Friday, July 19, 2019
Page 2

And the standings change again

Today’s results:

The Sparks held off the Fever, 90-84, behind big performances from the Ogwumikes.

The Dream stopped the Lynx, 60-53. Sylvia Fowles tied the league record for career double-doubles, with 157.

Diana Taurasi returned to the court for the Mercury, but the Sun prevailed, 79-64.

The Storm dominated the Wings, 95-81 to snap a three-game losing streak.

Tomorrow’s game schedule:

The Aces are eyeing their first victory over the Mystics.

WNBA player news:

Diana Taurasi is reaching her basketball and life goals every day.

Erica Wheeler energizes the Fever with her no-quit attitude.

Amanda Zahui B. brings needed versatility in her return to the Liberty.

Arike Ogunbowale is in the middle of everything.

Napheesa Collier’s coach is impressed with her hoops pedigree.

Megan Gustafson is enjoying life in the league.

Ariel Atkins thrives, while Brooke McCarty-Williams and Imani McGee-Stafford are struggling in the WNBA.

Breaking down the All-Stars, and those who narrowly missed out.

College coach news:

Sue Guevara has retired as head coach at Central Michigan and Heather Oesterle has been promoted to take her place.

Dawn Staley has won the Mannie Jackson Human Spirit Award.

Writers share Guevara memories.

Oesterle says there’s no where else she’d rather be.

Joe Haigh is a new assistant coach at Siena.

BYU has two new assistant coaches.

High school news:

One of the nation’s best high school players is eyeing a national title, but still has one more thing to do.

Lynx, reinforcements persevering through plaguing injuries

Asia Taylor boxes out during a recent game. Chris Poss photo.
Asia Taylor boxes out during a recent game. Chris Poss photo.
Asia Taylor boxes out during a recent game. Chris Poss photo.

The Minnesota Lynx’s injury report, like other teams around the WNBA, reads more like a laundry list these days.

Seimone Augustus: out (knee). Damiris Dantas: out (calf). Karima Christmas-Kelly: out (knee). Jessica Shepard: out (ACL injury).

The Lynx roster was whittled down to fewer than 10 healthy players, with Christmas-Kelly and Dantas most recently sidelined. So the league granted Minnesota the salary cap hardship waivers it needed to sign replacement players.

Enter Asia Taylor and Kenisha Bell. Again.

Taylor spent her rookie season with the Lynx after being selected in the third round of the 2014 draft. Golden Gopher Bell, a third-round draft pick this year, spent training camp with Minnesota before missing the last cut for the final roster.

When the need arose for more playing staff, Lynx head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve prioritized familiarity.

“(The) No. 1 thing is they’ve been (here),” she said. “Obviously Kenisha, very recently. That was an easy call.”

And it has paid dividends, especially in the case of Taylor, who put up a career-high 13 points last night against the Chicago Sky. Minnesota is now 9-6 and tied for third place in a mercurial season that has seen teams shift positions after every match up.

Bell, a Minneapolis native and college hoops star, responded to being cut in May by joining a local pro-am team and working out with the Gophers. When the Lynx called, she was ready for a second chance.

“You can’t overthink the process. You have to wait on your moment,” Bell said. “I knew I was doing something good in training camp for them to want to call me back, out of all the girls that they could have called back.”

The moves aren’t necessarily meant to be season-altering blockbusters, but Bell and Taylor bolster a thinning roster in need of the accompanying stability.

“It’s not that all of a sudden you’re going to see Kenisha Bell on the floor,” Reeve said. “It’s just, obviously, you want to be able to have some depth in case.”

That hasn’t quite been the same for Taylor, however. The fifth-year forward got going with 8:35 of action in a 74-71 win against the Connecticut Sun July 6.

“Taylor is somebody we’re familiar with. When you’re in these situations, you really don’t want to bring an unknown into the mix,” Reeve said. “So, while she hasn’t been with this group and maybe some of the recent times for the Lynx, we know what she’s about. And we thought she’d be a good fit.”

Former Minnesota Gopher standout Kenisha Bell is back with the Lynx. NBAE via Getty Images.
Former Minnesota Gopher standout Kenisha Bell is back with the Lynx. NBAE via Getty Images.

Bell made her WNBA debut during a July 2 win over Atlanta – for all of 52 seconds – but a first outing, nonetheless. Now the team has won five of their last six games, and aren’t thinking about what they’re missing.

Bell said the team has been persevering through the injuries as a cohesive unit.

“Regardless of the people that went down, those people have been staying positive because other people are picking them up,” she said. “It’s a learning experience for everybody. It shows what you have to do when you have a player down: You have to step up for that person.”

The duo’s long-term future with the team is still in limbo. Shepard and Christmas-Kelly are out for the season, but Dantas is working toward her return. The same is true of Augustus, who has yet to play this season, while decisions regarding the arrivals of Temi Fagbenle and Ceci Zandalisni from EuroBasket loom.

