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Team USA Dissects WNBA All-Stars

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Just the Facts, Ma'am: Beautiful ball distribution and powerful play by Sylvia Fowles propelled USA Basketball to a 99-72 win over the WNBA All-Star team.

To borrow an old quote, "Sleep deprivation: it's like being drunk, but free!"

For crazy people, deep UConn bonds, power-tripping security guards, giant paragraphs, and random acts of Candice Dupree, follow your intrepid and loopy blogger after the jump.

An All-Star game, no matter how it's packaged, is never quite the same without the pageantry of a fan fest and an open practice that adults can actually go to without having to give up vacation time. I don't know how it is for other people, but given the inevitable inexplicable All-Star or two, I find that All-Star is just a great excuse for fans from across the country to get together, meet up, exchange gossip and localized items, and deepen the network that separates us from fans of bigger leagues. The game almost never lives up to expectations. But then, I'm also in love with defense- I would have been a Miami Sol fan if I hadn't started out in New York. I get antsy when players get to hot-dogging too much.

They announced a sell-out and I can believe all tickets were sold, but the distribution of empties makes me think they've got to crack down on scalpers somehow. Would have been nice if they brought people down from the upper bowl after halftime, but since I was in the last row of the endcourt in the upper deck, I might be a teeny bit biased.

The projection screen on the court was a great idea, but they needed to figure out a way to rotate it so that the rest of us could look at it the right way around. I spent the entire intro sequence looking like an O RLY owl. Strategic planning was not Mohegan's strong point today. Please don't hit people in the head with t-shirts, especially when they are with team officials. (And especially not when they are possibly Bridget Pettis.) Please do not present a member of the Liberty dance team as an amateur in your dance competition. Please provide rosters of some kind. Please provide better merchandise. Please do not sic security and the tribal police on autograph collectors who have not overstepped the usual bounds in the hotel lobby area. (Please do not change your rules on vouchers mid-stream. Please do not give people grief about replacing damaged cards.)

I liked the anthem, but the thing with the bedsheet was a bit ridiculous. We skipped halftime for a walk around the concourse. I love people-watching at All-Star.

Favorite fans: the guy in the LeBron jersey with a sign: "LeBron Wishes He Were This Good- GO WNBA!" The guy with the Angel McCoughtry sign he made after running into her in the airport. The woman in full Mystics kit- "all I need is my sneakers, and I'm ready to play." She had the visor, the jersey, the warm-up jacket, and the shorts. The guys in the next section over, wearing an array of Champion jerseys (and their friend in the Tari Phillips adidas jersey). It takes guts to wear a Penny Toler jersey. Mystics fans showed out in this game. So did LA fans, much to my surprise. I was disappointed that there wasn't a better showing from the rest of the East- the three Northeastern bases sent fans, but I saw only two pieces of Catchings gear and an old Dupree jersey. Lot of Bird and Taurasi gear, obviously, along with the Sparks fans and the woman in the Augustus jersey. Of course, I have to give props to the other people in Swoopes gear. No, Donna, you can't drop the Comets down the memory hole, as hard as you try.

I think Agler must have gotten a lot of requests from his colleagues to be careful with players. That's the only reason I can think of for some of those lineups, especially the starters for each half and the weird splits for Penny Taylor. I don't think he was taking this game as seriously as USA Basketball was, or even as seriously as some of his players were. Maybe he forgot that they played fast and loose with the rules about the national team pool, and half his players were trying to prove themselves to the committee.

Jayne Appel didn't look like she belonged. She was a step slow and not used to playing in the sort-of improvisational nature of an All-Star game, where you've only been practicing with most of these people for a couple of days, and I noticed that Agler wasn't playing the teammate groups together very often, so there was no chemistry for the Stars or the Mystics to work from. Iziane Castro Marques didn't have a good day. Not such a great score in the Skills Challenge, a really out-of-control game in the All-Star game (though she might have suffered less if she had Sancho Lyttle to pass to), and the second-most unfortunate hair in the arena. Izi, next time you ask your teammates for styling tips, make sure the teammates you ask are not Millers. Michelle Snow started off hot, the way Kara Braxton did when she was an inexplicable All-Star, then remembered that she's not as good as she usually thinks she is, and disappeared in her inimitable way. Katie Douglas's stroke was pure in the three-point competition, though not quite up to the Laurie Koehn bar, and it was kind of hilarious when Catch fouled her hard during the game, but her shot disappeared for most of the game. Rebekkah Brunson was as fierce as ever on the boards, contesting most rebounds like her life depended on them. Lindsay Whalen did not impress me, no matter how warm a welcome she got and how wry her comments on the three-point contest were. Someone asked her her strategy, and she said something along the lines of "hit more shots than Katie". Yes, thank you for that trenchant observation, and for treating a stupid question for what it is. Penny Taylor only played in the second half, and she seemed determined to prove that this game mattered to her for so many reasons. We unleashed an "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi, Oi, Oi!" in the upper deck for her after she hit the three. Sophia Young was so-so, in All-Star terms. Looked like she was having fun, but didn't bring her A-game, and I'm starting to be okay with that. Monique Currie needs to remember that a shot only counts as a three if both feet are behind the line. She got three or four shots disqualified during the shootout because she was over the line. And then she kvetched to the refs about her score. Take shots that count, Monique, then you'll get the call. I don't honestly remember what she did in the game. Crystal Langhorne was at least trying to rebound, but she was a step behind the team USA posts. Lindsey Harding put together a good run in the Skills Challenge, but not good enough.

