Team USA continued their quest to recapture the Womens World Basketball Championship with a 108-52 win over Senegal. What can you say about a mismatch this lopsided?
The U.S. suffered a short spate of cold shooting for the first few minutes, as shots struck iron and rattled off the rim. Diana Taurasi (Phoenix Mercury) took a feed off a Sylvia Fowles (Chicago Sky) steal, and took it to the hoop to notch the first basket by either side roughly a minute in.
Senegals Fatou Dieng promptly answered in kind with a lay-up at the other end, and after Sylvia Fowles missed a pair from the charity stripe, Aya Traore netted a jumper to give the Africans their first and only lead of the game at 4-0. Meanwhile, Team USA continued to heave up one miss after the other, going one-for-seven from the field over the first three minutes.
It would be a short-lived triumph for the Africans, however.
Basketball in Greece has been a major sport for several years now but, like anywhere else, national media do not cover women basketball that much. And thats a shame because the Greek women basketball national team has been present in all major European competitions since 2001. No doubt that the 2004 Olympics in Athens have been a boost for the womens game and the Greek women basketball clubs have reached higher levels in FIBA-Europe clubs competitions in the last few years too. Major Greek league clubs have attracted excellent foreign players in the last few years: LaToya Davis, Sheryl Swoopes, Ruth Riley of the USA, Marina Kress of Belarus, Gabriela Marginean of Romania, Gintare Petronyte of Lithuania, etc.
While the Greeks had already qualified for the 2010 FIBA World Championship for Women as well as next year's European Championship in Poland by virtue of their fifth-place finish at the Eurobasket 2009, the selected NT players have had time and spent the whole summer for the preparation of the world tournament.
Before the summer, a rumor saying that Greece would likely be to have more firepower this summer was relayed by www.fiba.com in mid-June. The FIBA web site mentioned that Euroleague veteran Katie Douglas was in the process of getting Greek citizenship. The 31-year-old Douglas of the Indiana Fever, an American, is married to Vasilis Giapalakis (2005), a Greek, who is her agent. Played overseas two in Greece, as well as Lithuania, Spain, Russia and Turkey. Next season will be Douglas second stint with Spanish club Ros Casares (involved in the Euroleague) after previously playing for the club in 2007-08. Missas told media last April that he was close to getting Douglas a Greek passport.
Greece was already set to add US-born Stephanie Murphy to their squad. Murphy is a 1.92 m. power forward/center at Boston College in the Atlantic Coast Conference who averaged 27.4 minutes, 11.7 points and 6.4 rebounds and earned honorable mention all-ACC last season for the Eagles. Murphys mother is Greek.
The addition of these two players in order to have more offensive firepower finally did not occur and the team has been built around Greek guard Evanthia Maltsi. Despite being labelled as an underdog at the World Championship for Women, Greece remains a rival for each team despite probably being in Europe the smallest team. Average height is low indeed and this could be an advantage for Greeces opponents.
There was surprising unanimity in the Full Court Press WNBA awards panel this year, as the only differences of opinion were on the last spot on the second team, Coach of the Year and Most Improved.
Of course, things were made easier by FCPs long-standing policy of handing out the awards for the entire season, including playoffs. That certainly clarifies some awards, and also acknowledges the reality that the postseason counts for just as much, if not more, than the first 34 games.
The French Women's National Team is currently ranked eighth in the world. But they're aiming for better.
The last time the French medalled at the Women's World Championships, it was 1953, when France took the bronze. But having captured the European Championship in 2009 in Latvia, dethroning traditional European powers Russia, the Czech Republic and Spain (see Full Court's report, Eurobasket 2009: Vive La France!), Les Bleues, the French National Team, have their eyes on the medal stand at the upcoming FIBA World Basketball Championship for Women, set to tip off in Brno and Ostrava, Czech Republic, on Friday, September 24. To that end, the team set up a rigorous preparation campaign beginning last March, featuring 13 scrimmage games against opponents from every continent but Oceania.
A strong preliminary group of 21 players was selected by new French coach Pierre Vincent over the summer and kicked off their training with a trip to lAlpe dHuez, a place usually better known for its spectacular Tour de France mountain cycling stage arrivals than as a basketball camp resort. Despite strange situations in the beginning of the French squads training camp in the Alps, les Bleues had a very serious preparation and actually never seemed so strong before. All prospective members of the French team participated in the training camp with the exception of 23-year-old center Sandrine Gruda of the WNBA's Connecticut Sun, who was expected to join the group once her WNBA season was over.
Never had the French looked so strong as when they headed into this year's run-up to the World Championships on a program that took the team through the regions of Normandie (Mondeville), le Nord (Villeneuve dAscq) and Picardie (Amiens and Beauvais), all of which welcomed les Bleues for their pre-championship tournament training. On paper at least, none of the opponents lined up for the exhibition tour, with the possible exception of Brazil, seemed any real match for France, or to be more precise the French National Team of 2009 that won the Eurobasket championship title.
