Tuesday, May 24, 2016

May 24th, 2016: Atlanta at New York

Just the Facts, Ma'am: For the second straight game, the Liberty faded down the stretch, and for the second straight game, they took an overtime loss, this time to Atlanta, 85-79. Tiffany Hayes had 27 points and 11 rebounds to lead the Dream; Atlanta got 15 points after halftime from Angel McCoughtry, who did not play most of the first half. Tina Charles had a monster game in the loss for New York, with 29 points, 10 rebounds, seven steals, and six assists- but Sugar Rodgers (10 points) was the only other Liberty player to crack double digits in scoring.

For screaming, so much screaming, new living room decorations, passionate road fans, cool kids, defensive lapses, Huskies crying wolf, chemistry issues, questionable play-calling, so very many missed opportunities, and lousy officiating, join your intrepid and transient blogger after the jump.
Good morning, everyone! It's your intrepid blogger's least favorite sort of game of the year- School Day, the 11 AM start that messes with my circadian rhythm and forces me to endure thousands of screaming children for the sake of my team. To be honest, I was seriously considering skipping this one, but for work-related political reasons, I decided to take the days I was entitled to.

Of course, if there are children, there are thundersticks. They're black and white, but the 20th anniversary logo is pretty well done.

Atlanta rushed off in a hurry. Reshanda Gray disappointed the kids, but Meighan Simmons at least stopped for pictures (and for my hat, yay!).

We have a biddy game to start things off, and people are so adorably hyped when one of those little kids hits a shot. One kid runs a pretty nice fast break but is just too tiny to hit a lay-up. (No, seriously, between the braids and the gait, she looks like a very tiny Spoon, my heart is exploding with squee.)

God bless you for coming up here, you decked out Dream fan, but you're behind the wrong bench.

At halftime, New York is up 39-32, but the bigger issue for Atlanta is that Angel McCoughtry came out very early in the first quarter and did not return. She's been on the bench, but not playing. We're enduring an anti-bullying lecture/slam poetry session.

The kids behind us are into the game and loathe the officials as much as we do, so that's cool.

The officials have been lousy. The FT differential is ridiculous. Then Mount Laimbeer exploded, and now both teams are getting crappy calls on them.

Tiffany Hayes leads Atlanta with 13; Tina Charles has 10 for New York. Both teams are missing open shots and multiple looks.

AAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRGGH AAAAAAAAAAAAAGGGGGGGGGGH RRRRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGH

Okay, fine, I'll write coherent Game Notes for you. They're going to be more collaborative than usual, since the Queen Mother and I are hashing the game out as I type.

Atlanta did a marvelous job playing the passing lanes and deflecting balls. That's one thing they're brilliant at. They closed like a trap and batted the ball away. 11 blocks and 13 steals- and that's just what made it into the stats.

Michael Cooper worked heavily with his deep bench in the first half. Everyone saw time. Reshanda Gray's only minutes were in the first half, and even then the announcer almost forgot to mention her existence. She was physical, but otherwise unremarkable. Rachel Hollivay hits hard- she bodied up early and often on the Liberty posts. She had good looks at the basket, but she missed them- then again, the rim at that end of the floor was doing odd things to shots. Lots of stuff was rimming out. Cierra Burdick's first half minutes were unremarkable, but there's something I would like about having her on the floor if I were a Dream fan. It might be the defense. She needs to lay off shooting after the whistle, though.

Meighan Simmons is still very fast, and still likes to shoot a lot, and is still terribly inaccurate when she does. I'm not quite sure when she managed to block a shot, but we were getting swatted a lot by a lot of hands; that might have been a block-by-committee that got assigned to her. Matee Ajavon played very briefly, missed an easy shot, and generally still gets under my skin just for existing, but I acknowledge and accept that it's mostly irrational. Carla Cortijo passes the ball very fast and very hard- in that regard, like a young Ticha Penicheiro. I think at least two turnovers were because the ball got there before the recipient. She's a good energy player. Bria Holmes did a good job drawing fouls and getting to the line, although with this officiating crew pretty much anyone in an Atlanta uniform could draw fouls.

Layshia Clarendon brought the defense (and as usual, the epic hair). She didn't play as much down the stretch, with Cooper going to Cortijo instead, but she came in for defensive shifts. She plays good, heady defense. I feel like I'm harping, but she was utterly useless on offense. Tiffany Hayes appears to have been working on her upper body strength- with the thickness of her shoulders and the long skinny braids, she was starting to remind me of Loree Moore. She took a lot of hits and fell down a lot. Either she has the strange combination of low pain threshold/high pain tolerance, or she gives no damns about her body, or she's really good at acting like she's hurt. It cost her on one play, where she hit the deck and no foul was called. That was a rarity. She got the call most of the night. She killed us from outside, and she killed us penetrating, and I'm pretty sure by the end of the night she had people wanting to strangle either her or the defender who kept bailing on her. (Ahem. Ta'Shauna.) She's reckless and wild and one of these days she's going to have a 2-19 night and kill her team that way. But if she were a Lib her jersey would be flying off the shelves.

Angel McCoughtry left the game very early in the first quarter, and she was limping when she came back for the second half. Whatever it was, either she got over it or they gave her some mighty fine painkillers to take care of it, because she lit up in the fourth quarter and overtime. That was the Angel we know to fear. She's still convinced she's a distance shooter, but as a Liberty fan I'm okay with that. She and Sancho Lyttle are still one of the most lethal double-team traps in the league, with long arms and active hands and absolutely no give. The two of them together forced I don't know how many turnovers off steals or rebounds or missed shots. Lyttle's shot was off, but for brief moments she looked like the Sancho Lyttle of the Houston Comets. And defensively, of course, she was ridiculous. Her hands were everywhere. EVERYWHERE. Elizabeth Williams was a calm center in the midst of the frenetic defensive activity. She's solid. She could stand to work on her free throw shooting, and she's got to finish at the rim, but she's an excellent piece for the next stage of the Dream's life cycle.

I like the Dream's uniforms. For them, that pop of red on the collar works, and the blue on blue is reasonably attractive. I'm not so sure about the gray jackets, though.

I think the training staff really needs to do something about this recto-cranial inversion that Brittany Boyd is suffering from. It's really getting ridiculous. She's trying too hard to take the fancy shot when she could settle for the straight up shot. She's telegraphing her passes. I want her to succeed so very badly- I'm typing these words while wearing a Boyd jersey, and y'all know how I feel about the price of jerseys. But the pressure is getting to her, or something is getting to her. Her body language is really bad. Everything seems to be accompanied by a grimace or almost a growl. I really hope she's okay. Shoni Schimmel played briefly at the end of the game, and just like last game, she went in about two possessions after she was really needed. She looked to be in a little better shape than she was last game. Something's off with Shavonte Zellous, too. Her shot is off, and because her shot is off, it's throwing off her entire game. She seems like she's trying too hard to draw contact and not enough to actually hit the shot. If you're not getting the calls, learn to recognize that and move on.

Kiah Stokes had a nice sequence with two blocks, and was solid defensively, but she's got to be more assertive on offense. I thought she played well on the boards and in the middle. Amanda Zahui B saw a few minutes in the first half, but she looked like she was out of sync with the team on both ends of the floor. Maybe she's not a morning person. I've been there. Swin Cash hit her free throws, which was more than I can say for most of our posts. It's good to have her defense and her leadership back. She's still a little rusty, but that's to be expected.

Tina Charles went into beast mode today. I'm not going to give her too much grief for the missed free throws, though it would have been nice if she hit one of them in regulation. But she put everything out on the floor and played out of her mind. Inside, outside, swatting shots, claiming boards, deflecting balls- I don't know how many of those steals were legitimately hers and how many she just initiated that other people took off down the floor. She was phenomenal. Carolyn Swords has to finish at the rim. She had offensive rebounds and chances to score, and she missed at the rim again and again. I like what she brings, but I need to see more of it.

Lindsey Harding was missing a lot of shots short, and we were irked that she wasn't getting yelled at for them. Katie Smith eventually took her aside and gave her a talking to, but it didn't seem like it had much of an effect. Sugar Rodgers had another bad shooting night, and reverted back to the approach of "keep shooting, it'll go in eventually". It didn't go in all that much, except for the wild shot to force overtime and drag the suffering out further. She was out of position a lot on defense. If Hayes is shooting as well as she was, why in God's name would you repeatedly leave her open to go double? Why is this a good plan? Tanisha Wright was okay, nothing more. I'm still worried about her shot and her tendency to pass out of good looks, though those two are probably related.

Bill, we need to talk. A lot. We need to talk about you sitting back with your feet up like you're chilling at the bar as Atlanta goes on a run. We need to talk about you hoarding timeouts like you get a bonus for having them left at the end of the game. We need to talk about you grinding the offense to a halt in the last seven minutes and clocking the ball. (I'm pretty sure Stringer was yelling at you to get the offense moving, Bill.) We need to talk about your personnel decisions in overtime, and why you won't use Shoni even as a decoy when you need three-pointers. We need to talk about why this team doesn't know their defensive schemes, and why people are out of position, and why we're not hitting free throws. Something's not right here, and 70% of what went wrong in this game comes down to coaching and coaches' responsibilities.

And then there were the officials. So many bad calls. So much contact allowed at one end and called on the other. And then so many bad calls on both ends of the floor. There was one play that should have been a jump ball and ended up being nothing at all. So many bad calls. So very many bad calls. And they went on both sides after Laimbeer blew his top.

Seriously, that Dream fan was amazing. She came up that morning, from Georgia (she had the Georgia voter pin on her visor), fully decked out: visor, pins, lanyard, schedule, shirt, wristbands, thundersticks, the whole nine yards. We should all be so passionate about our teams. (She was kind enough to pass along the thundersticks when I asked if she had extras. They will hold a place of great honor among the others in our living room.) I hope the rest of her trip to New York is full of magic, wonder, joy, and good karma.