Angel McCoughtry at the two is not an experiment I would like to see Geno Auriemma try in a game of any importance whatsoever. She usually got Pondexter and vice versa, and I don't know that that necessarily works. Sylvia Fowles was unstoppable, in her sort of quiet and painstaking way. She still needs to work on getting the chippies to go down the first time, even if she's in position for the offensive rebound and putback, and her free throw shooting needs to improve if she's going to get to the line this often, but still, I don't think other countries have much of a solution for her. And if they do, they're not going to be able to use the same one on Tina Charles. At one point, the two of them were out there together, and you could almost see Jayne Appel's life flashing before her eyes. Renee Montgomery looked a little out of control out there, and she and Lindsay Whalen got into it a couple of times. The block was pretty sick, even if she sent Whalen to the line for it. Maya Moore had moments where she looked like the Maya Moore who has dominated every game she's played, and moments where she looked like an excellent college senior playing against the cream of the crop and was a little overmatched. She started lighting it up in the second half, and it was like someone had busted open a can of church service in the arena. Tamika Catchings played very sparingly- she started, and I think once she sat down, that was the last we saw of her. I guess that makes sense if you know what you're going to get out of her. Cappie Pondexter sort of blended in with the team- didn't stand out, but was part of a lot of the great passing plays that characterize Auriemma's style. Diana Taurasi was in her element, though the box doesn't really reflect it. The game played to her balance of serious competition and light-hearted fun. Candice Dupree quietly made things happen, though these are not the random acts of Candice Dupree you were promised before the jump. Sue Bird- same as Taurasi, fit right into the system and the style like a hand in a glove. Swin Cash's athleticism impressed me. She was in the middle of a lot of the rebounding plays.

The officials were as inconsistent as ever, and that was dangerous. Early on, when there was a clearer difference in the level of intensity between the WNBA team and the national team, there were some rough plays that the referees let go because they were letting them play for exhibition purposes. That's how people get hurt, officials, and do we really need players getting hurt in exhibition games? They seem to be doing enough of it in the games that matter. They called it a little more tightly in the second half, but then the fans got restless because- gasp! they were calling fouls against UConn players. I'm sorry, but you have to set the boundaries early. Players this competitive and this intense will forget their manners.

Cynthia Cooper was in the house and got a special acknowledgement during a timeout in the first half, for her accomplishments as a player and for her resultant induction into the Hall of Fame this summer. It's been a long time since I saw Coop raise the roof. I forgot what it could do to my blood pressure as a Liberty fan (even if I was a Liberty fan in a Swoopes jersey, because All-Star is a good time to remind the league that it can't drop its history down the memory hole that easily).

There were a lot of current and former WNBA players in the house. Essence Carson came with a couple of friends. So did Katie Smith, who had some good long chats with Nancy Darsch (from the Ohio State days), Brian Agler (from the Lynx days), and her Mystics teammate Lindsey Harding (after the Skills Challenge- facial expressions suggested that Smith was telling Harding how she screwed up). Kara Lawson and Asjha Jones were working the room in the lower bowl, glad-handing every Sun fan they could. So did Erin Phillips (presumably without mentioning the holdout bit). Belinda Snell was on the concourse, and I presume there were other Aussies there I didn't recognize. We spotted Cynthia Cooper before the initial announcement, and clearly the jersey must have gotten to my head, because I stood there and gawped instead of going, "OH MY GOD! Can I have your autograph?" I was pretty sure I saw Kalana Greene, but if I did, she needs to explain why she had a Sun jersey slung over her shoulder. Definitely saw Ashley Battle, though. We told her we missed her in New York. "That's what I keep hearing," she said. "This team has no personality, no soul, and the defense is so-so," I went on. "That's what I keep hearing," she repeated. She was in the company of Rita Williams and a few friends, proving the truth of the UConn bond across the generations. Both Orender and Ackerman were in the house- oh, if they had run into each other, what I wouldn't have given to be a fly on the wall. New York, Phoenix, and Washington (at least) sent their GMs- Angela Taylor did a lot of socializing. A lot of baby Huskies were in the house, too, but I don't know enough about collegians to know who's who- if you didn't make it in the W, I'm not going to recognize you in street clothes, sorry. Ebony Hoffman was there too- we saw her long after the game with Catch, presumably explaining to Catch that it is not a good idea to foul your professional teammate when you're in an exhibition against her.

And then there was the close encounter of the Candice Dupree kind, which just put a capper on the night. We got a really late jump back because I forgot my camera at the hotel, so we missed our bus. As we waited in line, Dupree and a couple of (familiar-looking) friends wandered out- I think they may have been looking for a hotel shuttle or something, though admittedly, my first thought was stuck back in 2009 and I was all, "Man, Chicago's cheap- they're sending her back to New York on a Chinatown bus?" But as we all stood around, a guy came up to us and asked if she- pointing at Dupree- played basketball. We said yes. He asked us if he could borrow a Sharpie and get her autograph. "You might want to know who she is first." I did my best to get him to the game tomorrow, but I wasn't able to persuade him to take my extra ticket. So, finally, I pull a Sharpie out of my bag and tell him, "That's Candice Dupree, she wears #4 for the Phoenix Mercury." He goes, gets his autograph, and returns my marker as he goes about his business.

Two beats later, Candice looks at us and says, "He still asked me if I was Candace Parker."

Somehow, that was just the perfect ending to things. Crazy, fun, interactive, but with an undercurrent of cluelessness from people who should have known a little bit better. Now, WNBA, can we please go somewhere outside the Northeast Corridor for next year's game? I want to travel! I want to be the visiting fan that people point at and go, "Wow, you came all the way out for this? Awesome!"