Alas, that's when the woes of attrition began to set in.
Four years ago, just before he 2006 FIBA Women's World Basketball Championships were going to begin, our overview of the changing landscape of European and international womens basketball was titled, Spain Emerging as a Future European Power.
Today, as tip-off for the 2010 FIBA World Championship draws near, that assessment has never been so true. Spain remains a very atypical favourite team in the world competition. Spanish Head Coach Juan Ignacio Hernandez can count on very strong guards and forwards like Amaya Valdemoro, Silvia Dominguez, Laia Palau, Nuria Martinez and Elisa Aguilar, and he now has the post player Spanish teams of the past were missing in WNBA star Sancho Lyttle.
Any opponent would be wise watch out for the Spaniards who have lost one and won one against reigning world champion Australia in recent exhibition play, making the case that under the right circumstances, they can beat anyone. The Spanish have an uncanny ability to take advantage of their opponents' weaknesses and a knack for finishing the job once they gain the advantage. Competitors who look past them will do so at their own peril.
With less than a week to go before the FIBA Women's World Championships tip off in Brno and Ostrava, Czech Republic, on September 24, the American roster has yet to be finalized. USA Basketball's Selection Committee has managed to whittle the list of "final" contenders down to 18, and then to 14, but today (September 21) the U.S. must announce its final 12-member roster at the FIBA technical meeting.
Carol Callan, director of women's basketball programs for USA Basketball, told the media last April, when she introduced Geno Auriemma as the new head coach of the U.S. Women's Senior National Team through the 2010 World Championships and the 2012 Olympics, that the Selection Committee would take full advantage of the generous timeline FIBA allows before finalization of rosters, and she has certainly held true to her promise. While the roster uncertainty may keep players and their fans on pins and needles about their prospects (some players, obviously, experiencing more apprehension more than others), and deprives the Americans of the familiarity and improved teamwork that might come from an earlier decision on, at least, the core team, it also gives the Selection Committee an expanded opportunity to adjust for unknowns such as late-season injuries and to assess players who might be having a better (or worse)-than-expected season, as well as keeping athletes who might reject a designation as "practice players" on their toes and in the mix.
Still, it's difficult to assess the strengths and vulnerabilities of the American squad without knowing exactly who's on it (and it's got to be tough as well for a coach to formulate strategy without knowing exactly what he or she has to work with), leading to a quadrennial game of tea-leaf reading as pundits try to 'suss out who will ultimately make the squad.
For some, the question is purely academic. With the U.S. Women's Team already ranked No. 1 in the world and heavily favored to recapture the world title, there are those who will tell you it just doesn't matter -- no team in the world can upset the Americans in a "meaningful" game. Then again, that's what most observers thought in the run-up to the 2006 World Championships, only to see the U.S. fall to Russia in the semifinals and Australia walk away with the gold medal. The Aussies, currently ranked No. 3 in the world, are determined to defend their world title, and even without their star, Lauren Jackson (who, like Bird, just wrapped up her WNBA season with a national championship Thursday) have proved themselves capable of doing so in exhibition play. Australia soundly thrashed the Americans in a scrimmage held in conjunction with Team USA's July training camp, and though they dropped both games in the exhibition tournament held in Hartford, Connecticut last weekend -- losing to the U.S., 56-89, and to Spain, 74-87, the Opals avenged themselves Friday, defeating Team USA, 83-77, in an exhibition tournament held in Salamanca, Spain.
The basketball world, like the world at large, is full of confusing facts and incomplete information, and in basketball, as in life, more often than not, we must rely on logical and good-faith interpretations of such facts, rather than on certainties, in order to make predictions. Happily, though three of the American final roster contenders -- Sue Bird, Swin Cash and Angel McCoughtry -- were still engaged in the WNBA playoffs until Thursday, and have yet to join the team in its final training camp and warm-up play -- the exhibition games held over the past week in Connecticut and Spain offer plenty of material from which to predict who will make the team -- and what each will bring to the table -- when the roster is announced later this week in the Czech Republic.
The Seattle Storm took the 2010 WNBA Championship in a 3-0 series sweep of the Atlanta Dream, 87-84, on the Dreams home court, Philips Arena, Thursday night in front of a lively crowd made up mainly of home-town partisans, though a smaller but equally passionate crowd of green-and-gold-bedecked Seattle fans traveled cross-country to fill most of the section behind the Storm bench. Though the upper nose-bleeds had been curtained off, more than 10,500 fans filled the arena's lower bowl, leading the league to declare it a "sellout" and providing the enthusiastic environment that a championship series -- and two such evenly (albeit, disparately) matched teams deserved.
Wait a minute! Did we just say evenly matched?
