The WNBA officially launched its 17th season on Friday, aligning itself with Memorial Day weekend, considered the unofficial start to summer.
An in-house league preview gleefully promoted the changes designed to boost the league’s profile in 2013, hoping to counter a downward trend in attendance for 2012. However, the constant concern of physical endurance remains, as injuries delayed the season debut for multiple players.
The opening game of the season highlighted the side effects of bodies with little rest; five players were sidelined in the contest between Indiana and San Antonio. Indiana’s roster was so thin that training camp grunt Jasmine Hassell was called up to ensure they did not fall below minimum capacity. The most notable among the injured Fever players was Erin Phillips, who will sit for four to six weeks with a torn meniscus.
San Antonio will play without the services of Sophia Young, who suffered an ACL tear in overseas play on February. Becky Hammon, one of the league’s “ageless wonders,” is also benched for an extended amount of time with a broken finger.
In Saturday’s contests, two names synonymous with the coaching legacy of Bill Laimbeer were in street clothes for New York’s season opener at Connecticut: Cheryl Ford and Plenette Pierson. Connecticut also got its first glimpse of what their team will look like without Asjha Jones, who elected to skip the 2013 season to heal lingering ailments.
If the Sun’s first game is a reliable marker, the absence of Jones may increase the frequency of perimeter offense. Although the three-point line was extended to match FIBA regulations this season, the Sun were not shy about firing triples to stymie the Liberty defense.
As expected, the WNBA’s implementation of the defensive three-second violation has already stumped a crop of players who were used to occupying the lane at will. The first citation came in just 29 seconds into the Indiana/San Antonio affair, and a few games may be needed before players adapt to the new requirement.
Five teams who have yet to play will clock their first game of the season before the weekend ends. Minnesota will be the last to join the fray, doing so June 1.
Short-handed Fever dismantle depleted Silver Stars
The opening game of the 2013 WNBA season was a low-scoring contest, but the defending champion Indiana Fever knocked off the San Antonio Silver Stars 79-64 at AT&T Center.
The Fever (1-0) nailed 49 percent of their shots and posted a sizzling 46 points in the paint, exploiting a dearth of inside threats for the Silver Stars (0-1), who managed just 16 points in the paint.
Indiana wing Katie Douglas (pictured) had 18 points and Shavonte Zellous, one of the breakout stars of the 2012 playoffs, scored a game-high 19 points. Shenise Johnson led San Antonio with 14 points.
The Silver Stars scored the first 10 points of the game, but fell behind permanently after the Fever went on a 16-4 run early in the third quarter.
Dream dash debut of Diggins
The debut of Tulsa’s Skylar Diggins, a star at Notre Dame and in social media, was snatched by the marksmanship of the Atlanta Dream, pulling off a 98-81 win against the Shock Saturday night at Philips Arena.
Diggins finished with 15 points and three assists, but committed five turnovers and made only four of 13 field goals. Riquna Williams led Tulsa (0-1) with 22 points off the bench.
Atlanta (1-0) also got a lift off the bench, with Tiffany Hayes scoring 21 points. Armintie Herrington (pictured) chipped in 13 points.
The Shock gained the services of Liz Cambage, the 2011 first-round draft pick with a seemingly “on-again, off-again” relationship with the team. She announced her return last week, and recorded 13 points and eight rebounds off the bench.
A 21-6 Atlanta run the spanned the first and second quarters ballooned a 13-12 lead to 34-18, ultimately too much for Tulsa.
The Shock, already down two players, lost a third during the game, when Candice Wiggins left the floor with an ankle sprain.
Lawson’s long-range sniping resumes
A longer three-point line did not intimidate Connecticut Sun guard Kara Lawson. The perimeter specialist drained five triples en route to 23 points as the Sun defeated the New York Liberty 81-69 Saturday night at Mohegan Sun Arena.
As a whole, the Sun (1-0) hit 10 of 26 shots from three-point range, a figure that may come as pedestrian to insiders as the Sun retained most of their 2012 roster.
Tina Charles, the WNBA’s most consistent interior player, notched her first double-double of the year with 19 points and 13 rebounds.
New York (0-1) was led by Cappie Pondexter with 23 points.
Although the Liberty replaced John Whisenant with Bill Laimbeer as head coach, Pondexter still found herself attempting to carry her team out of a persistent whole, a frequent scenario in the 2012 season.
Connecticut forced 16 turnovers and gained a 20-8 edge in fast break points.
New York never led by more than four, and were passed for good after a quick 9-0 run from Connecticut broke a 50-50 tie midway through the third quarter.