Monday, May 21, 2018

May 20th, 2018: Las Vegas at Connecticut

Just the Facts, Ma'am: Alyssa Thomas posted 13 points and 17 rebounds as Connecticut trounced Las Vegas 101-65. Four Sun players scored in double figures, with Alex Bentley's 18 off the bench late a team high. Tamera Young had 23 points to lead the Aces. A'ja Wilson added 14 points and 10 rebounds in her professional debut.

For casino wars, fantastic video work, a good cheesesteak, impressive rookies, physical play, running up the score, and potential, join your intrepid blogger after the jump.

Good morning, fellow travelers! When we say WNBA all day in this house, we mean it. Your intrepid blogger has been up since 6:30 to make the bus to Flushing to make the bus to Mohegan for the Sun's home opener against the Las Vegas Aces.

Positives to this bus: the seats are amazingly comfortable and there's an outlet next to our seats. Downsides: the bathroom smells, I don't know if the outlet works, and the on-board entertainment leaves something to be desired (we got stuck on the passenger information message for about twenty minutes, and now we got an anime-esque feature on the Meaning of Easter, first in a line of Weird Sponsored Things that ran in a loop). And the outlets didn't work.

It's actually a shame our regular Sun seats are lower down. The people next to us seem nice and have very nifty Jasmine Thomas baseball-style shirts. The “we are loud” warning has already been issued.

Amazing roster cards with a fold-out illustrated poster of Jonquel Jones. I was even able to get mine signed!

I think they switched benches! If they did, I will be mildly annoyed. They did not switch benches, but I think they switched tunnels.

There's a promotion for wearing orange to the game (a voucher for a small soda is nothing to sneeze at) so I'm wearing a Shock shirt under my Sun jersey. Funny how 15 years later, we're back to the same font as at the beginning.

Courtney Williams has such a big personality. You could improve the mood of a small town if you could somehow spread her joy.

25-21 Sun at the end of the first, after Vegas raced out to a 14-4 lead behind six points from Nia Coffey. Miller is bringing the big guns off the bench with Bentley and Jonquel Jones.

I like the new name for the kids' dance team- the Sunbeams. They're cute.

49-37 Sun at the half. They initially had it at 50, but I think that was the scoreboard operator getting overexcited about the long two from Courtney Williams to end the half. Very balanced scoring for the Sun, though fouls are a concern, and I'm not thrilled with the shots they're leaving short.

The flashing banks of lights are new, and they're going to set off a seizure one of these days.

I'm just saying, maybe you don't do the ad with the spicy wings with the kid from Minnesota.

I like to think that somewhere, Pat Summitt is laughing at a concerted campaign to turn Connecticut orange.

Kelsey Bone looks good. She's slimmed down. A'ja Wilson looks pro ready. But they have no depth.

Friendly reminder to Sun fans: Bill Laimbeer only grows stronger from your hate. He is best villain.

73-49 Sun at the end of three. Shekinna Stricklen fall down go boom and left the game with a head/face injury. I didn't see how it happened, though it might have been self-inflicted. She stayed on the bench, but did not return to the game.

101-65 Sun, final, and I'm getting more and more uncomfortable with the bloodlust of Connecticut fans. They seem to get louder when they're up big, not early on when their team needs them more. At least they're starting to appreciate players who didn't go to UConn. The pop for Ogwumike, Jonquel Jones, and the Thomases was more than acceptable.

Kelsey Bone does not seem to be popular in Uncasville, and that was before she sluefooted Alex Bentley late in the game. She got a smattering of boos when she came in, and the crowd cheered whenever a foul was called on her. She was active on the boards, and physical all the way around. Ji Su Park has nice defensive instincts for a player as young as she is. I don't know if she's ready for heavy W minutes yet, but I see why Vegas opted to keep her. Good stroke at the line, too. In a couple of years, she could be a very nice player. Dearica Hamby was last off the bench and didn't even play in the first half. I'm trying to remember if she's recovering from an injury or not. I sort of hope she is, because otherwise she was just bad.

I do not question the Liberty's decision to cut Shoni Schimmel, not one iota. She was trying too hard to make passes that were harder than they needed to be. You don't get extra points for degree of difficulty, and you have to be able to get the basic passes through the defense before you can give them the old razzle-dazzle. (That being said, her accuracy should improve if she gets a chance to get used to her teammates and vice versa.) I feel for her, and when she's on a roll, she's a lot of fun to watch. I just don't know if this is the right system for her, or if there even is a right system in this league for her.

I had more to say about Schimmel than I thought, so I'll put my notes about the other guards here. Raigyne Louis, whose last name I keep wanting to give the French pronunciation, looked like the defender she was in her LSU days. Her offense still needs work, though. It's a bit wild. She's not the slasher she once was, and what works in college doesn't always work in the WNBA. Jaime Nared brings good height to the floor and provided flexibility to the makeshift Aces lineup. She had a nifty defensive play in the third quarter with a deflection.

Carolyn Swords continues to be good at being tall. Connecticut was playing a lot of small ball, which might have been a necessary evil, but doesn't match up well against a 6-6 widebody. She was able to pull down rebounds just by reaching over her opponents. She didn't get good position down low on offense, and her midrange game was full of fail. A'ja Wilson already looks like she belongs in this league. Her shooting line probably isn't going to show it, and she has to be a little more assertive on the glass, but she did a phenomenal job of getting to the line and hittting. I'm always impressed by posts with good free-throw shooting.

Tamera Young, bless her heart, still has one of the most dubious jumpers in the league, so you can imagine my surprise when she hit the three. She did a good job of getting into the paint and finishing, or at least drawing contact to get to the line and convert the free throws. If she's a primary offensive option when the regular guards are back, I'll be surprised. Nia Coffey got off to a hot start before the caffeine high wore off, and there's your obligatory coffee-related joke. I'm not sure how to sort out her skill set. She seems to do a lot of things, but not do any of them particularly well, and I don't know if she has countermoves ready for when the defense catches on to her. I'd like to take a closer look at her, though. I was pleasantly surprised at Lindsay Allen getting the start, and I thought she played well. She wasn't spectacular, and she definitely made some questionable passes that neither she nor the intended recipient were ready for, but overall she was pretty steady, and she did well defensively on Jasmine Thomas. But, again, I see her role changing drastically when Jefferson's back from her injury and Plum and McBride have returned from their overseas sojourns.

I can see some of the potential that the Aces have. There were moments when the individual defense was very good, although their communication needs a lot of work. Their rebounding was excellent, anchored by Swords, Wilson, and Young. I don't know how much good the inside play is going to do them with their guards, though.

There was a fairly large group- maybe two dozen people- in Aces shirts near the visiting bench. Not sure if traveling fans or MGM folks.

The Sun crowd really likes when Rachel Banham hits threes. I can live with her being the folk hero off the end of the bench, I guess. She's got to stop fouling, though. It makes her too much of a defensive liability. Alex Bentley realizes she has teammates, right? I understand if she took Bone's shenanigans personally, but if you're up 30 in the final two or three minutes, is it really necessary to be chucking every single shot yourself? She knows how to fire up this crowd, though. The rust showed a little bit for her, but you know that'll wear off. (Okay, maybe that's also a reason why so much of the offense went to her near the end of the game, but I still don't have to like it.) I was surprised Lexie Brown didn't get into the game sooner, but then she played pretty much the entire fourth quarter, so I guess that makes up for it. Her shot looked good. I'd like to see her get more minutes; I think she's good for them.

Brionna Jones had more trouble on defense than I was expecting after her superlative performance against Cambage in the preseason. She was getting consistently beat physically by Swords and Wilson, and a lot of it was strictly on height. I was glad to see her get her free throws at the end to get on the board. Betnijah Laney threw herself completely into the game. I love her hustle. It looked like Connecticut was trying to give her heavy run in the third quarter- there was a sequence of possessions where it seemed like Connecticut was trying to feed her every time. The results were mixed. Morgan Tuck has gotten more physical, and not in a good way. I was surprised she wasn't getting called for offensive fouls with the elbows she was throwing and the bad screens she was setting. Jonquel Jones definitely looks rusty, and in lineups where she's playing the five, there's no reason for her to be jacking threes. I love the way she tips rebounds away from players who were absolutely certain they had the ball corralled- her length in those situations is amazing. She laid the smackdown on a couple of shots, with a fantastic one to answer a Wilson block. She's just so much fun to watch, and once she's back in the groove she'll be even more fun.

For now it looks like Chiney Ogwumike is playing center, and despite the height issue, that's not the worst thing in the world for her right now. She's still not that mobile, so plopping her down in the low post is the most effective way to use her. I'm super glad she's back. Shekinna Stricklen's shot was streaky, and at one point she got a shot volleyball-spiked by Wilson. I swear, sometimes she forgets how strong and wide her build is, and falls too much in love with the outside shot. Alyssa Thomas still needs to work on her free throw shooting, but now her stroke at least looks like the shot has a chance to go in. She did a fantastic job running the break, and as the game went on her passing got fancier. Didn't always work out, but she racked up the assists and got buckets in the lane.

Courtney Williams spent most of the first quarter very much in her own way, chucking up shot after shot that went off the back iron or spun around the rim and went out. She found a bit more of her groove on the break in the second quarter, but this was the kind of game that highlights her weaknesses as a player. Jasmine Thomas was solid, but had a surprising amount of trouble with Allen. And in the end, there's only so much I can say about Jasmine Thomas that hasn't been said before in set after set of GNoD. Barring injury or games well outside the norm, you know what you're getting with her. She's not spectacular, but she's steady and she's consistent, and that's what you need out of your floor general. (Although beating up on Nia Coffey on a three is pretty spectacular. That was an awesome block.)

I love Connecticut's offense. I think I'd be tearing my hair out on a regular basis if I had to watch them keep fouling on defense. When the gambles work, they work. When they don't work, they rack up the fouls and they lose their assignment on defense. The Aces got a lot of open looks on missed switches.

Then again, Vegas has their own communication problems, what with Nared and Coffey knocking each other off the ball on one play, and Hamby throwing the resulting loose ball clear into the backcourt. Keystone Kops moment there.

Officiating was inconsistent, and the review mania needs to stop. That being said, Sun fans do understand that their players commit fouls sometimes, right? It does happen.

So much orange. Cannot cope.

I think the LA game will be a bigger test for this Sun team, and Indiana will be a nice palate cleanser. I'm looking forward to that Indiana game, though I'll probably be a zombie for much of it.


