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Friday, July 19, 2019

Dribble and Dish: WNBA Road Trip - Part I (Tulsa Shock)

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Photo Caption: The first stop on Full Court correspondent Chris Thompson’s WNBA road trip was Tulsa, home to the league’s newest franchise, a destination some 1660 miles from his home in Carson City, Nevada.

Credit: U.S. Map Courtesy istockphoto.com; original artwork, Full Court Press

By Christopher Thompson

Editor’s Note: This is the first installment in a series of three reports from Full Court Press Columnist Christopher Thompson who took a month long road trip throughout the United States, stopping in five WNBA cities to see games. The first stop was in Tulsa to report on the Shock.

While I am a long-time fan of the WNBA, I am an even bigger fan of the United States. For several years I have thought about touring the U.S. but there never seemed to be enough time. This is a big country, and while I have seen most of it at one time or another, most of it has been at 30,000 feet, or flying in for a few days of meetings and flying back out.

But this year the stars aligned. With a full month free, I decided to take a road trip to tour the USA. Then it came to me that if I was going to see the USA, I could also see the WNBA—specifically, in places that I hadn’t seen games before. This would allow me to see the league up close and personal.

I am based in Carson City, Nevada. Up until last season the Sacramento Monarchs were only 130 miles away. Now the closest team is Los Angeles, more than 400 miles to the south. The itinerary I drew up would take me through seven of the 12 WNBA cities, but since both Atlanta and Chicago would be on the road while I was in those cities I would be able to take in only five games. The West Coast teams were excluded due to time constraints, although the possibility remains of a similar trip next year to take in Seattle, Los Angeles, Phoenix and, hopefully, a San Francisco Bay Area team. Connecticut was excluded because I had seen a game at the Mohegan Sun two years ago. San Antonio was also left off the itinerary because I spent several days there 17 years ago. Also I would be able to see both those teams during the trip. Indeed, this five-game swing allowed me to take a look at more than three-quarters of the teams in the league, including nearly all of those destined (or still in contention) for the playoffs.

The first stop was the league’s newest franchise; the Tulsa Shock. The cruel reality is that the only thing left from the proud heritage of the Detroit Shock is the name. Tulsa started off behind the eight-ball when Deanna Nolan, Cheryl Ford and Katie Smith all decided they didn’t want to play in Tulsa. (Nolan and Ford also sustained injuries that might have kept them from playing anywhere, but they had little motivation to push themselves to help launch the franchise in Tulsa.)

The remaining players looked like an expansion team—a group of players without a discernible star or even a go-to player. Tulsa started off 3-3 to the amazement of most, but then a 12-game losing streak sank the Shock to last place in the West.

As the season went downhill, all of the team’s ties to Detroit also left. First, there was Shavonte Zellous, who was traded to Indiana for a second-round draft pick. Zellous, with her youth and speed, was arguably the player with the best upside on the Tulsa roster. Next to leave was Plenette Pierson, traded to New York for Tiffany Jackson. Then the Shock cut Natasha Lacy, a second-round pick of the Detroit Shock two years ago even though she failed to make the roster in the Motor City. Next to leave was Kara Braxton, traded to Phoenix for Nicole Ohlde and a first-round draft pick. And to complete the sweep, Alexis Hornbuckle was traded to Minnesota for Rashanda McCants.

The sum total of these player moves is that Tulsa is simply not competitive most nights. While the team is younger, it is unlikely that anyone will ever be an All Star. No one on the squad could start for even half of the WNBA teams. Scholanda Robinson is the leading scorer. She is a serviceable guard but not spectacular. She has been the most consistent player all season. Shanna Crossley leads the team with 39 three-pointers. Chante Black provides an inside presence and is the leading rebounder at seven per game. Newcomers Nicole Ohlde and Tiffany Jackson may be able to be reborn in Tulsa. Reserve Amber Holt is actually the second leading scorer even though she has started only five games. She summed up the problems of the team as being a matter of not being able to put together complete games and not rebounding. While the Shock is being outrebounded by nearly six per game, the problems go deeper than that.