I'm really wondering if Bill is still the right coach for this team. He's brilliant at evaluating talent, for the most part, and he trades well. If we could carve out a position for him to be in charge of that, and let someone else coach, and let Bernert continue to handle the business end, I think we'd be well off. But I've been questioning more and more of his decisions in the flow of the game. Getting outcoached by Michael Cooper has to stick in his craw. Right?

Kids, it's only a t-shirt. You don't have to fight each other like dogs over a bone. Don't get hurt over it. The Torch Patrol overshot their tee guns a bit, aiming for the upper deck and hitting the bridge a couple of times.

We need our young guards to get their act together. We need our veterans to play like veterans. We need someone who can make the chemistry work. Who's going to step up?

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Sunday, May 22, 2016

May 21st, 2016: Los Angeles at New York

Just the Facts, Ma'am: The Los Angeles Sparks made up eight points in less than two minutes to force overtime and beat the New York Liberty 79-72. Nneka Ogwumike had 25 points and 15 rebounds to lead the Sparks, with Candace Parker adding 14 points and 12 rebounds.. Tina Charles had 17 points and 16 rebounds to lead New York.

For missed shots, odd spacing, planning epic birthdays, friendly neighbors, security issues, and ennui, join your intrepid and distracted blogger after the jump.


I could make a joke about this game really going to the dogs, but what kind of bit- aaaaanyway. It's a grayish day in New York as the Liberty and the Los Angeles Sparks renew the league's oldest rivalry (perhaps only by a couple of days, but don't hate just because y'all weren't there right at the get-go).

It's also the celebration of Maddie's birthday, which means lots of kids and a calendar of Liberty players with dogs. I don't think Epiphanny Prince is a dog person. (I, for one, am looking forward to Maddie's next birthday party. That'll be 21. SHOTS SHOTS SHOTSSHOTSSHOTSSHOTSSHOTS)

Candace Parker, if people are holding Sharpies and trying to get your attention, ignoring them is not a good plan. And I was going to tell her she deserved to be on the Olympic team, too. Maybe there's something to the chemistry thing, or maybe I'm just petty.

I'm not digging the blonde on Essence Carson's ponytail.

There's something appropriate about the Liberty wearing their black and the Sparks wearing their gold in this first meeting of the 20th season.

At halftime, we're tied at 34. Candace Parker has 10 points, seven boards, and some monster blocks. It's been a balanced attack from unexpected sources for the Liberty, with eight from Carolyn Swords and seven from Brittany Boyd.

Moment of quiet and small video tribute to a deceased STH (and mom of another). Very nice touch: "We Are Family" isn't usually memorial music, but it's the music played when they show a former Liberty player, or "Liberty family", on the Jumbotron. In other words, she was included as Liberty family, on the same level as Kym and Sue. (In assuredly unrelated news, there's an awful lot of confetti drifting loose from the ceiling today...)

That was a frustrating game, but it could have been worse. We can pinpoint the things that we did wrong: free throws, close-range shots, offensive rebounding, offensive sets at the end of the game. We got a lot of good contributions from a lot of people. And it's still early in the season.

I was surprised we saw so little of Chelsea Gray. Maybe I shouldn't be; she doesn't really fit with the personnel the Sparks currently have, or the style they want to play. Her passing is pretty slick, and she seems to inspire her teammates to pass just as showily. Ana Dabovic is a bit shot-happy- not that that's a bad thing in the offensive scheme, but she's definitely better on offense than defense. She fell hard for a lot of shot fakes, especially from Brittany Boyd.

Jelena Dubljevic barely played, and left no major impression. I was surprised that Eugeniya Belyakova got so much time, but I think Agler likes something she's doing on defense, even if it's just being really tall. (I'm also amused by the different Romanizations of her name- on the roster, it's spelled Eugeniya, but on the website, it's spelled Evgeniia. Slightly confusing.) The Liberty were not impressed with her on offense- when you're a tall forward and Shoni is being hidden on you, you're not considered a valid offensive threat. That lasted until she hit a three late. Ann Wauters was good defensively in the few minutes she got off the bench. Jantel Lavender was physical on the boards, but didn't seem fully involved in the game. There was a weird sequence near the end of the game where Parker appeared to be trying to hug her or something, and she was no-selling it like nobody's business. Like, "please remove your arm from around my neck right now, thank you much" level of no-sell.

Essence Carson brought the defense, but her shot has left any building she's in. It went wide often. She missed open lay-ups badly. Watching her during shootaround, there's a hitch to her shot that I can't put my finger on, but don't think looks right- there was a lot more push from her right hand and less guidance from her left than seemed proper. She got a very warm welcome and a highlight package. It looked like Agler had no trust in her offense (which I can't blame him for)- she sat out some key minutes late in the game. Alana Beard is in fantastic shape and moving really well. She looks like she's never had an injury history. She started the game red hot, taking advantage of what the defense was giving her in order to keep the more recognized threats bottled up. Her offense cooled down a little later, but her defense was utterly crucial to keeping Los Angeles in the game. Kristi Toliver was off for most of the night, but she hit the big shots when Los Angeles needed them. Her moping mostly was not as evident as usual. She also came up with a nice defensive play at the end of the game, which I wasn't expecting from her.

Candace Parker seems satisfied to take long shots and use her athleticism to beat players instead of her talent. She took a lot of long shots and a lot more complicated shots than she really needed to. If she'd gone inside more, LA probably would have romped. As it was, she did a nice job on the boards and using her length to block shots. Nneka Ogwumike is a beast, and this needs to be her team, not Parker's. She dominated down low. We threw all different defensive looks at her, and she was just like, "nah, I'm gonna score now." She knows her strengths and she plays to her strengths.

It's hard to envision Los Angeles as a defensive-minded, blue-collar team, but they suffocate the passing lanes and play really tough defense. Parker sticks out in that scheme.

I don't know what's wrong with Shavonte Zellous, but someone needs to fix it with the quickness. Her shot is AWOL, her drives are questionable, her ballhandling is shaky, her court vision is lousy, and her defense is so-so. She gave us a lot of minutes, and they mostly weren't good ones. You can't airball a shot late in the game like that. Brittany Boyd brought energy and a renewed fire. She was closer to her normal self this time around. I don't know if benching her helped or if she's moved past whatever was causing her recto-cranial inversion all by herself. Shoni Schimmel played a little, brought a little offense, but I would have put her in in the overtime just to add an extra shooter. I'm really not sure what to think of her and what she brings.

Kiah Stokes was back on defense. It was good to see her blocking shots- she had a few beautiful ones, including a deflection off a Parker shot that looked so natural that you'd think Parker missed it all by herself. It was also nice to see her taking and hitting shots. Amanda Zahui B had a quiet few minutes, but they were good defensive minutes. I might have wanted to see more of her, but on the other hand, I don't know whose minutes I would have taken away to put her on the floor longer.

Sugar Rodgers started off not shooting well, and she made some bad decisions down the stretch in overtime, but if she hadn't gone off in the fourth quarter, we wouldn't have had overtime in the first place. I'm not sure what to call those- Sugar highs? Sugar spikes? But this was last year's Sugar more than this year's Sugar: capable of incredible feats in a short stretch of time, but in the long run capable of making you tear your hair out. (That being said, her rebounding and her reads on long misses have improved immensely. That's cool.) Lindsey Harding got the start over Boyd and continued to demonstrate her lack of familiarity with the new shot clock rules. I don't know how comfortable she is with the team, and how much of that is a function of time. Tanisha Wright found some of her offensive groove, but she was passing way too many open shots and good looks for my comfort. I like her at the three less and less, and fortunately, this was the last time we're going to have to do this. I don't think she can take the physicality of the forward position in the modern WNBA.

Tina Charles was solid, but she missed a lot of interior shots that she should have made. She and Carolyn Swords both had good looks at the basket that they missed. I really like what Carolyn brings in the starting lineup, but I'm worried about her stamina. She's registering more and more often on the Adubato-Kraayeveld Scale, and doing so earlier and earlier in games. As for Tina, we all know how I feel about her taking perimeter shots, especially three-pointers. I know, I know, but it's going to keep being a point in the game notes until such time as either the shot becomes more reliable or until she stops doing it.

The missed shots at the rim were the most frustrating thing about this game. LA had a lot of makeable shots that they missed, and we failed to take advantage of that. No team should have two separate possessions of empty third chances. If they're right at the rim, you have to hit them.

The best part was how into it the crowd, or at least our area of it, was. There was far less waiting for the sound cue than usual, and I like that.

Officiating was lousy, but what else is new.

Getting Swin back will help with the perimeter defense, and maybe with some of the missed putbacks. I wasn't expecting this game to be as close as it was, so that's a good sign, in a perverse way.

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Monday, May 16, 2016

May 15th, 2016: Dallas at New York

Just the Facts, Ma'am: New York went up 11-0 and never trailed in their 79-71 win over the Dallas Wings. Tina Charles and Sugar Rodgers each had 24 to pace the Liberty, with Charles adding 11 rebounds. Dallas got 14 points each from Odyssey Sims and Theresa Plaisance.

For Broadway, bright colors, questioning greens, new neighbors, herding cats, forgetting the damn wheelchair ramp, bad passes, big shots, and a Sugar high, join your intrepid and sleepless blogger after the jump.


Good evening! It's Opening Night at MSG, and the New York Liberty are hosting the Dallas Wings. As I type this, it's halftime, and Montell "This Is How We Do It" Jordan just finished performing a customized version of "This Is How We Do It" for the New York crowd.

I don't actually know what the most hideous part of the Dallas color scheme is, the chartreuse or the red. I like their blue, but it doesn't go with either of the other two colors.

Bridget Pettis is one sharp-dressed woman. Rocking that suit.

Amanda Zahui B was joking around with all the baby posts for Dallas before the game, so they seem to have left on good terms with her. (Though I noticed Plenette Pierson was all business.)

(We're now in the postgame, and we just had a crowning moment of Canadian. Adut Bulgak and Ruth Hamblin just swapped phone info or something. Holy crap, someone has an original '97 jacket signed by the '97 team... including developmental players. She left before the picture could be taken {it took a while to herd the cats} and that's a shame, because otherwise I would have told her, "Holy crap your jacket is awesome TELL ME ALL YOUR 1997 STORIES".)