Friday, May 11, 2018

May 8th, 2018: Los Angeles at New York

Just the Facts, Ma'am: The New York Liberty held off a third-quarter run from the Los Angeles Sparks to come away with the 81-75 preseason win. Kia Nurse led New York with a team-high 19 points, while Reshanda Gray added 11 points and 14 rebounds. Cappie Pondexter had 17 points to lead Los Angeles.

For young point guards, details I've assuredly forgotten, and impatience, join your intrepid and much belated blogger after the jump.

The crazy part of this whole thing is that after doing the double header and getting home at 1 o'clock in the morning, I'm turning around and doing it all over again.

Folks, if you want to kick up a fuss about where you're sitting, you show up early. You don't roll up at ten to twelve and block everyone else from boarding while you argue with the guide. Jerks.

Guys, whatever I did to my neck, don't let me do it again. It is so stiff. Ugh. Unfortunately, I think what I did was spend too much time on buses doing basketball things. I hope no one expects me to be coherent in real life for the next few days.

Note to self: I'm going to have to find a new go to meal at Mohegan. They changed the way they store the ingredients for the taco bowl, and it looks kind of gross. It still tastes okay, but the proof will be in a few hours, or rather, will not be in a few hours. (Did not have an abreaction, but I still think I need to find a new meal.)

Being the loudest person in the arena, or at least in the section, does make one memorable.

“We're going to make the entire state of Connecticut glow orange.” Part of me wants to go full Dalek and yell, “THOSE WORDS ARE BLASPHEMY” at Matt. Given how many old Husky fans there are here, I can't be the only one.

Yeah, Tina isn't warming up. Time for another round of “quick, act surprised!” It also looks like we're not trying to fake anyone out with Brittany Boyd, either. Nor do I see Shavonte Zellous. 404 error: no damn to give found.

Blaze, don't hit Erin Phillips in the face with your flag.

22-16 Liberty at the end of the first. Kia Nurse is off to a hot start. There's no one within two sections of me, so I'm basically in St. John's mode, wherein I make as much noise as possible because no one else will. I'm getting echoes up here.

36-33 Liberty at half. But I may pop a blood vessel if we keep giving Cappie Pondexter the weak-side midrange corner. We've left her open there three or four times, and after she missed the first time, she didn't keep missing.

Does Brooke McCarty not realize that you're supposed to jump for a jump ball? Forcing them on much taller players is only half the battle. Unless she's expecting the other team to be laughing too hard at the contrast between her and Mercedes Russell to react, all she's doing is delaying the inevitable. I know we scored on one, and we may have scored on the other.

Sidebar: the ushers in my section both days were absolutely delightful. Kelly on Monday was super sweet, and David on Tuesday was very friendly.

58-55 Liberty at the end of the third, which is better than it could have been, since LA took a lead in the middle of the quarter. The STH in front of me has arrived, so I have to turn down the volume and put my shoes back on.

81-75 Liberty final! Both teams got after the refs. Differential was 4-0 against us, and in college would have been more, since there was an offensive foul or two tossed in the mix. Then Katie put the fear of Katie into the rookie ref, and the fouls went against LA in a torrent. I thought we got away with more in that run.

Someone needs to find Kaylee Jensen a better bra. I was starting to get sympathy pains up front by the third quarter. I was surprised by the smoothness of her three-point shot. She's not Danielle Adams, but she does seem to have a little bit of range. From the way she was racking up fouls at the end of the game, I wonder if she has a stamina problem. Taya Reimer got a few minutes in the third quarter, but I have nothing down on the scoresheet for her. At least Kathryn Westbeld distinguished herself by going after loose balls on the floor.

Karlie Samuelson shoots threes. This is not a recording. She got into less foul trouble this time, but I think she also had less time to get into foul trouble. If I were forced to make a choice, I'd keep her over Wiese, but I wouldn't keep either of them if I didn't have a choice. I like Brooke McCarty's heart and hustle, but she's got to get stronger if she wants to play in the WNBA. Her slightness is more of a problem than her height, IMO. I didn't see anything out of Gabbi Ortiz that impressed me or made me think she's more than a space filler until one of the guards gets back.

Shakayla Thomas's jumper was somewhat less effective in this game than it was against Connecticut, but her length and constant motion on defense made her very dangerous in the passing lanes. LA is going to need to either keep her or trade her, because in these two games, she's looked too valuable to merely cut. Mistie Bass set up Sydney Wiese for a three with a vicious pick. I don't think there's room on the roster to keep her, but she's still incredibly useful, even after a surprising number of years in terms of an athlete's career. Essence Carson hit a three-pointer! No, I don't mean a foot-on-the-line long two, although she had plenty of those as well. I mean an actual counts-for-three-points-on-the-scoreboard three. If she's finally figured out where the line is, after all these years, LA just picked up another four to five points a game. Y'all think I'm exaggerating, don’t you? She looked really good.

Okay, I didn't realize until I looked at the box score how many rebounds Wiese had. I think they were the kind you chase down when they get loose, not physical ones down low, but that's still a fantastic skill for a guard. She put up a good line, but there's something I can't put my finger one that has me doubting everything she does on the court. I'm going to have to analyze game tape at some point, because this doesn't make sense to me. Cappie Pondexter will probably not get this many shots when the rest of LA's starters are back, but she'll take them when she gets them. We kept leaving her open, which is a thing that pretty much everyone in the WNBA should know not to do at this point. Unless, of course, we were attempting to run the defense that we're going to use on LA when they have everyone back on this shell of a Sparks squad. But that would just be silly, right? Why would we show our hand without it actually being effective?

I think my favorite part was when LA jobbed themselves out of two free throws in a four-point game by calling a timeout right when Pondexter was about to get fouled. (Sidebar that I think I should have mentioned before: this time, Tonya Edwards was the coach up and about, though Agler looked more animated on the sideline than he did in the first game. I actually like the notion of letting the assistants do much of the heavy lifting in a preseason game.)

I'll reiterate the point I made after their game against Connecticut: most of these players have no chance of being involved in the Sparks' plans for 2018, and the ones who do are going to be playing very different roles. About all you can really gauge from a preseason game like this is who might be ready for primetime elsewhere and how the coaches handle their players and their business.

How does a guard even get a three-second violation called against her? Shoni Schimmel, I am side-eyeing you so hard right now I think I just gave myself a facial cramp. She's just not fitting with the personnel that we have, and she seems to be caught between trying too hard and not giving enough of a damn on the court. Worst of both worlds, and we have enough guards in camp that I don't think we need any of that nonsense. Kolby Morgan slid over to a more traditional PG role in this game, and seemed more comfortable in it than she was in the first game. Still not WNBA material, but she had one nifty steal and some good shots. She's got to realize that you can't just flick up random junk in the lane, though; the best case scenario involves missing in embarrassing fashion. Kelly Faris played like she realized her career was on the line, diving for loose balls and driving on offense. But while I realize Karlie Samuelson can be exceptionally annoying, you can't just shove her out of the way, Kelly. That's just rude. I think two of her turnovers were offensive fouls. I don't know if that performance was enough to tip the scales in her favor, but if that's closer to what we can expect from her than the Dallas game was, I'd be okay with it.

(That being said, FFS, Connecticut fans, can you applaud the players who call Mohegan Sun Arena their home more than random Huskies and Husky transfers? Maybe?)

I like what I've seen out of Leslie Robinson, even if there's no way she should make the final roster. She's got good hustle, and a pretty good passing eye. The problem is that she's not ready for the big leagues. She'll do well overseas if she wants to, but she does also have that Princeton degree to fall back on. Mercedes Russell had moments near the basket where she looked like she was actually able to use her height to her advantage, but she's stiff and slow, and if she makes this roster, it's strictly because of positional needs. Shay Murphy spent a lot of time arguing with the ref. While I can't blame her for disagreeing with his assessments, I think she got caught up in it too much, and it affected her play. She's got to keep her head in the game if she's not going to contribute statistically.

I'm even more excited for Kia Nurse's prospects after this game than I was after the last game. I love what she brings to the floor offensively and defensively, and the flexibility she gives us in our lineups. She lined up at three, but I can see her fitting in there or at one of the guard spots, depending on match-ups. I think her instinct for the game are better developed than the average rookie's, and she's going to fit in well when the rest of our veterans get back. Sugar Rodgers brought a lot of energy, but I think she was getting worn down from being so obviously the primary offensive option for much of the night (given that she was one of the few regular starters to even be in the building, let alone dressed out for the game). Lindsay Allen had another solid outing- not spectacular, not remarkable, but that's not what we need from her. Fireworks are Piph and Sugar's job. Lindsay's job is to not screw up. That sounds kind of callous, but I'm all about the steady, no-nonsense point guards.

Much better game from Reshanda Gray than the one against Dallas. She was able to get inside and get the boards that she wasn't getting position for against the taller Wings. In a game like this, I can see where she'd be a serviceable backup, but muck like my concerns about Kelly Faris, consistency is the question. If Reshanda can do this more than she can fail like she did against Dallas, I'd love to have her on board. But if she can't consistently compete against WNBA posts (and let's be honest, most of the players for LA in this game were not of the caliber she'd be facing on a regular basis, except for Mistie Bass) then I'd rather take the time to try and develop a younger player. We saw more frontcourt time for Marissa Coleman, which is also useful going forward. She's streaky, but I like her and what she gives this team. I realize that goes against the pervious statement about developing young players, but I think we can get more use out of Marissa than Reshanda, all things considered.

Tina was very loose on the bench. Funniest moment: the Sun host started urging everyone to scream. Brittany Boyd tilted her head back, and I don't know if she was pretending to scream or actually screaming, but Tina gave her the "oh no baby what is you doing?" side-eye and sort of scooted away from her like "I don't know her".

I have questions about our rotation, but that's going to depend on who's available and who's healthy for the start of the season. I think we have a lot of flexibility as long as we have everyone. But if we don't have Boyd and we don't have Piph, things could get dicey in a hurry.

I'm still ready for the season to start. I may have to watch more of it on television than I'd prefer to, and I suspect that bitterness will leak through all season long. But this is my team and I love them.


Wednesday, May 9, 2018

May 8th, 2018: Dallas at Connecticut

TJust the Facts, Ma'am: Led by their veteran guards, the Connecticut Sun beat the Dallas Wings 79-58 in their second game of the preseason. Courtney Williams had 18 points to lead four Sun players in double figures. Kaela Davis and Ruth Hamblin each had 14 points off the bench to pace the Wings.

For big posts, injuries, quick guards, a war of attrition, and running out of things to say, join your intrepid blogger after the jump.

