Monday, September 14, 2009

The Game!

Okay, let’s back up a minute now that we have had some time to catch our breath with our fantastic experience getting a press pass to watch the WNBA’s Sacramento Monarchs play their final regular season game against the Minnesota Lynx.

On the loooong car ride up to Sacramento (Why, oh why, can’t they bring a WNBA team closer to the Bay Area, where women’s basketball enjoys so much support?), C turns on her computer so C and R can think of some non-lame questions to ask the players. Her computer instantly crashes and she frantically tries to restore it to an earlier, happier time when everything worked while hurtling 80 MPH in a white Toyota Corolla. And the only questions they can think of are lame indeed.

We get in and the Monarchs staff could not have been more professional or courteous to us. We marvel at the free parking, free food, and free admittance to the game with front row seats. We are in heaven.

We briefly visit the Monarchs locker room before they kick us out (looks a little small compared to all the locker room shots of Michael Jordan and gang seem to enjoy). We sit next to a beat writer for Outward Magazine who has been following the team for years and she gives us a lot of insider information. The first of which is we can’t cheer while sitting at press row. R is so totally bummed. The worst thing for C is she can’t pick up on the freebies. Some fans have the bang sticks with tassels. She is jealous.

Although this game means nothing to either team, both are out of the play-offs, we are keeping our eye on ex-Stanford grad and current Monarch Nicole Powell. She needs 5 points to break the franchise record of 545 set by Yolanda Griffith. Early in the game she misses her first three, but connects on the next two to get the record.

Both teams are playing for pride and are hustling down the court. The refs are not calling a lot of fouls and they game is getting rough. We notice Minnesota Lynx Candice Wiggins, another former Stanford player, is not playing point. More like an off guard. She is having a cold shooting night, as are most of the Lynx.

In one series Candice gets three straight rebounds, which means she keeps missing easy put backs. Where is the box out, Sacramento? Finally she gets the rebound and tenaciously puts it in. We want to cheer for Candice even though we are not supposed to, and this is Sacramento’s home game. Nicole Powell keeps firing away, though.

The t-shirt squad comes out and we are dying to stand up and yell for one. We watch them sail over our heads and it is killing us!

We see Courtney Paris come in the game. We are sorry to say she still looks out of shape, and this is the end of the season. She does look tough inside on defense, getting rebounds, but disappears on offense. We talk again to our seatmate on the right, and we a have discussion about her weight. Our seatmate has been following the team for years and she says Courtney has a hard time fitting in to Sacramento’s system, which is tough defense with lots of movement.

We see the Sacramento Monarch mascot come out during a time out. So what kind of mascot is Monty, anyway? Is he a cross between an elephant/hippopotamus/dinosaur? During a time out, he comes out with the rap crew in a psychedelic swimsuit and flashes the crowd. Sigh, is that proper mascot behavior?

It is half time, and so far it is all Sacramento. Our seatmate said Sacramento was going to give non-starters a chance to play, but you can tell the coach wants to win this by keeping in most of his starters and all of Nicole Powell. She has 18 points at the half.

C and R have one mission at half time. We want to meet up with the great Michelle Smith. She wrote for the San Francisco Chronicle about women’s college basketball, not sports, but exclusively women’s basketball, and then last year the paper axed her to “save money”. Well, okay, we have two missions, to meet up with the great Michelle Smith and find our way back to the media lounge for more cookies.

We see Michelle at the other end of press row and introduce ourselves. We talk women’s basketball. We ask what she is up to. She has a new contract to write about women’s basketball at Fanhouse, which is part of AOL. See Michelle Smith’s writing for yourself. She also is getting another blog up to write more content. She is one busy lady and we are glad she has landed on her feet after the Chronicle so rudely puling the rug out form under her.

The game starts back up and Nicole Powell has 25 points with 4 minutes to go. The Lynx are only making 25% of their shots, and that is unacceptable at the pro level. The Monarchs easily win 88-66 and sends the crowd home happy.

We go to Minnesota’s locker room and use our press privilege to request a private, one-on-one interview with Candice. To our surprise, they say yes and as we wait in the hallway, we feel like kids playing grown ups and about to be caught and thrown out any second. We see Minnesota’s Head Coach, Jen Gillom, and listen in as the Monarchs media staff interviews her. She instantly rubs her feet ands says, “these high heels are killin’ me!” And it is all C and R can do to not interject with how we hate that coaches of women’s teams have to dress “feminine” when coaches of men’s teams, such as football, can wear more comfortable team gear, such as a polo shirt with the team logo. She praised her team for their heart and effort. She seemed to connect with her players while on the court, too.

The media relations man bangs on the door several times calling for Wiggins, as she has another event after us. Turns out she is going to speak to the Stanford Women’s Basketball Fast Break Club group that made the trip from the Bay Area.

Then Candice comes out in all her smiling and personable glory. We introduce ourselves and tell her we have been following her from her days at Stanford (And wonder if she recognizes her old stalkers from the Stanford days!). We ask what she is going to do in the off season and she said is headed to Greece for pro ball and keeping herself open for the National Team try outs, (we wished her luck) and trying to get batter at playing basketball.

C and R have seen dominate college players, such as Candace Parker, but still to this day they marvel at how Candice took just an above average Stanford team and willed them into the National Title game on her charisma and personality alone, not just her basketball ability. That was very rare and awesome to witness. We mentioned this to Candice and she said the women were awesome to lead, and gave all the credit back to the Stanford players. We read between the lines that they were also willing to buy into Candice’s optimism and confidence. We asked her how the WNBA was different, and she answered that everyone here is at a different phase in their life, in terms of basketball experience and life experience. Again, we are reading between the lines because her teammates are older, or at different points in their life she cannot lead them on her confidence and optimism like she did at the college level.

Candice’s schedule was tight, so we walked with her to pick up friends and go to the Fast Break Club. R watched the LA Sparks final home game, and the final home game of Lisa Leslie’s career a few days ago. The Lynx were the opponent and Candice was quoted as saying Lisa Leslie was the face of the WNBA and she admired that Lisa is the face of the WNBA and was still feminine. So R asked Candice about that.

Candice was eager to talk about how great Lisa was, and here she was in the final game, 37, a mother, yet still setting screens and banging around with everyone. Here are more comments from Candice about Lisa.

We followed her on the elevator (like the good stalkers we are) and watched her walk into the Stanford Fast Break Club and receive a warm welcome. Someone asked what was the hardest thing about being in the WWNBA and Candice said the travel. She said in college, they would talk the whole week before they were going to the East Coast and how important it was to get on East Coast time, and in the WNBA you are in a different city practically every night and the main focus is don’t miss the bus. She said it gets very wearing.

Nicole Powell also showed up and thanked everyone for coming, talked about her life as a Monarch, as Candice had to go catch her bus. It was a perfect end to a prefect night. We had so much fun covering a women’s basketball game.

It was great to see Candice, and she did tell the Fast Break club that whenever she sees someone with a Stanford shirt that means something to her, because Stanford always will hold such a special place in her heart. With Candice you can believe it.

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