Indifferent LJ a real difference-maker

Originally Published: October 11, 2004
By Mechelle Voepel | Special to ESPN.com

SEATTLE -- Has she been frustrated? Monday afternoon at KeyArena, Seattle center Lauren Jackson said no. Her face said something different.

Lauren Jackson
APSeattle's Lauren Jackson has put up 31 points and 17 rebounds in the finals. But she's also 11-for-34 from the field in two games so far.
Really, there's nothing wrong with 31 points and 17 rebounds, Jackson's combined numbers through two games of the WNBA Finals. Her 11-for-34 shooting from the field, though, is uncharacteristic. Still, the Storm are host to the decisive Game 3 Tuesday night (ESPN2, 9 ET), and Jackson says, "I don't care how I play, just so long as my team wins."

But Jackson does expect more from herself. On her own personal scale, she rarely gives her performances many high grades. It's always, "I can improve so much, just on my all-around game."

Jackson might come off at times as the stereotypical laid-back Aussie, and likely in many ways she is. But there's a lot of pride and purpose behind her basketball. She doesn't go through the motions in any game. She expects to always carry a heavy load.

But that doesn't always mean being the leading scorer. In Sunday's 67-65 Storm victory over Connecticut, it meant being the force in shutting down the Sun's post players.

Seattle coach Anne Donovan said she had made a poor decision in Game 1, putting Kamila Vodichkova on Taj McWilliams-Franklin. Sunday, Donovan put Jackson on McWilliams-Franklin and Vodichkova on Wendy Palmer.

The result was that the Sun were nearly shut out inside. McWilliams-Franklin was 1 of 11 from the field and finished with two points. Palmer, who suffered a shoulder injury during the game, didn't score. Le'Coe Willingham and Asjha Jones came off the bench, combining for six points.

Jackson was the key figure in the defense ... unless you ask her about it, that is.

Then she shrugs, dismissing her defensive effort on McWilliams-Franklin and saying, "I think I just had a lucky night."

Teammate Sue Bird thinks otherwise.

"It doesn't matter if she gets any blocks -- it's the shots she changes that make a difference," Bird said. "People drive, but they think twice when they go up against her. Because they know she's gonna throw it if they're not careful.

"If I were driving against her, I'd think, 'Where can I pass it?' That's what gives her an intimidation factor."

Jackson has said that the physical play of the finals has been intense. Connecticut coach Mike Thibault disagreed.

"I think we're middle of the pack as far as that goes," he said of the Sun's ability to be physical, compared to the rest of the WNBA teams. "I think the physical aspect of this series has been highly overrated."

Thibault said Connecticut has simply tried to make Jackson work harder for whatever looks at the basket she gets.

"If that's the most physical she's had to play, I feel sorry for her. It's going to get worse," Thibault said. "I watched the finals last year between Detroit and L.A., and Lisa Leslie and Ruth Riley were throwing each other to the floor. I don't think this has been that physical at all. If they (the Storm players) think that, I find it hard to believe."

Thibault certainly wasn't trying to light a flame under Jackson by saying all that, but it will be interesting to see if she comes out particularly fired up Tuesday.

It has been a wearying year for Jackson. She has gone from playing overseas to the WNBA, to the Olympics, and back to the WNBA. Her grandmother died just before the WNBA playoffs began. Her foot is sore, and she thinks she might have surgery on it when the season is over.

Yet she has found a home far from home in Seattle, and that has meant as much to her as the success she has had. Everyone's heard about how difficult her first season was in the WNBA, how much she missed Australia. Now she stands a game away from a WNBA title in a place that has become quite comfortable for her.

"My second year, I started to develop a few friendships," she said. "And by the end of my third year, I had a core group of friends that I really cared about.

"My friends here are my best friends in the whole world. It's easier to do this when you feel like you're with family all the time."

Mechelle Voepel of the Kansas City Star is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. She can be reached at mvoepel@kcstar.com.

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.

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