Monday, June 9, 2008

Coming of age moment

It was early Sunday evening in the fourth quarter -- "winning time," the pros call it, and the San Antonio Silver Stars had cut a deficit that reached as high as 13 points in the third quarter to just one on Becky Hammon's three-pointer.

But Minnesota, the WNBA's perennial youngest team, the 10th anniversity Lynx, immediately came back down and scored: rookie Charde Houston's driving lay-up from an Anna DeForge assist, to give her team a three-point cushion. Then Nicole Ohlde blocked a shot sparked a DeForge fast break layup from a feed by Seimone Augustus.

The home team now up by five points, and the visiting Silver Stars never got any closer.

That was a coming of age moment for Minnesota, who defeated San Antonio 90-78, to remain unbeaten at home this young season.

"Charles, you being an astute basketball guy -- you have been here through the process, when you got a lot of young players, there are two ways you could've done it," Lynx Head Coach Don Zierden disclosed afterwards. "You could've taken a time out and try to diagram a play, or you could've let them learn how to play basketball. I decided to let them learn how to play basketball."

Simply, this is called trust. This is called confidence. This is called a growing sign of maturity.

Minnesota is now 6-1. Each win brings about a little additional dose of confidence. Each time the players respond positively, as they did Sunday in that coming of age moment, returns the confidence and the trust the coach has in them.

"In previous years," explains Lynx center Vanessa Hayden-Johnson, a four-year veteran, "this team had lost and lost. Just like a fight, we get hit in the mouth and fall down. They (San Antonio) gave us their best shot, and we came back with it. I think now we have that."

"I think when we go through tough stretches," Coach Z continues, "sometimes the players need to figure it out. We have a bunch of young players, so now that is what we are going to do sometimes.

"We knew they (San Antonio) was in a zone, and we made the extra pass that time and got a layup, a good shot."

Minnesota's willingness to make those extra passes, to set up teammates for better shot opportunities, also is showing. The Lynx recorded 23 assists Sunday.

Unfortunately, stats aren't kept on 'extra passes' or 'passes that lead to passes that lead to assists.' "We need to get better, but we are making the extra pass," says Zierden. "You can hear the players on the bench, yelling it out. When one player finds success, it just breeds success on down the road. People want to make the extra pass."

Hayden-Johnson credits the youngsters for this. They arrived with the hungriness not seen in Lynxland for . . . frankly, I can't recall ever seeing it. They arrived not Mary Tyler Moore-type spunk, but with not-backing-down-from-anyone type spunk.

"We go at each other's throats at practice," she admits. "We are fighting. We are cussing each other out. But it is making us better."

That spunk carries over into games.

"Nicky Anosike, Charde (Houston) and the girls come in here so excited and they brought that," claims Hayden-Johnson. "That's addictive."

Zierden has been concerned about his team's play at late. They won a shootout last week at Atlanta, but struggled badly two days later at Connecticut, who handed the Lynx the only blemish on their season record.

"When you have such a young team," continues the coach, "you want to see where we are. I wanted to see how we would respond to a loss. When you have such a young team, you want to see where we are. I wanted to see how we would respond to a loss."

Coach Z liked what he saw. "I thought we came out and played hard. It was a good telling sign. Now we'll see what happens when we lose another game and come back and fight as hard as we did tonight."

A popular litmus test of a good team is how they bounced back from a crushing defeat. They did, but Coach Z won't take credit for this.

"It's about the players," he concludes. "It's always about the players."


Q-Tip: Second-year guard Noelle Quinn has been shooting 50 percent or better in her last four games, including a 4-for-6 performance, including hitting 3 of 4 three pointers Sunday. Quinn previously had gone 0-for4 from outside the arc. in her last five games. "Q was not playing as well as she thought she could in the first few games," says Zierden. "Instead of sulking about it, she got in the gym and worked extra hard. You see the dividends."

X-Files: A reporter Sunday asked Zierden about Charde Houston's X-factor role. "We have to have more than one X-factor for us to be successful," the coach quickly corrected the young man. "Charde has been great some games for us energy-wise. But Ras (forward Kristen Rasmussen) has stepped up some games. Vanessa had a great game against Phoenix (on May 31). There's a bunch of players who have been X-factors. You need that with a young ball club we have." Houston had 15 points (6-for-9 from the field) in 23 minutes in Sunday's win -- she's ranks 10th in the league in shooting (51 percent).

Still sitting: Shay Murphy spent her fifth game on the inactive list. She played a minute and a half against Atlanta June 3, misfiring on her only shot attempt but grabbed a rebound. It should be noted that the second-year player is not in any trouble -- she's using this time to improve her game under the coaches' tutelage.

Learning in progress: Top pick Candice Wiggins led Minnesota with 17 points. She only made two of eight shots from the field, but converted 13-of-14 from the line. "Candice is a very smart basketball player," notes her coach. "She's learning at this level that good teams like San Antonio will take away certain things. They were not going to let her shoot the three (Wiggins missed all four of her attempts). So she was able to turn the corner and get to the rim. She's learning how to play the game as the game is going on."

Proud parents: Charles and Alice Taylor came in from their home in Idaho to spend this week, visiting their daughter Angela Taylor, the Lynx business development vice-president. They watched and cheered their daughter's team to victory Sunday.

Congrats: Don and Anne Zierden celebrated their 23rd wedding anniversity Sunday.

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