how she’s developing, and I’m proud that she’s a Liberty draft pick. Stefanie Dolson seemed to get more frustrated as the game went on. Lots of shoving- she got in a good one on Morgan Tuck, and filched a page from the Plenette Pierson Playbook on tangling the arms of the defensive player to draw a foul. Jonquel Jones (IIRC) was not amused.

Keisha Hampton shoots threes. It’s like she went to DePaul or something. (Don’t look at me like that, Jessica January.) She really seems comfortable in that role. I don’t know if she’s staying on, but she seems like she might be a nice backup to Breland when the Sky need to be more offensive-minded and less physical on defense. Cappie Pondexter is as she has always been: in love with the one-foot fallaway jumper, good at the drive and dish, vulnerable to being swatted, seemingly dissatisfied unless the offense runs through her. She had to run point when the starters were in, because, well, who else was it going to be, Boyette? Honestly. Pondexter-Hampton-Breland-Dolson-Boyette is one of the ridiculously biggest lineups I’ve ever seen. And I’ve seen some lineups.

For a team with so many bigs, Chicago wasn’t as dominant inside and on the glass as I would have expected. I think they need a point guard- whether that’s Vandersloot upon her return, Quigley upon hers, or Pondexter upon the cessation of her habitual recto-cranial inversion, I don’t know.

I’m going to cut to the chase and give Danielle Adams her shout-out straightaway. I don’t know how a woman that big moves that delicately. I don’t know how she gets beautiful finesse shots off. I don’t know how she draws fouls. She broke my neighbor’s brain. By the end of the game, all he could talk about was how she broke the laws of physics. Well done, Danielle, you’ve played one game in a Sun uniform and you already broke one of their season ticket holders. She powered Connecticut in the fourth quarter with threes, adroit flopping, and even a floor dive. (One more money quote and I’m done, from postgame: “I used to watch her on TV when she was with San Antonio, and I watched her hit those shots, and I thought it was all done with mirrors.”) Jennifer Hamson isn’t very strong- her screens move too much when she takes contact- but she blocks like a volleyball player. The hands get way up. I think she’s too one-dimensional to stick, but that’s a heck of a dimension. Reshanda Gray’s enthusiasm is appreciated, and she was good inside, but there’s something missing and I don’t know what it is. (I loved how much rim she got on the one jumper, though. Tap tap tap in.) Brionna Jones is very tough-looking, and seemed to get her feet under her in the paint as the game went on. She had a block on Tamera Young that looked like it was followed with a “not in my house”, which is funny coming from a rookie- Young’s played more games on that floor than Jones has.

Kelly Faris is a pest defensively, but someone who’s been in the league as many years as she has should be able to recognize game flow and not commit stupid reach-in fouls when it’s clear the officials are going to call stupid reach-in fouls. She needs to be more of a factor on offense. Don’t be scared of the ball, Kelly; if it hasn’t done anything to you by now, it’s never going to do anything to you. Jessica January did not take threes, as if someone was determined to prove to me that not all DePaul players take threes. I thought she really held her ground in the fourth quarter. Rookie jitters, a little, but more on the WNBA level (at least the preseason level) than I expected. Rachel Banham’s shot makes were very popular, but I was more impressed with the rebounds she pulled down. She’s stronger than I realized, I think. My neighbor was comparing her to Whalen, but beyond a superficial physical similarity and a shared alma mater, I don’t see it. Shekinna Stricklen shot Connecticut back into it late in the game, though her shot wasn’t falling overall. She’s quicker than I remembered. It is so, so good to see Allison Hightower back on the floor. I don’t think she’s all the way recovered yet, but her defensive instincts remain. One sequence of hers stands out to me- on a Chicago free throw, she moved from the left hash to the free throw line to box out the shooter, then quick as lightning got back to her original position to snag the runaway rebound.

Jonquel Jones, if she keeps this up, is going to be a monster inside, and I mean that in as complimentary a fashion as I possibly can. She has the length to be a rim protector on defense (she laid the freakin’ hammer down on Dolson) and a soft touch around the basket on offense. I don’t know how her perimeter work is, but wow, does she have the tools to be something special. Maybe she needs to work on her hands a little? But I’m sure she can. Alyssa Thomas is an athletic freak of nature, and again I mean that in as complimentary a fashion as I possibly can. She slices and dices defenses like someone very loud should be hawking her on an infomercial. She got into foul trouble in the third quarter, and the unit that pulled it together in the fourth allowed her to rest up for Los Angeles. I like the way Morgan Tuck and Jonquel Jones play together. I don’t know what it is about them that brings out the best in each other, but they seem to have a good simpatico. The finger roll isn’t quite working for her yet. I got the sense that both she and Hightower were on minute counts (which makes sense- they’re the biggest physical question marks on the squad, and the team is in a back-to-back situation).

Courtney Williams is very fast, and she certainly knows how to score, but I don’t know if there’s room for her on this roster. There might be only to keep it balanced, but I’m not impressed with her except in very small doses, and I’m not sure if Connecticut can afford the luxury of a small doses player. Jasmine Thomas got handsy, or at least got called for the reach-ins. Somehow, things just seem to click when she’s on the floor. She works really well with Alyssa Thomas on the fast break.