The second game is upon us, with the Dallas Wings facing off against the Connecticut Sun. I have to say, the Dallas blue is gorgeous. it's a shame they combine it with that eye-searing green and that inexplicable red. The Nike rendition is darker than the Adidas version; this almost reminds me of the once-unspeakable blue era for the Liberty.

Alex Bentley is back, so Tyra Buss is gone. Either that, or she's undercover as a ballgirl. The people in front of me are very sad about this. I think I just rolled boxcars with my eyes.

23-13 Sun at the end of the first. Jasmine Thomas and Courtney Williams have gone nuts. Cambage already has two fouls for Dallas.

Oh, good, the crew remembered how to play tic-tac-toe this time.

43-30 Sun at the half. Footwork needs work; I think the Sun got called for three travels in the second quarter alone. But the interior defense has been stalwart, bending but not breaking under the pressure of the Wings' skyscrapers. Brionna Jones has been especially solid.

Chiney Ogwumike is here but not dressed for the Sun.

Wings are getting points from the South Carolina alumnae.

Someone needs to explain to the Sun gameday crew that the Jeopardy! theme does not go with Wheel of anything.

Injury update: Allisha Gray took a charge in the third quarter, went down hard, and came up hopping on one foot. She went straight to the bench but hasn't come back into the game. Looks like her left ankle.

58-46 Sunday at the end of the third.

Injury update: Nikki Greene took an elbow to the forehead that left her woozy and opened up quite a cut near her eyebrow. Blood spattered a large part of the lane, and it took four people with a union rep supervising to make the area safe to play in again. Obviously she left the game.

So we saw what happened when Dallas's height was countered by greater girth and energy underneath. Of course, the Wings might have had a better chance of winning if their tall players could hit shots at the rim, but that was a problem that I saw with them last night. I think that Natalie Butler was the one who got Greene in the forehead. That would explain why the official spoke to her the longest after Greene was taken out of the game. She really needs to improve her accuracy at the rim. There were a lot of sequences when she and Ruth Hamblin were exchanging misses over the basket. I never really thought of Hamblin as a three-point shooter, but she hit one and took a couple tonight. Maybe Cambage taking a three pointer last night was part of the game plan. With Señor Fred, we may never know. She shot a wedgie tonight. At least she knew how to get it down. Last night, Wiese couldn't get it down by herself. Breanna Lewis got into it with Laney in the 4th quarter, shortly after the injury to Greene. Unfortunately, I was looking away at the time, and the next thing I knew people were exchanging words, and they did not appear to be polite words. She was very physical, especially in the fourth quarter. That's when she picked up most of her fouls. Evelyn Akhator had a big block on Morgan Tuck, and picked up a bucket that I think was on the fast break, but was otherwise under marble. She was the last post off the bench for the wings, which is not a good time for her, is there are so many post players on the Dallas roster. Kayla Thornton got sent to the bench with the arrival of Glory Johnson. She rebounded well, with one particularly good offensive board in the early going. I love when players like her get chances after going overseas.

Azurá Stevens did not have nearly a spectacular a game as she had against the Liberty. She was bothered, she was hassled, and she was pursued. She wasn't getting the easy looks that she got against New York, and pretty much every shot she threw up was contested or was an extremely bad shot, or both. I still think she has the potential to be a game changing player, but I realize that she has to improve her physical play in order to deal with the more physical nature of the professional game. (I almost kept the last TTS typo, because metaphysical for more physical almost worked.) Saniya Chong brought good defense, but was quiet offensively. She looked to be trying to set up her teammates more than she was looking for her own offense. That's not necessarily a bad thing, if that's the role she's supposed to play. Kaela Davis was a sparkplug early for the Dallas offense. If the officials ever start calling her for travels on those pell-mell drives, though, she's going to be in a lot of trouble. I could also do without some of her dramatics, though she toned those down tonight. Loryn Goodwin definitely played, and I remember a drive that had a lot of steps, but I also remember having a one liner that I didn't get to use, so that's a thing. She's had a remarkable journey, but I think it's going to end before the end of training camp.

I don't know if there's any additional context to the matter, but Karima Christmas-Kelly and Shekinna Stricklen were going at it hammer and tongs whenever they were both in the game at the same time. It was a very physical battle. For the most part, it looked like Stricklen was getting the better of her on the inside, though Christmas-Kelly was able to shake her loose for a three in the early stages of the game. She didn't play a lot, but she was tough when she was in. Glory Johnson already looks like she's either having problems with her right shoulder or she's getting her elbows warmed up for the regular season. She looked wild in the lane- the shots she was throwing up were reckless, to say the least. It's absolutely astonishing how much of a presence Liz Cambage can be in the lane. She's so tall, and she's thickly built, and she has no qualms about using any and all of that size to the fullest advantage possible. She was especially good at using her lower body for leverage and to get people out of the way on screens (she got called for an offensive foul on one of those, which went over well with the Mohegan crowd). It's easy to get under her skin, and Connecticut's physical defense was definitely doing that. For most of the game, she was getting away with the pushing and shoving. She's quite the talent, and she's quite the handful. She obliterated Alyssa Thomas on a block.

Skylar Diggins-Smith didn't play a lot, and really wasn't impressive when she did. She had a lot of trouble with the Connecticut defense- they were all up in her business. She had one nice move that garnered the attention of the woman in front of me (who was quite the fan of hers despite being a Sun season ticket holder, but I suppose I shouldn't judge). Allisha Gray was hot in the early going, but wasn't getting as much time, or as many looks, later in the game. Most of her points were in the first quarter, though she did have a very nice steal in the third.

Dallas is, or at least has the potential to be, very high-octane. Their guards are aggressive going the basket, and their sheer size up front makes them formidable down low. But they've got to work on their accuracy, and Stevens will have to be more consistent. I mean, she's a rookie, so that's bound to happen, and I expect her to iron out her problems sooner rather than later.

I really feel bad for Nikki Greene taking that hit to the head, because unless league rules forbid it, it's probably going to be the last thing she did for the Sun. She was physical with Cambage, which I think was the role she was called upon for, and hit her putbacks, but I don't see her as a multi-dimensional enough player to stick on a WNBA roster. Cayla George was on the floor against Thornton and Davis much of the time, and that is entirely too many people with phonetically identical first names on the court at the same time. Someone in the arena was a fan; I heard the "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!" cheer when she was on the court. She had some good minutes in the second quarter. Betnijah Laney really turned up the intensity on defense, going after loose balls along the sideline. She got into it with Lewis, and I still don't know why, but they got double technicals out of the deal. I can only imagine that someone said something about someone's mother. Better game for Morgan Tuck this time around than against Los Angeles. Her shot was working a little more (she hit a pretty one underneath on a nice feed from Stricklen). I'm still not entirely sure what kind of player she is, but her potential is starting to show.

Alex Bentley came into the game and immediately hit a three, so I guess she's doing all right upon her return. She had a nice steal in the fourth quarter, as the Sun were jumping all over the passing lanes. I think the fans might have missed her a little bit. (That first shot being granted, though, she did miss everything else she took, which isn't good. She looked to be forcing a lot of her stuff, though I wonder how much of that was from lack of familiarity with the personnel.) Rachel Banham didn't wait until the end of the game to get her three-pointer working this time, but the play she had that impressed me most was actually the steal and the runout for the lay-up. If she can bring that kind of shooting every night, and add the defense to it, she'll stick on this roster. But that's always been a problem for her. Leticia Romero continues to be underwhelming, and I'm disappointed. I really thought she had the game for the W, but somehow it's not translating. Lexie Brown had a quieter game than she had against Los Angeles, but still showed potential on both ends of the floor. I'd probably want to see her build a little more muscle if I'm Connecticut, as long as it doesn't impact her quickness.

If I'm Connecticut, I'm deeply worried about Alyssa Thomas's free throw shooting right now. As bad as it was against Los Angeles, somehow she managed to be even worse against Dallas. I know most of the best parts of her game are in transition, but you still can't legitimately be a slashing kind of player and not be able to hit free throws. That invites a lot of fouls. Brionna Jones got the start for Chiney Ogwumike, who sat out the game for rest. She was on the bench, though (she was the aforementioned union rep who supervised the clean-up of the blood, so much blood) and keeping her teammates loose. Jones was a force on defense, with a ruthless block on Allisha Gray and a lot of bodying up on Cambage. She got called for a lot of fouls, and got frustrated by being called for a lot of fouls when she was getting as much as she gave. I was getting flashes of DeTrina White or Tamika Whitmore in her good years from her, and I love it.

This was the first time I really felt that Shekinna Stricklen was embracing her height instead of steadfastly trying to ignore it. She spends a lot of time on the perimeter on offense, and that's not the worst thing in the world, but this seemed to be the first time I saw her using her height and her build on the inside for rebounding and defense. It's refreshing, and I hope to see a lot more of that from her this year (except when the Sun are playing the Liberty, of course). Maybe this will be the year she blossoms into the player Seattle thought she was going to be when they drafted her. I still love what Jasmine Thomas brings on both ends of the floor. She was on fire in the first quarter- for a very long stretch, she and Courtney Williams were the only players scoring for Connecticut, which might have been a disturbing note for the future if other players hadn't gotten involved in the second half. I love Courtney Williams's speed. She's going to have days when she's a hot mess and she can't throw it in the ocean, and she's going to have to be able to be able to help her team on those days as well. But when that first step gets her to the basket and she explodes, there isn't much you can do if you're the opponent except either get out of the way or foul her.

Connecticut has got to stop fouling, though. That was their problem on defense last year, and it's still their problem on defense. The posts couldn't defend without fouling, and the guards have a regrettable tendency to reach in when they don't have to.

Definitely still preseason for the officials. Reaction times are a little slow, and they couldn't call travels for beans.

I really think it's going to come down to Banham or Laney for one roster spot for Connecticut, unless there are positional issues that I'm not considering properly.

I hope that for the regular season, the fans get involved in the game earlier. It took a run of uncalled fouls against Dallas and the injury to Greene to get their blood up. Basketball is not the opera, but neither is it the Roman Colosseum. There were a couple of guys in the lower deck whose jibs I liked the cut of, though- they were trying to get the chants going, even if no one else was really jumping in on them. It's not my job to be the loudest person in the room for a team that's not truly mine.

I'm looking forward to the season opener, and I think this team's going to be pretty interesting when they have all the pieces together.