Dallas really misses Skylar Diggins. They really don't have a consistent second option without her. Without her, Plenette Pierson and Odyssey Sims were both forcing the issue a lot, especially in the first half. Diggins tried to give it a go in warm-ups, but that knee is still braced, and she was walking very gingerly. She would have been at maybe quarter speed if she'd had to play, and I don't think she was very happy about it; when she came out of the tunnel, she was with the trainer and there was a virtual thundercloud over her head. (It also really doesn't help their rotation.)

Ruth Hamblin played very briefly in the first half and was very unremarkable. She seems friendly, though. Well, she's Canadian. Theresa Plaisance shoots very well, and I think we forgot that she likes to do that. She wasn't very smart on defense, though. I got the feeling that mama Coach Plaisance may have thrown something at her League Pass-enabled device when Theresa committed that foul with .6 left in the second quarter. It was a stupid foul. Jordan Hooper was out there, but not very memorable. I think she was getting beat on defense a fair amount.

Brianna Kiesel is taller than I remembered, but also slighter. She brought speed off the bench, but an unwillingness to shoot and a paradoxical missing step on change of direction. She did have one nice play to completely am-scray a Liberty fast break, though. Aerial Powers has phenomenal athleticism and a very high ceiling. Her midrange jumper was on point, less so her three-ball. For some reason I thought I remembered her having more of a slashing game in college, but here she was strictly a jump shooter. I wonder if Fred Williams was encouraging her to take threes even when they weren't falling, just to work on that facet of her game more.

My goodness, Plenette Pierson doesn't think she's ever committed a foul in her life, does she? Her surprised expression after getting caught with an arm bar was priceless. No, Plenette, you can't hook your assignment's arm and then claim she did it first. She didn't. Really, Plenette, you've been in the league longer than is healthy for me to calculate, everyone's kind of on to that patented trick of yours. She was frustrated early on- her points all came in one big spurt in the fourth, when the game was pretty much out of reach. She was physical. Her posing tendencies came out strong- I don't want to say she telegraphs her moves, but she does take a little bit to get into them. She fell a lot, sometimes with help, usually with not as much help as she tried to give the impression of. Courtney Paris is a lot of woman. I'm not saying that as either a good thing or a bad thing, merely a statement of fact. "Glacial" is a fair description for her- she's not very fast, but she's inexorable. She will get to her spot when she wants to get to her spot, and if you happen to be in her spot, you'll be moved. Other players served as decoys for her and draw away the defense, and there she was for the uncontested lay-up. I'd like for her to stop throwing elbows, though- she fired up a couple that seemed to go unnoticed by the officials. Also, driving into her is a terrible, horrible, very bad idea that people should not do.

Karima Christmas is a fantastic piece to have for a team- but she's not a starter, and having to start her in the absence of Diggins is a problem for the Wings. She does all the little things- she hustles for loose balls, she traps well in the corner, she defends like nobody's business- but she's not a scorer. I was surprised to see her hoisting so many threes, but then, that's our weakness. Odyssey Sims hits the floor like the second coming of Ivory Latta in her Tar Heel days. It gets to the point where you can't be sure she's actually hurt until and unless the trainer carries her off. She found her groove in the third with a couple of quick threes that tied the game for Dallas, but it didn't last long. She drove a lot, but her shots weren't falling. She didn't get good angles because of the defense. Erin Phillips ball-hawked like her life depended on securing the basketball. She got a little bit of offense going in the third quarter, but her most important job was defense.

Dallas tried to play to their strengths- interior passes to Paris, driving and dishing- as well as to our weaknesses out on the perimeter. I don't know if they're going to shoot like this all the time.

The woman, the myth, the legend, the Shoni. She played briefly in the first half, had a nifty three, but was otherwise unremarkable. The defense still needs work, but this might be a recording at this point. Shavonte Zellous came off the bench for some good solid minutes, getting buckets when she was open. Lindsey Harding was invisible at point, but in the good way, in the sense that she facilitated the offense for her teammates instead of over-forcing it. She still needs to get used to that weird 14-second reset off offensive rebounds- she was losing track of the clock a couple of times in the fourth. She's fitting in better than I expected.

Kiah Stokes is a defensive specialist, yes? She's good at defensive things, yeah? But she epic failed on Paris today. She kept wheeling to help, and Paris kept hitting lay-ups. That's a lot of woman to overlook, I'm sorry. She did well drawing fouls, but I'd still like to see her be more assertive on the offensive end. 0-0 is not acceptable in 20 minutes. Amanda Zahui B had herself a day. She did work in the paint and drew fouls. She still needs to find where she fits in the schemes, on both offense and defense, but I think she's going to be just fine.

I'm worried about Brittany Boyd. I don't know if it's the wrist, or if she doesn't like the personnel decisions, or if something else is going on in her head, but she's not herself. She's letting mistakes get to her, and that's causing her to make more mistakes. The shots aren't falling, and that's going to happen. She's got to be more careful with the ball. Sugar Rodgers, on the other hand, was phenomenal. She took the right shots at the right time, and the shots she didn't take were almost as important as the ones she did; it means she's learning better self-control within the flow of the offense instead of just chucking it whenever. We usually talk about the big step forward in the third year for posts, but Sugar's making me wonder if it's just as valid for guards. I'll need a statistician to look into that. She played an all-around fantastic game,a nd the only quibble I have with it is the question of whether she can keep it up.

I'm not digging Tanisha Wright at the three. Yes, the three-guard set gives us more options if one of the guards is struggling, and it makes us a little bit faster. But there were too many defensive mismatches for my comfort. I think it affected her shot, too- she got open looks, and her shot didn't look right when she got them. I appreciate her toughness and the defense she brings, but this is not 1997, and you can't start a two-guard at three anymore. (I also understand that this is likely a temporary, makeshift measure until the 24th, thanks to the scoop from Excelle, but it isn't a great makeshift measure.) Carolyn Swords was inconsistent, and I worry about her playing too low to the ground. She brings the ball down way too much, and was having trouble grabbing high passes- the passes that need to be high to go to her and her alone. Her basket came on a very pretty cut to the hoop. Tina Charles started the game like a house on fire. It was glorious. I love to watch the way she moves when she's feeling it. I'm not as sanguine about this long-two thing as the rest of the team seems to be, but I recognize that I have some old-fashioned expectations of frontcourt players. That being said, if you're going to take them, at least follow them instead of admiring them.

I feel like I'm harping a lot on the negative, which is funny in a game where we got out to an 8-0 lead and never trailed. I suppose I'm contrary that way. A lot of people did what was expected of them and not much more. Sugar was phenomenal. Tina did a lot and tried to do too much down the stretch. We need better balance behind our scoring options.

Inconsistent officiating will be the death of me, or at least the cause of my banning from a basketball arena. If you're going to call ticky-tack offensive fouls, then call the trips on both sides. If you want to call a tight game, then call Courtney Paris for throwing elbows. If you want to let 'em play, then don't call touch fouls. Figure out if you care more about the letter or the spirit. And I don't know who peed in Amy Bonner's Cheerios before the game, but she was being very anal about pace of play rules. Dallas got hit with a delay of game warning early on, and almost got another one because it took slightly longer than the requisite time to bandage up a cut on Sims's arm. Amanda got one too, for getting excited about a play and leaping forward onto the Y in the endcourt.

The national anthem, as sung by the Schuyler sisters from Hamilton, was fantastic. I think the waiting list for tickets just got a month longer, and that's under the assumption that people at the game were already on the list. I could have done without the second round of "God Bless America", though; if you have to sing multiple verses, sing the actual verses, not the first verse twice.

I prefer the black jerseys, but the seafoam aren't horrible.

We have new neighbors in the section! Very excited! And they seem to like us being loud. This is a good sign. I like neighbors. Fan community is as important a part of the W experience as the game and the players.

A good showing for opening day, but the Sparks and The Wrath Of Parker will be more of a challenge.

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Friday, May 6, 2016

May 5th, 2016: Minnesota at New York

Just the Facts, Ma'am: The Minnesota Lynx raced out to a big early lead, then held off a second half charge by the New York Liberty to win 77-74 at Columbia University. Renee Montgomery had 17 points to lead the Lynx, with Maya Moore and Sylvia Fowles each adding 10 in limited minutes. Sugar Rodgers led all scorers with 22 points off the bench.

For bleachers, festivities, funny hats, dogs in ponchos, Talia Caldwell's dance moves, fantasy games, grit, and the gift of t-shirts, join your intrepid and renewed blogger after the jump.
You knew it was coming. Maybe you feared it; maybe you anticipated it. Maybe you didn't want to think about it.

The Game Notes of Doom are back.

We'll be coming to you from the friendly and vaguely familiar confines of Levien Gymnasium, on the campus of Columbia University, as the New York Liberty take on the Minnesota Lynx. Unfortunately, your intrepid blogger has this pesky thing called a job and will have to miss the pregame festivities celebrating Cinco de Mayo. (Which is not to be confused with Cinco de Maya, the feast day of Maya Moore, patroness of large cats and championship trophies.)

Our season tickets look pretty awesome, and the envelope is even more spectacular. (I'm in the profession now, so I notice these things.) The season subscriber gift was a lanyard and plastic badge holder big enough for the tickets. (By the way, our official name is apparently "Liberty Loyal", but that's a stupid name, so I'm electing to ignore it.)

Look. Guys. If you're going to put preseason games in places WNBA games are not normally held, can you please get the security straight? Tell people which door to go through and what to do when they get there. Don't block the door on my husband when you've just let me in.

Maya's having fun out there. Finished her stretches with a couple of 360-degree spins on her butt. I wish the DJ would turn down the music a little, though.

We got maracas! I know, you're excited about the prospect of me being able to make even more noise, right?

There's someone on the end of the Liberty bench who looks an awful lot like Aleesha Powell. Turn around, person with big fuzzy hair! In the end, I don't think it was her.

Hee, Kym Hampton singing along with "Dancin' in the Streets". I'm easily amused.

