It's been a long time since I looked forward to a WNBA season this much. Between the big trade, the return to the black jerseys, and the return to the Garden, there's a lot to look forward to. Once that calendar hit May, I've been ridiculously effervescent, even at the office.
The bus ride up was super fast - two hours flat, which is close to our speed record in the dead of night, and even the trip back (which hit bad traffic in New Haven and Norwalk) was two and a half hours; we usually budget three.
Chiney Ogwumike is adorably charming, even with her mouth full of one of those little Gatorade gel packs. She tried to talk through it to chat with fans, with mixed success. I approve of Kalana Greene's new 'do.
The Liberty still have last year's blue jackets and pants, but black tees (which I want) and black jerseys (which I want) and black shorts with green, then white, stripes (which I want). I don't like the small patch of white stripes at the bottom, but that's the only complaint I have because we are back in our proper color and the world is back on its axis.
The fans around us seemed confused that we were Liberty fans, and that we were discussing and dissecting the game as we watched. Shockingly, we do have interests in how the reserves play, especially when that's pretty much all you've got.
Bill played everyone that there was to play. We thought he was going to hold out Anna Cruz, either as a preemptive cut or as someone who had already been promised a spot, but she entered very late and immediately made a good impression. She looks like she knows her way around distributing, and she has good vision. Then again, I'm not sure I want a player who doesn't have the common sense to remove jewelry before entering the court. She had to come out, and she never came back. Meighan Simmons did not make an immediate good impression when her first act was to throw a pass directly to Kelley Cain.
Meighan, Kelley is no longer your teammate and no longer plays for the New York Liberty. Do not pass her the ball. She's got a lot of speed, but doesn't seem to know how to use it. She also got a little gun-shy for a while- in that regard, she reminded me of Shenneika Smith in camp last year, as a scorer who was being told, or thought she was being told, not to shoot the ball, and wasn't sure how to handle it. She got her feet under her more in the second half, and found a little bit of her offense. I don't know if she showed enough to keep her job, though.
Sugar Rodgers was a hot mess. Her sneakers were awesome, but that was about it. She took bad shots and missed them badly, she showed no defensive acumen, and she generally looked lost. Chucky Jeffery looked pretty good, other than the stupid fouls, and stupid fouls were a dime a dozen for the folks in the black jerseys. I liked her hustle and her rebounding, and she seems the best suited to distributing the ball out of all the reserve guards, but that's damning with faint praise.
Alex Montgomery seemed to have forgotten certain basic elements of basketball, such as moving toward the ball if a teammate is attempting to pass the ball to her. She rebounded decently enough, but overall she looked like she took a couple of steps back from last year. Shanece McKinney was a pleasant surprise- she impressed me more in this game than she did when I saw her with LSU. She had a couple of huge blocks and made moves in the middle. She was slow on defense, but even there, she was vocal and involved. Between that and the wrist wrap on her left hand, she did quite well by Tari Phillips's #24. Toni Young needs to find herself a jump shot, hers or someone else's, if she's going to be a consistent contributer at the three. Athleticism is a wonderful thing, but it needs to be coupled with basic basketball skills.
It's good to see Essence Carson on the court again, even if I forgot all about her prescription goggles. I do wish she'd get a better sense of where the three-point line is- I'm tired of seeing her take shots with a foot or half a foot on the line. I think at least two of hers were of that ilk today. She still looks like she's getting back in game shape, but I'm just glad to have her back again.
Kamiko Williams showed flashes of hustle, but otherwise looked like a deer in the headlights, and a really confused one, at that. Tyaunna Marshall rebounded really well- she was one of the few Liberty players who seemed interested in going after the ball on the glass. I'd like to see her be a little more assertive on the offensive side, but since being assertive led to a load of offensive fouls on the Liberty, maybe I should be careful what I wish for. DeLisha Milton-Jones looked to be in game shape or close to it- tough on defense (and yes, being her D-Nasty self to anyone who had the audacity to get close to her) and at least working for position on offense. Nicky Anosike looks a bit rusty and a bit slow, but I have faith that she'll recover some of the defensive skills she had in Minnesota.