Nothing is guaranteed for Bell, which is a sharp contrast from her days of headlining Gopher games. Instead, she’s owning the responsibility that comes with the professional opportunity.

“(I’m) just listening to what the coaches ask of me,” she said. “At this level, it’s more so about who’s smarter at this point. … You have to outsmart the opponents regardless of what talents you have. That’s how you win.”

News is flying

WNBA news:

The numbers game: digging into lineup data.

The WNBA is coming to Canada, and that could change women’s sports.

Player’s game-day fashion deserves recognition.

Q&A with incoming commissioner Cathy Engelbert.

WNBA team news:

Sparks are flying from three-point range as LA aims for four straight wins against Dallas tomorrow.

The break did the Sun no good.

CBS Sports power rankings.

WNBA player news:

Chelsea Gray recorded her first triple-double yesterday, with 13 points, 13 assists and 10 rebounds. It was the eighth in league regular-season history.

Elena Delle Donne broke her nose in yesterday’s game, and is day to day.

Jantel Lavender has a fresh start in Chicago.

Temi Fagbenle is set to rejoin the Lynx after a stellar Eurobasket showing.

Sue Bird got a love post online from World Cup champ/girlfriend Megan Rapinoe.

Riquna Williams’ agent says NBA counsel is urging the WNBA to suspend her.

Tina Charles and Brittney Griner are the Eastern and Western conference players of the week.

WNBA coach news:

Wings coach Brian Agler will face his former team for the first time tomorrow.

Tomorrow’s game schedule:

Sparks at Wings

College player news:

South Carolina’s oldest player has a message for the freshmen: “slow it down.”

Get to know Gamecock newcomer Laeticia Amihere.

Kennedy Brown has come a long way to start anew at Oregon State.

Several former Lady Vols are excited for the changes at Tennessee.

College coach news:

Kiley Hill is the new head coach at Western Carolina.

International news:

The USA’s World University Games team beat Japan, 89-84, to advance to the gold medal match.

A gold medal reflects Spain’s golden generation.

For Serbia, a bronze medal means so much more.

Chicago Sky building with cohesion, energy and leadership

Chicago Sky players converge after a win. NBAE/Getty Images via Chicago Sky.
Chicago Sky players converge after a win. NBAE/Getty Images via Chicago Sky.
Chicago Sky players converge after a win. NBAE/Getty Images via Chicago Sky.

The Chicago Sky don’t just go through their pregame special handshake ritual. They make it an event.

Veteran forward Stefanie Dolson’s run out to end woman Kahleah Copper finishes with a mutual finger point. Allie Quigley’s handshake is even more elaborate: she and Copper swish an imaginary bucket together towards the rest of the team. The last to be introduced, point guard Courtney Vandersloot, goes high up with the handshake and then dishes a ghost assist to Diamond DeShields, after which the entire team jumps to do a group shoulder bump, yelling, “Aye!.”

Sky players had similar pre-match-up greetings last season, but there is much more vigor this year because so much has changed. They have a new coach, new systems, new players – and consequently, more promise. They are re-energized and optimistic, despite their current losing streak.

“He always tells us we need to bring the energy, but he brings it all the time,” Dolson said of first-year coach James Wade. “It’s contagious, (and) we all play with energy and that passion that he coaches us with. Its something we were missing a lot that last couple of years, and it’s been a nice change. And I think we’ve all bought in and we’ve been having fun playing with each other.”

That spirit and chemistry on court has showed itself more and more – especially when Chicago ignited for a four-game winning streak in mid-June. But after losing to first-place Washington, the Sky hit the road and dropped three more games.

Wade, who was a WNBA assistant coach for seven years – including for the 2017 WNBA Championship Minnesota Lynx – before taking the Sky job, is not deterred.

“We’ll fix it but it’s hard to fix it on the road with no practice time,” he said. “Everybody has that issue, so it’s not just us. We’ll watch video…..and keep chipping away. It’s really simple.”

James Wade. NBAE/Getty Images via Chicago Sky.
James Wade. NBAE/Getty Images via Chicago Sky.

From the top

The Sky hired Wade last November, and though he was new to the franchise, he was not new to some of its players. As an assistant coach for Russia’s UMMC Ekaterinburg, where Vandersloot plays each year, the two already knew one another. As soon as he got the Chicago job, Wade began working.

“My first job was to secure the free agents we had,” he said. “Even though I couldn’t talk to anyone until the free agency period started, the best thing I could do since I was coaching Sloot in Russia was to demonstrate my work ethic to her and try to build a relationship off the court, outside the WNBA.”

“We work well together, and she recognized that, and we knew we were going to core her. When we did, she was happy to be back.”

Acquiring forward Jantel Lavender in free agency solidified the team’s veteran lineup, which also includes Quigley and Dolson. Wade said the Sky has a good mixture of ages, personalities and skill sets.