I think they're still working out the handicapped seating a little bit.

We have mariachis at halftime. Also at halftime, Minnesota is up 44-31, on some really lousy shooting by both teams. Brittany Boyd has got to hit the shots she gets when the penetration is available.

Dude, you can either show up late, you can extol the virtues of Saint Maya to me, or you can come in stinking (and I mean stinking) of weed. You can't do all of these things at once.

Heh. The two Fever gals catching up at the half, Shavonte Zellous and Natasha Howard.

Kiah Stokes did not dress for this game. Street clothes are very nice, though far too many zippers.

We look rusty. Too many missed shots, too many steps slow. Minnesota looks a little rough, but still better than we do. That being said, if we play like this when we have our full roster, if we bring this kind of grit and hustle and three players diving on the floor in a preseason game, if we can come to the point where we declare "this far and no further" and mean it, we have a shot to be as good as we were last year.

Porsha Roberts has all the tools to be someone's Michelle Campbell or Aneika Henry, the player who goes overseas for a few years and becomes a star there before returning to the United States and becoming a solid piece to a W team. She's phenomenally athletic and has a good build, and I like her eye for rebounds. She's not as skilled as she could be, but those things can be learned. Bashaara Graves has pretty good instincts for a rookie. She had a nice steal in the first quarter that led to a break and a lay-up for her. I don't think I've ever seen someone foul out in a preseason game before, but Keisha Hampton managed it. She played like a Blue Demon- in other words, whenever the opportunity presented itself to take a long shot, she took it.

Sydney Wallace wasn't afraid to shoot, and I think that helped her a lot. When she missed, she missed badly, but when she hit, she was deadly. Renee Montgomery is a human pinball, especially on inbounds plays. I don't think she endears herself to opponents very much, judging from the number of times she got tangled up with either Swin Cash or Jennifer Lacy. She has phenomenal quickness and no fear. That floater near the end was pretty clutch. She just rubs me the wrong way, though. Nika Baric was unimpressive, but our PA guy probably wants Minnesota to keep her just so he can keep saying her name. He has a fondness for Eastern European names. Courtney Clements has pretty intimidating eyebrows and a hilariously wild shot. She reacted well on the boards, and she's a good hustle player, but she can be a liability on offense.

Jia Perkins had a quiet game, but that doesn't mean you can leave her open, Shoni. Jia Perkins hits open shots. Lindsay Whalen, like most of the starters, didn't play very much, so it's hard for me to get a sense of where she is this year as compared to all the other years, but she drove a bit. Maya Moore will do Maya Moore things, like hit step-back jumpers as the half expires, or pass the ball under an opponent's leg so Natasha Howard can hit a lay-up, or snatch the ball from Swin Cash like the candy from the proverbial baby. She burst to life in the second quarter, which was really all they needed from her.

Natasha Howard has so much potential, but if the Indiana "Welcome All Post Reclamation Projects!" Fever can't make heads nor tails of her, she might have a long way to go. She's in the third year, though, so if she's going to make a leap, this is the time she's going to do it. She's got to move her feet more and her arms less. Seriously. Sancho Lyttle at and in Houston video. NOW. Am I the only one who sees it? Sylvia Fowles had a big first quarter, getting Minnesota off to a quick start with power moves in the paint. She didn't play much after that, but I think she proved that she's still Big Syl.

I honestly don't know how much confidence Cheryl Reeve has in her team. Minnesota seemed to burn through their timeouts a lot more quickly than the score seemed to require. They've also still got a problem with foul discipline- there's a difference between physical defense and overly grabby defense, and Minnesota's first instinct is to grab. I'm also not sure how much coaching she herself was doing; Jim Petersen was on his feet and doing clipboard magic almost as much as she was.

Elin Eldebrink didn't look quite as lost as her last box score seemed to indicate, but there's still no way she's making this team. She wasn't terrible, and I like her heart, but she didn't show anything spectacular enough to squeeze her onto a crammed roster. Ameryst Alston showed willingness to drive the lane somewhat, but couldn't keep up with the speed of the game and couldn't hit the shots she was given. She's another player who might do better developing in Europe before attempting to break back into the WNBA. Sugar Rodgers had herself a fourth quarter. She's streaky. She's inconsistent. She's maddening. But when she's on, she's a sight to behold. Is there a way to be cool and excited at the same time? Because that's how she rolls. Shoni Schimmel can fire up an offense, but we'd better be in serious need of offense and not defense if she's anywhere near the floor. She's not a good defender. She doesn't know how to stay on or near her assignment. Her lack of movement creates horrific mismatches, and at least tonight, we didn't have anyone who could fully cover up for her.

Avery Warley-Talbert brought her lunch bucket today. She was a huge part of the second-half comeback, playing hard on defense and pulling down boards. It's going to be a tight squeeze if we want to fit her on the roster, but she's been good for us (and honestly, I think we've been good for her- she seems a lot more relaxed than she was when she first started with us). Jennifer Lacy was a tweener, stretching the offense but playing interior defense. She did a good job defending her teammates- there was a sequence where one of the guards got hit on offense, so Jennifer turned around and sawhorsed the offender on the other end of the floor. Talia Caldwell was very physical, but she's not going to get anywhere if she keeps committing offensive fouls. I feel like she'd be a good person to have on the team, but not the right fit as a player. Adut Bulgak has promise, and she had a really nice block on Bashaara Graves. She needs to work on her game, but she's a rookie, that's how they roll.

Brittany Boyd was super frustrating tonight. She got good looks at the basket and got good passes to take those looks, but they don't count if you can't hit them. She brings life to the game and life to the team, but again, it means nothing if the shots don't go down. Tanisha Wright seemed to settle back into playing shoothing guard, but she took a lot of jumpers and missed a lot of jumpers. I still like having her around for her defense, though.

Swin Cash cleaned up on the glass- both of her baskets were on putbacks. She also took charge of explaining to Amy Bonner why she was wrong about things. There was a lot of explaining to be done. Tina Charles didn't play much, but she looked good when she did. She's still a little too fond of the outside jumper for my personal preference, but I know Bill prefers to use her as a four, and that's part of being a four in modern basketball. That doesn't mean I have to like it. Carolyn Swords used her height well to pull away rebounds from shorter opponents. She's got to hit her shots at the rim, and she has to hold on to the ball- there were a couple of plays where she fumbled or dropped passes and rebounds.

We need to work on our shooting. Maybe things were off because we weren't familiar with the sight lines at Levien. Maybe we were tight, nervous, trying too hard because it's preseason and there are a lot of players competing for very few spots. But the shooting was bad. The defense was solid in the second half. That's what we hang our hat on; that's what we make our identity on; that's how we're going to succeed.

Levien wasn't equipped with replay technology, because otherwise there were several plays that would have gone to the monitor. There were two out-of-bounds plays that were sketchy, and there were issues with the clock reset for much of the night. I think both the teams and the officials are getting used to the new rules. It was a tightly called game, for the most part, except for one sequence where Montgomery got tangled with everyone and then Jennifer retaliated. (And the sequence where Montgomery held Swin at one end, Swin hooked back at the other, Montgomery hooked her again, and then the foul was on Montgomery.) The new guy communicates well, but we need to see what he can do in a regular W arena with the usual bells, whistles, lights, horns, sirens, and equipment.

Pretty good turnout, all things considered. I was certainly glad we brought our WCBB seat cushions, though- the chairback seating was reserved for Delta Club, so the general admission seats were in the bleachers.

There was a short fantasy game after the regular game, for some lucky season subscribers to suit up in Liberty practice jerseys and get on the court. Liberty players coached, or "coached", or at least coaxed and encouraged, their teams to a surprisingly competitive fourteen-minute, two-half game. The funniest part was the pregame entertainment- they needed to stall so the players could come out, so they played that game where one person in the middle throws the ball at people and if they don't catch it, they're out. The crowd was quite gleeful when the guy in the middle dropped the ball with three players to go.

The incident mentioned above with security led our long-suffering rep Morgan to hook us up with wristbands to the post-game autograph session. (Thanks for putting up with us, Morgan.) The n00bs were there- Adut, Ameryst, Shoni, and Shavonte, who were all very nice. And then we got bonus Lynx, Whalen and Fowles. They were both very professional, but I got a "er, why are we part of an event for a bunch of opposing fans?" vibe off of them, like they felt a little weird about delaying everyone else. (I also have no shame and snagged Courtney Clements, who was hanging out by the door with Jia Perkins.)

The rosters are really hard to pare down, especially for the Liberty. There's too much up in the air with Piph and potentially Rebecca Allen. I can't even fathom a guess. But I'm looking forward to the regular season and seeing how all the pieces fit together.

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Saturday, March 19, 2016

March 19th, 2016: Penn at Washington (NCAA tournament)

Just the Facts, Ma'am: Washington broke open a close game in the fourth quarter to beat Penn 65-53. Kelsey Plum had 24 points and seven assists to pace the Huskies, while Talia Walton had 18 points, 11 in the second half. Sydney Stipanovich led Penn with 16 points and 13 rebounds.

For purple, changing shirts, chasing loose balls, maroon versus gold, rigging the shooting contest, and the star y'all already knew about, join your intrepid and parched blogger after the jump.
I don't always root for Huskies, but when I do, I root for UW. Stay purple and bow down to Washington, my friends.

Seriously, did you think I was going to travel four and a half hours for a single game? We're staying for UW and Penn. So far it's definitely more competitive than the 2-15 game was, and with a three at the buzzer Penn has a 25-24 lead. Kelsey Plum has 11 for the Huskies, while Penn has spread the scoring out a bit more.

We're right behind the scout table, so Brenda Frese is a few seats over from us, greeting the adoring public. One of the assistants is still in scouting position, though.

Any band that plays "Fat Bottomed Girls" is all right by me, Penn. UW, of course, has to go to Nirvana. UW gets the edge on cheer, though I admit I had a better view of them. Love the daps amongst them with Harry. Band brought extra people who couldn't be in the pit during the game because of NCAA regulations, but they whipped out their instruments and got into the empty seats behind their bandmates as soon as the game was over. Excellent rendition of "Celebration" after the game!

