After a six-day training camp in Washington, D.C., a 13-member squad, culled from the available U.S. Women's Senior National Team members, and an additional group of collegiate and WNBA athletes who had been invited to participate in the camp, will head to Russia to compete in the four-team 2009 Ekaterinburg International Invitational Tournament. The tournament, as well as the training camp, are part of the run-ups to the selection of the team that will represent the United States at the 2010 FIBA Women's World Basketball Championships, scheduled to be held in the Czech Republic from September 23 to October 3 of next year, and beyond that, at the 2012 Olympics in London from July 26 to August 12 of that year.
Two-time Olympic gold medalists Sue Bird (Seattle Storm), Tamika Catchings (Indiana Fever), and Diana Taurasi (Phoenix Mercury), as well as 2008 Olympic gold medalists Seimone Augustus (Minnesota Lynx), Sylvia Fowles (Chicago Sky), Kara Lawson (Sacramento Monarchs), Candace Parker (Los Angeles Sparks) and Cappie Pondexter (Phoenix Mercury) were named to the 2009-12 USA Basketball Women's National Team on August 17.
However, three members of the National Team -- Taurasi, Pondexter and Catchings -- are still playing in the WNBA Finals, as is the Fever's Ebony Hoffman, who was invited to attend the fall training camp. Five more players, including National Team members Augustus and Lawson and training camp invitees Jayne Appel (Stanford), Alana Beard (Washington Mystics), and Lindsay Whalen (Connecticut Sun), are injured and unable to play, but nevertheless attended the camp.
It all came down to a head butt and a last-ditch goal-line stand.
No, the Indianapolis Colts were four blocks away at Lucas Oil Stadium, where they had just finished playing football, winning handily over the Seattle Seahawks. But at nearby Conseco Fieldhouse, it was fourth (quarter) and one (a one-point Indiana lead), and it was the Indiana Fever who executed the goal-line stand of the day to pull out the crucial win. The Fever held the Phoenix Mercury scoreless over the last two minutes of the game and disrupted a critical last-ditch Mercury attack on the goal to take a two games-to-one lead in the best-of-five series by the narrowest of margins -- a single point.
Tamika Catchings blamed herself for letting her team down in Game One of the WNBA Finals in which the Indiana Fever suffered a 116-120 loss to the Phoenix Mercury in overtime Tuesday. Catchings, an All Star, posted just eight points in that game before fouling out.
After delivering a near triple double with 19 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds, she should sleep better after Thursday night's Game Two!
Post-game, Catchings told reporters that the difference between the two games was her "focus on being more aggressive and staying out of foul trouble." Unlike Game One where she fouled out in overtime after having to spend precious game minutes on the bench as her fouls mounted, Catchings was blown for just three personals in Game Two, despite her relentless defense on the Mercury's (and the league's) leading scorer, Diana Taurasi.
There were those who expected a letdown on the part of the Fever after outplaying the Mercury for a good portion of a close and exhausting Game One and still suffering an emotionally draining loss. But all year long, Indiana has shown itself to be a resilient group. Thursday night was no different.
From start to finish the Fever were more selective in pushing the ball while, for the most part, denying Phoenix the fast-break opportunities on which its offense thrives. For the game, the Mercury won the battle of fast break points (in the second half) but by only 16 to the Fever's 13 and, in general, the pace of the game was more moderate than the shoot-a-thon that was Game One.
No home team has won the first two games of the Final Series since the WNBA Finals went to a best-of-five format in 2005, and Catchings called the win on the road, "Huge. Huge for us!"
Fever Coach Lin Dunn agreed. "[I]t makes us even. So now we're back to even, and we go back to our arena. I'm confident it will be sold out. There will be amazing, wonderful, crazy, Hoosier, Indiana Fever fans to welcome us back and having the opportunity to go home and play even is much better for us than, say, if we were 0-2. We thought we could steal the first game, but we just didn't defend well enough and our players were not discouraged, they were not down, they were very optimistic about, 'Okay, Coach keeps talking about if we defend better we'll win, and it's true.'"
The Fever is a better team than their individual parts would indicate. With their defensive mindset and, for the most part, consistent execution in Game Two, they showed they should not be taken lightly.
The WNBA named the Atlanta Dreams Marynell Meadors its 2009 Coach of the Year in a ceremony immediately preceding the tip-off of Game Two of the WNBA Finals series between the Phoenix Mercury and the Indiana Fever Thursday. Full Court Press conferred the same honor on Meadors a little more than two weeks ago. (See "Full Court's End-of-Season WNBA Honors.")
Meadors, a 35-year coaching veteran who has spent 11 years coaching in the WNBA, orchestrated the second-best turnaround in league history after she engineered a 14-win improvement in 2009 over the Dream's inaugural season record. In its first season as an expansion team, the Dream won only four of its 34 games, the second lowest win total in WNBA history. From its season-opening loss on May 17, 2008 to the Connecticut Sun to its July 3, 2008 home loss to the Houston Comets, the Dream lost 17 consecutive games, an all-time WNBA record for consecutive losses.
