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Friday, July 19, 2019

Dribble and Dish: Changes Abound in Week One of the 2010 WNBA Season

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Photo Caption: Cappie Pondexter, now in a New York Liberty uniform after collecting two championship rings in her last three years with the Phoenix Mercury, made an immediate impact for her new club, kicking off the 2010 WNBA season with 22 points, eight assists and five rebounds, to lead the the Liberty to an 85-82 victory over the Chicago Sky. The move for Pondexter, who says she asked for the trade in order to pursue her new style salon in the New York area, was just one of many changes that seem likely to shake up the pecking order of the league as it enters its 14th season.

Photo Credit: Courtesy MSG Photos

By Christopher Thompson

Changes in line-ups and on the sidelines this season could shake up what have come to be the perennial playoff standings in the WNBA come season’s end.

The WNBA started its fourteenth season last weekend. Changes abound including one less franchise (the Sacramento Monarchs) and one moved franchise (the Shock, who left Detroit for Tulsa). With the folding of the Monarchs, only three of the league’s original eight teams remain in their original cities— New York, Los Angeles and Phoenix. Two thirds of the teams in the West changed coaches, with only Corey Gaines at Phoenix and Brian Agler at Seattle remaining at the helms of their respective franchises. All six East coaches return, although Anne Donovan has already announced she will be leaving the Liberty at the end of the season to coach Seton Hall. Trades, retirements and free agency shook up most of the starting lineups.

The season started as it did two years ago with the Los Angeles Sparks playing at the defending champion Phoenix Mercury. Two years ago the big story was the first game for Candace Parker, who scored 34 points and pulled down 12 rebounds to lead the Sparks to a 99-94 victory. This year the big story was the Sparks trying to adjust to life without Lisa Leslie, the leading scorer and rebounder in WNBA history. Candace Parker was moved into the center spot and Ticha Penicheiro, the all-time leader in assists, joined the Sparks to help reform the team. Phoenix didn’t stand pat either, trading Cappie Pondexter to New York in a three-team deal and acquiring Candace Dupree from Chicago. Dupree made an immediate impact as she led the Mercury in both scoring and rebounding, but it was Penny Taylor who hit two clutch free throws with 1.5 seconds remaining to lead Phoenix to a 78-77 victory.

The Tulsa Shock played their inaugural game before a sold-out crowd of 7,806 at the BOK Center but this team looked more like an expansion club than the storied power franchise from Detroit that one three of the last seven WNBA championships. Gone are Deanna Nolan, Katie Smith and Cheryl Ford; the first two decided they didn’t want to play in Oklahoma, and Carl Malone’s daughter now suffers from such shaky knees that she was released by the Shock, her WNBA career perhaps at an early end.. The biggest name on the current roster is Marion Jones, a rookie coming off a national championship for North Carolina … in 1994. Jones is better known as the Olympic gold sprinter who had her medals stripped as a result of steroid use and eventually went to prison for lying to federal investigators. Gone, too, is Bill Laimbeer who led the Shock to two WNBA titles, as well as his sidekick and fellow Pistons “bad boy,” Rick Mahorn who took over the reins, guiding the team back to the playoffs last season. In their place is Nolan Richardson, a legendary college coach in the men’s game who led the University of Tulsa to the NIT championship in 1981 and later won an NCAA championship at Arkansas. Richardson is known for his “40 minutes of hell” pressing defense.

Tulsa lost to a Minnesota Lynx team led by former Detroit Shock assistant coach Cheryl Reeve. Minnesota was playing with Lindsay Whalen, acquired from Connecticut in a trade, but without Candice Wiggins and Seimone Augustus, both out with injuries. The Lynx were also without Rebekkah Brunson, picked up in the dispersal draft, who will join the team after finishing the Italian season. Once the Lynx get these stars into their lineup, expected within a month, the Lynx could be one of the best teams in the league. In the interim, the Lynx relied on Charde Houston who scored 21 points and added seven rebounds in the win over Tulsa.

Two teams that were revamped by trades—as well as by draft acquisitions—met in Connecticut to open the season. The Connecticut Sun traded Whalen to the Lynx for Renee Montgomery and the right to draft Tina Charles. The Chicago Sky traded Dupree to Phoenix and got Catherine Kraayeveld and Shameka Christon from New York in return. Charles had a big task playing against Sylvia Fowles but scored 17 and pulled down 10 rebounds in her professional debut. Montgomery added nine points and two assists, but it was second-year player Anete Jekabsone-Zogota from Latvia who led the Sun with 18 points in their 74-61 victory over the Sky.