It was close for a while, with both teams notching threes at the end of quarters, but UW came up with the big shots in the fourth quarter to pull away. What really impressed me about the Huskies was the trust they have in each other to pick each other up, whether it's on loose balls or no-look passes. I guess that's the advantage to playing an iron five.

Penn really only played one sub, Beth Brzozowski- they cleared the bench late in the game, when they were down big and were waving the white flag. That way, everyone got a chance to be in the tournament, which is nice. Brzozowski didn't really have much of an impact backing up the three starting guards.

Kasey Chambers must catch so much flak from opposing Ivy League bands because of her name. We're talking serenades of "Not Pretty Enough" here. She hit the big three that put Penn up at the half. She's a little bitty thing, or at least a medium-sized slight thing, and maybe that's why she sets up beyond the arc so much. Lauren Whitlach (whose name I kept hearing as "whiplash") was also firing away early and often from deep. Anna Ross had a nifty steal in the third quarter, and kept Penn fighting when they got down late.

Sydney Stipanovich showed moxie on the inside- she looks awkward, like she's a 5-4 woman who woke up in a 6-4 body and isn't 100% sure how it functions, but the shots go in and the rebounds stay grabbed. She lit up in the third quarter. It was fun to watch. Michelle Nwokedi was a defensive beast- she had a couple of spectacular blocks, one on Gilling and one on Plum, and I can't remember which on it was she managed to keep inbounds. I think it was the one on Gilling. Penn came up empty the next possession, though, which is a shame- you can't waste plays like that. The three-pointer is not her shot, and she definitely has to refine her offense, but thre's a lot of potential there. She's a player I'd be excited about if I were an Ivy fan.

It may be a conscious stylistic choice by Penn's coach, but I can't shake the feeling that they need to hit the weight room a little bit. Lots of very slight players there.

Mathilde Gilling came in briefly in the first half to spell Katie Collier; those minutes were unremarkable. I was surprised when it was Collier who came out, as Chantel Osahor had just gotten in a little bit of foul trouble. She started getting ready to come in in the third quarter, but ultimately Mike Neighbors decided to wait until the very end of the game to bring in all the subs. Subs for everyone! Everyone gets a sub! Their time wasn't very impactful, but I liked the defense that Deja Strother brought down low, and I thought it was nice for Kelli Kingma to have the chance to bring the ball up. When does Jenna Moser get to have her name on her jersey?

Chantel Osahor is an interesting player. She's got a big body, and she looks like she's going to get gassed if you run her for more than five minutes, but she's very quietly a critical part of the offense with her screens (even the illegal ones) and her passing. I don't know why she considers the three-point shot part of her offensive arsenal, because she doesn't have enough arc on it to gt it over. I've heard that that weird flat shot of her goes in more than it should, but I saw no evidence of that today. Katie Collier picked up nifty passes from her teammates and sometimes finished the shots at the rim. Sometimes, not so much. She was horrendous at the line, though; I think she might have been trying too hard to overcorrect for the previous misses (she was off to the right on one, off to the left on the next, for example). Talia Walton came up big in the second half, hitting threes from the strong side and beating the buzzer- she was the one who ended the third quarter with the big three for UW.

Alexus Atchley made some great defensive plays along the sidelines and hit a couple of big threes in the fourth quarter to stretch the lead. But we all know who the star of the show is for the Dawgs- the woman who wears #10 and the diamond braid, the Husky so purple even her name is purple, Washington's all-time leading scorer and a strong candidate to break 3000, the one and only Kelsey Plum. She has some soft touch, and she loves to use the glass. She has range and versatility. But don't let the shooting line fool you. She's more than a volume scorer. She had some beautiful passes to her teammates, including at least one no-look to set up a three. What first drew our attention as the game started was her hustle on defense- she was making smart deflections and playing tough. I really like her all-around game. She's a star, and she's going to be a superstar.

Officiating got pretty tight in the second half. The people behind us were yelling at the refs to let 'em play. There were a couple of out-of-bounds calls I disagreed with, but nothing really major.

It wasn't the crispest game in the world, but it was competitive until very late. I think the faith the Huskies had in each other was the key- you can make riskier plays if you know your teammates are going to be there to clean it up.

Questionable decision-making by both sides at one point late in the game. UW has an eight-point lead. They inbound to Collier. If I'm Washington, why do I have 0-4 from the line Collier in position to catch that ball? If I'm Penn, why am I not fouling her? Ultimatly, Penn chose to play out those last few seconds and give the subs time in the game, but I'm surprised they didn't go at it a little more aggressively.

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March 19th, 2016: Iona at Maryland (NCAA tournament)

Just the Facts, Ma'am: Maryland held off a feisty Iona squad, 74-58. Shatori Walker-Kimbrough led five Terps in double figures with 19, while Brionna Jones added a double-double of 11 poitns and 11 rebounds. Philecia Gilmore of Iona led all scorers with 21 points on seven triples.

For hustle, Latin, bouncing, maroon and gold, pride, defense from offensive-minded players, and fighting the good fight, join your intrepid and proud blogger after the jump.
Hello, fellow Dancers! Your intrepid blogger comes to you from the road, where the debutantes of Iona take on the veteran belles off Maryland.

Getting there has already been an adventure. Have you ever taken a bus with worn out shocks? Yes? Have you spent four hours on said bus? I refuse to admit or deny yelling, "Ride 'em, cowboy!" after one spectacular bump.

Everyone in Maryland is so very nice! We stayed at the Marriott on campus, and it's really nice. The cozy room is fairly efficient, and the people are really sweet. The folks at the Xfinity Center (I still have the urge to call it the Comcast Center) are super friendly, without the perverse in-your-face-ness that we were getting from Marylanders the last time we came to town. Thanks for letting the backpack in- we really had nowhere to put it.

Sometimes the school size difference is really obvious. Iona has five people in the band. Maryland has… a lot more than five.

Pretty good Iona turnout. I mean, it is our big debut, and it's not that far. I'm still proud, though.

At halftime, Maryland is up 42-27. Philecia Gilmore has four threes to lead Iona in scoring. Maryland has spread the wealth, with Shatori Walker-Kimbrough's nine as the team-high. Marina Lizarazu is making me want to tear my hair out.

Bonum certamen certa. Fight the good fight. That's Iona's motto. And I think it's safe to say that the 15th seeded Gaels fought the good fight against a bigger, stronger, better Maryland team. I hate the "chuck everything from beyond the arc" game plan, but with Maryland's size inside and ability to go deep themselves, it wasn't the worst idea in the world, though my opinion of that might be colored by the fact that it sort of worked.

Iida Ahvenainen came in at the end so Joy Adams could get her well deserved curtain call. Treyanna Clay had one of her better games, hustling on the boards and finishing at the rim. She really showed the potential she has. Alexis Lewis was solid on the boards, but Lex has always been a streaky shooter, and today she came up snake eyes. I still love what she brings on both ends of the floor, and she's going to be huge for us in the next three years.

Karynda DuPree really just makes me want to scream sometimes. I'm very glad she's no longer chucking the stupid threes she used to, but I'd like to see her be more assertive near the basket. She has moves. I've seen them. She just doesn't do enough to put herself in position to score. I like what she brings on defense, but she has to step up offensively next year. Joy Adams missed way too many bunnies at the rim- she had at least two clear looks that she left short. She can't do that. I realize, of course, that she's played her final collegiate game, so she can do whatever the hell she wants now, but if she wants to continue playing basketball as a career, she can't miss easy shots at the basket. She showed flashes of the athleticism and power that made her the terror of the MAAC, and of that I am very proud.

I love Marina Lizarazu's tenacity on defense, and her willingness to dive for loose balls. The problem was that today half those loose balls were her fault. You can't sneak dribbles behind your back if you're a MAAC point guard facing a Big Ten defense. You have to be careful with your passes, but half of Marina's passes went to Maryland players. She found her offensive groove in the second half, when the drives started falling and she got the jumper working a little bit. Aaliyah Robinson was quiet today- tenacious on defense and scored a little, but she wasn't the senior leader we needed her to be. Thank all the gods for Philecia Gilmore. Fee had herself a day from outside- scored the first six of the game for the Gaels from beyond the arc, and by the end of the day, I was trying to figure out how to squeeze a seventh trey into six spaces, something I've never had to do before. I love her so much. She's only a sophomore, and that's awesome and terrifying at the same time. If anything, she should have taken more threes- her twos mostly missed long or strong. (They were not, however, bound to get the friction on.)

I could have sworn Kiah Gillespie played in the first half for more than the paltry seconds the box score gives her- ESPN claimed she didn't even play, but I remember hearing her name. (I also thought it was pronounced Key-ah, like pretty much every Kia/Kiah I've ever seen, not Kye-ah, but you learn something new every day.) Brianna Fraser was a load down low, but her hands were hard- she let passes slip by her down low. Brene Moseley took over in the fourth quarter, hitting on jumpers and wild drives. I was surprised that she didn't start, given how much I've heard about her. I like her poise late. Tierney Pfirman seemed to pick up her scoring later as well.

Brionna Jones had a huuuuuuge block on Joy that got the crowd going, and picked off Philecia to open up Shatori Walker-Kimbrough for a shot. That's a lot of woman to try to contend with. She dominated on the boards- there was a play where Treyanna had the rebound all but secured and Jones took it away. She also had trouble keeping her hands on the ball on offense, though. The post players for Maryland in general were having trouble receiving passes, whether it was being out of position for them or letting them bounce off their hands. Malina Howard came on strong in the fourth quarter, partially because I think Iona was just flat worn out. She got what she wanted at the basket when she wanted it.

