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Friday, July 19, 2019

Last WNBA Conference Finals Berth Up for Grabs as Lynx, Silver Stars Tip Off in Game Three

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Photo Caption: Minnesota’s Maya Moore (White, No. 23) was the hands-down choice for 2011 WNBA Rookie of the Year. But the Lynx will need considerably more from the talented rookie if they are to emerge from Tuesday night’s showdown with their first-ever playoff series victory.

Photo Credit: Copyright 2011 NBAE© (Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images)

By Sharon Crowson

When the No. 1 v. No. 4-seed Western Conference semifinals series tipped off last Friday, it looked like a “gimme.” The Minnesota Lynx had stormed their way into the playoffs—their first appearance since 2004—earning home-court advantage all the way with the most dominant record in the league at 27-7 and a 7-0 record against their opponent, the San Antonio Silver Stars.

San Antonio, in contrast, had started strong and finished strong enough, but after a spate of injuries and a mid-season slump, limped into the playoffs just a nose above the .500 mark at 18-16 overall and 11-11 in Western Conference play. The handwriting appeared to be on the wall.

But wait! Not so fast!

The Silver Stars surprised when the series got underway in Minneapolis last week, losing, albeit by the narrowest of margins (65-66), but battling this season’s Goliath blow-for-blow all the way to the final minute.

Then the series shifted to the Silver Stars’ home court where San Antonio proceeded to demonstrate just why they have become a perennial fixture in the WNBA postseason.

As Pat Summitt once said, “Offense sells tickets, defense wins games, rebounding wins championships.”

Minnesota desperately hopes she was right, especially about the rebounding.

Of course, there’s another adage out there, the old saw that “rebounds are all effort.”

On Sunday evening, in Game Two of the WNBA Western Conference semifinals, the San Antonio Silver Stars proved that was true. Despite out-rebounding San Antonio 45-30, the Lynx fell to the Silver Stars, who played stronger defense, 84-75, in San Antonio.  The win forces the teams to return to Minnesota tonight for the winner-take-all game three of the series.

Just who will emerge the victor and fill the sole remaining slot in the WNBA conference finals is now anybody’s guess.

Statistics can be made to say many things and the pure rebounding numbers do not accurately reflect Sunday’s game.  For three quarters, the Silver Stars, the league’s worst rebounding team during the regular season, were essentially even on the boards with the Lynx, the league’s top team not only in overall record but also on the boards.

Through three quarters, Minnesota only held a one-board advantage before dominating 17-3 in the fourth.  Eight of the 17 were offensive boards but, as had been the case throughout the game, Minnesota failed to capitalize on their second chances.

“We had 21 offensive boards and converted on just three,” said Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve.  “And two of those were by our backup point guard.  It’s painful.”

Throughout the game, San Antonio played with more energy and aggressiveness.  The Lynx, for whatever reason, seemed flat throughout and never looked like the team with the WNBA’s best overall record.  Instead, they looked like a team in only its third-ever playoffs and one that has never won a playoff series.  San Antonio looked like the veteran, playoff tested squad they are.

Veterans Jia Perkins, Becky Hammond and Sophia Young combined for 65 of the Stars’ 84 points, coming up big when needed.  Perkins had eight points in the first quarter, Hammond had 10 in the second and Young hit for 17 in the second half. 

Perkins scored six of those points during a 11-0 first quarter San Antonio run that gave her team a lead it never relinquished.  She then netted eight more during a 17-2 run at the start of the second half that broke the game open and gave the Stars a 57-41 lead.
Minnesota never got to within seven points again.  In all, Perkins put up a team-high 24 points (tied with Minnesota’s Seimone Augustus for game-high), to which Perkins added six boards, five assists and four steals.

Young was hot on her teammate’s heels with 23 points. Young gave the Lynx fits in the paint and her defense was key in holding the Lynx starting posts, Taj McWilliams-Franklin and Rebekkah Brunson to a combined seven points in 60 minutes of floor time. The two Lynx stars also combined for eight of their team’s 17 turnovers. 

Meanwhile, San Antonio’s All-Star floor general Becky Hammon added 18 and six assists, plus four boards, two steals and even a block to the box score.

The only consistent offensive threat for Minnesota was Seimone Augustus, who hit 10 of her 21 shots for a team high 24 points.

Maya Moore added 16, but replaced her self-admitted first-game jitters with second-game foul trouble and was only on the floor for 26 minutes.  Lynx point guard Lindsay Whalen added a solid 15, but Alexis Hornbuckle with seven off the bench was the only other Lynx player with more than four points.  As a team, Minnesota only shot 39.5 percent from the field and their 17 turnovers to 14 assists give evidence of their lack of rhythm and efficiency.

The teams now move to Minnesota where they will play the deciding game on Tuesday at 8 p.m. Eastern, 7 p.m. Central, in a game that can be seen on ESPN2.  The winner will match up against Phoenix, who upset Seattle in their best-of-three series on Monday night.

History will be made in Minneapolis on Tuesday.  Either Minnesota will win the first playoff series in its history or they will become only the second team to compile the league’s best overall record during the regular season only to lose in the first round of the playoffs.

If Minnesota doesn’t want the best regular season in franchise history to end on a very down note, the Lynx will have to play with considerably more intensity and energy than they have in the first two games of this series.  They will need to revert to dominating the boards and converting their offensive rebounds.  In addition, they will have to get offensive contributions from someone other than Augustus, and Moore will have to play like the Maya Moore who was consensus 2011 Rookie of the Year and a lot less like the tentative newcomer she has been in the first two games.

For their part, if the San Antonio Silver Stars want to advance, they must continue to, at the very least, stay close on the boards and play with the aggressiveness they showed in game two.  In addition, Young must demonstrate the All-Star dominance she showed in the second half of Game One.

One thing is clear: This one is certainly no “gimme.”

Originally published Tue, September 20, 2011

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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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11 Tennessee 17-6 8 3 11 476
12 Delaware 20-1 13 NR 12 434
13 Georgetown 18-5 15 11 14 379
14 Texas A&M 16-5 16 6 15 378
15 Nebraska 19-3 18 NR 13 309
16 Rutgers 17-4 14 12 17 372
17 Louisville 17-6 12 9 20 276
18 Gonzaga 21-3 19 NR-RV
19 234
19 Purdue 19-5 17 21 16 222
20 Georgia 18-6 20 12 21 202
21 Penn State 18-5 21 14 18 176
22 DePaul 17-7 23 18 NR-RV
23 Georgia Tech 16-6 22 NR-RV
22 104
24 South Carolina 18-5 NR-RV
NR 24 46
25 Vanderbilt 18-5 NR-RV
NR 45
Dropped Out: No. 24 North Carolina, No. 25 Kansas.
First-place votes: Total first-place votes received (if any) are indicated in parentheses following school name.
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.