May 7th, 2018: Dallas at New York (at Connecticut)

Just the Facts, Ma'am: The Liberty started out strong, but faded late in their preseason game against the Dallas Wings at Mohegan Sun Arena. Azurá Stevens stole the show for Dallas with 19 points and nine points off the bench. Marissa Coleman led New York with 14 points off the bench, while Kia Nurse was solid in her debut with 10 points and four boards.

For fashion commentary, red salt, translation services, exhaustion with retreads, and game day issues, join your intrepid and anachronic blogger after the jump.

I'm doing it. I'm joining the 21st century. I have a tablet. I have a word processor. All I needed was a headset. Guess what? I found one. So now I don't have to bring my laptop, which means I don't have to carry as much. That also means I don't have to bring my backpack and go through bag check.

This is a test of the emergency GNoD system. If this were an actual gameday... oh, wait, it is. In fact, it's a double header day, and the first of back-to-back double headers. My heart is light and singing. It's good to be back in the groove.

So far, I've been called upon to serve as translator between the Chinese tour guide and a Spanish-speaking passenger. That's kind of fun when you don't really understand either of the people involved, and you really, really have to hope you understood the accent correctly.

I apologize in advance for any unusual typos; text-to-speech is still working out the kinks. (or “at the cakes”, as that last sentence originally read) I imagine it's going to have a field day with some of player names. Good thing there aren't too many hard to pronounce ones, although it might have some trouble with a blue McKay (better known as Ogwumike. Oh, dear.) Capitalization also seems to be a problem, which offends my soul, as I am definitely a grammar cop if not the other kind of grammar enforcement.

Got off to a rough start with autographs, since the Liberty were on the other side from my usual perch, so I missed Kia Nurse. But I got over quickly enough to get the free agent class. Also, I got to see Spoon air guitar and turn into a big kid when Swin came out with the kid.

Wow, Blaze has slimmed down. he/she/it (do we know Blaze's pronouns?) basically looks like a fuzzy orange person. The effect is more unnerving than the old suit was.

There's a fire sale going on, so if I have no money tomorrow, that's why. Okay, and I also lost some money on the slots, but that's what you do in Connecticut.

Shout out to the nice folks from California, proudly wearing their signed Sparks jerseys. They were really nice, even if I had to relive that crushing loss to UCLA. (if you guys are reading this, I think I misremembered who hit the gamewinner. I think it was Jasmine Dixon.)

The seafoam green shooting shirts with the black jerseys are fire emoji. That's a deliberate use of the word emoji, not an attempt to insert an emoji into the text.

Good solid baritone anthem.

I think the game day staff hit up Margaritaville before the game. The PA guy couldn't get the starting lineups straight, the scoreboard was reversed for the first four minutes, and the clock operator was asleep at the wheel, leading to a very long stoppage of play. It took three restarts to get the clock properly oriented, and there were multiple issues throughout the game.

21-17 Dallas after the first quarter, and Azurá Stevens is on fire. That dryness you just felt in your mouth is my saltiness coming through the page with all the force my irrational frustration can bear.

38-32 Dallas at half. I'm more concerned about Tina Charles having gone to the locker room and not coming back. It looked like she got hit in the face near the end of the first quarter, but she's not even on the bench.

Not to say that the Westchester move discommoded more than the city residents, but I saw three people in Liberty gear with Sun season ticket cards.

55-54 Dallas at the end of the third. Have gotten the attention of Marissa Coleman and Lindsay Allen for informing Kaela Davis that the line does not lie. I... should probably mention I'm in the second row. Of the upper deck.

76-69 Dallas, final. Dallas is really, exceptionally, absurdly tall. I am jealous.

I think Ruth Hamblin tries to calculate angles off the glass with her bank shot. It's like she doesn't think that she can get it in without help. I know you're a rocket scientist, Ruth, but you don't have to show off like that. She looked good against players who were shorter than her or less mobile than her. We'll see how that goes against Connecticut. Evelyn Akhator had a block on Kia Nurse so vicious it could have been considered an international incident, especially when Kia's response was to foul her on the other end. Breanna Lewis wasn't terrible, but based on the other players I saw in this game, she would probably get the short end of the stick. Natalie Butler got a decent amount of applause from the crowd, and then proceeded to obliterate a defender with an offensive foul. She's got size, and you can see her instincts at the basket, but she's not ready for primetime, and I don't know that she'll ever be.

Azurá Stevens is really good at basketball. I don't know if she's a generational player, if only because I think she has to work on her interior game more to be that kind of star, but her size and touch on the outside were a deadly combination. She ripped us up in the second quarter, and kept up the pace in the second half; the runs we made were mostly curtailed when she returned to the game. Loryn Goodwin is smaller than I remembered- I thought she was stockier. She had one nice hustle play, but that was it. Saniya Chong brought excellent defense off the bench. (Really, Shoni? You think you're going to be able to lull a Husky alumna to sleep with some half-baked crossover moves?) I am already done with Kaela Davis's acting. So done. She hit the deck at the slightest provocation. I will stipulate that most of her hitting the floor was on the opposite end of the court from where I was sitting, so it was possible that there was legitimate contact I didn't see, but I doubt it. (This is part of what led to "LINE DON'T LIE, KAELA!" and Marissa and Lindsay looking for where that noise came from.)

I don't think I was ready for Liz Cambage to come back. That's a whole lot of woman there. She made her presence felt early on, whether it was from beyond the arc (which I get the feeling was not the play that Fred Williams drew up) or inside where her height was superior to every defender New York could throw at her. Kayla Thornton had a good defensive game, disrupting passes all over the place. She had a fantastic offensive rebound in the early going.

Skylar Diggins-Smith is not a player that we should ever be leaving open. I don't know why that's a thing that happened, but it was a thing that happened entirely too often for my liking. Allisha Gray had a monster block on Sugar Rodgers and got her scoring done in the first quarter. I get the sense that Williams wasn't really evaluating her as much as he was evaluating some of the more borderline players. Karima Christmas-Kelly did work getting to the line inside, admittedly helped by the players we had attempting to play defense in that quarter.

Leslie Robinson has not caught up to the speed of the professional game yet, and I don't know if she ever will, but I like her instincts. Her reaction time is just markedly slow. She might not make it in the W, but she should have a good career overseas eventually. Mercedes Russell is not very mobile, and her height advantage was negated by the fact that apparently everything is bigger in Texas. She had a couple of shining moments, especially off a feed from Shavonte Zellous. Marissa Coleman was streaky on offense- her points looked to becoming more from the jumper than from the inside. On the one hand, I'm happy about this because we need a three until and unless Rebecca Allen turns into who we thought she was going to turn into; on the other hand, if we need her to swing to the four for spot minutes, I don't think it's going to work. Apropos of absolutely nothing, she was wearing gorgeous fuchsia nail polish for this game. (Yes. I'm a girl. I notice these things.)

Kolby Morgan had her moments to impress. She failed to do so. I kind of got the sense that bringing her in was a favor, so I'm not terribly surprised. I assume she's getting cut the moment Bria Hartley is back and ready to play. Shoni Schimmel seemed to be looking for her own shot more than I would like out of a backup point guard. I know she can be a combo guard, and has been a combo guard, but we need distributors too much for her to be taking shots away from Sugar or Piph, and that's just among backcourt players. We definitely don't need her taking shots away from Tina. (Granted, by that point, Tina was out of the game, and we'll see if she plays against half of Los Angeles.) She does at least seem to be back in playing shape, which is a plus. I like Kelly Faris's defensive grit, but she's got to bring more to the floor if she wants to stick on this roster. She's always been offensively limited, but the problem seems to have gotten worse. I almost forgot Kia Nurse, which would have been embarrassing , since I was very impressed with her defense for a rookie. I know UConn haas a very intense defensive system, but she seems to have adapted quickly to the speed of the pro game.

Unsurprisingly , Sugar Rodgers ended up as one of our primary offensive otions after Tina left the game. Her shot is as quick as ever. Lindsay Allen looks like she's starting to develop into the kind of point guard we thought she could become- mostly a distributor, but someone who can score a little bit when she has to. I really look forward to seeing her development.

I like Cal as much as the next New Yorker, and I wish her all the best, but I'm done with trying to make Reshanda Gray happen in the WNBA. If she can't rebound against taller players, and she can't effectively shoot around taller players, and she can't stop fouling taller players, she's going to have problems, because pretty much every post in the WNBA is taller than she is. Either she needs to get taller, she needs to get faster, or she needs to get smarter on the court, because otherwise she has no future as a WNBA player. Shavonte Zellous brought the hustle, as she always does. We're going to need her leadership this year. (Cool. Once I got the right headset, and got the mic in the right position, there were a lot fewer typos.) It's really hard to gauge Tina Charles on half a quarter of play. I don't know if she's going to play against Los Angeles because, after all, this is the preseason, and we really don't need to know what she can do.

I'm looking at these notes, and I'm actually a little embarrassed, because I really don't have a lot to say about the Liberty starters. On the other hand, it's not like we don't already know what they can do. Preseason is more about trying to figure out the new players that you have, and where they might fit in on your roster.

Part of me wants to say that the refs got whistle happy in the second quarter, but on the other hand, so did our personnel.

I'm not impressed with our black jerseys. I mean, they're not terrible, but they're not exciting either. I certainly don't want to buy one. I like the pop of color on the trim, but the cookie cutter design somehow seems even less inspired than the last cookie cutter designs.

I'm very much not happy with how we folded in the second half. Granted, at that point we were mostly just testing players out; I think after Tina got hurt, Katie pulled the chutes on taking the game seriously. But it still annoys me.

On to the next one, which you may end up reading in rapid succession, given that I'm working on most of this pile at once after finally sleeping for the first time in what seems like forever.


Tuesday, May 8, 2018

May 7th, 2018: Los Angeles at Connecticut

Just the Facts, Ma'am: Rachel Banham's buzzer-beating three-pointer gave the Connecticut Sun a 68-65 win over the Los Angeles Sparks in their first preseason game. Jasmine Thomas led the Sun with 12 points, with Betnijah Laney and Chiney Ogwumike each adding 10. Shakayla Thomas had 17 points and eight rebounds off the bench to lead the Sparks.

For color commentary, a distressing lack of taco bowls, opinions on hair, underrated guards, the numbers game, and the futility of free agents, join your intrepid and reversed blogger after the jump.

On to the second game, which features the Los Angeles Sparks and the hosting Connecticut Sun.

Cappie Pondexter's hair appears to have exploded. Again.

There is a Spark with glasses bending herself in ways that don't look anatomically possible. Pretty sure that's Essence , and I'm slightly weirded out.

