WNBA 2011 Preseason at “The Pit”

I’ve just returned from watching the Los Angeles Sparks defeat the Phoenix Mercury 83-72 in a preseason game held at University Arena (aka “The Pit”) in Albuquerque, New Mexico. A few thoughts:

My goodness. After a $60 million renovation, they couldn’t add some decent air-conditioning? The arena was a tad on the warm side. Everyone seemed to notice except, perhaps, Diana Taurasi.

Speaking of Diana–neither she nor Penny Taylor played in this game. I found that very curious. Sure, the Mercury don’t want to needlessly risk their two stars, but this is the last “live” game before the season starts and neither Taurasi nor Taylor have played a “live” game in months. While it’s laudable to give the whole rest of the team some extra time to get used to the system, you risk dropping some early games you otherwise might not if your stars got at least a quarter of play under their belts. Also, it irked the crowd a bit. After all, how often in this burg do we get to see some of the best players in the world do what they do so well?

Oh…while Penny eventually shed her warm-up jacket, Diana stayed all cozy in her warmups throughout the game. The only explanation is that she literally has ice water in her veins…because, like I said, it was warm.

The Sparks, on the other hand, gave a more realistic representation of what we’ll see when the season opens. Tina Thompson didn’t take the court, but Candace, Ticha, and DeLisha took to the hardwood for some significant minutes. I think the idea was for Kristi Toliver to also bank a lot of minutes, but the referees seemed to have other plans. Early on, it looked like they targeted her for the requisite dubious fouls–at least the early ones. (If this is an indication of the quality of reffing in the league this year, it might be a long season.) Finally, though, KT got to show what she can do–assists, back door cuts, 3-pt shots, etc. Hearkening back to the 2006 NCAA regionals, it’s clear that she likes this court.

I was a little surprised at how thin DeWanna Bonner actually is. TV doesn’t really convey this. BUT…the design of this year’s Mercury uniform is actually slimming. This makes DB look that much thinner.

One person that surprised me–largely because I hadn’t really seen much of her before–was L.A.’s Jenna O’Hea, from Australia. This 6′-1″ rookie guard definitely has game. With court time, she could be impressive, indeed. If the Sparks need some cap room, and there’s a choice to be made between her and Natasha Lacy…I’m giving O’Hea a really serious look. The only downside is if she’s unavailable at the start of next season because of National Team/Olympic commitments–something every team with Aussie NT members will have to deal with next year.

Overall, I think the guard play of the Sparks looks much better this year, which should take some of the pressure off of Parker to have to create shots all the time. The chemistry with the bigs needs some work. For Phoenix…it’s hard to say without the stars being in. There are flashes of the fast-break team we’ve come to know and love, but without DT and PT on the court, they look like a team that doesn’t make the playoffs. As of now, who knows what they’ll be with that duo on the court. How significant the loss of Tangela Smith will be to this team will likely show itself quickly.

So, overall, not a bad evening’s entertainment. I, and many fans, feel a little bit cheated (too strong a word, but useful) that certain players didn’t get into the game–yeah, not the best marketing move, there. I mean, it was a nice crowd for a preseason game with marquee names–my guess is north of 6,000. It would have been nice if the arena temp wasn’t even warmer than it was outside (the high today in Abq was 92°F…don’t know what it was in the Pit at game time…certainly in the 80s). Oh, and all the glass you installed at the renovation…it really sucks when the sun is setting right in view of the glass entrance. A lot of us were blinded there for a handful of minutes.

Last thing: before the game started, time was taken to acknowledge the passing of former WNBA player Margo Dydek. I’m glad they did.

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