West looks to stay unbeaten in WNBA All-Star Game

Updated: July 11, 2006, 8:49 PM ET
Associated Press

NEW YORK -- The Western Conference All-Stars don't discuss their dominance of the East in the WNBA All-Star Game.

They just want to keep it going.

"I made my players aware that it would be embarrassing to be the first Western group to get beaten," said West coach John Whisenant of the defending champion Monarchs. "But the reality of it is we have so much pressure in the regular season that this is a fun thing for most of us. The competitive spirit still comes out in me and the coaching staff, and all the players want to win."

The West is 6-0 in the midseason contest and will be looking to keep its perfect record intact against an East team missing three starters at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night.

"We never talk about it -- I don't think it ever comes up," Houston Comets star Sheryl Swoopes said Tuesday. "It's never really an issue until gametime. We don't talk about it with each other -- we don't talk about it to the other team. Once they throw the ball up, it's about pride.

"We haven't lost any -- we don't want to lose any. The East hasn't won, and they want to win. We want to come out tomorrow, enjoy it and have fun, but we definitely want to win," she said.

Swoopes, playing in her sixth All-Star Game, will be joined in the starting lineup by Comets teammate Dawn Staley, Sacramento's Yolanda Griffith and Seattle's Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson.

The East's chances became tougher when three starters -- leading vote-getter Tamika Catchings of Indiana, Nykesha Sales of Connecticut and New York's Becky Hammon -- pulled out with injuries.

"The East is pretty beat up," said the Sun's Katie Douglas, a first-time All-Star and replacement starter. "Hopefully we can rally up and everybody can bring a little extra. Every player has faced adversity some time in their life and obstacles and hopefully we can use all the injuries and bring a lot of energy."

Joining Douglas in the starting lineup for the East are Connecticut teammates Lindsay Whalen and Margo Dydek -- the remaining players voted by fans to start -- and Washington's Alana Beard and Detroit's Cheryl Ford.

Charlotte's Tangela Smith, Chicago rookie Candice Dupree and the Sun's Taj McWilliams-Franklin replaced the injured players on the roster. The East's other reserves are Indiana's Tamika Whitmore and Detroit's Deanna Nolan and Katie Smith.

Despite the East's injuries, Swoopes doesn't believe her West teammates are taking anything for granted.

"They're missing some key players, but at the same time, it's going to give [other players] an opportunity to step their games up," she said. "I don't think we can come in tomorrow and say, 'Well, they don't have three of their starters, so it'll be an easy game,' 'cause it's definitely not going to happen."

Although Sales won't play, Connecticut -- which lost in the finals the last two years -- has its entire starting lineup at the game along with coach Mike Thibault and his staff.

"I would be a little more nervous if my coaches and my teammates weren't here and this being my first All-Star Game," Douglas said. "I kind of feel like this is kind of like practice for me. It's kind of a normal ordinary day."

Los Angeles center Lisa Leslie -- averaging a career-high 20.1 points -- leads the West's reserves and will be only player to appear in all seven All-Star Games. She will be joined by Houston's Michelle Snow, a replacement for injured teammate Tina Thompson, three rookies -- Minnesota's Seimone Augustus, Phoenix's Cappie Pondexter and San Antonio's Sophia Young -- and 2004 rookie of the year Diana Taurasi of the Mercury.

"It speaks volumes about the college game and the talent that they have coming in," Augustus said of having four rookies in the game for the first time. "Being here speaks to the talent of our teams and how they're allowing us to play as well as we are playing."

Augustus, the No. 1 overall pick in this year's draft, is tied for the scoring lead with Taurasi at 23.2 points per game. Pondexter, selected second, is third at 21.9.

Augustus won the Dribble, Dish and Swish challenge on Tuesday, beating defending champion and course record-holder Bird in the finals. The competition involved completing eight skill tasks -- a layup at one end of the court, dribbling between three standing WNBA logo silhouettes down one side, making a chest-high pass into a net and then a bounce pass, hitting a jumper from behind the free-throw circle, hitting another chest pass and dribbling back through another set of silhouettes before hitting another layup.

Augustus had a time of 28.5 seconds, edging Bird's 33.2 in the final. Pondexter and Nolan were eliminated in the first round.

Staley, who won the inaugural skills event in 2003, took the first 3-point shootout by hitting her final shot -- a two-point money ball -- to beat Douglas (16) by one. Los Angeles' Mwadi Mabika had 14. Whalen, Katie Smith and Taurasi were eliminated in the first round.

This is the third time the All-Star Game is in New York. Madison Square Garden hosted the inaugural contest in 1999 and again in 2003. Also, the U.S. national team played against a team of remaining All-Stars at Radio City Music Hall in 2004 at the start of the league's Olympic break for the Athens Games.


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press