Favorite sequence, speaking of Thomas and Thomas on the fast break: first time out, Alyssa Thomas gets the runout, dishes off to Jasmine Thomas for the finish. Second time out, okay, Chicago is expecting the pass off and has it guarded. So what does Alyssa do? She fakes the pass, keeps it, and goes for the drive. I swear to you on my honor as a former Girl Scout she went into Matrix slo-mo time in real life as she went to the basket. I’ve never seen anything like it. I don’t know if it was hangtime or phenomenal body control or she is the Chosen One and Keanu Reeves was just a pretender. It was amazing.

Connecticut really cranked up the defensive intensity. Chicago wanted to go inside, and Connecticut was like, “LOL no.” Bombing threes with this Sky lineup wasn’t the solution.

Officiating got a bit interesting in the third quarter, which is to say that the home fans strongly disapproved of the calls. I can’t say they were wrong, though there were some earlier calls missed on Connecticut. Would you be terribly surprised to find that Fatou Cissoko-Stephens was one of the officials? I can’t say I was.

I think it’s going to be very hard to make decisions about this Connecticut roster. Lots of good pieces.

I miss the Liberty’s Torch Patrol. Solar Power is unimpressive and really needs to sharpen up their choreography. (Also, it goes without saying that Timeless Torches kick the ass of all other dance teams of their ilk. It is known.)

We’ll see how things go tomorrow (which has come today) when the match-ups get shuffled. I’m looking forward to it, but I’m also looking forward to the softness of my bed and the personal space heater waiting there for me.

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May 2nd, 2017: Los Angeles at New York

Just the Facts, Ma’am: The New York Liberty clamped down on defense in the second half for a preseason win against the Los Angeles Sparks, 81-65. Kia Vaughn had 14 points to lead the Liberty, who won the battle of the boards 41-20. Karlie Samuelson had nine points to lead Los Angeles.

For unexpected rookies, bus schedules, nail polish, chatter, so very many players, indifferent stars, and some nice defensive plays, join your intrepid and disordered blogger after the jump.

I shouldn’t even be able to do this. But I couldn’t get the week before the All-Star game off, because reasons. (Do you care about office politics as they relate to other people’s romantic mistakes? Neither do I.) So after some thinking, then some more thinking, I decided to take the week of May 1st off. Going to the May Day rally didn’t happen, but the rest of my plans are in place.

I’m writing the prologue to another round of meandering notes on a bus headed north on I-95. We’re somewhere in the vicinity of Port Chester, or maybe Rye. Since most sane and sensible people are working, I have enough room to type. We’ll see how it goes on the way back. The timing of these games is not ideal. Starting an hour later, improbably, would have been better. (It makes sense in context. The two relevant buses are the 1PM that leaves Mohegan at 9, and the 2:30 PM that leaves Mohegan at 10:30. I’ll be on the 10:30 in either case, but as a stand-by, not as a guaranteed seat, and that’s the last bus back to NY for some time.) (Operation Make The Last Bus was a success for the first day. Kind of worried about that window opening, though.)

There’s something different about the route every year. The ticket office moves; the bus pick-up moves. The route changes. Businesses along the way open, or close, or change their facades. What strikes me is how green everything is. I’m using to seeing the scenery in summer, or even autumn. The flowering trees are usually long out of bloom. But it’s the first week of May, and it’s warm. Amid the green there are flashes of pink and white. Anticipation lingers in the air.

Holy Toledo Rockets, I just noticed there are USB ports in the roof of this bus. BRB, recharging.

I know the superstars won’t be in this game, but that’s okay. That’s totally okay. I’ll see Epiphanny Prince and Kiah Stokes all through the regular season. I might not see some of these kids next week at Columbia.

If you’ve seen my black clipboard, please let me know. I can’t find it and I’m rather nervous. My copy of Shot Clocks is absolutely irreplaceable. (No, seriously. Among the players who have signed it is Margo Dydek.)

Two days, two games per day. First up... oh, I’ve already forgotten which combination of Liberty or Sun versus Sky or Sparks it is.

The on-board entertainment has switched from some show with messed up family dynamics to what appears to be Chinese Idol. There’s someone singing, and there are three judges in black leather chairs watching him. I don’t know if this is the audition stage or the competition stage, though.

OK, Mohegan, no comps, no regular season trips. $36 per seat is not going to happen on a regular basis.

So far the one other Liberty fan I’ve seen appears to be three sheets to the wind. It’s quarter to four, lady! (There were a couple of others around, including a couple who served as part of the Sun fan tunnel to start the second game. They were better behaved.)

Shoutout to my neighbor Van, a passionate Sun season ticket holder who seemed to enjoy shooting the breeze with a friendly Liberty fan. I don’t know if I really needed to see the x-rays of his collapsed spine, but other than that (and one awkward moment discussing the dance team) we got on like a house on fire. He loves his team. How can you not love that?

Mohegan is still feeling their way through the preseason. New staff on hand, new protocols in place, training underway. Well, preseason is the best time to work out all the kinks. Shame it didn’t extend to letting my bag through, but it is what it is.