I had no idea who Kristen Confroy was when I came into the game, and to be honest, I still have very little idea of who she is, other than the person who opened the scoring for the Terps. She read the long bounces really well on missed jumpers, because there were a lot of shots that took odd bounces. I genuinely have no recollection of Chloe Pavlech, though I suspect she was one of the people who didn't react well to Philecia and Marina on the trap. I think she was the one who got stripped a couple of times. I came into the game hearing a lot about Shatori Walker-Kimbrough as a shooter, but I was more impressed with her hustle and savvy on defense. She has a pretty shot, but I think Iona's game plan was to deny her the shot as much as possible- which is how she ended up at the line so many times. She's a great piece to build on, and criminally underappreciated.

Officiating got a little out of control in the third quarter- I always find it a bit sketchy when the foul differential is penalty-zero, and you should have heard the Bronx cheer that went up when Maryland finally got called for one. There were weak calls on both sides. Obviously nothing ultimately affected the game, but I hate to see officiating that seems slanted. Maryland didn't need the help.

Terrapin fans turned out. I love it. They were pretty quiet until Iona made the runs in the third and early fourth, and then the defense chants started up. The Iona contingent was pretty loud, but that might just have been us. I love when fans get loud. Be proud! Support your team! Especially when your team is as good as Maryland!

We lost, but I'm glad I came. We put up a fight. We never quit. When you're an overmatched 15 facing a 2 that plays to your weaknesses and can counter your strengths, there's only so much you can ask. The Gaels went above and beyond that. It was a fitting sendoff for Aaliyah and Joy, and I can't thank them enough for leading us to this pinnacle.

We'll be back. And next time maybe we won't be a 15.

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Friday, March 18, 2016

The Senior Tribute

Dear seniors: I love you all.

These are not game notes. These will never be game notes. If you want game notes, you'll have to wait.

Every year, I pour out my heart about my seniors. I really have no claim to them, other than pride in watching them mature and excel and succeed. But I think of them as mine anyway. I hope I may be allowed my foibles. If not here, then where?

And every year it seems like I have more of them, as we build connections with more and more teams. I can't give them all the love they deserve. Some I don't know well enough. Some, we haven't been through years of ups and downs, of thrilling wins and crushing defeats, of mind-numbing idiocy and breathtaking brilliance. (To love them is to be honest about them and yet still love them anyway, knowing their flaws and embracing their virtues.)

Worst of all, this year my conferences colluded to create an impossible situation. St. John's and Seton Hall, of course, conflicted, and in such a way that we couldn't just hitch a ride with someone. That's to be expected. But Iona's senior day was the same day. So was Michigan's game at Rutgers. What's a fan to do? I needed to be in four places at once, and the most any of us can do is two.

So instead of enclosing little senior tributes in each set of game notes, I'm going to give them all a little space to breathe, a little time to shine. They deserve this much. So many of them will never see the limelight. One or two or three might sniff the WNBA; most aren't even dreaming of it. Most of them you've never heard of unless you've been following the conference or the Game Notes of Doom. In this moment, you're going to hear of them.

I can't give them all their proper shine, of course. Michigan only comes to town once a year. It's hard to build a connection that way. So I'll let Michigan tell the stories of Kelsey Mitchell and Madison Ristovski instead, let them tell the triumphant story of Halle Wangler's journey from walk-on to scholarship athlete. They deserve more than the fleeting glimpses I can give you of them.

And I've only just begun to know LIU and their seniors. I don't think I've even ever seen Angelia Allen play. It wouldn't be fair to try and talk about her. Ashley Brown, I've only seen once, maybe twice by the time these notes go up. I don't know enough to tell you about her. But I can tell you about the fighting spirit that brought Shanice Vaughan out of the locker room on a badly twisted ankle because her team was short-handed, though, and the passion she brings to the floor. I can tell you about Jolanna Ford and the big boards she pulls down, that she makes plays in the paint and goes hard after the ball. I can do at least that much for these Blackbirds waiting for their moment to arise.

Fordham... ah, Fordham. I've rarely had the opportunity to see Khadijah Gibson play. I don't know her as well as I should. But I've watched Samantha Clark. In some ways, she's one of the most frustrating of my seniors. She has the kind of build that undersized centers in mid-major conferences dream of. She wouldn't look out of place in the Big Ten or the Big XII of the last decade. And there are far too many days where she can't finish at the rim, or she takes a three with far too much time on the shot clock. But she comes up big in big games, and there are few in the Atlantic 10 that can match her strength. I wish her all the best.

And now we come to my Big Three, my trinity of sorts, the three senior classes who have wrapped themselves around my heart and wrapped me around their collective fingers. We've taken these wild rides together for four years, more or less, through the breathless highs and the heartbreaking lows, seen buzzer-beaters and historic firsts. Three classes, each one of them with a record smasher, each one of them with an immortal, each one of them game-changing for their school.

*

This is not how the last year of Cassidee Ranger's college career was supposed to go down. No one plans on being injured. No one plans to spend conference play lurching about on crutches, reduced to starting the defense chant on the bench. In an offense that has so often relied on the long ball, Cas's shot would have been a perfect weapon.

We used to call her the Lone Ranger sometimes, because there were countless times when she would be open in the corner, and no one would see her. And then sometimes they did, and it was glorious, and we would fire up a rendition of "Slap Shot", because I'm a New York Rangers fan and that's how we roll when a Ranger scores.

She was pretty tough on the boards, too, and she could hold down the fort screening for her teammates. This has been a fantastic year, but it could have been even more fantastic with Cas shooting from the corner or breaking Marina loose for a drive.


Joy Adams is a freak of nature. Her athleticism is astonishing. You get ready to hold your breath when she's on the fast break, because something spectacular is going to happen. It may well be a spectacular miss. But it's just as likely to be a spectacular shot. And if it's a spectacular miss, then she's going to rebound it just as spectacularly.

She has an incredible ability to insinuate herself into spaces. That's what always catches my attention about her- she finds her way to the basket, and she will get the ball. She can take over a game, put her stamp on it, make sure that no one else gets the ball. She'll scrap and fight and dive for balls. Her energy is contagious.

She'll finish her collegiate career with one of the highest rebounding totals in NCAA D-I history. For a while, she might even be immortal; the NCAA record book keeps the top (I believe) twenty-five all-time. She'll be on that list, right there with Courtney Paris and Jillian Alleyne.


Cas is a sweetheart, and Joy is a phenom.

But Aaliyah Robinson is my favorite Gael.

Compressed in that guard's body is the rebounding will of a mighty center. Two inches taller, and she'd be high rotation in the A-10; six inches taller, and you would have heard her name long before this, somewhere in the Power 5.

More than that, she comes up clutch from beyond the arc. She can pour it on and incite the crowd, and she's deadly dangerous on the backcourt trap. One fucks with A-Rob at their own peril.

I would have loved to see what she could do in a larger frame- more height, more strength. But that doesn't mean I don't love what she does now.


These are my, and your, Iona Gaels, the first senior class in Iona women's basketball history to go dancing. They are the joy of my March Madness, and for one shining moment, maybe they'll be yours.


*


Shakena Richardson was born to control the game.

That's the only way I can describe her. When she has the ball, you damn well know she has the ball. When she's running the offense, you damn well know whose show it is. I've seen a lot of point guards over the years, and she has a commanding presence beyond her years (which is saying something for a graduate student). She looks immensely comfortable running the show.

That control extends to her body as well. She does things in the lane that seem impossible for her size. She is possessed of both incredible tenacity and incredible strength. She almost single-handedly dragged Seton Hall back into the semifinal game against Creighton, because she wasn't going to give up.

But don't let all of that make her sound like some kind of grim, implacable, martinet. Kena has more fun out there before games than just about anyone. She's certainly one of the best and most enthusiastic pre-game dancers I've ever seen, and I've seen some serious hip-shaking in my day.

I couldn't be happier that she decided to head on home, or at least closer to it than Tallahassee.


Sometimes you just need to find your niche. That's what Jordan Mosley has done. Role player is a job that needs doing too.

Jordan's the only one of the senior quintet at Seton Hall who doesn't start, and sometimes I wonder if it gets to her. The fact that I have to wonder tells me how much of a team player she's been. Being able to follow is almost as strong a sign of maturity and leadership as taking the lead is.

She's not going to do anything flashy. She doesn't go on dramatic scoring runs or make acrobatic SportsCenter lay-ups. But she'll come up with a big three at the right time, or she'll make a key defensive stop.

In some ways, she's the hardest of my seniors to get a handle on, because we see so much less of her. But she's no less a part of this team and its success for that. After all, the starters can't do it alone. Rosters are 15, not 5, for a reason.


I've been watching Aleesha Powell do her thing for a while now. We go back to Iona, to the maroon and gold, to one of the fastest backcourts in the nation, to proud parents perched in the highest bleachers the Hynes had to offer, to broken axles and the long road to and from Philadelphia.

She's a nice kid. Heaven knows she's been patient when we start talking basketball with her dad and she's wondering why these two weirdos have latched on to her family.

She looks so fragile, like she's still growing into her body. Don't let that fool you into questioning her toughness. Leesh takes the contact and gets right back up again to go hit the free throws. There are plenty of tweets on my timeline and notes in my blog to the effect of "STOP HITTING TINY ALEESHA". And she goes back for more.

She's so fast. Even at the Big East level, she's so much faster than almost everyone out there that she changes the game. She makes plays happen on defense with her quick hands and her closing speed. No ballhandler is safe when she's around.

But what really sets her apart for Seton Hall is her simpatico with Coach Bozzella. It's understandable, given their common roots at Iona. But at the same time, it's fascinating to watch the implicit trust between them when she has the ball. When Kena, or the freshman TT, has the ball, Coach never seems satisfied with the tempo of the game. When Leesh is bringing the ball up, he almost never has to implore her to speed it up or beg her to slow it down. They understand each other, and that's a key part of what makes the magic happen.

That's going to be a big hole to fill.


Tiffany Jones: the world's tallest Swiss Army Knife. (No, I don't think that's literally true, partially because Tiffany is not a literal Swiss Army Knife with all kinds of tools that you pull out with your fingernail, and partially because I don't doubt that someone somewhere has built a ten-foot-long Swiss Army Knife that you would have to tow with your car.)