The Sun's gear is extremely orange and gives me a craving for citrus. I am less impressed with the Sparks' gear; the yellow looks wrong, too washed out and not proper gold. The purple on the jerseys is nice, though either it absorbs a lot of sweat or it's two-tone, with a darker purple in the back.

Tyra Buss is so tiny next to real pro players.

Sun fans seem enamored of Rachel Banham for no good reason that I can discern. Quick, act surprised.

19-11 Connecticut at the end of one.

Tic-tac-toe is not a new schtick. Y'all stole that from the Liberty, and our game day crew actually knows the rules. These guys missed a winning diagonal.

32-31 Sparks at the half. 2nd quarter foul differential was pretty bad. Shakayla Thomas looks really good for the Sparks. So does tiny but fierce Brooke McCarty. I like the vision Lexie Brown has shown on both ends of the floor for the Sun.

It actually looks like Bobbie Kelsey is calling the plays for LA. It's definitely not Agler.

Oh, come on, sound crew, you don't play “Car Wash” once during the first game, but you break it out in the second game?!

Of *course* the dance cam music is the Twist. I'm sure Bass is amused. Not.

54-45 Sun at the end of the 3rd. Some nice plays from Brionna Jones cleaning up the garbage.

The problem I see with these two teams is that there are 10 players on Connecticut that should have a roster spot locked up- and 14 on the Sparks. Bit of a problem when you can only carry 12, innit?

There may be some lingering crankiness in these game notes, because I have been finding for a taco bowl for the last six hours, and it turns out that the Mexican section closes earlier than everything else, so now I am starving and I still don't get my taco bowl. I AM NOT OKAY WITH THIS. I mean, it could be worse; it looks like they're closing up for the night, so if Rachel Banham hadn't hit that three I'd really be scrambling for dinner, and you don't want to get between a fat chick and food. (I can say this about me, but you better not try.)

Okay, it's time to experiment with text-to-speech again, because while there is room for me to stretch out and type on this tablet, I will probably throw up if I attempt to do so for very long. You'll probably be able to tell the text to speech, because the capitalization will be off, and there will be some very strange typos, for which I beg your forgiveness.

I really feel bad for most of the players that the Sparks brought to training camp, because as outlined above, there really isn't any room for them on the roster. That is, unless Brian Agler decides to do something completely unprecedented and trust young players over veterans. In other words, no room on the roster. (Although, to be fair, that analysis doesn't leave Mistie Bass out of the running.)

Kaylee Jensen is a big body who can bang, and no one can deny her physicality, but I questioned her judgment on the floor. I don't think she used her fouls very effectively, and she's not very mobile. Taya Reimer got a few minutes in the second half, but I don't remember a thing she did. That's probably not a good sign. Kathryn Westbeld was able to force a few loose balls, but wasn't able to do anything with them. I respect the hustle, but you have to be able to do something with it in order to succeed in this league. I was very impressed with Shakayla Thomas, though to be fair, I've always been impressed with Shakayla Thomas. I saw her a couple of times at Florida State, and I thought she had the physical tools to be a WNBA player. The question was always whether she could develop a jump shot. And this game, she certainly demonstrated more of a jump shot that I've ever seen from her. She also made some great defensive plays and sparked a fast break with a lead pass to Pondexter.

From what I saw tonight, Gabbi Ortiz does not have the tools to be a WNBA player. She doesn't have the shot, she doesn't have the vision, she doesn't have the defense. She does have the build, but that's all she had going for her tonight. I thought Brooke McCarty had a much more impressive outing. She had one steal that was so fast I blinked and suddenly the Sparks had the ball again after a basket. She brought a lot of hustle and some really great defensive plays. On another team, she might have a chance to make the roster. But the Sparks are just too overloaded with players who have too many guarantees.

Essence Carson's shot has not yet joined her this season. Then again, there are times when I wonder if it's going to join her at all. Of course, she hit one of her patented foot on the line two pointers. I was, however, impressed with her interior rebounding. She seemed to be playing a lot of forward in the Sparks' lineup when she was with the starters, which makes a strange sort of sense given that most of their forwards are not yet with the team. The more things change, the more they stay the same; when Cappie Pondexter was the focal point of the offense, it immediately turned into the same old thing that we used to see from her with the Liberty. She would run the clock down, dribble, dribble, dribble, shoot. If she thinks that's going to happen when all of the Sparks' starters, she's in for a big surprise. I don't think Parker or Nneka Ogwumike will put up with that nonsense. I was deeply and profoundly unimpressed with Sydney Wiese. That's nothing new. She didn't do anything of note, and she looked lost. Honestly, I didn't think she should have made the roster last year, so you can imagine I'm not thinking she should make the roster this year.

Karlie Samuelson shoots threes. I don't think anyone is surprised by this observation. She's a Samuelson. It's what they do. However, her defense was not great. She was fouling all over the place, sometimes unnecessarily. Mistie Bass is who she's always been. She's a savvy veteran post who knows all the moves, all the tricks, and all the ways to get under your skin without getting called for a foul. She's physical, she's tough, and you're going to hate her if she's playing against your team and you're going to love her she's playing for your team. If the Sparks did want to go younger, she would be a good veteran presence to have around to teach them all the tricks. But there aren't that many tricks you can teach Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike at this point.

It's virtually impossible to say anything concrete about the Sparks from this game. After all, their entire front court rotation was unavailable, plus they were playing without Chelsea Gray to run point, plus they didn't have Alana Beard as their defensive ace, plus they were short at least two bench players. So, basically you had players doing the things they were good at, and you had a bunch of players who will not be in regular season games.

Springtime in Connecticut! You know what this means? Construction season! It looks like we're going to be taking the scenic tour of beautiful downtown New Haven. I don't know if my sarcasm is coming through or not.

If the game had ended pretty much any other way, my notes on Rachel Banham would be very different. But it's easy to forgive a lot of sins when you hit a deep, game-winning three-pointer for your team. On the other hand, she only had two shots all night and her defense is bad. I can see her trying to work on her defense, but so far it's just not working for her. She's trying to be a defensive ace and she's about a defensive 7. Tyra Buss is tiny, and adorable, and hustles, and has absolutely no place on a WNBA roster. I'm sure she's a lovely person, but she doesn't bring anything to the table that other players don't do better. I'm already very impressed with Lexie Brown's defensive instincts and court vision. For a rookie, she's got a very good sense of the floor. I still don't understand why Jessica January keeps being invited back to training camps. I really don't. Of course, around the time I was saying that, she hit a big 3, so I guess she might have something to offer. Even when she was at DePaul I didn't think she would be that good. I feel like the wait for Leticia Romero was a bit of a letdown. She didn't seem very active in the game and she didn't seem very involved.

Would someone please, for the love of my sanity, please teach Nikki Greene how to set a legal screen? She almost cost Connecticut the game late with two consecutive offensive fouls. And if you're going to be that kind of defensive liability, you have to be able to consistently finish at the basket, and she wasn't able to do that in this game. She pops up every other year or so in somebody's training camp, and I'm beginning to wonder why. Brionna Jones did a really good job on the offensive glass, but she needs to finish more consistently at the rim. Cayla George should probably also sit in on those classes on setting screens that Nikki Greene needs to attend because she followed up Greene's two fouls with one of her own. I'm not impressed. I have never been impressed. I get the feeling Betnijah Laney is stuck between positions. I like what she brings to the floor, especially her hustle. But I don't know if she's a four or a three, and Connecticut have enough players with that kind of issue with Alyssa Thomas. I don't think they can afford to have two. Morgan Tuck did a good job of getting to the line.

(Holy Mary, Mother of God, it is either too early or too late for the ruckus this woman is making in the train station. I can't even.)

If Alyssa Thomas doesn't spend a good chunk of the Sun's next practice shooting free throws, I will be very surprised. She's never been a great free throws shooter, but she was really bad today. Other than that, she actually looked pretty good. She brought a lot of rebounding and great defense. Chiney Ogwumike didn't play much, but when she did, she looked like the powerhouse she once was. I realize she was not playing with her peers per se, but she still looks good and she still looks strong. That's a good sign for Connecticut. I think they really need her.

Waterbug is really an unflattering term, but somehow it really seems to fit Courtney Williams. I mean it in the nicest way possible, mind you. I think she's a great player, and she's really intense on the defensive end of the floor. That's actually saying a lot, given her more offensive propensities. But she's really dedicated herself to making her opponent's life miserable on the defensive end. She knows how to use her quickness well. (Also, the short blonde buzzcut suits her.) Jasmine Thomas is such an unsung heroine for this team. She's solid, she's heady, and she's reliable at both ends of the floor. Much like Kelly Miller was for the champion Phoenix teams, she's not going to get the headlines, but she makes the engine go. It's always great to see a player find her niche.

Curt Miller was very animated, and very orange, on the sidelines. He actually seemed to tone down the leaping up and down in rage when the fouls mounted up in the second quarter, which surprised me. I thought there were some dubious calls there.

I think it's going to be hard to tell where some players fit into this roster, but it seems like Connecticut has a lot of good pieces that fit well together. Sometimes that's better than having all the best players. If they can get their fouling under control- which was a problem for them last year, too- they're going to have a very good year, with their depth in the backcourt and flexibility in the frontcourt.


Monday, March 26, 2018

(belated) Senior Tributes 2018

I love all my seniors, don't get me wrong. Even the ones I vent my frustrations at, ultimately, I cherish as much as the rest of the squad. You have to be a pretty heinous excuse for a human being, the kind of person whose name will no longer cross my lips, to lose that. And usually those kinds of people get rooted out and tossed out summarily on their ear. Those, I do not miss and do not love; their betrayal is all the more bitter for the loyalty that was given.

But it's okay to love some of them more than others, right? And by a confluence of events, an awful lot of them happen to be in this year's class of seniors. These are young women who I may miss on the court as basketball players, but who I will miss even more as people.

That's the joy of this game: you meet some pretty great people. That's the exquisite pain of this game: you know your time with them is inherently limited.

I tend to bury the lede, in case you haven't noticed. The last shall be first and the first shall be last. I like to build up to what I most want to talk about. So we'll start with the furthest and circle back in to the heart and soul of why I write these tributes in the first place.

Michigan is mine because of their staff, and because of our mutual loathing of Ohio State. We don't get to see them a lot, so when we do, it's always special. This year, though, it's been extra special.

Katelynn Flaherty steals the show when she takes the floor. Her stroke is pure and her drive is unquestioned. We've been able to watch snippets of her run through the Michigan record books, and it's been a pleasure and a privilege to be along for the ride. She's adapted her game to the needs of her team, and not every scorer can do that. Playmaking for other people doesn't come naturally to everyone. She's a bright shining star, the brilliant herald of Michigan's rise.

