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Hoops Happening: Playing outside the box (score) — Briann January and Sancho Lyttle

Plus, Taurasi’s 8K career, Sunset in Upset City, new WNBA All-Star format, links lush and scorching the status quo. This is today in women’s basketball for Wednesday June 6, 2018!

2015 WNBA Finals - Game Three
Briann January
Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

When I spoke with Diana Taurasi last month, she referred to her two newly-acquired teammates — Briann January and Sancho Lyttle — in glowing terms, highlighting the contributions they bring to the game that are often overlooked by media and casual fans.

Basketball players, coaches and hardcore fans, however, know the deal.

“Adding Bri[ann January] and Sancho [Lyttle], it’s no surprise what they bring to the table,” Taurasi said, before adding these details about each player:

Briann January: “Bri’s a WNBA champion, and she brings that toughness. She’s one of those players that the minute she gets on the court, she raises the intensity of everyone. And I know that first-hand, playing against her for the last nine years. So I know how tough she plays every possession, which will help us as a team when we have those tough moments — she can make a play.”

Sancho Lyttle: “Sancho’s one of my favorite players that I’ve ever gotten to play with. We played in Ekat[erinburg] together, in Russia, and Sancho — she’s one of those players that makes teams great. She does all the little things that do not show up in the box score. But, you know, in any given possession she’ll guard all five players. She’ll help everyone [and] she will always make the right pass. She’s an unselfish screener. She brings all the intangibles to a team like ours that can only make us better.”

In yesterday’s matchup against the New York Liberty at Madison Square Garden — in front of a crowd of kids screaming LIB-ER-TY in high-pitched voices — there were 17 lead changes and the score was tied eight times. But the Phoenix Mercury got the hard-won victory behind the strong absent-from-the-box-score performances from January and Lyttle.

January’s 0 points, 4 assists and 2 rebounds do not reflect her larger-than-life swagger on the court, her imposing stature despite being just 5-foot-8, her unwillingness to give up on any play and her dogged commitment towards disrupting the offense of the opposing team.

Lyttle’s stat line is equally modest: 6 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists. Oh, but she also got 3 steals. And, how? Impeccable pressure defense that ruins the opponent’s spacing, disrupts the opponent’s rhythm and forces the opponent into taking bad shots as the clock nears zero.

January and Lyttle demoralize opponents with their toughness.

The Taurasi 8K

Taurasi said after the game — during which she became the all-time leading scorer in WNBA history with 8,000 points (while also holding first place for made three-pointers):

“People always talk defense and I have a different philosophy on defense. I’d rather be a timely defensive team than an average defensive team. You have to get timely stops. Try to make a play on both ends. Sancho (Lyttle) and Briann (January) are those people.’’

So, on an afternoon in which Taurasi notched herself higher in the annals of WNBA history, her focus was on the gritty play of teammates who elevated the team, who enabled the team to get the victory, whose performances enable her own great record-breaking activities.

The Mercury’s Brittney Griner was the game-high scorer, with 26 points, while Tina Charles was the high scorer for the Liberty with 25.

Sunset in Upset City

Dream (82) vs. Sun (77)

Upset City — aka Atlanta — is the place where teams arrive with high hopes of wins and leave with the sorrow of an upset victory. Just ask the Minnesota Lynx, who lost to Atlanta on May 29, thanks to a strong comeback performance by the Dream.

The Dream’s victory over the Sun last night pulls them back up to .500, with three wins and three losses, and seventh in the standings. The Sun remain first in the standings with a 5-1 record, while the LA Sparks remain second at 4-1.

But the Dream got it done in last night’s game with a strong performance from Tiffany Hayes, who had a game-high 22 points. Hayes didn’t just score, though. She worked to get teammates into positions to score and also killed it on defense, resulting in 7 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 steals. Plus, Damiris Dantas scored 15 points off the bench for Atlanta.

For the Sun, a loss was inevitable in a league with most teams fully loaded and playing out of their minds. However, this should be no reason for concern, especially considering that last week’s Player of the Week Alyssa Thomas had a beast of a double-double, with 19 points and 17 rebounds, while Sun cohorts Chiney Ogwumike, Courtney Williams and Alex Bentley also scored in double figures.

