Lynx 78, Starzz 54
MINNEAPOLIS -- The joke on press row at the WNBA game in the Target Center Monday night didn't take long to materialize. Maybe 10 minutes into the first half, employees of the expansion Minnesota Lynx franchise began talking about printing playoff tickets and sizing championship rings.Why not? It's the only WNBA expansion franchise to ever win its first two games.
And its coach and five of its players already have championship rings from their last franchise, the two-time ABL-champion Columbus Quest.
The Lynx bloodied Utah's Starzz 78-54, but even the 24-point difference couldn't begin to describe what took place.
"They manhandled us, and that scares me," said Starzz coach Frank Layden, worrying more that his team could quickly get a reputation for being soft against physical play than about one loss on the road.
"We couldn't do anything," Layden said. "They moved us off the blocks, they got to the basket for layups and didn't let us get any shots easy. They just wouldn't let us get going."
Minnesota led by as much as 32 points. Thirty-two was also Utah's final shooting percentage, raised seven points in the last six minutes to go after the Lynx led 71-39.
At about that point, said Utah's Natalie Williams, a warrior again underneath with game highs of 18 points and 12 rebounds, the Starzz finally realized that Minnesota was often swarming the high post but leaving the low post relatively free. That realization helped Utah avoid breaking team futility records of 46 total points in a game and 25 percent shooting.
Assists told the story of two offenses: Minnesota's 26 baskets had 23 assists attached to them. Utah had nine assists on its 18 baskets. Williams said she couldn't recall if Utah ever ran an actual offensive play in the first half and could remember only a couple in the second half.
Williams was Utah's only double-figure scorer. Minnesota had five of them, led by Brandy Reed's 16 and 14 from Andrea Lloyd-Curry. Trisha Fallon had 13 off the bench, all in the first half.
With three of Utah's players having arrived from Europe less than a week ago following the European Championships, the Starzz have a lot of catching up to do. In their confusion, they looked like the expansion team.
Compounding Elena Baranova's crash course in the new offense and defense of 1999 was that she has been moved sometimes to the shooting-guard spot, where she was trying to stay with smaller guards defensively, had farther to go for rebounds and wasn't quite sure where she was supposed to be all the time. After arriving from Russia Friday night, she sat out Saturday's season opener and started on Monday. "I have not enough speed and quickness," she said of guarding smaller guards, and she's having to learn the new WNBA rules against hand checking, which is legal in European ball.
Margo Dydek simply looked tired, even uncoordinated at times, and very frustrated as she was called for her final five fouls in the first 7 1/2 minutes of the second half, trying to match the lowered-shoulder hits of the Lynx with a more physical style that the officials noticed.
The Lynx have no player taller than 6-foot-3 and only one of those, but "they're all husky," Layden observed. "In my experience, physical teams will get the calls. It's just the way it is."
"They were more aggressive," Dydek said. She was just trying to stand in the right places on offense and defense, she said, still trying to learn in days what it took most of the Starzz team a month of training-camp two-a-days to absorb.
Utah's three former ABL players, Williams, Debbie Black and Adrienne Goodson, had badly wanted to beat Agler, tired of losing many times to him and his Minnesota/nee-Columbus players. But after a 2-0 Utah lead, winning hardly seemed an option. After 4-4, with offensive fouls already called against Williams and Dydek, the outcome already seemed certain.
Through it all, Layden was calm. Afterward, he just gave Minnesota credit for everything. There wasn't much more he could do, except hope it was just one of those nights when the Earth was out of tilt. And it wasn't just Utah that was cockeyed. The officials got in each others' way a couple times, motioning players into the game when play had already started and such. And the game had to be stopped twice because of ill-timed shot-clock resets.
Utah isn't through with championship rings and those who wear them. Thursday night, the Starzz are at Houston to meet the two-time defending WNBA-champion Comets and two-time defending WNBA MVP Cynthia Cooper. They return to Utah to host Sacramento Saturday.