Look, Sparks, y’all have got to stop with the random signings. I wasn’t prepared for Aundrea Gamble.

I think I might have overdone it on the chatter at Brittany Brown, but I really did enjoy watching her play at Florida State. (I’m a sucker for the ones who play defense like they want to tear your throat out.) She was really friendly, and a little confused as to how someone in Liberty gear had seen her play. (LIU Turkey Classic, by the way. Maybe other games? There are tags.) Her teammates seemed happy to leave her taking the shots at the end of the shot clock, and she was all, “Fine, if none of y’all want to shoot...” Chelsea Hopkins is tiny and quick, and she’s got some moves. Something about her doesn’t seem durable, though. I can’t put my finger on it, but I don’t see her being viable for any real length of time. Ah-Ra Go got a lot of support from the bench when she hit her basket, and she was tenacious defensively. Not ready for the next level, though. Jamie Weisner was in to take shots from deep. I was unimpressed. As unprepared as I was for Aundrea Gamble, I think Gamble was less prepared for the game. Somewhere in there is a joke about them signing a player named Gamble in time to play at the casino, but I am le tired.

Methinks we should have changed the play signals after people left. Avery Warley-Talbert, at least twice, was calling out our plays on the defensive end. I thought the big knock on her was she didn’t take in information well? Apparently what she does take in sticks. She was physical underneath, then tried to play it off. So did Mikaela Ruef, whose screens were not kosher. I do not like that woman. Jessica Jackson played a couple of unremarkable stretches. Nina Davis seemed to come on stronger on her second shift. She didn’t have a statistical impact, but I like the way she slithers into small spaces. She hasn’t figured out what to do with those spaces yet, but maybe after a couple of years overseas she’ll lose the hesitation.

Sydney Wiese started the game on fire, but streaky shooters giveth and streaky shooters taketh away, and once our defense started making her think, she started hurting the ballclub. Odyssey Sims can be a pinball out there, which was fun for the Sparks on defense- she had a fantastic steal on Kia Vaughn that may also have relieved Kia of her wallet. She got to the line well. Karlie Samuelson was very impressive- good perimeter shooting mixed with good play on the inside. If Agler is auditioning Wiese, Weisner, and Samuelson for one roster spot as the token shooter, last night’s performance might give Samuelson the edge.

I still don’t understand how Tiffany Jackson-Jones doesn’t get called for traveling. Her footwork is abominable. She was very physical on defense, and couldn’t understand why she kept getting called for fouls. TJ, it’s like you’re using your arm as a hammer or something. You’re not baking soda. Saicha Grant-Allen sets screens with elbows, and I don’t like that. I admire her fearlessness in the paint. She’s going to be a good complementary piece somewhere, but I don’t think it’s the WNBA, and I don’t know how European teams feel about post players who are mostly there to facilitate for their teammates. She did admirably as an understudy to the Sparks’ posts, in that case, bearing in mind their top three weren’t available.

I get the sense that this Sparks offense wasn’t designed to emulate anything LA will be doing in the regular season, but instead to gauge who on this roster will survive to the regular season. That has its perks, but at the same time, it might take longer for Agler to figure out how the survivors fit in with the regular rotation. (On the other hand, the man has championships in two leagues, so he probably knows more about this than I do.)

Ameryst Alston is still too tentative out there. Shoot the dang ball, Ameryst! I’m sure she’s a nice kid, even if she did go to Ohio State, but Bill keeps giving her chances and she keeps showing she’s not ready. Jacki Gemelos showed some of the same tentativeness early on; on the other hand, the three at the end of the game was completely unnecessary. Her shooting is nice, but shooters are streaky, and I wasn’t impressed with her lateral movement on defense. She can’t keep up with the switches. Bria Hartley looks very well recovered from the baby. Bill tried her out for a stretch in the fourth quarter as the lead guard, and it didn’t go as badly as I was expecting. She had a sweet feed to Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe down low that got the paltry crowd going. Shacobia Barbee is stockier but shorter than I expected. She had a nice crossover move on Weisner (I think- can’t tell if that scribble is 5 or 15) but nice doesn’t count if you don’t hit the shot afterwards. I’m hoping to see a little something more out of her against Chicago to see what Bill sees in her. Brittany Boyd brought her usual speed, sheer stubbornness, and rebounding presence to the floor. She hits like a freight train, and trying to step in front of her is a life decision a defender will regret if they don’t time it correctly, because not only will it hurt, it’ll be a blocking call.

Cierra Burdick got off on the wrong foot, not getting her warm-up jacket off fast enough and drawing a delay of game warning from Tiffany Bird. But her first play was to chase down a rebound on the baseline. I know I’m biased, but I just love what she brings to the floor. She needs to get better at doing some of the big things, but she does all the little things out there. Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe is stronger than her build would indicate. She’s not afraid to mix it up down low. She had a really nice play where she recovered from what I thought was a block on Rebecca Allen by Chelsea Hopkins and got the putback. Renee Bennett’s outside shooting touch is intriguing, and she sets screens worthy of the number she wears (Cathrine Kraayeveld’s 33). I’d like to see her do more work on the inside; I think the Chicago game will be very telling for her. Ivey Slaughter’s minutes all came in the second half, as near as I could tell (the Sun’s PA announcer wasn’t always on the ball with announcing subs) and were surprisingly effective inside. I don’t know if she’ll make the cut this time around, but she’s interesting. I like how she works the baseline.