But if you know why I'm a Michigan fan, and if you know why I wear the jersey I wear, you know who my favorite players are. Sure, give me a pretty jumper if you want. But give me grit. Give me hustle. Give me defense. Give me a head for the game. Give me the willingness to outwork your talent, to outwork your size, to outwork what the numbers say you should be bringing to the floor.

That's Jillian Dunston, jack of all trades, terrifyingly broad-shouldered for a guard, entirely too short for a post. No single element of her game is superlative- but that just means she has to think more about what she's doing on the floor. She works incredibly hard on the floor, usually in as literal a sense as possible as she scrambles for loose balls. I am completely unsurprised that she's in the "So You Want To Be A Coach" program and will be completely unsurprised when she's on a Power 5 staff in three years or less.

Iona only has one senior on the roster this year. And I keep thinking there should be two.

Let me make one thing clear: if Philecia Atkins-Gilmore were still on the Gaels' roster, no power on this earth would have kept me from Iona's Senior Day. Battle of Brooklyn be damned, long haul be damned, uncooperative bus schedules be damned. That date would be circled in red on the calendar. I'd probably even hit the following game, for the sake of it being the last, and walk over to the transit center to get the bus home.

There are a precious few people I have had the privilege of meeting in basketball for whom I would run through walls, whose team is my team and whose enemies are my enemies. Phee is one of those few. She is as determined and energetic a leader as I've ever seen. Even as a freshman she was leading her team on the bench, constantly supporting them, constantly bringing the noise.

I still remember Maryland. Do you remember Maryland? March 2016 was pure magic, pure joy. Everywhere I looked, a team that mattered to me or to a friend (and thus to me) was going dancing. We had three choices that March. We didn't go to Waco with St. John's, and we didn't go to Storrs with Seton Hall. We went with the team we knew was going to lose. We went to Maryland for Iona, because it was the first time, because this was what we had been waiting for. And Maryland did to us exactly what we expected- but Phee went down fighting, shooting three after three.

Injuries robbed her of some of her speed, of some of her motion- and they robbed her coach of her confidence, I'm certain. Phee kept leading from the bench anyway.

And then I looked at the roster at the beginning of the year, and after my initial reactions of "Why is anyone wearing 24?" and "Why is anyone wearing 14?" I noticed a gap between 10 and 14 where 11 should have been. My reaction to that was, shall we say, unprintable and would probably have earned me a ban on Twitter. They react badly to threats of violence, even if I doubt I would follow through with such threats. I'm a talker, not a fighter.

Love for a team is about the name on the front, not the name on the back, but for some people I make an exception. And I might have dropped Iona sooner- except for the days when I spotted Phee sitting behind the bench with the rest of us fans, exhorting her team with the same constant encouragement and advice she gave when she was still in uniform. Despite everything, she believes in this nearly winless team and this trainwreck of a season. And I believe in her.

That's why, if you look up, and you look through my Iona notes, you'll see that I chose my words carefully. Phee's not in uniform. She's not on the roster. But she's still the best leader her team has. And she's still my favorite.

So that leaves one senior on the Gaels' roster, and I'm starting to think Billi Chambers has a soft spot for the late bloomers, the ones who finally figure it out as seniors, when they maybe think they have no choice but to figure it out. It happened with Karynda DuPree, and I think it's happening again with Kristin Mahoney.

Kristin looked scared to even be on the court in the scant minutes she picked up her first few years. There are still times when she looks wide-eyed at the defense coming at her and you can imagine her life flashing before her eyes.

She's had to grow up this year, through one of the toughest seasons a team can have. If the losing grinds her down, I don't blame her one bit. But she gets knocked down and she gets up again. Like any good Iona Gael, she fights the good fight. And along the way, she's found a little bit of her footing. It turns out she's better when she's claling her own number than when she's trying to force things for other players. I'm glad she's figured that out. I want ot see her succeed.

It's been a long year. I wish her nothing but the best.

It's late in the year and the Rams don't have a lot of home games left. But if you have the chance to see G'mrice Davis, go see G'mrice Davis. Watching her rebound is worth the price of admission alone. (That's setting aside the work of her teammates, but most of them aren't seniors, so you'll have to find out about them for yourself.)

On her best days, G'mrice reminds me of Jonquel Jones, long limbs and a growing grace. She doesn't have Jones's outside shot, but what she does have is phenomenal rebounding skill. She seems to fly across the paint to claim the ball, and nothing will stand in her way.. Her relentlessness has allowed her to rise high on Fordham's all-time lists. She is a glory and a joy to watch, and if I have a regret about her it's that I let my distaste for Fordham's style of offense rob me of chances to have seen her in previous years.

About Asnate Fomina I can say little. It's been a rough year for her- she hasn't even had the chance to play, so far from home. She's been a steady hand for us at point when she has played, a good solid player who keeps the team grounded. I'll miss her, and miss the things she brought us, and miss the things she could have brought us.

We haven't had as much time as I think I would have liked with JaQuan Jackson. That's the one thing that's saddening about transfers. You get to know them just enough to wish you could have known them longer.

Fierce is the word that comes to mind for Quanny. There's something intense about her eyes that combines with her high cheekbones and the shape of her jaw and chin to make her stare flat-out terrifying when she puts her mind to it. (It also tends to make her photograph very badly, which is a shame, because she's very striking in person.) You get the sense she can intimidate an opponent just by looking them in the eye and making them back down.

Everything about her on the floor is fierce, whether it's her ability to jump the passing lanes or her relentless offensive assaults. She is passionate and electric and fiery. She's a jolt at the right time, or a lightning storm rolling over the opponent.

Fierce and fiery and indomitable, Quanny is the spearhead of the Seton Hall attack. She's a long way from home, and we're glad she came to join us for the time that she did.

You're probably reading this and thinking I wrote things in the wrong order, because ever since this tangle fell upon us I've held Seton Hall close in my heart, as close as I can without giving up that first and deepest loyalty I hold to St. John's.

But there's something about this LIU class of '18 that's special, something I can't help but love, something that calls out to the things I love about basketball. Yes, even in one year, in Nish's case. They don't have the talent of the upper echelon teams, but what they have is grit and determination that would make any coach proud.

What I enjoy most about Denisha Petty-Evans is the family she's brought us. It's good to get a crew together and bring the noise, and they support the team whole-heartedly. They feed the whole team energy. That's not always the case with player families, and it says a lot about Nish and her family that they do.

Nish is fearless. She's gonna keep shooting no matter what. Sometimes that's a bad thing, and usually I'm the first person to call it out. But LIU is a defensive-minded team. We're tentative offensively. Someone needs to step up at that end of the floor, and most of the time Denisha's been the one to do it. We brought her in to lead, and in both deed and word she does so.

It's been a pleasure and a privilege to have her on board, and I'm sorry it couldn't have been for longer.

I've often used the example of Stylz Sanders to explain the plight of LIU, and to remind myself that all complaints about a team's lack of size are relative. After all, how many teams can say with a straight face that they start a 5-9 power forward?

Watching more of LIU than ever this year, I've grown to appreciate the leadership and grit Stylz brings to the floor. She guards whoever, wherever, whenever. I've seen her out on the perimeter, dealing with distance shooters, and I've seen her on the inside, banging against posts who have half a foot on her. She does a little bit of everything, even knowing she's going to be overmatched. You can't measure that kind of heart. You can only quantify its results: floor burns, bruises, ice packs, loose balls recovered, minutes played.

But more than that: while our other two seniors step up with their younger teammates, Stylz is most often the team captain working with the officials, talking to them before games, calmly trying to get calls during games. She's not afraid of letting the officials know she doesn't like a call, but she mostly keeps her cool. She defends her teammates, and that's one of the things I've grown to love about her.

If she wants it, she has all the tools to be a fantastic coach- a good head on her shoulders and a great sense of the game. Maybe there are advantages to being a 5-9 power forward after all.

I can't tell you the exact moment when I decided DeAngelique Waithe was my favorite, but I can tell you what that moment probably was. Almost certainly, it had to be while she was defending an inbounding opponent, arms windmilling in the air, legs kicking out, the arrhythmic call of "Ball! Ball!" serving as a distraction. That is always the clearest picture I have of Angel, defending on the sideline, hands up and right foot out.

There is, of course, much more to her game than this. You don't get a D-I scholarship just for defending inbounds passes. She's a fantastic rebounder and a ferocious shotblocker. For much of this year, she's played with an incredible sense of urgency that has helped power this squad through a good chunk of the year. You see that sometimes with seniors, that sudden realization that this is it, so they kick it up a notch to take advantage of every last moment they have left to them.

I'm finding it hard to come up with words for Angel, not because I've seen so little of her or because there's nothing I can say about her game. It's because so much of it can be summed up in one phrase: I just love to watch her play. Seeing her on the floor makes me truly, deeply happy. I love her defense, I love her power moves in the lane, I love her rebounding. And I feel like I should find a more profound way to describe her play, but sometimes you just don't want to complicate things, you know?

So these are my LIU seniors. They're not rewriting the history books. They're never going to make a ripple in the NCAA tournament, or even in the WNIT. In the grand scheme of women's basketball, they're barely a collective afterthought. But they're my seniors and I love them for what they are, and what they've done, and everything that they've meant to this program.

And, always, at the last, we come to St. John's, to my Johnnies who I love and support beyond all reason, beyond any of my other teams, the ones for whom I will always go to the wall. Even if they didn't start with us, they finished with us in the end. Having chosen, so defined.

I would have loved to have been able to cheer for Maya Singleton for a full four years. It's been pleasure and privilege enough to do it for two. Maybe over four years I would have become jaded, accustomed to her monster blocks and the intimidating staredowns that so often follow them. Maybe I would have demanded even more ferocious rebounding from her, even more of the rim protection and intense defense that she brings to the floor.

It makes sense that she's got military in her family, because there's something almost mission objective based in how she takes the court. She has a job to do and the job will get done. Other teams will throw obstacles in her way, and she'll get through or around those obstacles as they come, because she's not going to let them stay in her way. Her intensity is a sight to behold on the court, and I wouldn't want to be in her way.

But like many an enforcer, her off-court personality is completely different from the intimidating presence she has on the floor. The high cheekbones that turn her stare into a thing of terror also turn her smile into a thing of joy. She can light up a room when she wants to.