“We have a strong core of veteran leadership, and then you have players like (forward) Cheyenne Parker, who is our emotional leader, and (guard) Jamierra Faulkner, who is our heart,” Wade said. “Those are the two that kind of settle us and motivate us.”

“We have a group of players who have diverse skills at a high level, but we also have a group of players who compliment each other well.”

It helps to have a coach who knows how to put talent together and make it work. Wade gives inspired halftime and post-game speeches, and players have said he knows when to try and motivate them, and when to get after them. They have bought in to his vision.

“There hasn’t been a day when we haven’t experienced some level of growth,” DeShields said. “The evolution of our team, from the first day James got here until now, has been exponential. I just don’t see anything but good things happening from this point forward. We’ve had some highs and lows, but I feel positive about everything we’re doing. He’s a great coach.”

Faulker said Wade is a player’s coach.

“We love James,” she said. “He’s been through a lot and knows how to win championships, so we buy in – he’s a smart man.”

Wade said he tries to take a balanced approach.

“I’m an X’s and 0’s guy, but I’m a life guy, too,” he said. “I don’t think I can do one without the other. I guess I have a feeling for what the team needs, and I try to do the best I can. Sometimes you don’t get it right.”

Stefanie Dolson goes up for a basket. NBAE/Getty Images via Chicago Sky.
Stefanie Dolson goes up for a basket. NBAE/Getty Images via Chicago Sky.

Remaining healthy

In a July 3 game last year, Faulkner tore her ACL for the second time in 16 months, upsetting players on both teams. She also tore her meniscus, so her return to action has been slower this time around. But Faulkner has traveled with the team and last week rejoined warmups. Wade said she could play as early as next week.

“I’m super excited about that – it’s been a long journey,” she said. “I started warming up with the team because I’m close to being able to play.”

Faulkner said she had two more procedures done on her knee after the first one to make sure it was healing correctly. That took a toll on her.

“The mental state because of the two scopes, it took me into a little state of depression for a while,” she said. “But I have (support from) my family, my partner and my teammates. I let them know everything that was going on. As far as the rehab, I knew what to do, but I was in a state of depression.”

It has meant a lot to her to be a squad leader despite her injury.

“I feel like I’m a part of this team, even though I’m not on the court yet,” Faulkner said. “They ask me for advice, and I’m here to make everybody laugh and bring that energy. Whatever I need to do, I’m going to do it. We have a great chemistry.”

Dolson relishes Faulkner’s return.

“I think we’ve all been rooting for her, and we’re excited to have her back,” Dolson said. “I know she’s excited to be back. She might have some struggles, but we’re all behind her.”

Also close to return is rookie Katie Lou Samuelson, who has been out for a month with a broken bone in her hand. Wade said he is “ecstatic” to have her back.

Cheyenne Parker after scoring. NBAE/Getty Images via Chicago Sky.
Cheyenne Parker after scoring. NBAE/Getty Images via Chicago Sky.

Role players

Everyone on the team has a role. For fifth-year veteran Parker, that means coming off the bench to score 9 points and grab 4.4 rebounds per game, which puts her in the top five in both categories.

“I just want her to be comfortable and be herself,” Wade said. “Even though she comes off the bench, we need her to be aggressive when she comes in. We play her like she’s a starter. She’s one of our main pieces, and she knows I have her back.”

In the case of DeShields, who was in rookie of the year talks last season, that means stepping into a veteran’s role at a younger age.

“They’ve started treating me like (a vet),” she said of her teammates and coaches. “It’s amazing the respect you get in the league if you just keep playing hard and playing well.”

DeShields, who leads the team in scoring with 14.5 per game, in addition to grabbing 5.7 rebounds, said she learned how better to take care of her body in the offseason. That has carried over to the court.

“I’m seeing the floor better and really trying to step into that leadership role that’s being asked of me,” she said. “I’ve always been able to score, so I’m just expanding that.”

Courtney Vandersloot and Kahleah Copper perform their special handshake ritual before a game. NBAE/Getty Images via Chicago Sky.
Courtney Vandersloot and Kahleah Copper perform their special handshake ritual before a game. NBAE/Getty Images via Chicago Sky.

Copper is the team’s elected hype woman – a role she takes seriously. She said she works with each starter to come up with a unique handshake, and then tries to bring then out of their shells, if necessary.

“Allie and Sloot are more into themselves – they’re kind of shy,” Copper said. “But I think the handshakes give them a kind of ‘oomph,’ and it gets them going. I like to bring that out of them.”

Copper said special handshakes unite the team.

“Everyone enjoys that part,” she said. “It gets us going.”

Once as high as third place, Chicago is now in eighth place as they take on the eleventh-place Dallas Wings at home today. Wade knows what they have to do to win.

“One of our issues is how careless we are with the ball,” he said. “Another thing is we have to (get) second-chance points. And we have to trust in each other on the offensive end…..and get our assists.”

Today’s game tips off at 5 p.m. CT.

- Advertisement -