Tulsa Shock head coach Nolan Richardson described his desire to have games look "ugly as hell" before the season started. This stylistic preference is not reverberating well with league aficionados who are claiming that Richardson's coaching methodology won't work for women's basketball, particularly not for the WNBA. Well, although the season has yet to start officially, the Shock now have their one and only preseason contest under their belt, a 90-80 Mother's Day win over the Seattle Storm.
And ugly as hell it was indeed, with Tulsa forcing Seattle to commit 32 turnovers in the 40 minute game. All in all, 13 of the 14 women that checked in for the Storm committed at least one turnover, with guard Tanisha Wright having the dubious distinction of being the game leader with six in just under 24 minutes of play.
The turnovers were not limited to the visitors however, with the Shock having 22 of their own. That means there was 1.35 combined turnovers per minute of game action. Exactly half of the Storm's 32 turnovers came in the form of Tulsa steals, a part of the game in which Richardson is already keying upon heavily.
"If we cut [the Tulsa turnovers] to 15, if we get that it'll be awfully tough to beat us because the possession game - you're winning the possession game. And a lot of the possession game if from stealing the ball. You almost have a chance to score every time," Richardson said. "The possession game is not so much when you're making turnovers . . . When you get a deflection or steal, boy that puts their defense at a disadvantage and it puts our offense at an advantage . . . So the quickness becomes a very important point of the game."
One such Shock team member that showed bursts of quickness was trackster and rookie to the WNBA Marion Jones, but she was not alone. 8 of the 14 Tulsa players recorded at least on steal in the game, by intercepting passes, trapping in the backcourt and utilizing the fullcourt press to the fullest. Not that Tulsa is embracing the exorbitant number of turnovers committed, they are acknowledging that turnovers might be seen on the stat sheet this season.
"With this style of basketball, there are going to be turnovers," Jones remarked after the game. "That's just the way it is when you're moving so fast up and down the court but we need to protect the ball a little bit more."
But Richardson goes back to the steals as becoming a premium commodity and "reverting from offense to defense" as one of the important aspects in running the Richardson system effectively, as has been seen in his successful men's programs at the University of Tulsa and the University of Arkansas.
"You saw when they reverted they got some more steals and when you've got fans in here and that's happening, oh my goodness. It lifts the players, they forget about being tired, it lifts you to another channel," Richardson said.
Up next on the dial is more of the same - more hellish minutes and ugly games, but as long as the outcome can emulate the Shock's one and only playoff game, then this is a team that believes some of the preseason perceptions can be quashed effectively.
Oklahoma's first foray into the world of professional women's basketball started with a win. And whether ugly or not, no asterisk goes in the scorebook next to the victor's name. So on this night, though no one was there to see this rehearsal of sorts, the Tulsa team proudly stole their way to an ugly one.
Tulsa opens the regular season with a home game on Saturday, May 15th, hosting the Minnesota Lynx while Seattle will also start on their home court in a game against the Los Angeles Sparks on Sunday, May 16th.