Heading into the Finals series, the Storm were the near-unanimous favorite to win it all in what was expected to be a lopsided contest between Seattle, the team that had dominated not only the West but the entire league this season, and the Dream, a team who had started strong but finished poorly, limping into the playoffs as the fourth seed in the East. Few would have predicted that Atlanta would sweep past both the Washington Mystics and the New York Liberty to take the Eastern Conference Championship in just its third year in existence, and if anyone predicted that the Dream would stand even a chance again the Storm, we missed the memo.
As it turned out, Seattle's 3-0 Finals sweep fails to tell the tale of how tough a battle this series proved to be for both sides, nor how close the a contest the Dream would ultimately make it. This year's Finals series witnessed the closest cumulative margin of victory of any championship series since the WNBA went to a five-game Finals playoff format in 2005. (2010 was also only the second Finals series sweep since the league went to the five-game format.) Each game was settled by a single possession, and each played itself out right down to the final buzzer, as the Storm took game one by just two points, and games two and three by three points each. Why are so many of us choking on our own series previews (even if, in the end, we got the outcome right)?
The Seattle Storm are the newly crowned WNBA champions after holding off a late rally by the Eastern Conference Champion Atlanta Dream to take an 87-84 win in Atlanta's Phillips Arena. It was the second WNBA title -- and the first in six years -- for Seattle, who will welcome its champions home to the Emerald City tomorrow with a parade at Key Arena at 7:00 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time.
The eight-point differential over the three games of the series (two points, three points and three points) is the closest since the WNBA adopted a five-game Finals format in 2005; this was also just the second time since the five-game format has come into play that a team has swept the Finals series.
The Storm's Lauren Jackson, who posted 15 points, nine rebounds, two assists and a block in game three, in addition to dominant performances in the other two games of the series, was unanimously named MVP of the WNBA Finals, giving her yet another well-earned piece of hardware to book-end her regular-season WNBA MVP award for 2010. Jackson joined the other four Storm starters, all of whom finished in double-digits, as Swin Cash led the way with 18 points, six rebounds, four assists, a steal, and a block, to say nothing of her sterling defensive efforts against Atlanta's leading scorer, Angel McCoughtry.
Despite the best efforts of both Cash and Seattle's Tanisha Wright, McCoughtry also had an MVP-quality performance on behalf of the losing side with 35 points, three rebounds and three assists. Iziane Castro Marques chimed in with 21 points (on much better shooting than in game two's loss). Coco Miller chipped in 12 points and five assists. Erika DeSouza recorded a double-double of 10 points and 14 rebounds, icing the accomplishment with three swats.
But it would not be enough to contain the Storm who saw all but one player (Ashley Robinson) who took the floor score. (Rookies Alison Lacey and Abby Bishop did not play based on Coach Brian Agler's decision.)
Stayed tuned to Full Court Press for more to come, including further game and season analysis and photos.
The Atlanta Dream have run into a match-up nightmare.
After going undefeated in their first four postseason contests this year, the Eastern Conference champions have failed to crack the code thats been unbreakable for every visitor to the Pacific Northwest this season.
On 21 occasions in 2010, the Seattle Storm, the best home-court team in the history of the WNBA, has walked away from Key Arena victorious. The Seattle Storm took game two of the WNBA Finals Tuesday evening in front of a festive crowd of 13,898 at Key Arena. In a game that was ugly and choppy but no less effective than their previous 20 home dates, the Storm did just enough to earn a close-shave 87-84 victory over the Atlanta Dream in a contest that once again went down to the final seconds.
The magic that the home crowd has worked in Seattle has proven no less powerful in the postseason and as a result, a Dream season is on the verge of being extinguished unless they, too, can find some home-cookin in Thursday nights game three in Atlanta.
The Seattle franchise which last won the WNBA championship in 2004 is now just one win away from lifting the trophy again. The Storm take a 2-0 series lead to Georgia and can end the series in Game 3 on Thursday night in Atlanta. Tip-off time is 8:00 p.m. Eastern time on ESPN2.
The NBA had Larry Legend. The WNBA has Straight-Shootin Sue.
If you wanted a clutch basket from a Bird in the 1980s, you could always look to the Boston Celtics most iconic player of the past 30 years. In todays WNBA, Lauren Jackson might carry the Seattle Storm over the course of most 40-minute confrontations, but theres no more reliable sniper on the Storm than the one who brought them within two wins of another WNBA championship.
Indeed, on Sunday, when everyone in Key Arena knew she would likely get the rock, Sue Bird added yet another chapter to a lengthy book of last-second splashdowns. The Storm pushed to the brink by the relentless Atlanta Dream in a fiercely-fought thriller worthy of a championship series managed to tuck away game one of the WNBA Finals in style.
Birds tie-breaking shot, a clean 18-footer from the top of the key with 2.6 seconds remaining, pushed the Storm to a rousing 79-77 victory over the Dream, giving the Western Conference champions a 1-0 series lead heading into Tuesday nights second showdown in Seattle. Tip time is just after 9 p.m. Eastern, 6 p.m. Pacific, for the ESPN2 broadcast.