Chicago had little time to get over their opening day loss as they had to travel down I-95 to take on the New York Liberty in Madison Square Garden. New York has a completely different look this season. Cappie Pondexter was picked up from Phoenix, Taj McWilliams-Franklin was picked up from Detroit in free agency and Nicole Powell was acquired as the top pick in the Monarchs’ dispersal draft. All three paid immediate dividends. Pondexter scored 22 points and added eight assists and five rebounds. McWilliams-Franklin scored 20 points on 6-8 shooting from the field and Powell hit all three of her three-point shots in an 85-82 victory over the Sky.

The biggest surprise of the opening weekend was the play of the Washington Mystics. The Mystics were expected to struggle without Alana Beard, out this season with a torn Achilles tendon. Katie Smith replaced Beard in the lineup, but it was another Duke alumna, Monique Currie, who led the way for the Mystics. Currie scored 21 in the opener as Washington won, 72-65, at Indiana and then scored 27 at Minnesota in Washington’s 87-76 victory the following day over the Lynx. For the weekend Currie shot 60 percent from the field including 50 percent from three-point range and hit all 15 of her free throws. Crystal Langhorne added 35 points and 17 rebounds in the two games.

The other team that started 2-0 is also a bit of a surprise. The only change to the Atlanta Dream’s starting lineup was due to Chamique Holdsclaw wanting to be traded. Though that trade has yet to come to fruition, Holdsclaw sat out the Dream’s opener. This opened a spot in the starting rotation for last season’s Rookie of the Year, Angel McCoughtry, who scored 20 points in the Dream’s opening night victory at San Antonio, 75-70. Erika DeSouza added a double-double against the Silver Stars and shined again in the Dream’s home opener the next night against the Indiana Fever, another outfit that saw some shifts in their starting rotation but very little change in the roster other than the retirement of reserve guard Temecka Dixon. For the Dream, DeSouza scored 14 points on 7-11 shooting and added 11 rebounds in Atlanta’s 66-62 victory over the Fever.

The Seattle Storm opened the 2010 season at home against the Sparks with its starting lineup from last year intact. The Storm did add Le’coe Willingham and Svetlana Abrosimova through free agency to bolster its bench, but Lauren Jackson is still their star. Jackson led the Storm with 23 points and 10 rebounds as Seattle beat Los Angeles, 81-67.

One more big change this season is the schedule. The WNBA will play more than two-thirds of its games on the weekend, meaning there will be more back-to-back games than ever. This may have an effect on older teams such as Los Angeles, which has three starters who are over 35 years old. The Sparks played a strong game at Phoenix, losing in the final seconds. One night later, Los Angeles led by one after three quarters but ran out of steam and was outscored 24-9 in the fourth.

Game of the Week: The biggest game this coming week is Seattle at Phoenix on Saturday night. This should be an early indicator of the best team in the West. In the East, Chicago and Indiana play a home-and-home series next weekend. With both teams already 0-2 after last weekend, a sweep could put either team in a big hole early in the season.

On Deck: Next week, we’ll take a look at the early results from this year’s WNBA rookie class.


Originally published Thu, May 20, 2010

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Week: February 7, 2012
1 Baylor (31) 24-0 1 1 1 775
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3 Connecticut 21-2 3 4 3 710
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Others receiving votes: St. Bonaventure (22-2) 34; North Carolina (17-6) 19; California (17-6) 18; Florida Gulf Coast (21-2) 16; Middle Tennessee (19-5) 15; Texas-El Paso (20-2) 8; Texas Tech (16-6) 5; Brigham Young (21-4) 4; Fresno State (19-4) 4; St. John's (15-8) 4; Princeton (15-4) 3; Oklahoma (15-7) 2; West Virginia (17-6) 2; Kansas State (15-7) 1.
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Credit: Courtesy Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA). The weekly Division I Top 25 Coaches' Poll, sponsored by USA Today and ESPN, is based on voting by a Board of Coaches made up of 31 head coaches at Division I institutions all of whom are WBCA members.