Friday, June 29, 2007

Sun, Fever to square off

With tip-off for the Sun/Indiana Fever game minutes away, it's difficult to judge what kind of mindset the Sun are entering with. They've lost three straight games and are playing in their home buidling where they've lost a franchise-record five in a row.

Sun coach Mike Thibault said he was encouraged by the team's latest outing -- a 77-74 loss in Detroit on Wednesday -- but he said the same thing following a similar three-point loss in Auburn Hills, Mich. on June 15. Two days after that game, Connecticut was embarrassed in an 87-74 loss to the Chicago Sky.

So, just as it is difficult to tell what kind of energy and execution the Sun will play with each night, to take the temperature of this team would be nothing more than a guess.

But one thing is certain: lose tonight for the ninth time in 10 games and the Sun have a week-long break to stew over it. Maybe it's a good thing -- simply playing through their troubles (tonight marks their fourth game in a week) certainly hasn't work. But then again, it could be devastating to have seven days to think about their four-game West Coast road trip, a stretch that at this point will decide their chances of climbing into the playoff race.

It's come to a point where games are more pivotal than ever, one, because the Sun are losing, and two, because it isn't early in the season anymore.

Some notes about tonight's match-up:
* As expected, 28-year-old rookie Evanthia Maltsi (shortened to Evina in the 'Game Notes') will make her second consecutive start in place of the injured Nykesha Sales (ankle). Maltsi had 11 points and six rebounds in 34 minutes Wednesday and provides a scoring option from long-range (she hit 3-of-8 three-pointers).

Thibault said it's taken some time for Maltsi to get adjusted to the league, and it didn't help that she joined the team nearly a month into the season. But even when Sales comes back -- which the team said could be next Friday -- Thibault said he'd like to the Greece native regular time in the rotation.

*Don't expect the Sun to hold Tamika Catchings to nine points and 12 rebounds again (and for her, that is considering "holding"). Catchings, perhaps the best all-around player in the league, has never come close to struggling to those numbers in any other game, and even when she did (12 points in a win over Houston on June 6) she only played 23 minutes and still had nine rebounds and a season-high seven steals.

If they are successful in containing her -- a la, not letting her kill them in the second half -- they'll need a big night scoring from their starting five, as they did last time. One problem the Sun have had late -- in the games they're in, at least -- is finding that go-to scorer to push them over the top. Katie Douglas can be that -- and was in the 78-74 win over Indiana the first time -- but it's a component of the team that's been missing too many times this year.

As will be the procedure for the rest of the season, check the home page of for halftime and post-game updates.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Same old losing story for Sun

So here the Sun are again, entering a road game with one of the Eastern Conference’s top teams on the verge of seeing their losing ways continue. Last week, Connecticut was able to rebound with a 78-74 win over the Indiana Fever, playing its best basketball (as usual this season) away from Mohegan Sun Arena.

But considering how they’re currently playing – which is perhaps the worst it has all season – it’s hard to imagine they won’t have problems with Detroit tonight. Then again, the Shock usually bring out the best in the Sun, who have lost two close games to their rivals this season. Then again, it’s hard to tell which team will show up wearing Connecticut uniforms each night.

The frustration came to head last night when Sun coach Mike Thibault entered the post-game press conference and announced, “I don’t have much to say, I really don’t so we’ll make this really brief.”

He then spoke for about four minutes, fielding questions and venting about his team’s struggles (naturally) when someone suggested the loss seemed like fate. He replied, “I don’t know. (Pause) I’m done.” He then walked out.

Here are a few more quotes that didn’t make this morning’s edition of the Bulletin but still tell the story of the Sun’s sinking season thus far:

Lindsay Whalen: “All of a sudden, it’s 20 points (Washington is ahead) and they’re making every kind of shot and we’re coming down and I feel like we’re taking good shots but they’re not going in. Then they come right back down and run it down our throats.

“That’s the kind of stuff that we need to be doing. That’s the kind of stuff that got us to the finals two years in a row. That’s the stuff that gives you home-court advantage. It’s intangible stuff like that. It’s going on a run and being confident and playing with a passion.”

Katie Douglas: “Everybody should feel that they should have the right to come in and play hard. But if you come in and you’re not doing your job and you’re not running and executing and you’re lackadaisical on the defensive end, our deficiencies are glaring right now so we have to find somebody who will do it.”