The Shock will have a chance at the Maya Moore lottery but otherwise the team has little upside. This is truly unfortunate because Tulsa has some very positive things going for it. The BOK Center is a wonderful venue for the WNBA. The 10,000 seat arena in downtown Tulsa is a good size for the league. In the game that I attended the crowd was engaged and the noise level was good. Even though the Shock was losing its twelfth consecutive game it was a fun atmosphere.

The Shock led for most of the first half against the Sparks, but thanks to a strong run to open up the second half, Los Angeles won, 87-71. Tina Thompson led the Sparks with 24 points and Keisha Brown led the Shock with 14, but the stars were Ivory Latta and Andrea Riley. This was Riley’s first game in Tulsa since finishing her career at Oklahoma State. The battle between Ivory Latta and Riley was captivating as the two small guards breathed life into what might have otherwise been a fairly dull game. Riley hit three consecutive three-pointers in the first half, one from about 28 feet. Neither player looked good on defense, but both players were having fun and that was infectious for the whole crowd. After the game Riley was bubbly, vivacious and full of excitement. Even though she has had few chances to show her skills she was excited about the second half of the season. It’s hard to imagine why Richardson and the Tulsa management team passed by the opportunity to grab this “homegirl” and crowd pleaser in this year’s draft. Her love of the game was evident and I came away an Andrea Riley fan.

Photo Caption: Ivory Latta (shown here playing L.A. on the road later this season as Tulsa head coach Nolan Richardson looks on) was waived first by Atlanta in the off-season and later by the Tulsa Shock shortly before opening day, but was re-signed by the Shock and is now the team’s floor general. At 13 points and 4.1 assists per game, Latta is one of the Shock’s few solid players and is capable of bringing a spark to an otherwise quiet game.
Photo Credit: Full Court Press/Lee Michaelson©

Finally, since this is an article about the Shock, Marion Jones played nearly 10 minutes and scored two points, had two rebounds and one assist. She was a complete non-factor. She may have been able to get the team some publicity before the start of the season, but the Jones experiment has been a failure.

As for Nolan Richardson, there were many questions as to whether the coaching legend could transform his “Forty Minutes of Hell” that won the NCAA men’s championship in 1994 to the WNBA game. Unfortunately, that is still a question because without players no system is going to work. Paul Westhead made his own up-tempo system work in Phoenix, but he had Diana Taurasi and Cappie Pondexter. 

Tulsa seems ready to embrace a WNBA franchise. The Tulsa World newspaper had a nice story on the return of Andrea Riley on the front page of the sports section. The announced crowd of 7,073 (which seemed slightly high but not totally unreasonable) was engaged throughout and rooting on the Shock even though the team was losing again. The team will have to have more success on the court if the franchise is to succeed in the long run but the fans are ready to embrace this team.

Next up, we resume our journey through the East, stopping in Washington, D.C. to see the Mystics take on the Atlanta Dream.



Originally published Wed, August 18, 2010

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Week: February 7, 2012
1 Baylor (31) 24-0 1 1 1 775
2 Notre Dame 23-1 2 2 2 743
3 Connecticut 21-2 3 4 3 710
4 Stanford 20-1 4 5 4 685
5 Duke 19-3 6 8 5 650
6 Miami (FL) 20-3 7 7 6 604
7 Kentucky 21-3 5 15 7 584
8 Maryland 20-3 10 10 8 534
9 Wisconsin-Green Bay 20-0 9 24 9 530
10 Ohio State 21-2 11 NR-RV
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13 Georgetown 18-5 15 11 14 379
14 Texas A&M 16-5 16 6 15 378
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20 Georgia 18-6 20 12 21 202
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23 Georgia Tech 16-6 22 NR-RV
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24 South Carolina 18-5 NR-RV
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25 Vanderbilt 18-5 NR-RV
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Dropped Out: No. 24 North Carolina, No. 25 Kansas.
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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.