We've been blessed to have her for two years. It's not enough, but better that than to have never seen her at all.

Imani Littleton has been the steadiest, or at least the most constantly present, of our seniors. She's been here all four years and has the scars on her knee to prove it. She's suffered for us, been knocked down and picked herself up again for us. I think she might be the senior it's been hardest to get to know. She's quiet, introverted where her classmates are extroverted, polite but clearly uncomfortable in public situations. In some ways she's the least expressive player we have; her face always reflects the same cool, distant concentration no matter what's going on out there. But the rest of her body language is as easy to read as the rest of her... well, isn't. She'll slap the floor when she goes for a steal and misses, or swing her arms on a foul call.

Of our seniors, she's the one I think I would like to know most as a person, and to ask how she's changed in college on the other side of the country from home. There always seems to be a lot going on behind her eyes.

That's not to say she isn't also a damn fine basketball player. The torn ACL took away some of her mobility, and early on, maybe some of her confidence. But she's learned to adapt. She's the heart of our defense, the shotblocker down low to shut down paint penetration. She's not a scorer, and there are times when her missed lay-ups are intensely frustrating. But that doesn't make us love her any less. She's sacrificed too much for us not to cherish her. She's a fighter, and she brings that to the floor every night.

If you know me, you know I'm superstitious about jersey numbers. Numbers mean things, after all. I get a little testy when legendary ones are given out, and tend to see patterns where there probably aren't really any. So it's maybe not surprising when I describe Tamesha Alexander's personality as, "Like Sky Lindsay's, but without Sky's shy and retiring nature."

The joke, of course, is that Sky is one of the most gregarious people in the history of St. John's women's basketball, and possibly in overall Red Storm history.

Sox is just as outgoing as Sky, albeit a teeny bit less sarcastic. Maybe that's just the difference between New York and Philadelphia. She's got a personality bigger than she is, a quick laugh, a smile for everyone. She's a joy to be around, a social butterfly nonpareil. For four years she's been, at best, a second-string point guard, never a huge part of the team's on-court plan. By sheer force of heart and will and personality, she became one of my all-time favorites.

Because here's the thing about Sox as a player- she doesn't shoot the ball. Late in games, when the team's trying to get everyone on the scoreboard, they'll give her the ball- and she'll promptly pass it back. She seems genuinely happier to get the assist on someone else's basket, or to make a good defensive stand. I don't know how many games we've played where she's the last Johnnie yet to score- and refuses to shoot the ball. That's who she is. She doesn't want to run it up. She doesn't want to be the center of attention on the court.

I love Sox to itty-bitty pieces, not for what she does, but for who she is.

It's taken a long time to write this. Part of it is general basketball-related despair. Part of it is a general malaise. But I think part of it is simply denial. I don't want to lose these seniors, even though it's too late and they're already gone. This is, as it always has been, the price of college fandom: we know the clock is always ticking.

Some of them have been undeniable program-changers. Some of them have been game-changers. All of them are valued and treasured, and all of them will be missed.

And we get to do it all again next year.


Friday, March 23, 2018

March 22nd, 2018: Duquesne at St. John's

Just the Facts, Ma'am: St. John's surged out to a big lead and held off a fourth quarter run to beat Duquesne 65-52 in the third round of the WNIT. Akina Wellere had a team-high 17 points while Maya Singleton notched her 18th double-double of the season with 11 points and 13 rebounds. Chassidy Omogrosso had 14 points to lead Duquesne.

For not letting things go, fantastically obvious inconsistency, amazing eyelashes, defensive prowess, the encourager of hesitancy, and gawky forwards, join your intrepid and uncertain blogger after the jump.

Man, this WNIT thing is a killer on the budget. Stupid Triple Crown jacking up prices. $12 per game adds up, and if there are discounts for season ticket holders no one told me about them. It's third-round action coming to you from Carnesecca Arena, as the Red Storm faces the Dukes of Duquesne.

Now, if you know all my ties, you know that Duquesne made life miserable for St. John's twice last year, and made it miserable for Seton Hall one year, and generally irks Fordham every year, and knocked Miami of Ohio out of the WNIT this year. In other words, DUQUESNE MUST SUFFER.

So far we're one for three on visiting bands. Duquesne doesn't seem to have brought theirs. We do, however, seem to be three for three on opposing fans who have decided that sitting across from the home bench is appropriate. One dude has been riding the refs all day. I think my favorite part is where one possession he yelled, "LET 'EM PLAY!" after Duquesne got called for an illegal screen, and two possessions later he demands "WHERE'S THE CALL?!" on a play that Maya was literally backing away from. Consistency may be the hobgoblin of small minds, but it's also hilarious when not applied. Duquesne's fans did not let up on the refs all night, and it got tiresome to hear "YOU SUCK!" and "I hope you don't sleep tonight!"

Nykesha Thompson's epic side-eye to the upper deck was worth most of the ridiculousness, though. Visiting fans don't realize how small the arena is. Or how good the acoustics are. Yes, the refs can hear you accusing them of cheating.

(And yes, I admit to riding the refs sometimes. But not for 80% of the game like these guys did.)

It's 34-17 St. John's at the half. Alisha Kebbe has a team-high nine points for St. John's, but shoutout to Imani Littleton with the 6 and 7. I see you, 'Mani. Chassidy Omogrosso has eight to lead Duquesne. She'd have more if she hit the shots she was getting. Duquesne is running a lot of screening action, but they're having trouble consistently setting the screens. Omogrosso looks like she's getting frustrated at teammates who aren't getting the play right.

We gave up a little too much in the fourth quarter for my liking, but that's Joe's tendency to slow the game to a crawl combined with Tiana's timidity, accentuated by our apparent inability to leave well enough alone by committing stupid fouls. We don't have the end-game ball thought right now to play those kinds of games, and Joe needs to be aware of that. But we made enough good defensive plays that we were able to hold down the fort.

Kiersten Elliott got into the game in the final minute and promptly committed a foul on the backcourt trap. I'm not 100% certain it wasn't a called play, though, so I'll cut her a little slack. I've seen coaches use the deep bench for that before. Judith Sole started getting heavy minutes at the end of the third quarter. She's a big body who's not afraid to use that bulk down low. She had a miserable night at the free throw line, and by the third or fourth miss, she was really starting to beat herself up about it. I felt really bad for her- she's a senior, so that was her last game, and that's not how you want to go out. Helmi Tulonen was one of the many tall, gawky forwards that Duquesne brought off the bench. They do seem to like their gawky, blocky forwards.

I honestly can't believe Amanda Kalin played for half the game- she didn't leave much of an impression, though the one shot she did hit fairly late in the game was on a nice runout. (She may also have been borrowing a teammate's jersey, because I swear #12 was out on the floor, but Anie-Pier Samson isn't in the box score. I have enough trouble with nameless jerseys, changing them on me is just not fair.) Libby Bazelak did a good job of going to the rack and getting the call later in the game, taking advantage of our defensive lapses. For her own defense, though, she does need to understand where the circle is, and if she's in it when she's trying to establish position. Eniko Kuttor seemed to have her coach's confidence for her rebounding. She kept leaving her feet to pass, though, and after the second time in rapid succession, Coach Burt took her out for a Teaching Moment. One presumes the Hungarian for "Stop doing that!" was involved at some point.

Kadri-Ann Lass finally got her shot working in the fourth quarter, but it was too little, too late. She was a mismatch for us, but we were confounding her equally- she was able to shake shorter defenders outside, but couldn't always hit with our shotblockers in her face. She and Conor Richardson both got dinged for illegal screens in the first quarter, which is a bit of a problem for a team that seems to rely heavily on screens to get their shooters open. Richardson really got the short end of the stick from the refs- there was a foul credited to her that I thought should have been on Sole, and somewhere along the line a foul got credited to her that I didn't even spot. She's tough, and I respect that; I think she was hobbled by the foul trouble and didn't get the chance to show what she could do. Paige Cannon was physical inside, which led to foul trouble for her as well. I thought she played a lot more than she actually did. Big and blonde and physical- that's all the impression she left.

Julijana Vojinovic had nice touch from the outside, or at least that was the shot she was most comfortable with. We left her alone a little too much for my liking. Chassidy Omogrosso seems to be the leader for this team, or at least she thinks she is. She drove hard and passed fast, and she was emotional on the floor. You could see her getting visibly frustrated with everything: the officials, the shots she missed, the teammates who weren't catching her passes. She's got talent, and she's got the ability to get around the defense, but she spent way too much time in her feelings and in her own head in this game to be truly effective for Duquesne. There was a lot of negative energy there.

On one hand, I'm surprised that Duquesne seemed so disorganized- most of their core players are juniors, and they've had time to play together. But there's always room for communication issues when you have as international a squad as Duquesne has. And if communications break down on a team that's relying on screens to get shooters open, then you've got a problem.

Kayla Charles is still raw, but I still see the potential in her to be a force inside. She just needs to pick up on-ball instincts. I'm also sort of starting to see where Shamachya Duncan fits in the scheme, at least with the guards we have now. Joe was using Sox in a similar role earlier, at the ends of quarters to soak up a couple of minutes for our beleaguered starters. If she can keep improving her defense, she might slot into a threes-and-D role next year.

I'm not sure if shooting about five seconds after popping off the bench for the first time is the world's greatest idea, Andrayah Adams, but you do you. I've said it before and I'll say it again- she might be shot-happy, but sometimes this team needs a heartless gunner. I'd rather she take the extra step back and take threes instead of settling for the quick long two. I do like the midrange game, but there's a difference between midrange and just the wrong side of the three-point line. Qadashah Hoppie had some rough luck with the rim in this one. Not her best day. Not her worst, but not her best.

Poor Akina Wellere keeps getting knocked in the face. I'm glad she's starting to go back to her outside shot more. She's been played out of position at the four too much for my liking, because Imani and Maya do have to rest at some point. But she was feeling it from beyond the arc- you could see her confidence in the follow-through of her wrist. I love watching her shot when she's in rhythm. Tiana England had some amazing passes in the fourth quarter down low, one to Maya and one to Imani. I think she also had a really good one to Alisha, but I can't remember if Alisha hit the shot or not. I'm still not thrilled with her propensity to slow the game down, but that's on both her and Joe. Alisha Kebbe started off hot offensively, which was a pleasant surprise. She was still solid defensively, too. Great game from her- exactly what we needed.