Overall, these folks looked like they'd never seen each other before. The spacing was bad. The movement without the ball was virtually non-existent. Lots of bad shots, more than a couple of clock misjudgements (most by Kamiko). I liked that some of the youngsters were vocal on defense, but that doesn't mean they don't have to move. Don't get me wrong, I understand that at most, two of the players who played today will be starting on the 16th, or even on the 8th, but I expect basic basketball knowledge from professional basketball players.
DeNesha Stallworth looked like she was trying to prove that she totally could extend her game to the midrange, and the effect was less than spectacular. She missed easy shots down low and showed no signs of being able to make the team. Danielle McCray did not make much of an impression.
Kayla Pedersen did well on the boards, taking advantage of Liberty inattention to get rebounds, but was shanky on offense. Kelley Cain looks to have added even more size, and used it at points (poor Meighan got the brunt of her, er, posterior), but missed a lot of bunnies. She looked decent against the competition she was facing, but that's not saying a lot. Kelly Faris looked to have had the buttered popcorn for a pregame snack- lots of passes went through her hands or were fumbled. She made nice plays on the baseline, but just as often lost the ball out there. Kalana Greene looked like she was reinventing herself as a shooter- near the end of the game, she was just catching and shooting. Renee Montgomery seemed unusually passive, again until the end of the game (it looked like Connecticut was trying to get everyone on the scoreboard at that point). I don't know if coming off the bench agrees with her. We'll see how it goes on Thursday. Alyssa Thomas didn't always have great positioning, but she had the look of a solid player out there- the right build, the right moves, the right speed.
Katie Douglas does what she does. Cold-blooded, no hesitation, no fear, possibly no emotion at all, she shoots and she hits. A fair amount of it was bad defense, but when Kamiko can't defend her, and Essence can't defend her, and Chucky can't defend her, and Alex can't defend her, maybe she's just that good. She was tight on defense, too. Chiney Ogwumike's already learning how to bang with the big girls- she had one nice strong move to the basket where she just unabashedly bumped her defender out of the way before dropping the ball through the hoop. Kelsey Griffin is still workmanlike underneath, but she's starting to dip into the bag of tricks that you normally expect to see from far more veteran players, and that are more associated with the Bad Girls and D-Nasty. Not what I expected, and I don't know if that's the right positional move for her. She's still trying to show some range as well. Alex Bentley seemed comfortable running the offense. She puts me in mind of rectangles, with her broad square shoulders and stocky build. It amuses me. Allison Hightower had two monster blocks back to back on Essence Carson and seemed to be all over the place. I have to get used to her wearing 3, though; I get thrown off, looking for the #23 and finding it on the back of a blonde.
Connecticut did a nice job closing defensively- granted, there weren't a lot of offensive options for New York, so that the Sun defenders had the luxury of leaving other players. It looked almost like a lot of them were also trying to show that they could take and hit outside shots- post players from the midrange, perimeter players from beyond the arc. Given that Connecticut has most of their pieces in place, I think they were less trying to shake out the dross and more trying to find where they fit into the puzzle.
The officiating started out all right, but degenerated a bit later in the game. If I can see the jersey pull all the way up in section 106, then you might want to call it. There were also some reviews that made the day drag on and on, and no one cares if it's a 2 or a 3 with seven minutes left in the second half of a blowout. It didn't help that the clocks were malfunctioning in the pregame, or that someone was blowing the sub horn over and over and over again to the point where we assumed someone was stuck in the fog.
The arena didn't look like the Sun had gotten everything revved up for the season yet. They're still holding closeouts on Charles and Lawson gear. Might pick some up the next time we're there, just for a laugh.
Small moment of hilarity 1: Allison Hightower, at the free throw line, putting up a shot that hit the back of the rim... and rocked there... and settled there, as balanced as a ballerina en pointe.
Small moment of hilarity 2: Anne Donovan called for a player. Kelly Faris answered, running for the scorer's table... only to backtrack just as fast. Turns out AD was looking for Kelley, not Kelly.
If I had to guess, the cuts for the Sun would be Stallworth, Cain, and McCray; for the Liberty, Williams, Rodgers, Simmons, and McKinney, but with McKinney on speed dial in case Kara is unavailable or got lost.
I don't know how much to take away from this game. Three of our top four weren't available, and I'm not sure what the story is with Kara Braxton. About all we can establish is that we have question marks, which we knew coming in. So it's on to Thursday and the Garden.