I know Lindsay Allen’s a rookie, and maybe I shouldn’t be expecting a lot from her, but I do expect a four-year college player from an elite program to at least be able to attempt a lay-up from the “wrong” side of the basket, not to cross the lane, open herself up to defensive pressure, and miss the shot anyway. I don’t think she fits our system, I don’t think she fits our style, and unless she really applies herself a la Sugar, I don’t think this was a good idea. Sugar Rodgers wasn’t terribly involved in the game, but I don’t think Bill wanted her to be. She didn’t play a lot and was fairly passive when she did, except when she was committing stupid fouls.

Tina Charles made it clear she looks at preseason games the way a certain former Sixer looked at practice. At least pretend to rebound, Tina, the ball’s right there! On the other hand, she was doing a lot of individual work before the game, working on those power moves with the coaches. And Tina is still Tina. It’s just less obvious in the preseason. Kia Vaughn was strong inside, but reacted too slowly when the defense swarmed her. She has that unfortunate tendency to pose when she gets the ball and is ready to make her turn, and other teams know that, and they’re ready for her. This is probably not going to work against Chicago. But when Tina’s fully engaged, and Kia’s not getting so much defensive attention, this could be very, very fun. Rebecca Allen looked tentative in the early going, like she wasn’t ready for this and didn’t want to get dragged into it. She still looks like she’s finding her feet and not yet ready for the pressure of expectations.

I <3 this team. There’s just something about them I like and I don’t know what it is. It’s going to be really confusing once we have Kiah and Kia in the same place, with Bria on the side and maybe still Kai. All we need is Gillespie, the former Terp, to really confuse things. (Kiah, but she pronounces it Kai-ah) I thought Jeff Smith had really good control of the game from the officiating end. Things didn’t get too crazy, and he was right on top of the clock when there were some stoppage issues. Tiffany Bird seemed to be letting Bill Laimbeer under her skin. I understand that under a ref’s skin is his normal domicile, and he was still riding her after the Liberty got the call, but you can’t let it be that obvious. Change partners and go for tomorrow!

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Monday, March 20, 2017

March 19th, 2017: Harvard at St. John's

Just the Facts, Ma’am: Clutch free throws and critical stops helped St. John’s hold off Harvard, 62-57. Aaliyah Lewis of St. John’s posted game-highs of 16 points and eight assists, with Maya Singleton adding 13 points and nine rebounds. Katie Benzan led the Crimson with 13 points and seven rebounds; classmate Jeannie Boehm notched 11 points and seven boards before fouling out.

For tortured puns, alumna assistance, promising underclassmen, an unfortunate silence, going for broke in senior year, and teams not wearing colors they’re named after, join your intrepid and mildly confused blogger after the jump.

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls! We’re coming to you on the usual delay, though hopefully not as protracted a one as last game. It’s the second round of the WNIT, and this time the Red Storm play host to the Crimson of Harvard.

It’s a nice touch that Harvard has their school’s academic motto on the back of their warm-up shirts. Something about the material or the printing is rubbing me the wrong way, though that might just be a Nike thing. Nike’s equipment doesn’t usually match up to Adidas or Under Armour.

Harvard gives off this air of going through the motions, like they don’t want to be in the WNIT but feel honor-bound to represent the Ivy League and their institution.

Hi, Sky! Oooh, that’s a faux pas, you are not supposed to wear team colors if you’re broadcasting the game, and that sleeveless top is perfect Johnny red. Don’t get me wrong, Sky’s making it look good, but I don’t think this is supposed to be a home team broadcast.

So far it appears that Harvard has not brought any spirit groups. Given the propensity for Ivy League bands to gravely offend opponents, I’m not completely sure that this was willingly.

At halftime St. John’s is up 32-26, after Harvard went on a second quarter run. Scoring is fairly balanced on both sides. Lots of people have five points each. Early foul trouble on Maya Singleton and Jade Walker led to a lot of small ball.

I don’t think I like Kendyl Nunn as a first option on offense for four straight possessions. It’s not even like you’re planning for next year doing that. She was channeling Amber Thompson for a while on the inside, though.

Joe. Do not ever wear blue plaid pants again. Burn them or sell them to a vintage store.

Shoutout to Shenneika Smith still helping the squad by trying to sweet-talk the ref into reversing an out-of-bounds call.

I think we’ve got some of Jade’s family behind us. They’ve been on the refs, especially when the First Rule of STJWBB comes into play.

I’m not feeling this remix/cover/mash-up of “It Takes Two”.

That was closer than I felt it needed to be. Every time we made a run, Harvard was ready with a long-range jumper or a good find in the paint. They never gave up. I’d like to appreciate that about them, but I don’t think I like them enough to do that. I think they’ve got a lot of potential for the next couple of years, though; they have some very good freshmen.

