And before we move along to a look at the Western teams, here’s a trivia question: Name the nine schools that have more than three players currently in the WNBA? Six should be relatively easy, given their dominance over the past decade, but the other three, including the number four school, haven’t been in the Final Four in the past eight years. Just to make sure you’re paying attentiona, I’ll sprinkle the answers throughout the column.
Minnesota Lynx (3-0): Are the Lynx for real? Even though the Lynx are undefeated, nobody is saying they are the best team in the league. But they may be good enough to grab one of the four playoff spots, generally conceded to L.A., Seattle, San Antonio and Phoenix before the season started. Seimone Augustus of LSU (one of eight Tigers in the WNBA, third most) leads Minnesota. After being selected with the number one pick in the draft two years ago, Augustus has played in relative obscurity because Minnesota is not a big media market and the Lynx haven’t been too good. But Augustus has been, averaging more than 20 points per game each year. This season she is just under 20 after three games, but she is shooting 50% from the field, 60% from behind the arc and 90% from the line. She also has nine rebounds in each of her last two games, more than twice her career average.
Four other players are averaging more than ten points a game including veteran Anna DeForge and three rookies. Candice Wiggins is no surprise, as her talents were well-known and her performance in the NCAA Tournament this year solidified her position as the third selection on the draft, but the other two are Nicky Anosike of Tennessee and Charde Houston of Connecticut. (Not surprisingly, Tennessee and Connecticut have the most players in the WNBA, 12 each.)
Add in Nicole Ohlde, who has yet to hit her stride with this year’s squad, Kristen Rasmussen and Vanessa Hayden providing bench minutes inside and Noelle Quinn as a pure passing point guard and this team could be around in late September. All this and Lindsay Harding of Duke (one of five Blue Devils in the WNBA) is still out with a stress fracture in her left patella.
Seattle Storm (4-1): After winning their first three games, the Storm lost to San Antonio on the road before thumping them at home Friday. No cause for concern, but I have to wonder about a schedule that makes Seattle play four games in eight days, then five days off and then five games in nine days, especially given the team’s age.
Sue Bird, by the way, has already attempted 12 free throws this season after totaling 29 in all of 2007.
Los Angeles Sparks (2-1): Los Angeles split its two games this week, beating Atlanta before falling in double overtime to Indiana. Even in the loss, Candace Parker gave more hints that she may totally rewrite the WNBA record book. She had 16 points and 16 rebounds, but she also added six blocks, five assists and five steals (and for the cynical, she also had seven turnovers). She will undoubtedly have many triple doubles; the only question is how many different ways she will do it.
The Sparks also have Lisa Leslie from USC (one of five Trojans) who is averaging 17 points, 10 rebounds, five blocks and three steals per game. Motherhood seems to agree with her.
San Antonio Silver Stars (2-2): San Antonio split its games with Seattle, but the Silver Stars may have been an even bigger winner because they were able to bring Ann Wauters into the fold. The 6-4 center from Belgium has been out of the league since 2005 when she averaged 13.7 points as a starter for New York. Helen Darling of Penn State (one of four Nittany Lions) has also done some nice things this season, averaging nearly ten points per game, including 14 in the win over the Storm, but she and Becky Hammon are shooting a combined 26.9% from the field, and if that continues, the Silver Stars may struggle to finish in the top four.
Sacramento Monarchs (2-3): Sacramento has fallen a long way since its championship two years ago. The Monarchs were blown out by Connecticut on the road before coming home to outlast winless Houston – but the Sun game was the second straight time that they allowed 87 points, not good for an inherently defensive team. Chelsea Newton of Rutgers (one of five Scarlet Knights) came back against the Comets, as did Scholanda Robinson, and their defense will be crucial if Sacramento is to have any success this season.
Phoenix Mercury (0-3): For the second week in a row, the defending champions failed to win. Two weeks ago, it was the Sparks, Silver Stars and Storm that stopped the Mercury. This past week, it was the schedulers who didn’t let Phoenix even have a chance to win, as the Mercury didn’t even get out on the court. So no chance for rookie LaToya Pringle of North Carolina (one of five Tar Heels) to make her debut after minor knee surgery. No chance for Kelly Miller of Georgia (one of seven Bulldogs, the fourth most of any school) to hit a three-pointer. No chance for Diana Taurasi to yell at an opponent or an official. And no chance for a fan base to become attached to their team.
Houston Comets (0-4): Houston played well in extending Minnesota to overtime before falling in their home opener, and then lost in Sacramento after overcoming an early 14-point deficit to tie the game in the final minutes. The Comets led by 12 with five minutes to go against Minnesota, but let the game slip away, and against the Monarchs, couldn’t hold on after tying the game at 61, losing 73-66. Tina Thompson continues to play well averaging 17.0 ppg, 6.3 more than rookie Matee Ajavon. She has led the Comets in points and rebounds each of the first four games, but she’s shooting only 35.1% and has 4.5 turnovers a game.