But in 2009, just one year later, Meadors, who also serves as the team's general manager, steered Atlanta to an 18-16 record, a second-place regular-season finish in the Eastern Conference and the franchises first playoff berth. The 14-win improvement marks the second largest one-season turnaround in league history, the first being the 2003 Detroit Shock's improvement to 25-9 after going 9-23 the previous year.
Meadors came to Atlanta in 2007 after three years as an assistant with the Washington Mystics where she helped guide the team to a playoff appearance in 2006. Meadors has also been the head coach and general manager of the Charlotte Sting and the director of scouting for the now-defunct Miami Sol. Prior to her experience in the WNBA, the Tennessee native coached for a combined 26 years at Florida State and Tennessee Tech.
Meadors becomes the first coach to win the award within the franchises first two years (excluding Houston, whose head coach Van Chancellor won the award for the first three years the league was in existence ). She was the overwhelming favorite of the national panel of sportswriters and broadcasters who made the selection, taking 30 of the 41 votes cast for the award. Indianas Lin Dunn, who led her team to its first-ever WNBA Finals appearance, finished second with six votes while Phoenixs Corey Gaines, whose team is making its third Finals appearance, placed third with four votes.
More than two weeks after Full Court Press named the Atlanta Dream's Angel McCoughtry its WNBA Rookie of the Year (see "Full Court's End of Season WNBA Honors"), the WNBA bestowed the same honor on the Louisville alum who was the top pick in the 2009 draft, the league announced Thursday. McCoughtry was the odds-on favorite of the national panel of sportswriters and broadcasters who made the selection, receiving 30 of the 41 votes cast.
Though McCoughtry came off the bench for much of the season, she topped the charts among all WNBA rookies in points (12.8) and steals (2.2) and ranked fifth in assists (2.1). She finished the season with two consecutive Rookie-of-the-Month honors. McCoughtrys 2.2 steals per game also placed her in the top five among league leaders.
The 61 forward started her professional career by posting 15 points and seven rebounds in an 87-86 win over the Indiana Fever, who are now playing the Phoenix Mercury for the WNBA Championship. One of her best games came in a 93-87 win over the San Antonio Silver Stars, where McCoughtry posted a career-high 34 points, collected seven rebounds and dished out four assists. Another performance where McCoughtrys versatility stood out was a win late in the season against the Monarchs. She had a career-high 10 assists and added 26 points and five rebounds. McCoughtry scored double-digits in all but 10 games during her first season as a pro.
A little more than two weeks after Full Court Press named the Phoenix Mercury's Diana Taurasi as this year's Most Valuable WNBA Player, the league has followed suit with the announcement of its 2009 MVP award in a ceremony preceding the tip-off of the first game of the WNBA Finals series. It was the first time the six-year Mercury veteran won the award.
Taurasi led the league in scoring in 2009 for the third time in four seasons (2009, 2008, 2006), averaging 20.4 points per game during the 2009 regular season. She also posted career highs in rebounding (5.7 rebounds per game), blocks (1.39 blocks per game), field-goal percentage (46.1 percent) and three-point percentage (40.7 percent).
Taurasi credited her teammates and thanked those "who have had my back" during a summer filled with "ups and downs," alluding to her arrest in early July on DUI charges. A court date on those charges, to which she has pleaded not guilty, awaits her after the end of the playoffs, on October 30.
Taurasi ran away in the voting by a national panel of sportswriters and broadcaster, taking 323 total points and 27 first-place votes. The Indiana Fever's Tamika Catchings came in second with 163 points and three first-place votes, while her teammate Katie Douglas finished third with 128 points and five first-place votes. Taurasi's teammate, Cappie Pondexter, finished fourth with 99 points and one first-place vote.
But asked whether the wide margin by which she had won the award meant anything to her, Taurasi replied, "I didn't know what the tally was and I don't think it matters. Anyone who was up for the award -- Tamika [Catchings], Katie Douglas, Cappie [Pondexter -- everyone was deserving, they had amazing seasons. It was fun to watch. I followed them. The award, you know, should say, "Phoenix Mercury" on it, that's the way I feel. Everyone contributed to what it is. It's pretty special."
"Well, if you didn't like women's basketball, I think you do now!" said Coach Corey Gaines after his Phoenix Mercury prevailed in overtime to take the first game of the WNBA Finals series, 120-116, over the Indiana Fever in the highest scoring game ever played in WNBA history. The tightly matched, fast-paced, high-scoring game was all you could have wished for in a championship contest.
In what will likely be an Instant Classic, a crowd of 11,617 watched as the Phoenix Mercury used their superior firepower to outlast the Indiana Fever in overtime in a game marked by 19 lead changes and 13 ties. Not surprisingly, the game set all kinds of scoring records, not just for a Finals game but for a WNBA game of any kind, not the least of which was the total 236 points scored. Both teams surpassed the previous WNBA record (115) for points in a game -- playoffs or regular season -- that had been set earlier this year by the Mercury in their June 13, 2009 overtime win over the Sacramento Monarchs.