Somewhere, there is a joke buried about Taylor Rooks transferring from Stanford to Harvard- wanted to be on the winning side? not challenged enough by the academics?- but I am too tired to find it properly. She gave them some good minutes off the bench. I didn’t even realize Mackenzie Barta played, and now I’m curious if she’s related to the Barta at Gonzaga. Nani Redford was an offensive spark in the first half. I really liked the sophomore guard Sydney Skinner. She might need to trim down a little bit (though she does know how to throw her weight around) but she’s got a really good head for the game, and spent a lot of time being in the right place at the right time. She’s going to be big for them, if this game is anything like her regular play. She put together a nice defensive takeback after Akina Wellere got a rebound, one that led to a trey for the Crimson.

I work in print production, which means I do a lot of work with graphics. Somewhere, there is a convoluted joke involving raster art versus vector art that I could cleverly apply to Madeline Raster. But I can’t quite get there. She set up outside quite a bit. Kirby Porter got on the board early, but she did most of her work in the first quarter. I think she was the player shuffled out to get Skinner and Rooks more minutes, especially in the second half. Katie Benzan is fearless, and tiny. These are not necessarily well combined when a a 5-6 guard attempts to go against post players. She has incredible speed- she was driving our players nuts most of the day. Her release is really fast too, and she showed good range. If this game wasn’t the outlier, she’s going to be something special for them.

Destiny Nunley had a nifty deflection late in the game, and set a good pick to open up Redford for a three. I’m not okay with her taunting after a bad out-of-bounds call went Harvard’s way, though. The petty part of me wants to tell her to pull her shorts down, and the really petty part of me wants to say, “well, she just played her last game, so her shorts don’t matter”, but I recognize that this is exceptionally petty. She’s good, and she was pretty solid for them. Jeannie Boehm has a lot of potential. They posted her up well, and she took advantage of her height. She has better body control than I would expect from a long freshman forward- she contorted her way around the defense multiple times. She was very physical, to the point where our players were getting frustrated at the non-calls.

I’m not sure why Joe has suddenly started trusting Kendyl Nunn in the last few games of the season. Is he making up for lost time or something? I’m happy to see her getting time, I’m just surprised and a little confused. It worked the first two times, and then she started taking jumpers. This did not go well. Jordan Agustus got early runin the first quarter. It was a little awkward, but she looked a lot better going to the basket than she had earlier in the season. She actually passed up a bad shot and fired off a good pass to Aaliyah (who promptly missed the shot). Crystal Simmons brought the defense, and I feel like maybe she’s starting to feel more confident in her offense? That would be cool. I’m worried about Andrayah Adams, though. She looks like she’s taken a step back.

After Jade Walker picked up the second foul in the first quarter, Joe sat her for the rest of the first half. Harvard sent the defense at her and never really let her get comfortable. She had a couple of strong post moves, but this wasn’t her day. It didn’t really need to be, though. Maya Singleton was efficient, though it was painfully clear that she doesn’t have a jump shot. That rather limits her offensive effectiveness if she can’t get at the basket. She makes so many great plays with her strength, though. Do not mess with Miss Maya.

I think I said this on Friday, and I’m going to say it again: Alisha Kebbe’s not going to take your breath away. She’s not going to be the star of the show. But she does everything, and she does it well. I especially love her nose for loose balls. The only thing I really worry about for her is durability- she’s been injured, and she seems to cramp up easily. (Da’Shena Stevens had similar problems, if I recall correctly- maybe now that Day is Coach Stevens, she can provide advice?) Aaliyah Lewis got a little jumper-happy, and I’m not sure how I feel about her becoming a primary offensive option this late in the game. You take what the defense gives you and all that, but I get the sense that she’s trying to go out with a bang. The season is finite; its absolute end is determined, and it can be cut even shorter at a moment’s notice. Akina Wellere has to work on her inside game, and on her handle, but she was great on help defense. That’s good to see out of her; much of her game has been, or at least has seemed to be, focused on the offensive side of the ball. I love when offensive catalysts find that second gear on defense. (See: Crystal Robinson.)

We were just stalwart enough against Harvard. The decision to go small for stretches was interesting. I think it gave Harvard too much momentum at the end of the first half. But Harvard in turn committed a grave error late in the game by having someone with four fouls marking Aaliyah; they lost about twenty seconds because they didn’t dare have Benzan foul and foul out.

Officiating was a pile of hot garbage, though I think Jade’s family might have influenced my perceptions slightly. On the other hand, I’m fairly certain booty-bouncing one’s opponent is supposed to be frowned upon. I was uncomfortable with the type of physicality that was being allowed- trips and elbows are not cool. And I don’t know what Destiny Nunley did that had Aaliyah riled up, but when Aaliyah looks like she’s about to slap the taste out of someone’s mouth, something has gone wrong.

Survive and advance. That’s the name of the game. Survive and advance. On the road we go now, to see familiar faces in unfamiliar places, and thank the sweet hypothetical baby Jesus I don’t have to choose in person between the team I love and the friends I’ve made. (No, I’m not going to Ann Arbor. Not at this point.)

