SUNDAY CARDINAL COUPLE
( We take a look at the WNBA this Memorial Day weekend for our Sunday Cardinal Couple.)
LYNX HANG ON AGAINST NEW YORK
Maya Moore recovered from cracking heads with Seimone Augustus to score 30 points on a record-setting night and the Minnesota Lynx defeated the New York Liberty 87-82 Saturday.
Moore became the first WNBA player to score at least 30 points in four straight games. She hit four 3-pointers in the game's opening minutes and finished 11 for 19 from the field.
Her streak appeared to be in jeopardy after she and Augustus collided while chasing down a rebound at the end of the first quarter. Moore's forehead slammed into the crown of Augustus' head, and both players missed a good portion of the second quarter while recovering.
''I needed an ice bag for my forehead when that happened,'' Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve said. ''I'm thinking, `How are we going to score?'''
Louisville's Asia Taylor played 17 minutes in the
win..getting 10 points and four rebounds. A-Tayy was 3-3 from the field and 4-4 from the charity stripe.
Point guard Lindsay Whalen helped the Lynx maintain their cushion with their other two Olympians on the bench. Whalen scored Minnesota's first nine points of the second quarter en route to a season-high 21.
But Tina Charles then scored eight straight points and the Liberty charged back and stayed on Minnesota's heels the rest of the night. New York opened the third quarter on a 9-2 run and led 53-51 late in the third with Moore and her teammates struggling to regain form.
Then Moore drained a 3-pointer from the top of the key and hit a baseline jumper to close out the quarter with 23 points. She clinched the record on a drive to the basket with 3 minutes, 13 seconds to play and the Lynx hit 9 of 11 free throws to hang on.
After scoring a career-high 38 in a win at Tulsa on Friday night, Moore is averaging a league-best 33.8 points.
''It's really kind of overwhelming. I'm not really thinking too much - I'm just out there playing, worried about helping my team win,'' said Moore, who needed five stitches to close the cut over her right eye.
Moore is shooting 55.3 percent from the field and 51.6 percent on 3-pointers through her first four games. Augustus, who returned late in the second quarter and finished with 18 points, is in awe of Moore's hot start.
''Any time you see someone in a zone like Maya's been the last four games it's amazing,'' Augustus said. ''People come in with the strategy of stopping her and no one's figured out how to do it.''
Charles led New York with 24 points and 14 rebounds, while Cappie Pondexter added 18 points and Essence Carson chipped in 14 for the Liberty (1-2).
''I thought we competed hard,'' Liberty coach Bill Laimbeer said. ''If we play that engaged throughout the course of the season we're going to win a lot of basketball games.''
ANGEL SITS IN DREAM LOSS
The Chicago Sky are still missing two starters yet haven't missed a beat.
Elena Delle Donne scored a season-high 27 points and the Sky (4-0) set a franchise mark for best start in a season with an 87-73 victory over the Atlanta Dream on Saturday night.
''We're thrilled to be 4-0 and have all W's,'' said Delle Donne. ''But it's early and we have to continue to get better and improve. Even tonight there were some lapses that we can't have.''\
Chicago's previous best start was three wins to open last season.
Chicago guard Epiphanny Prince, who averaged 15 points per game last season, rejoined the team this week after a lengthy personal leave but didn't play Saturday. Also out is veteran center Sylvia Fowles, sidelined until June following off-season hip surgery.
Even without those two All-Stars, the Sky had more than enough to remain unbeaten. Allie Quigley scored 13 points, Courtney Vandersloot had 10 points and 11 assists while Courtney Clements and Markeisha Gatling each added 10 points.
Erika DeSouza led Atlanta with 18 points and 12 rebounds, Shoni Schimmel had 17.
The Sky led by as many as 11 points late in the third quarter on the way to a 65-57 advantage heading
into the final 10 minutes. The Dream never got closer than eight points down the stretch.
Atlanta (2-1) was without guard Angel McCoughtry, a two-time WNBA all-star. She was a late scratch after suffering an unspecified shoulder injury earlier Saturday. McCoughtry was averaging 24 points per game.
''She's better,'' said Dream coach Michael Cooper. ''I think it was more of a precautionary measure for her because we play tomorrow. If that had been late in the season and we needed her, I'm sure she would have toughed it out.''
Delle Donne scored 14 first half points as the Sky opened a 41-39 lead after two quarters. She converted a three-point play to force a 39-39 tie with 36.3 seconds showing and Gatling drove for a layup with 5.2 seconds left to give the Sky the lead at the half.
Chicago never relinquished the lead in the second half and led by as many as 12 points in the fourth quarter.
Atlanta resumes WNBA play Sunday at home against Indiana while the Chicago hosts Minnesota on Monday
WNBA TO SHIFT MARKETING STRATEGY
( THE FOLLOWING ARTICLE APPEARED IN FORBES MAGAZINE RECENTLY)
A few years ago, a group of gay activists publicly called out the New York Liberty, looking for ticket deals and to be recognized at games, claiming they comprised a significant chunk of the team’s fan base.
The team didn’t bite, responding that all fans who appreciate good basketball were welcome. The Liberty and the WNBA had a simple goal – to be taken seriously as a basketball league, not as a special attraction for any particular group. Now that’s changing. The league will still certainly take anyone’s money, but for the first time it’s putting on a full court press to attract the LGBT audience.
Why now? Some point to the recent public momentum in the tolerance of gay athletes – Jason Collins, Michael Sam, and the WNBA’s own Brittnay Griner – going public.
“I don’t think this initiative would have worked two or three years ago, but the environment has changed,” says Paul Swangard, Managing Director of the Warsaw Sports Management Center at the University of Oregon.
But there’s another reason for the new strategy that can’t be ignored: that a sudden public push to embrace the LGBT fan base is a tacit admission that the old strategy, basketball for the sake of basketball, isn’t working. A few years ago then-NBA Commissioner David Stern told Forbes that he saw women’s’ pro basketball as existing in the same place that women’s tennis did a generation earlier. Bumps in the road might be inevitable, but it will eventually catch on.
Unfortunately, it hasn’t happened. As the league embarks on its 18th season, the struggles continue.
Attendance has hovered at or near record lows in the past couple of years, at roughly 7,500 a game. Expansion from eight original teams to 16 proved to be overambitious: when the NBA, the original owner of WNBA franchises, began to divest itself in 2002, selling the WNBA teams to the NBA clubs they shared cities with or to outside investors, those that couldn’t attract buyers were folded. The league shrank back to 12 teams.
TV rights that bring in $1 million annually per team from ESPN ESPN have been something of a stabilizing force, though viewership hit an all-time low of 180,000 per game in 2012. Ratings did rebound nicely to 230,000 a game in 2013, according to the Sports Business Journal, possibly due to the rookie debut of Griner, who had earned herself a big name as a dominant college player at Baylor.
But speaking of women’s college basketball, its’ games on ESPN average slightly more viewers than WNBA games do.
Some have argued, convincingly, that women’s hoops just works better when good old college spirit is part of the equation. Now the WNBA, to draw an analogy to politics, is embarking on a strategy to rally the base, rather than broaden it.
“They’re recognizing the need to embrace this fan base for its future,” says Swangard. Maybe that narrow base of fans can pull the league through. If not, the clock is ticking.