While Phoenix has by now become accustomed to exceeding the century mark, having done so in eight playoff games alone and a total of 23 times over the last three-plus seasons. The Fever, on the other hand, had never before scored 100 points in a playoff game; indeed, they had scored 100 points only once previously in franchise history (scoring 103 against Phoenix on September 14, 2008).
Most had expected the Fever, known more its defense than its offensive prowess, to try to slow the Mercury's up-tempo, run-and-gun style. Instead, its was Indiana pushing the ball from start to finish. That's the same approach the Fever used to capture a 90-83 victory when they visited Phoenix in August; this time, they simply upped the ante.
"We beat them here, we played up-tempo, we ran and we won," said Fever Coach Lin Dunn, explaining her strategy after the game. "We are a running team, we like to run, so I knew we could run with them. I wasn't concerned about that. I thought that we would be able to push the ball up and down the floor and get some good early shots, early post-ups, just like they did so that didn't surprise me at all that we could play their tempo."
In mid-May, with the 2009 WNBA season set to commence, a poll of the league's general managers predicted that the Los Angeles Sparks would win it all. By a wide majority, they thought the Sparks would get there by overcoming the Detroit Shock, who were forecast to once again with the Eastern Conference Championship.
Though both those teams made a run of it, neither will be on hand when the WNBA finals kick off Tuesday night at 6:00 p.m. Eastern at the U.S Airways Arena in Phoenix, Arizona.
Instead, when the opening buzzer sounds for tomorrow's Game One, it will be the Eastern Conference Champion Indiana Fever, a team that prides on its defensive intensity, facing off against the Western Conference Champion Phoenix Mercury, the league's best offensive team, one that equates scoring 100 points as its best defense against defeat. Only 25 percent of the league's GMs gave the Fever their vote of confidence for being there before the season began. Still fewer, just 17 percent, thought the Mercury would win the Western Conference and make their way to the Finals.
But that's why they play the game of basketball of basketball on the hardwood, not on a statistician's computer. Few who watched the Mercury burn up the league this season and put away the vaunted Sparks post legends could deny they're the team that deserves to be duking it out for this year's WNBA title. And though the Fever dropped seven of their 10 final regular-season games, Indiana more than earned its right to contend by dominating the Eastern Conference throughout the regular season and dethroning the reigning WNBA Champs, the Detroit Shocks, in three close second round playoff games.
It will be Indiana's first trip to the WNBA Finals, and the third for Phoenix, who finished last in the West last season and taking it all in 2007. The two teams have never before met in the playoffs, and for those who try to predict the outcome by dredging through the history of past meetings of importance between clubs on the verge of a monumental series, there is little here to hang one's hat on here.
The Indiana Fever rode the wave of emotion from a sellout crowd of 18,165 at Conseco Fieldhouse to become the Eastern Conference champions and advance to the WNBA Final (starting Tuesday in Phoenix) for the first time. In the closest game of the series, that saw 18 lead changes and 16 ties, the Fever defeated the Detroit Shock, 72-67, after being eliminated from the playoffs by them for the past three years.
Conseco Fieldhouse was packed to the rafters after Hoosier and Celtics great Larry Bird, now president of the Indiana Pacers, bought up all of the seats in the balcony and distributed them for free on a first-come, first-served basis. In case anyone is in doubt that there is a market for women's basketball (at some price point), hundreds of fans started lining up outside Conseco Fieldhouse at 7:00 a.m., less than 12 hours after Bird's offer had been announced to the public and all 9,000 tickets had been given away within two hours after the box office opened its doors.
"I am so proud of the Fever, who are now one game away from the WNBA Finals," said Bird in announcing his offer. "I want all the fans to come to the game and get behind this team for the biggest game in Fever history. So, bring the whole family and the balcony tickets are on me."
Bird has got to be even prouder now that the Fever have shaken off the playoff jinx that seems to have hung, year after year, like a cloud over their heads, by defeating the reigning WNBA Champion Detroit.
As is so often the case in basketball, the final score doesn't tell the true story of the game. It was a rout. A massacre. A bloodbath.
And a sad way for one of the legends of the game to end her career as she sat on the bench, watching her team's championship hopes go down in smoke, after fouling out in the final minutes.
"It comes down to just wanting the game sometimes," said the Phoenix Mercury's Diana Taurasi, who finished with 21 points, seven boards and three assists to lead her team to an 85-74 defeat of the Los Angeles Sparks and the Western Conference Championship. "Not necessarily defensive schemes, plays, just wanting the game. And unlike [Game Two, in which the Sparks pounded their way to an 87-76 victory over Phoenix], tonight we wanted the game. We didn't necessarily play great basketball on either end, but we took the game."
No doubt, Lisa Leslie wanted the game as well. At the very least, she didn't want her storied career to end on a frustrating night, marked by dreadful shooting, before a hostile crowd that booed her introduction before the game began and her every move thereafter. Her teammates, it seemed, didn't want it nearly as much.