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Sunday, March 19, 2017

March 17th, 2017: Sacred Heart at St. John's

Just the Facts, Ma’am: St. John’s erupted for 29 points in the third quarter to take control over Sacred Heart, winning their first-round WNIT game 72-43. Jade Walker and Akina Wellere each had 18 points to lead the Red Storm. Hannah Kimmel had 13 points and 14 rebounds to pace the Pioneers.

For lateness, similar colors, inappropriate drumrolls, and finding another gear, join your intrepid blogger after the jump.

Good evening, everyone! So we didn’t make the Big Dance. You blow your chance to win big games, that’s what happens. So we’re in the WNIT, what I like to call the Medium Dance. It’s Sacred Heart tonight; let’s hope the box score doesn’t mix them up with that other SHU like they did last year.

Buses are terrible evil things, so I missed the entire first quarter. All I know is that St. John’s is up 27-25 at the half, and Jade Walker needs help with that recto-cranial inversion again, and I love Maya Singleton so much.

Someone needs to remind the Sacred Heart drummer that you’re not supposed to be active during play. Lay off the drumroll after every basket.

What exactly makes visiting fans look at a section, see the home band, and look across at the home bench, and decide this would be a great place to settle down? Honest question. I see it more and more, and it is super annoying.

I see you behind the bench, Shenneika Smith. Don’t think I don’t remember. I’m not sure who the woman behind her who looks vaguely like Cappie is, but she looks familiar too (though maybe because, y’know, she looks vaguely like Cappie).

These kids in the biddy game are hitting the floor for loose balls harder than half our starters. Someone needs to have a pointed talk with Jade about hustling for boards.

So after halftime, St. John’s decided to start taking the game seriously, and the offense roared to life. Sacred Heart couldn’t contain the shooters, and the defense of St. John’s firmed up.

We saw a lot of the deep Pioneer reserves in the fourth quarter. Madison Cheatham looks like she can be a very interesting player for Sacred Heart if she settles into her body and maybe tones up a bit. She seems awkward, but she’s a freshman post- that’s always a tough combination. Allyson Murphy had a cheering section in front of us, so I couldn’t be mad when she got to the line. Kiana Ye was last off the bench, and unmemorable. Tykera Carter brought speed and on-ball defense- she had a beautiful steal for a fast break lay-up. I guess I shouldn’t feel so bad that she did it to both STJ and LIU. Erin Storck got blocked a lot. She hustled hard after loose balls- there was a save she almost made that turned out to be a turnover that was still really tough.

Hannah Kimmel saved the day for the Pioneers. She was everywhere on the glass, and solid on the inside. She was the star of the show. We threw a few different looks at her (my favorite was when Aaliyah Lewis was on her). I feel like I should remember more about Adaysha Williams- she was out there a lot, and I remember seeing a lot of the back of her jersey, but I don’t remember anything particular she did. Katherine Haines brought good interior offense, at least after I showed up. She got good post position and took advantage of it.

Kelcey Castro wasn’t afraid of contact, and with her build she’s pretty good at taking it. She drove headlong into the St. John’s defense, which did not always work out well for her. Driving directly into Jade Walker is not a good plan. Shelby Hickey was active, but unmemorable. I think I mixed her up with Kimmel a few times.

I have a hard time wrapping my mind around this game, because I missed the first quarter and because it took such a sudden turn in the third quarter. I never really got a grasp on the Pioneers. They relied on their seniors to carry them, and I think they’re going to change their style a good bit with the personnel they have returning next year.

We also saw the deep Red Storm reserves in the fourth quarter. I will miss the sheer joy Kendyl Nunn plays with. Her shot is quick, but not necessarily accurate. Jordan Agustus, still rocking the goggles, pulled down a rebound, almost by accident, and brought the hustle. The starters chilling out on the bench really wanted to see the reserves score, but especially Shamachya Duncan, and they were disappointed when her three fell short. I also still heart Tamesha Alexander, even if she’s over-aggressive on defense in blowout games. The kids aren’t ready for primetime, but I think Machi will be next year.

I do not like the plan of trying to turn Andrayah Adams into a point guard. She’s not a distributor. Her strength is in her scoring. Yes, her shot is inconsistent. She needs to work on that. But the solution is not to take that decision out of her hands. She doesn’t look comfortable as a distributor. Crystal Simmons was a one-woman fast-break destroyer. She blocked shots like no one’s business and was extremely disruptive on defense, even more so than usual.

Jade Walker was really frustrated for much of the first half. She was missing both inside and out, even during the halftime warm-ups. Akina Wellere had to try to take her in hand. Whatever Akina said, it worked. Jade came out much more confident and much more physical in the second half, going hard to the basket and all but abandoning the jumper. (I am okay with her abandoning the jumper until after she establishes her paint game.) Maya Singleton was fierce on the boards. I love her defense, and her rebounding, and her toughness, and her strength. She blocked shots with authority. Akina Wellere found her offense in the third quarter- nothing flashy, but steady and efficient. She’s got to be more careful with the ball, though.