But when it comes to versatility, that's her all over. Step outside and hit the deep three? Tiffany can do that. Own the boards like a boss? Tiffany can do that. Finish at the rim? Tiffany can do that. Block an opponent's shot into the second row? Tiffany can do that. (I've seen it, or at least the distance equivalent, at Walsh.)

In her brief time at the Hall, Tiffany has become indispensable. She comes to work hard every night (sometimes to her detriment- she's had days where she's pressing too much to force things that aren't happening). She spaces the offense and provides an interior anchor for the defense. She provides a threat inside and out, and that opens up opportunities for everyone else.

I'm sorry we didn't get her for longer. I think she would have been one of our greats. As it is, in three semesters she's shone bright like a shooting star.


Tabatha Richardson-Smith and I have a love-hate relationship. I love to watch her. She hates me.

I'll be honest: this post is different now that I'm writing it after the Big East tournament and what happened there. I think about Tab the person much differently now. What I thought was an ongoing good-natured ribbing was anything but, and now I find myself wondering how else I misjudged her.

So let me talk to you about Tab the player instead. No. Let me talk to you about Tab, Seton Hall's all-time leading scorer, instead. Let me talk to you about the superstar who should have been Big East Player of the Year. Let me describe the deep threes she takes with the greatest of ease and the least hesitation possible, the way she cuts through the lane with a tall grace, the way she tears down rebounds like it was going out of style. Let me describe the way she pounces on the slightest hint of weakness from a ballhandler on the press.

She has the Taurasi swagger and the game to back it up. She has the McCoughtry chip on her shoulder and the history to back it up.

But let me talk to you about a freshman buried deep on Anne Donovan's bench, coming into the game only when it was well in hand. Let me describe a player picking up garbage minutes and tough rebounds, name arcing awkwardly on her jersey. Let me talk about a reserve playing just a little bit reckless and a little bit fearless. She'd probably have been the one person who believed you if you said that by the end of her senior year she was going to be the top scorer in the Big East, the all-time leading scorer for Seton Hall, all-conference and undeniable star.

Tab's journey is Seton Hall's journey, from the bottom of the table to the top of the heap, from the back of the rotation to the front line, never forgetting where she came from, defining themselves by who they planned to be and not who they were, demanding nothing except everything.


These are my, and your, Seton Hall Pirates. They took the long way around, through La Salle, through Iona, through ASA, through Florida State and Rutgers, through the heart of Texas, to find their way to South Orange. Like every pirate crew worth their salt, they came together from disparate origins to become something stronger and something fiercer.

Raise the Jolly Roger. Plunder the lox. The Pirates are coming.


*


In retrospect, perhaps I didn't get the proper first impression of Danaejah Grant.

When Danaejah played her first games at St. John's, I thought she was a gunner, the kind of player whose only concern was how many points she had on the scoresheet, defense be damned. I had dark thoughts that that was why she left Clemson.

Maybe it was just the shoulder. Maybe it was just the shoulder brace, that giant black monstrosity that wouldn't have looked out of place on a football field or in a Borg crowd shot. Maybe that was holding her back from being who she really was.

Or maybe she realized she needed to be more than a pure scorer. Sometimes you see players come to that realization as juniors or seniors- we've come to call that a Briana Brown, after the guard who went from end-of-the-bench reserve to unquestioned captain. Some players make that leap in maturity, and maybe that's Danaejah.

Whatever the case- be it early frailty or late strength- D has come into her own this year, on both ends of the floor. She's rarely flashy. She doesn't make wild, acrobatic plays. She probably won't show up on SportsCenter any time soon.

What does she do? Everything. She's become a lockdown defender, and she usually gets one of the hardest assignments for the opposition. She's a jump-shooting threat who opens up the floor and spreads a defense. She has the strength to drive the lane, take the contact, and hit the shot- and then she'll usually hit the free throw, which is a blessed relief from all my years as a Johnnie.

It's been easy to overlook her. After all, how often do you really think about the ground you stand on? In this season, she's been our bedrock, the foundation on which everything is built.


To make aliyah is to ascend. I've never seen it be so true as it is for Aliyyah Handford.

You have to be a pretty special woman to wear #3 for St. John's. Angela Clark, wherever she is now, was an All-Big East performer on the tournament team that lost to Maryland in the Terps' championship year. Da'Shena Stevens was Big East Freshman of the Year and led St. John's to tournament wins and That Game Against UConn. It even extends to the soccer pitch- Rachel Daly is one of the greatest to don the St. John's shirt. So when this freshman whose qualification was in question came up with that number, I was skeptical, to say the least. You want to wear Angie's number? You want to wear Day's number? You better be good.

I think it's safe to say Liyyah has lived up to those expectations.

She is, simply put, breath-taking. I saw her pull off the Jewelly-oop once or twice. She knifes through the lane like a bolt of lightning. She gets hit hard, and every time, she gets back up again. And then she'll go do it again. Her midrange jumper is a thing of beauty, and every so often she'll step out for a pleasant surprise from deep.

And I haven't even talked about her defense. She has quick hands and a phenomenal ability to read the passing lanes. So much of her offense comes from her defense.

But the best part of her game is her positive energy. When Liyyah's happy, everyone's happy. Her smile is contagious. Off the court, she's just as energetic, even after a bad game. She's almost always got a bright smile, and when she doesn't, it makes the whole world a little bit sadder. That's really how she gets to you. And then she scores more points than any other Johnnie in the history of women's basketball, and you remember she's not just awesome at being a human, she's awesome at basketball.

To make aliyah is a religious experience. I'm agnostic leaning towards atheist, so I wouldn't know anything about that, but I'm okay with making that parallel.


Here they are, my, and your, St. John's Red Storm. These are two of the best to walk through the door, the thunder and the lightning of the Storm. They'll go down in the record books for all they've done for this program, and it'll be a long time before we see their like again.

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Wednesday, March 9, 2016

March 8th, 2016: Creighton at St. John's (Big East tournament)

Just the Facts, Ma'am: St. John's locked down on defense to take the Big East crown 50-37 over Creighton. Aaliyah Lewis led the way with 14 points and eight rebounds. Audrey Faber led Creighton with 12 points and seven rebounds.

For missed shots, sheer joy, relationships with trophies, plays for naught, missed shots, cutting down nets, and DOING THE DAMN THING, join your intrepid and euphoric blogger after the jump.
Here we are. Here it is. This is the big one. Win and you're in. This is for all the marbles. The Big East title game is here, red-hot Creighton and determined St. John's. The bubble's getting thinner with an upset in the WCC and trouble brewing in the Ivy. The Bluejays' backs are to the wall, and the Red Storm faces choppy waters. This isn't the SEC, the ACC, the Big Ten, the Big XII, the Pac-12. The only guarantee comes with a new t-shirt thrown over your jersey, with a cap rakishly tilted on your head, with a trophy raised to the rafters and a piece of net in your hand.

Does... does that little girl have Sonic/Shadow fanart in her binder cover? You go, girl.

Ow. Danaejah, I know this is a thing, but punching the trainer still looks like it hurts.

Okay, Creighton, it is not cool of you to send your student section to the kids' group sitting behind OUR bench and have them try to cheer for Creighton. One of our managers noticed and went up there to straighten things out. Go get the ones on the other side of the arena. I don't care if your responsible adult is a Creighton booster. Go sit behind the Bluejays' bench if you want to cheer for Creighton; there will probably be plenty of room back there. They moved further up in the section, which is somewhat more tolerable, but it's still not cool. We need cheer to be ready to snipe the next group.

Danaejah's family is a few seats over from us; her mom came over to introduce herself, and there's a guy with the same eyes she has. The shirt's a pretty good giveaway too. (He is, in fact, her dad. Which makes sense.)

Creighton likes to put on a show. I'd rather get the job done.

Lovely anthem by the DePaul a cappella choir. We even got color guard for this.

At halftime, it's 21-20 St. John's in a game with scores of missed opportunities for both teams. Way too many missed shots. Creighton's on their fourth game in four days and St. John's has had the nightcap both days, so I can't say I'm surprised. Officiating has been lousy- light contact called at one end, heavy contact not called at the other, and St. John's is convinced they can get those calls. Stop it, Aaliyah.

OH MY MY OH HELL YES! WE'RE DANCING, BABY! 28 YEARS! 28 YEARS AND HERE WE ARE! It wasn't pretty. It was, in fact, pretty hideous. But a defensive game favors the Red Storm, and our upperclassmen stepped up in a big, big way. Creighton threatened, but we shut the door and we did the damn thing!

I have to give the Bluejays their props. They didn't have enough left, but that's because they gave so much for three games and three quarters. This Creighton squad will be back in the Big East final, and probably more than once in the next four years, and it won't be an upset when they do it.

Jim Flanery went deeper into his bench earlier than he had in the previous games. Ali Greene saw time in the first half in relief of the posts, and she wasn't bad. She moves well to the hoop. Brianna Rollerson had questionable shot selection and missed shots at the rim. I was surprised that Flanery had lost so much confidence in her that she didn't play in the second half- she might have been a more effective counter to Sandra Udobi and Jade Walker. Olivia Elger came in in relief of the DQ'd Jade Owens, and took a highly questionable shot on a closely guarded drive. She was pulled pretty quickly, and the senior Tessa Leytem replaced her to try to calm things down. Lauren Works brought it on defense, but her drives were going off the rim.

This game sealed it for me- MC McGrory shoots better through contact than she does when you give her space. She got open looks from her teammates, with Norby and Lamberty and Faber setting screens, and those shots were going all over the place. On the other hand, when she took it inside into the teeth of the defense, she either hit the shot or drew the foul. I have to admire her toughness. Jade Owens brought a lot of energy, but the backcourt defense swallowed her up, and she wasn't able to penetrate with the same ease she had all tournament. Combined with her foul trouble, she was rendered a non-factor.

Sydney Lamberty can board, but her shot was nowhere near accurate. She was putting it up a touch too fast, and I think it showed in the arc. She had a beautiful boxout on Danaejah Grant early on that allowed Creighton to take the board. Bailey Norby had a very quiet game- she did the little things her team tends to rely on her for, but she wasn't able to get to the basket. Audrey Faber was a bright spot for the Jays, with a couple of big blocks, some nice rebounding, and good shooting inside and out. She was a mismatch on both sides of the floor, and if I had been Creighton I might have attempted to push that a little bit further.