Game of the night

Both! There is no way to choose between two close, action-packed games and hard-fought victories. The Dream upset the #1-ranked Sun and Taurasi had a history-making performance in the Mercury’s win.


Performance of the night

Tiffany Hayes’ ability to get any shot she wants — from anywhere on the court she chooses.

Her foot-forward jumper is a thing of beauty.

Links lush

  • Members of the 2018 WNBA rookie class are playing big-girl ball, as if they are not new to the pros. The dominant performances of so many young players is reason enough for the WNBA to pursue expansion.
  • Aye, aye, captain! And so it goes with the new WNBA All-Star format. The league has abandoned the East-West format and will allow team composition to be captains’ choice. Who are these captains? The two players with the highest vote totals whether from the Eastern Conference or the Western Conference. Players with the highest vote totals will be placed into a barrel for the captains to do the picking. And the the coach for each team will be whoever coaches each of the captains, e.g. If Breanna Stewart is a captain, Dan Hughes would coach her team, while Sandy Brondello would coach a team captained by Brittney Griner. Cue the drama over the picked-last players!
  • Into tattoos, women’s basketball players or women’s basketball players with tattoos? Here’s some dreamy analysis for you, from Antonio Losada.
  • Week 3 power rankings are here ... with the Minnesota Lynx ranked way too high.
  • Also, the Lynx haven’t experienced a four-game losing streak since 2010. Neil Olstad, a writer for a Timberwolves’ blog, discusses the Lynx’s slide.
  • Albert Lee wrote about the Mystics’ blowout loss at home over the weekend. You can check it out over at Bullets Forever.
  • The Joe Lapchick Character Awards go to ... famed women’s basketball coach Muffet McGraw and Solly Walker, the first African American to play at St. John’s.

Scorching the status quo

NBA superstar LeBron James in conversation with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols:

Rachel Nichols: Lynx didn’t even get an invite. What did you think of that?

LeBron James: It’s laughable at this point. You always hear the same. You just laugh to stop you from crying. That’s a lot of what’s going on outside of the sports world — but we know how important sports [are] for our country and how it brings people together, excites people, people talking about it everywhere. Sports [are] so big because it can captivate people and bring people together. So for them not to even be invited playing our beautiful game of basketball — those women ... [who] are unbelievable in doing it? It’s laughable.

No women’s team has received an invitation to the White House to celebrate a championship-winning season, including the 2017 NCAAW champion South Carolina Gamecocks and the 2017 WNBA champion Minnesota Lynx. But Minny isn’t going to let the misogyny of the current president deny them a celebration or an opportunity to show what better humans they are than an insecure man who fears strong women.

The Lynx will travel to the nation’s capital to do community service. The team will host a Samaritan’s Feet Shoes of Hope Distribution event at Payne Elementary School and be honored by both senators from Minnesota, Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith, as well as other members of Congress.

Congrats, Lynx! The world thanks you for winning on and off the court, and for keeping it classy while facing blatant discriminatory treatment.

In other news ...

  • LeBron James had a lot to say about the need for people in Washington to adhere to the by the people, for the people ethos. He believes strongly that the person currently watching TV and tweeting from the Oval Office is not serving the best interests of the majority of the country. So much for shut up and dribble.
  • James and Stephen Curry may be in a basketball battle for another NBA Championship right now. But they are on the same team when it comes to the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors not even wanting to be invited to the White House to celebrate a Finals victory, so long as Trump is president.
  • Meanwhile, at an event on the White House lawn to honor the country’s military — in lieu of celebrating the Philadelphia Eagles’ Super Bowl win, who Trump uninvited — a man in attendance took the brave action of kneeling during the “Star-Spangled Banner.” Another person in the crowd heckled Trump.
  • After the White House snub, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney called Trump a “tyrant” working lawlessly to form a dictatorship. He said Trump’s petty action won’t spoil the Eagles’ victory, and hopefully any celebration will be spectacular and trump anything that went on at THE PEOPLE’S HOUSE yesterday.

How to #WatchThemWork all season

Shine brighter. C’mon! You can do it. * flicker flicker *