Alisha Kebbe does a little bit of everything, and does it all well. I’m so looking forward to three more years of her. She’s not spectacular. She’s not necessarily going to do anything that’s going to make your eyes pop or make you gasp. She’s just going to do everything. Aaliyah Lewis hit big threes in the third quarter, but for a change she was more the recipient of pretty passes than the provider of them. She ran the offense effectively and kept the speed and pressure up so that Sacred Heart couldn’t keep up. (Also, Aaliyah as a screener is perhaps not the most effective option.)

I love the defense of this team. I love the players who go to the floor for loose balls. I love the leadership some of the young’uns are showing, as they realize they’re not going to have Aaliyah to rely on for that next year.

I had no real issues with the officiating. The Sacred Heart fan behind me did, and there were a couple of times when I thought he might have a point.

I don’t know how I feel about pep band Ricky Martin; on the other hand, “The Cup of Life” is certainly appropriate for a sporting event. I still don’t think I like this bit where other teams are sending their band and cheer to our house. It certainly threw off our cheer squad.

There will be no arriving late for the next game. And maybe the GNoD will actually be on time? Sorry, guys.

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Sunday, February 26, 2017

February 26th, 2017: Seton Hall at St. John's

Just the Facts, Ma’am: St. John’s came up with stops late to put away a pesky Seton Hall squad, 77-71. Alisha Kebbe’s 17 points led four Johnnies in double figures. JaQuan Jackson led all scorers with 32 for Seton Hall, with LaTecia Smith adding 13.

For shutdown blocks, fun posters, mild freakouts, seniors, questioning long jumpers, and alumnae, join your intrepid and haunted blogger after the jump.

So here we are. I love the place, but I hate the time. It’s the last guaranteed home game of my scattered season, and it’s Senior Day, and it’s the Awkward Bowl.

And it looks like Sandra Udobi has retired. If she’s not in uniform for a token Senior Day start, then she’s not playing. Awwww, Sandie.

The Liberty are participating in the pregame sports clinic, so the season ticket people are out, with schedules and all the leftover giveaways from last year.

Oh, for heaven’s sake, Aaliyah, put a shirt on.

Jade Walker will definitely have a large cheering section in this one. They were here before the gates opened.

I could be wrong- I often am- but I’m pretty sure Shadeen Samuels is back with Seton Hall. Either that, or Coach Bozzella brought in a walk-on for, like, one game.

Oh, dear. I don’t see Lubirdia Gordon out there for Seton Hall, and what I’m overhearing is not good. She’s been through way too much this year, and if she has to miss her last regular-season game, I am going to have a Talk with Someone Upstairs about when enough is goddamn enough.

The fine art of not looking people in the eye and being able to look away when people are looking at you has been very helpful with Seton Hall warming up right in front of us. There is a reason I call it the Awkward Bowl, and it’s not just because of those times when we dealt with the threat of physical violence.

Seriously, y’all. Never fall in love with two teams from the same conference. It never ends well.

Dear Seton Hall: why have you been hot trash on a platter against every team in the conference but St. John’s? You’re really not helping.

At halftime, it’s 37-36 St. John’s. We’re not switching well on defense, which has led to multiple situations where our de facto center is attempting to guard a tiny point guard with speed and moves. Maya on KK is a bad plan, Joe.

Fortunately, I don’t have to fight with God. Bird Gordon made it back and played.

Because the Awkward Bowl needed to be even more awkward than usual, Kaela Hilaire’s whole fam damily has set up shop in our section. Guys. Unless I have learned different etiquette than everyone else, you sit by your own bench on the road.

Senior Day ceremony was nothing to write home about. Jerseys, flowers, a composite highlight reel. Same as it ever was.

I’m not sure, but I thought I saw Kia Wright in the stands across the way, and Keylantra Langley may be wandering around again.

Oh, come on. This is the second biddy game I’ve seen this year where one of the kids has gotten hurt. And now they’re making the team with the injured player play 4-on-5, this is not fair. At least the kid came back.

That was closer than it had any real right to be, but I’m comforted by the fact that the defense dropped the hammer in the last couple of minutes to seal the deal. That’s the St. John’s team I know and love.

Seton Hall kicked our butts on switches. Too many possessions ended in mismatches (why in any universe would Aaliyah Lewis be guarding Lubirdia Gordon?). Much as Washington did with Kelsey Plum yesterday, the best plan for the Hall was to give the ball to Quanny and get out of the way.

Skyler Snider played very briefly when Coach Bozzella had nowhere else to turn amongst his forwards, for one reason or another. Lubirdia Gordon arrived late, and she was her solid self down low, setting screens and finishing at the rim. She also embraced her role as senior leader and mother hen when she took the T for arguing with the ref. We’ll go back to this later. Shadeen Samuels was back, and moving better than ever. Her offense hasn’t fully arrived, but that will come with time. Her defense and her screens are already there, though. I’m really glad to see her back. She took a lot of hard fouls, and I’m not sure if it’s something she said, if it’s a consequence of her style of play, or just a coincidence.

