Those brief phrases kept cropping up during the sorting process for this year's Full Court Press Preseason Top 25, highlighting two consistent, and persistent, weaknesses in the womens game.
The first springs from the fact that, far too often, the superior athletes who dominate the game with their explosiveness are so successful at getting to the rim that they cant be bothered to learn to shoot nor will coaches with wins rather than player development on their mind let them develop that skill. So when that superior athlete, sooner or later, finds herself playing against athletes of the same caliber, all of a sudden she cant score because shes never learned how to make a jump shot.
The second reflects the long tradition of poor point guard play, at least relative to the levels of play at other positions, in the womens game. For whatever reason, good ballhandlers are always in short supply, at all levels of the game.
What that means for the FCP Top 25 is simple: If a team can shoot, and can control the ball, its got a chance to win a lot of games. Of course, enough explosiveness can override those weaknesses, and enough athleticism can erase superior skill. Eventually, though shots need to be knocked down, and good passes need to be made and yes, theres a definite connection between the two if a team wants to be playing for the national title in April.
Melissa Jones, captain of the Baylor Bears' women's basketball team (her second year in that position) and a three-year starter, is the glue that holds a team predicted to finish first in the Big 12 this year together. A Preseason All-Big 12 selection, Jones knows how to make her presence felt on the court; at 5-11, the senior has the height of a point guard, shoots like a perimeter specialist (35.6 percent from three-point range), and rebounds like a post. Last year, Jones averaged 10.4 points and 6.3 rebounds per game, while leading her team in steals with 46 and ranking third in assists (66).
And then there is the intangible -- leadership. Jones missed 15 games due to a leg injury in 2009-10, and without her, Baylor struggled despite the presence of then-freshman prodigy Brittney Griner in the front-court. But with Jones back in action, Baylor finished the season with a 10-2 sprint, marching all the way to the Final Four before being stopped by Connecticut. And with Jones now back in top form, the Lady Bears look good to do it again this year.
"Melissa Jones needs to be a household name in women's basketball because she's one of the finest players that people don't talk about," Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey told reporters last year. "When you do a scouting report on us, one of the first players you better talk about is Melissa Jones because she can play any position on the floor. She is our captain, and everything we do is going to go through Melissa."
This weekend, however, Baylor Jones will take to a different kind of court. The senior guard was one of five nominees, narrowed down from a field of 49, selected to the Baylor Homecoming Court. Megan Robinson, representing the Baylor Songleaders and Spirit Squads, was chosen the Queen; Jones and three others will serve as Princesses. Jones, nominated by the Baylor "B" Association, will spend the weekend participating in homecoming festivities which include, among others, riding in Saturdays Homecoming Parade and being honored at halftime of Baylors football game against Kansas State.
UConn women's basketball is on a historic roll. The team has won an unprecedented 78 games in a row and two consecutive national championships. They head into the 2010-2011 season picked by the Big East's coaches to finish on top of that league once again and still ranked No. 1 in the nation in preseason polls.
But the presumption of domination is not the same as last year. Graduation has taken a toll. All-Everything center Tina Charles, the leading career scorer and rebounder in UConn history, has graduated. So has Kalana Greene, last seasons starting small forward and third leading scorer. The two backup post players, Kaili McLaren and Meghan Gardler, also graduated.
This leaves UConn with only six remaining players from last seasons juggernaut team, which won its games by an average margin of 34.9 points per game. Unfortunately, one of those players, starting point guard Caroline Doty, suffered her third ACL injury during the summer and will be out for the 20010-11 season.
On a brighter note, Maya Moore, UConns other All-Everything, is back for her senior year having added the skills picked up playing on a U.S. World Championship team packed with WNBA All Stars to her arsenal (and a World Championship gold medal to her already bulging trophy case).
These circumstances raise big questions: How good will UConn be this season? Can UConn continue its historic winning streak, and perhaps surpass the mens college basketball record of 88 consecutive games set by John Woodens UCLA powerhouse teams in the early 1970s? Can UConn win a third consecutive national championship?
The answers to these questions may come in large part from the performance of that five-player freshman class -- Michala Johnson, Stefanie Dolson, Bria Hartley, Lauren Engeln and Samarie Walker -- each of whom was ranked among the top 50 recruits in the country by major rating services and collectively ranked as the top recruiting class in the country by All-Star Girls Report (third by ESPN-HoopGurlz).
Still, freshmen are freshmen. The two biggest holes these frosh will have to fill will be two of the most important ones left by the graduated Tina Charles and the injured Caroline Dotythe center and point guard positions. And though some have accused him of just laying the proverbial mattress, we take UConn head coach Geno Auriemma at his word when he says (repeatedly) that he doesn't anticipate yet another undefeated season this year with five freshmen on the roster.
Full Court Press conducted one-on-one video interviews with UConn's freshman five, discussing a range of topics including their high school experiences, their skills, the positions they have played and expect to play, their true heights and nicknames, details of the recruiting process, the value of weight lifting, dealing with Coach Geno Auriemma, the undefeated streak, and the looming battle with 6-8 Brittney Griner and Baylor in the second game of the season. Of interest to recruiting junkies, each of the four frosh who was asked about the schools that made it to her list of final choices listed Duke; none listed Tennessee.
Okay, there was the scoreboard, if you could make it out behind the sea of Czech flags, clearly proclaiming, "USA 89, Czech Republic 69."
But you really couldn't tell it on the court.
Sure, the Americans were happy, especially the three players -- Sue Bird, Tamika Catchings and Diana Taurasi -- who still carry the bitter memory of the U.S. loss to Russia in the semifinals of the last World Championships, 2006, in Brazil. But careful to give no occasion for offense by overdoing their public celebration of the victory, they quietly hugged one another, congratulated their opponents, and later stepped to the medal podium to receive their gold medals and the FIBA Championship trophy with great dignity and poise.