Maya Singleton was surprisingly passive on defense for stretches of the game. I guess the postseason grind is starting to get to her a little bit. I'm not used to her backing off plays as blatantly as she did. She took care of the boards, and her midrange game was working, but she didn't have the edge I'm used to. (And she still got the double-double, which says a lot about what she can do.) Imani Littleton brought the defense, and the grace under pressure. The length of her arms and her reach were on display tonight, whether it was with emphatic shot blocking or flicking away passes to get the breakaway. Emphatic Imani is best Imani.

(As an aside, I'm bummed Joe didn't give Sox a teeny bit of run to end the game. She's a senior; she deserves a send-off.)

There were definitely calls that we got the benefit of the doubt on. On the other hand, the officials stopped calling those illegal screens on Duquesne in the second half, and they didn't magically improve their screen-setting ability, so there's that. And we made some terrible decisions in the fourth quarter defensively. There's no good reason to stop the clock when you're up double figures in the final two minutes.

That being said, Joe, please let Tiana confirm the continued presence of all her teeth before you start lambasting her for that admittedly stupid foul.

Funny moment of the night: Imani committing a travel so blatant that even Qadashah was making the travel signal. Two points for honesty, I suppose.

So close on the raffle... just one digit away.

It's been confirmed that we don't get host-rights next round, no matter who wins, and looking ahead in the bracket, the schools around us are from bigger conferences and likely have bigger budgets, so this was probably our last home game. I loathe the uncertainty, but at the same time, I wish the kids well on their travels. (Just, y'know. With less traveling. Footwork is important!) Part of me wants to be there to see the seniors out, but on the other hand, I can't bear the heartbreak.

Let's go get 'em, Johnnies.


Tuesday, March 20, 2018

March 19th, 2018: Penn at St. John's (WNIT)

Just the Facts, Ma'am: Strong defense and balanced scoring powered St. John's to a 53-48 win over Penn in the second round of the postseason WNIT. Qadashah Hoppie had a team-high 12 points off the bench for the Red Storm. Lauren Whitlatch had 12 of her 15 in the first half to spur the Quakers, who were led overall by the 15 points and 11 rebounds of Eleah Parker.

For senior warriors, superstitious whispering, nifty posters, defensive stands, injury added to insult, and the chance for vengeance, join your intrepid and squishy blogger after the jump.

Second round, here we go! This time St. John's is hosting the best the Ivy League has left to offer, the Quakers of Penn. I'm a bit nervous about their size. I don't know how well we match up with them. But let's see how it shakes out on the court.

The Penn warm-up shirts with the Palestra on the back are even cooler in person than they were on TV. They seem to have a lot of inactive players, which might bode well-ish for us? But goodness, there are a lot of them.

There's a Philadelphia team playing, so of course we have a Mel Greenberg sighting.

Curteeona, you are a sweetheart and your taste in jersey numbers is impeccable, but please don't ever wear that pink sweater with those moss-green slacks again. You look like an upside-down Hoppip.

Getting the gang back together: Sky Lindsay chilling on the bench with Da'Shena Stevens and Shenneika Smith. I'm squeeing right now. (Not squeezing, autocarrot. NOBODY ASKED YOU.)

Would it kill one of these Ivy League schools with their millions in endowments to put their band on the bus for a WNIT game? Pretty please with sugar on top? Half the fun of seeing an Ivy team is seeing their band.

Lost Quinnipiac fan is lost. Someone did not want to see UConn open up a can of whoop-ass on their squad, I see.

What is it about the row behind us that attracts fans of the opposing team? Is it my jersey? The St. John's flag I wave? My loud and vocal support for the home team? STOP IT. GO AWAY. There is an entire side of the arena closer to your bench.

It's 24-22 Penn at halftime. It could be worse. It could be better- we had a 16-8 lead- but Imani Littleton has been attached to Michelle Nwokedi like someone hit her with super glue. Penn's mostly beating us on three-point shooting- Lauren Whitlatch has 12 on four treys to lead everyone. We look terrified to shoot, which is where I think Penn's greater height is kicking in. Imani has gone all out. I love it.

We have enough alumnae for a starting five- I see you, Briana Brown and Kendyl Nunn. (Don't worry, Neika's used to playing stretch four.)

Penn's going to lose a lot with Nwokedi and Ross graduating. I think they'll take a step back next year. But Eleah Parker's got game, and once she learns to have better touch around the basket she'll be an anchor for them down low.

Tori Crawford got two very quick fouls in the first half, one defensive and one offensive, and that forced Penn to shorten their rotation more than I think they wanted to, at least in the first half. They did get good minutes out of Princess Aghayere, who was physical down low to tear away rebounds from our posts, especially in the second half when it was a bit less convenient for us to put up resistance to such handling. Phoebe Sterba lists as a guard, but I'm pretty sure she's taller than most of our posts, so that's a thing. I don't remember if she came in in the second half or not- I know she played briefly in the first.

Kendall Grasela had family in the stands, unless there was an unrelated reason why that one dude was wearing a #11 jersey. She was scrappy to a fault on defense (I, personally, object to defenders humping their assigned players, at least without asking politely and maybe bringing a nice bouquet of flowers) and seemed to get an awful lot of benefit of the doubt from the refs (but not the rim). I can't fault her motor, but I can question her judgment. Katie Kinum got herself a bucket late, on a wild putback in the lane if I recall correctly (which I may not). Beth Brzozowski saw brief minutes in both halves, and in a less contested game I would have liked to see her come back in at the end to get a proper senior send-off. I know it wasn't a home game for Penn and that's not always a thing you do on the road, but seniors deserve respect no matter who they play for.

Anna Ross played defense in the second half like her life depended on the ball not being in the hands of a St. John's player. She was everywhere on deflections, breaking up fast breaks and tipping passes like she decided to start moonlighting at cornerback. I remembered her being more of a shooter, but she concentrated her energy on defense, and it was spectacular. I think in the third quarter alone she had three big deflections. So much energy. Lauren Whitlatch decided to remind us all about the stereotype of guards from Indiana being three-point specialists by launching a whole bunch of threes- she killed us in the first half, and when she fired one off in the second half I started to get real nervous. Ashley Russell also got in on the... oh, I'm feeling polite, let's call it overambitious... Penn defensive rebounding.

I love what Michelle Nwokedi brings to the floor for Penn. She was held in check offensively for most of the night, but she rebounded well, and she does a lot of really heady things out there- there was one play that stuck out to me where she made a very precise save at the midline to prevent a backcourt violation. She's got a nice mix of power and shooting touch for her size. Shutting her down for most of the game was one of the biggest keys to the game; the times she scored were mostly when either we got caught on the switch, or when both of our starting posts were in foul trouble and it was time for Improv with Akina. Eleah Parker got off to a rough start on the inside, missing chippies, but was better able to take advantage of our defense in the fourth quarter (though I again note that our two bigs were both in foul trouble, so we ended up with a lot of Improv with Akina and Q, or with Imani backing away rapidly). She's got great size, and when she's able to take advantage of it she gets good position down low. She's not so good at dealing with people her own height yet, but she's a freshman. That's something that'll come with time. She's got incredible potential.

Very impressed with Penn's defense in this one. They made us very scared to shoot. I mean, that doesn't always take a lot, but they exploited our tendencies better than most teams do. I shouldn't be surprised that an Ivy League team plays smart, though, right?

I'm not exactly sure why Joe inserted Shamachya Duncan in the first half, though it did almost pay dividends at the buzzer. I thought answering a three-point shooter with a three-point shooter was not a good plan; I thought we needed more defense, and that's not Machi's strength. Kayla Charles gave some goot spot minutes in the post, though you can definitely still tell she's a freshman. There's a lot of work to be done with her, especially on defense, but I see the potential.

This was probably one of the best defensive games I've seen out of Qadashah Hoppie this year. For the first time I got the sense that she realizes she's tall for a guard and used it to her advantage. She was doing work out on the perimeter, and had an emphatic block on a Kinum drive. If she can get that defense working regularly, she'll be a terror out there, and I want it. I want it bad. Someone with her clutch shooting coupled with clutch defense... yes, please. Andrayah Adams got buckets, but more and more with her I'm getting the sense that her offense is not necessarily what the play calls for. Sometimes that's a good thing- someone on this team has to want to shoot- but seeing everything break down when she decides she's going up is not always fun.

Alisha Kebbe was all over the floor and the glass. Her shots weren't necessarily going down, but they were clutch when they did. She made big defensive plays and big plays on the boards. She's streaky on offense, but I'll take every ounce of the defense that she brings. Tiana England had some slick passes, but her willingness to slow the offense down played right into Penn's hands. She spent way too much time dribbling the clock away, and her hesitation at the timeline cost her in turnovers. She's got to look at the clock more and be aware that sometimes she needs to be the shooter. Akina Wellere got put into the unenviable position of having to guard Penn's posts for stretches, which is not her forte. Her lack of speed and mobility definitely shows there. She hasn't done well with teams keying on her, and last night she was a wee tiny bit too three-happy for my liking.

Maya Singleton got caught helping on defense one time too many- that was the source of a lot of her foul trouble, plus an ill-advised attempt to drive that fouled her out of the game. You can't realistically expect to get the benefit of the doubt when the player is that set and the play's not really that close. She was tough on the glass and hit a clutch midrange jumper. Stat lines be damned, though, Imani Littleton took over the night once again. Someone does not want her college career to end any time soon, and I love what I'm seeing out of her. This WNIT run really seems like the first time she's using her height to its full effect, deflecting passes and making monster blocks. Her defense has been the reason we've been in every game. She's going all out, and even when she loses the gamble on the swat, she gets back up and she does it again. She's got nothing left to lose.

I'm sorry if I'm a bit incoherent. The heart Imani has shown these last two games is making my heart all squishy.

I don't want to say we were getting the short end of the stick when it came to calls and physical contact, but even the refs were smacking us around with no consequences. No, seriously. Late in the game, one of the officials popped Akina Wellere in the mouth while making a call. I missed the entire sequence, but I saw him make the call, and then I saw Akina holding her mouth with a very confused expression on her face. Someone in the crowd was baying for a technical, which makes me wonder if they thought Akina initiated contact somehow. Either that, or she had the reaction that is to be expected when the ref hits you in the mouth and someone had the vapors over her language.

We've been a team that prides ourselves on our defense for a very long time. It's really stepped up in this postseason. Let's keep it going against Duquesne. Duquesne must suffer, after all. I still hold a grudge or two against them.

We're going to need a bigger crowd, though. I'm tired of being the loudest person in the arena. I don't know how much more of this my diaphragm can take.

Parting shot- Sky Lindsay doing small Rockette kicks as the band played the team out to "New York, New York". Never change, Sky.