Jayla. Honey. When Tony told you to use your head, he did not mean that literally. Jayla Jones-Pack was called upon to step up because of fouls and injuries, and she did not answer the bell. Part of it wasn’t her fault; her pass-catching has never been top-notch, and whatever injury to her wrist caused her to need to wrap it can’t be helping. She started out of necessity, and didn’t start the second half. Claire Lundberg somehow managed to lead Seton Hall in rebounding. I still don’t know how. She has the inside size and outside game that Jade Walker has, but that doesn’t mean that she’s the right person to attempt to defend Jade. Offensive skill set =/= defensive skill set.

Today, of all days, we got the good Quanny. Why did we have to get the good Quanny? She was on fire. A lot of it was because her teammates set her up with screens- both Bird and Shadeen had wicked picks to open her up for threes. And once she’s feeling confident in her offense, she’s stronger on defense, more willing to take risks to get steals to convert to fast breaks. What the defense gave Seton Hall were looks for JaQuan Jackson, and SHU took full, full advantage. Kaela Hilaire still has work to do, but she seemed to play more within herself for the first three quarters of this one than she did at the game at Walsh. She stumbled in the fourth, losing control of her dribble under pressure. I do wonder if she felt pressure to perform and show off in front of the family; I don’t think a lot of them make the trip out to Walsh very often. LaTecia Smith was quietly efficient. She was in and out more than usual as Coach Bozzella tried some larger lineups against St. John’s. (I’m amused that our announcer calls her TT, but Seton Hall’s announcer insists on calling her the full LaTecia.)

My Johnnies are going to kill me one of these days, but it will be with love.

Jordan Agustus rocked the protective glasses. She didn’t play much, but she looked stylish doing it. Andrayah Adams brought the sweet jumper, but her defense was not where it needed to be. She didn’t have the hustle, that extra edge that leads to chasing loose balls. Maya Singleton did. She laid out for balls on the ground, and she owned the boards. She made a huge block on a late three attempt by JaQuan. She’s been so huge ever since Imani Littleton injured her knee, and I don’t know where we’d be without her. Crystal Simmons brought the defense, including a couple of big blocks on driving guards late. I’d like to see her be more confident in her shot, but I’ll settle for her amazing defense.

Kendyl Nunn got the ceremonial Senior Day start, which was a relief. (Coach Tartamella has occasionally overlooked this aspect of Senior Day etiquette.) She’s not a Big East-level player, and I don’t think she ever was, but I’m still happy that she got out there to make some hustle plays and get a bucket. Aaliyah Lewis didn’t have as secure a handle as she usually does- she had a couple of fumbles out of bounds. I think playing against two similar players in KK and TT hurt her. She hit the free throws when it counted at the end of the game. Little bitty thing always comes up big when we need her. Alisha Kebbe got hot from outside, and I think it surprised her almost as much as it surprised Seton Hall. She was rock solid today, just when we needed her. I love the way she’s developing- there are so many facets to her game, and every game seems to showcase a different one of them. I’m really excited about her potential.

The tournament version of Akina Wellere seems to be back, for the most part. She’s still got to hold on to the ball better- she and Alisha both had trouble fishing out passes that weren’t perfectly thrown. And Seton Hall did a good job of taking away her angles on the outside so that she couldn’t get off three-pointers. That just forced her to go to the rack, where she converted with efficiency and a bit of élan. Jade Walker had the jumper working today, though her inside game wasn’t as on point as I would have liked. The Seton Hall defense collapsed on her whenever possible.

It’s hard to say this with a straight face, given the shooting percentages in this game, but defense won the day for the Johnnies. We made big plays down the stretch and kept Seton Hall from getting the buckets they needed.

Take that will not make me popular in most parts of Queens: Maya should have been called for the foul against Kaela, and Bird did the right thing by getting in the ref’s face about it. The technical was costly, in its own way, but I think it was more important for Bird to take control of the situation and keep KK from saying anything she might regret later.

The school encouraged alumnae to come on out to the game, and boy did they ever. You don’t realize how much you miss someone sometimes until they’re mentioned, and then I got to missing Greeba Barlow, and Tara Walker, and Monique McLean, and Amber Thompson, and all the others I’ve seen come through St. John’s. Not everyone on the list was in the picture, and not everyone in the picture was on the list, but it was good to see everyone.

Officiating was the usual mélange of inconsistency. They really let the teams play, for the most part. Both coaches registered high on the Adubato Scale at times.

There comes a point in one’s life where everyone looks a little bit like someone, right? I’m not the only person this happens to? So you can imagine the sensation of my heart in my throat when I thought I saw... a certain Seton Hall alumna who prefers I not mention her... hanging out in the arena after the game. But the woman didn’t react, so it had to have been a coincidence, similar features and a similar hairstyle. That would have put quite the damper on the day.

They added an autograph session after this game, so we got to wish the ladies good luck and chat them up about the game. Go forth and be awesome, Johnnies! (You too, Pirates, but, uh, y’all haven’t given me as much reason to expect it this year.)

There’s a sense of finality about this game, but a tenuous one. At Seton Hall’s Senior Day, I knew I would see them again at St. John’s; at LIU’s Senior Day, I knew I would see them at St. Francis. But this is it. This is all that we are guaranteed. The Big Dance is the most distant of dreams. The WNIT is uncertain. All that we know we have is the conference tournament. My teams are now relegated to television, and that’s never a fun feeling.

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