So nice to see the deep reserves get some time! Jordan Agustus, Tamesha Alexander, and Kimberly Spruill didn't play much, but Tamesha came hard on defense against McGrory. I love that kind of passion. Akina Wellere kept getting called for nonsense fouls, but the one basket she came up with was absolutely huge. I'm so happy for her winning this in her hometown, in front of her family. Crystal Simmons brought the defense, though I question her shot selection- she was terrified at all the wrong times and trigger-happy at all the wrong times. Jade Walker was taking logner shots than she should have, but she was big when we needed her. She had a huge stop on Rollerson.

I can't say enough about the hard work that Sandra Udobi did on the inside. She had one of her best games of the year, and what a time to have it. She cleared the boards and hit the shots she took. And Imani Littleton did her job too- she was almost always in position on defense. She was solid. I feel like I'm short-changing the two of them, but what they did to anchor the paint was huge. It's hard to quantify statistically, but they were fantastic.

I spent much of the game questioning Aaliyah Lewis's shot selection, but the little bitty guard came up huge in the fourth quarter. She sneaked inside for rebounds, and everyone overlooked her on the inside- she made the cuts to the basket that we usually see from Liyyah, and Creighton never rotated to her. Danaejah Grant had double teams flying at her all night, so she wasn't able to get a lot of shots up, but she was able to find the open player on the cross-court skip pass. Aliyyah Handford sliced through the defense and created space for herself, though she wasn't as accurate as we would have liked. She made some amazing defensive plays- a great flying steal, a hustle save that left her tangled with the press table- but the offense couldn't turn them into points.

Was it pretty? No. Not until the final buzzer. But sometimes it doesn't have to be. Sometimes all you have to do is hit one or two shots at the right time.

Officiating was less consistent and less accurate than I would have expected from a crew that has both Dee Kantner and Denise Brooks. Lots of travels missed early, lots of contact missed later. The bad calls went both ways, though, and the ones that Creighton would have liked to have were probably more critical (they probably would have gone into halftime with the lead if Crystal had been called for the reach-in late in the second quarter).

Jade Walker had an idea, but unfortunately, we weren't allowed to have the Gatorade bucket out on the floor, so everyone had to settle for squirting Joe and the rest of the staff with their water bottles.

All-tournament team: Allazia Blockton of Marquette, Shakena Richardson of Seton Hall, Megan Podkowa of DePaul, MC McGrory of Creighton, and Danaejah Grant of St. John's, with Aliyyah Handford as tournament MOP. All good picks. McGrory made a case for MOP even in the losing cause.

I think Jade might be trophysexual. She certainly seemed reluctant to let it go.

My team, you guys. My adorable team. This couldn't have happened to a nicer bunch of people. There aren't enough words to describe how thrilled I am- for Liyyah, who is as sweet as she is talented; for Danaejah, who came home to make this happen; for Akina, who got to win the 'ship in front of her family; for Sandy, who has fought back from injuries and pain; for all our girls who I love so much. More- for Joe, who came in with Kim and helped build all of this from the ruins; for Da'Shena, who made the riskier choice when she could have been a Husky; for Jonath, who left and came back; for all the support staff who make the miracles possible. It's been a pleasure and a privilege to be the tiniest part of this.

Let's go dancing, ladies.

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Tuesday, March 8, 2016

March 7th, 2016: Creighton at Seton Hall (Big East tournament)

Just the Facts, Ma'am: Creighton finished strong in their 77-56 win over Seton Hall in the Big East semi-finals. MC McGrory had 23 points and eight rebounds to lead the Bluejays. Shakena Richardson had 20 points, 13 in the second half, to lead Seton Hall.

For frustration, questionable personnel choices, breaking the press, a recurring headache, trying too hard then not trying at all, and encouraging college players to gamble, join your intrepid and discombobulated blogger after the jump.


All right, here we go! Good afternoon from McGrath-Phillips Arena on the campus of DePaul University! We're coming to you from the semi-finals ofo the Big East tournament, where upset-minded seventh seed Creighton looks to extend their hot run, while the third-seeded Seton Hall Pirates look for their second straight trip to the Big East title game.

I'm glad Creighton is a Nike school, because our gear would be too similar otherwise. Our blues are already way too close.

This zone defense drill tht Creighton is running is pretty cool. (Also, in unrelated news, Marissa Janning is gorgeous up close.)

D'awwww. (No, you're not going to get more than that, I respect people's privacy.)

I kind of love the ceremony of Coach Bozzella getting the blazer and putting it on. Given that it has its own Twitter account...

The Creighton dance team and student cheer are getting hyped early. Well, one of their hashtags is #GetCreigh. And they're giving out swag to the kids' groups that are sitting near them, so this is going to be a bit of an uphill battle. That's all right. I can drink.

No sign of the borrowed high school band that was representing Seton Hall- ah, a band has arrived, and they appear to be a college of some variety. They're older. The big UIC on the drum kit and the flames on the drums should have been a hint of where they're from, huh? They're really loud and really jazzy.

The Sapphires and Seton Hall cheerleaders are now working on the kids in their section of the arena. We'll need all the help we can get.

There is no consistency to the way the teams are done on the scoreboard. Bluejays but SHU? Go either school name or team name, jeez.

At halftime, Creighton is up 29-21. MC McGrory seriously needs to hit Rivers Casino, because she's getting the most ridiculous rolls off the rim and deflections off the glass. Seton Hall's missing too many shots at the rim, and missing those shots at the rim has caused us to take too many shots from bad angles. We have to play smarter, not harder.

Apparently this was too much to ask for the Pirates. We took stupid shots. We tried to rely on our press, even when Creighton was breaking it easily. And I'm not sure about some of Coach Bozzella's decisions, either. We handled this game like the cakewalk we thought it was going to be because they got an upset and a #7 seed. You can't do that in the Big East.

Jim Flanery got to empty his bench near the end of the game, which I'm sure he was quite happy about. Myah Mellman seems to be a magnet for hard contact from opposing guards- she took a hard hit from LaTecia Smith near the end of the game. Ali Greene got herself to the line for a couple of free throws, even if she didn't hit the first. Olivia Elger committed a stupid foul in that fourth quarter that sent Smith to the line for an and-1. Once again, everyone for Creighton was hoping Tessa Leytem would score, and once again, they were disappointed. Brianna Rollerson played a lot less than I realized- she had a big impact in her limited minutes, owning her space on the inside. Lauren Works was great defensively.

I feel like this is a recording, but this is not a recording. MC McGrory is so tough. I think she likes contact more than she dislikes it. She hit one shot off the glass, and I'm pretty sure it was at the shot clock buzzer, that was a heartbreaker. Jade Owens is fantastic- she can be a little over-aggressive sometimes, but that fuels her team. She did a great job of finding her teammates to break the press. Sydney Lamberty was solid, and her three at the end of the third quarter was pretty much the backbreaker- we'd cut it back down, we were on a little bit of a run, and BAM. Right near the end of the clock.

Bailey Norby slipped around ahead of the defense and was available either for the lay-up ahead of the press or for the extra pass to the cutter. They use her so well. She's not called upon to be the star, but they don't need her to be the star. Audrey Faber had a monster block on Aleesha Powell (which I'll admit is a bit of a size mismatch) and was a match-up problem all day. She cuts well and has good range.

Creighton did a phenomenal job of breaking the Seton Hall press, and when that happened, the game was over. That's what the Pirates go to when they need to save a game, so when that doesn't work, there is no recourse- that was the recourse.

LaTecia Smith hit the paint well and was energetic on defense. Martha Kuderer is still not ready for the big stage, and I don't know why she got such extensive minutes (I would kill for +/-, because I think that would give a better picture and confirmation of my impression). Claire Lundberg was ineffective, but at least neutrally so. Jordan Mosley hustled on defense. I'm kinda sorry she didn't get the big send-off like the other four seniors did; on the other hand, that would have meant putting a starter back in the game, and Flanery might have taken that the wrong way. Jordan Molyneaux was a desperation move that was of limited effect.

And the reason Coach Bozzella had to make desperation moves and play forwards out of position and go as deep into his bench in the first half as he did was because he was getting pretty much nothing out of his frontcourt. Lubirdia Gordon's offensive rebounding numbers look good, but don't get fooled- most of those were off her own close-in misses. She's got to go up stronger. She can't bring the ball back down. And she has got to hit the bunnies at the rim. Tiffany Jones started off well, and smacked a Faber shot for great justice, but had double teams coming at her most of the day and never really found the moxie to work through them. Tabatha Richardson-Smith never found her groove, and as the game wore on, she started pressing more and more, taking shots earlier in the clock and further behind the line.

Shakena Richardson had herself a third quarter, pretty much single-handedly trying to drag the Hall back into the game, and one of the turning points was when Coach took her out. Kena never wants to come out, but I think I agree with her on this one- if she thought she could go, you have to ride with the hot hand until it cools off. You can't blast chill the hot hand and expect to win. My favorite play of hers was actually the jump ball she forced on Rollerson, if only because I love when tiny feisty guards tangle with big ol' posts. Aleesha Powell brought the speed, but her ballhandling was not up to par. I've never seen her dribble the ball off the back of her own foot before.

This was one of the flattest performances I've ever seen from the Pirates. They didn't go into this game like a chance to play for the title was on the line. By the fourth quarter, you could see from the body language that they'd given up. There was no comeback left. There wasn't going to be a hot minute like the Butler game. There was no fight left. Who's that on? Coaches? Team captains? I don't know.

Officiating didn't really help, but it didn't hurt much either. It certainly didn't make a difference in the outcome.

I think Seton Hall took this game too lightly. I think we thought it was going to be a cakewalk because we'd beaten them twice, including coming back once. I think we were looking ahead to the 'ship and either the top seed or the local rival. You can't do that in the Big East.

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