But to look at the Czech team, giddy with excitement, practically doing backflips over their first-ever Worlds silver medal, you would have thought they'd won it all. (For that matter, the Spaniards seem pretty ecstatic about their bronze -- also a first.)
"The reason, I think, is simple," said Czech captain Hana Horakova. "Before this tournament, nobody would think that our team could press into the four best world teams, not speaking about winning a world championship medal. This is a great success for us. It is a celebration that is very much deserved and it definitely will go on tonight."
"I've won many things in my career, but I never expected to win this," said Spanish captain Amaya Valdemoro, who wrapped herself and several of her teammates in a Spanish flag passed down from the stands by one of the spectators and paraded around the stadium. "This is big for Spanish basketball and for the generation that are coming into the national team."
Then came the announcement of the MVP and tournament All-Star team. From the team that had not just beaten, but dominated, every opponent it took on over the past 10 days, only one player, Taurasi, was selected for the All-Tournament team.
And when fiesty Czech point guard Horakova stepped forward to accept the hardware as MVP of the tournament, one had to wonder just how the (overwhelmingly European) media panel given ballots defined "Most Valuable."
Both Team USA and the hosting Czech Republic advanced to Sunday's gold-medal game of the 2010 Women's World Championships with semifinal wins Saturday.
One team got there the easy way; the other team took a more difficult path. Czech Republic rode the wave of hometown support, scrapping back and forth with Belarus in an extremely tight game. A Czech ballhandling error, followed by a foul, late in the fourth quarter tied the game at 68 apiece at the final buzzer and send it into extra minutes.
The Czechs outscored Belarus 13-9 in overtime to take the 81-77 win and advance to the gold medal game for the first time in history.
In contrast, Team USA romped to a 106-70 win over a Spanish team that was playing without star center Sancho Lyttle, who was taken to the hospital last night after injuring her back in the third quarter of Spain's overtime win over France. Whether she can play in Sunday's bronze medal match remains a game-time decision.
Team captain Amaya Valdemoro, the hero of the win over France, saw limited minutes in Saturday's semifinal game due to "fatigue." The clear inference from Spanish Coach Jose Hernandez is that once he saw the U.S. get off to such a strong start (29-16 in the first quarter alone), he opted to rest his key players for tomorrow's medal game, a game he felt he had at least some chance of winning.
Rounding out a day of upsets in the Womens World Basketball Championships quarterfinals (save for Team USAs 106-44 win over Korea), Spain forced the European champion, France, into overtime before stealing a 74-71 win. It will be the first-ever appearance for Spain, which has five European championship medals to its credit, in the semifinals of the World Championships.
In what was by far the most evenly matched pairing of the day, both teams struggled for the first few minutes, before Spain headed out to an early, 11-6, lead behind seven points from Amaya Valdemoro, who had the hot hand both from the perimeter and inside the paint.
Whether it will be the United States or another country, one thing is certain: The world will crown a new womens basketball champion on Sunday. Before the president of their country and a house packed to the rafters with festive, horn-blowing, drum-banging countrymen, the Czech Republic took down the reigning champion, 79-68, today in KV Arena, Karlovy, in a game that proclaims a new era in international womens basketball.
Czech coach Lubor Blazek said afterward that despite having the utmost respect for Australia and its players, Lauren Jackson (Seattle Storm) in particular, he believed that the Czechs could beat the powerhouse and he mapped out a plan to do it. More importantly, his players bought in to the plan; they too believed they could pull off the upset, and pulled off Blazeks strategy just as he had written it.
Team USA was watching in the final minutes as previously undefeated Russia went down to defeat at the hands of fourth-seeded Belarus today. The lesson wasnt lost on the Americans.
We didnt want to start the game and not be ready, and not give 100 percent, said U.S. and University of Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma.
We knew we it didnt matter [who we were playing ], said Tamika Catchings. (Indiana Fever) Seeing what happened and knowing that if you don't come out ready to play straight from the beginning, it can have an effect on the whole game. Like coach said, for us we wanted to come out with a lot of energy right off the bat and everybody built off of that.
Angel McCoughtry (Atlanta Dream) and Maya Moore (University of Connecticut senior) echoed the sentiment. We just know that looking today at the Russia-Belarus game, you can't just turn it on turn it off, you have to be prepared, said McCoughtry.
Something Coach told us in the locker room today, which was very true, was the fact that we've had our moments, our quarters, our halves, over periods of time we've played great, but we haven't really put together a whole game yet. That's what we were trying to do today, get one step forward, one step closer to putting together a complete game because that is what we are going to need down the stretch, Moore added.
And thats exactly what they did. Auriemma turned once again to Tina Charles (Connecticut Sun) and Candice Dupree (Phoenix Mercury) to round out his starting line-up of Catchings, Sue Bird (Seattle Storm) and Diana Taurasi (Phoenix Mercury). Charles won the opening tip and Catchings dropped it in at the opposite end to launch a 6-0 U.S. run over the first two minutes of the opening period. They never let up until the final buzzer sounded and the score stood, USA 106 - 44 Korea.
In breaking news, Belarus, the last-place finisher in Group E (Ostrava) pool play, has just upset previously undefeated Russia, the top seed out of Brno's Group F, by a decisive score of 70-53. Belarus held Maria Stepanova to just eight points (four of them in the final period), while Becky Hammon (San Antonio Silver Stars) led the way for Russia with 16 points.
"Yelena Leuchanka (Atlanta Dream) killed us inside," said Russia's Ilona Korstin. "We are very disappointed with the result and with [the] game we played today. ... We didn't play as a team but just as individuals trying to keep down the fire. It will be the first time in 10 years that we don't bring any medal home."