When asked later if the team is starting to doubt if it can rebound from the slow start, Asjha Jones brushed it off, saying there’s a lot of time left. Fourteen games in, the Sun are more than a third of the way through the season (they have 20 games left including tonight’s game at Detroit, set for 7:30 p.m.).

If there is time, the Sun have to start utilizing it or there may be big changes in the near future. Thibault will have to do something to shake it up because the Sun, a winning franchise, most likely won’t stand for things to continue the way they are.

Check the home page of for updates throughout tonight’s game before picking up tomorrow’s issue for the story.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Sun lose, 91-75, to Mystics

The Sun featured just two starters in double figures, and coach Mike Thibault elected to play the reserves for most of the fourth after Washington put it away early in the quarter. It's the Sun's seventh loss in eight games, and is the most points they've given up in regulation this season.

Katie Douglas led the Sun with 19 points and Erika de Souza scored 16 off the bench, many when the Sun were already down in the second half.

Sun trail, 37-28, at half to Mystics

The Sun looked strong to end the first quarter, reeling off 10 straight at one point to take a 17-16 lead entering the second, but their poor shooting did them in again during the second, where the Mystics went on a 13-0 run and ended the first half with a nine-point lead.
Connecticut, coming off a 31-percent shooting performance Saturday, is even worse through the first 20 minutes tonight, shooting 29 percent. Not helping matters is the Mystics bench, which has accounted for 23 of its points, including 10 from guard Nikki Blue (3-of-4, 2-of-2 from three-point).

The Mystics are shooting over 40 percent from the floor, but they've also benefitted from some defensive breakdowns on Connecticut's part (poor switching, miscommunication, etc.).

Let's see what Sun team shows up in the second half.

Check back around 11 p.m. for a post-game entry and pick up tomorrow's Bulletin for full game coverage.

Sun to take on Washington

It's getting closer to the opening tip so here are some quick notes on tonight's match-up with the Washington Mystics:

Though Sun coach Mike Thibault said Le'Coe Willingham probably wouldn't start tonight's game in place of Nykesha Sales (ankle), she is penciled in as a probable starter. Willingham provided a strong inside presence on Saturday, though she saw most of her minutes in the first half and the third quarter.

Katie Douglas should get the assignment of covering Washington's Alana Beard tonight. Beard (18.4 points per game) will not shy from pulling up from the outside -- she leads the team in three-point attempts with 58 -- but she'll take it the hoop when called upon. She is a pretty complete offensive threat, but may be even deadlier on defense. She's been named to the WNBA All-Defensive team the last three years.

Check back around 8 p.m. for a halftime update.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Sun take step back -- again

With their third double-digit loss of the season Saturday -- coming in a 71-58 setback to the San Antonio Silver Sars -- the Connecticut Sun continue to be a team in disarray and frankly, look like a team not built to contend.

They may go on a run during the summer, perhaps enough to qualify them for the playoffs, but something drastic has to happen for them to make serious noise in the postseason.

In their defense, they were just above .500 when they reached the WNBA finals in 2004 -- they finished the regular season at 18-16 and were 5-7 on June 20 of that year.

But too many times answers like, "I don't know," or "We gotta figure it out," have dominated post-game interviews this season for there to be serious consideration that the Sun can solve their biggest problems quickly.

"You need other people to pick up the slack," Sun coach Mike Thibault said after Saturday's loss. "You can't go out there and depend on her (Katie Douglas) to get you 25 0r 20 a night in order to win. The normal gist of our team is to get four players in double figures and that's been sporadic at times.

"I hope our team can learn to play without one of the starters playing great," he added.

"I want us to win; you can't have losses, you cant make that your expense right now," Thibault continued, referring to playing the reserves in a non-win situation, as it was late Saturday. "I think you gotta play them when you can and get them minutes here or there, try to get two or three a night highly involved. There are some people who are capable but they aren't stepping up, they aren't being aggressive or they aren't making shots. Or they make bad decisions.

"I would like to say we can play though it," he said. "But our players want to win games, too."

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Sun trail, 39-36, at half

Experienced some technical difficulties so there's no post on the front page of But there's one here:

The Sun went on an 8-1 run in the final three minutes of the second quarter to cut San Antonio's lead to three at the half. Lindsay Whalen and Katie Douglas have 11 points apiece to lead all scorers, while Becky Hammon and Vickie Johnson each have eight to lead San Antonio.

Le'Coe Willingham, starting in place of Nykesha Sales, has six points to tie Asjha Jones for second most on the team. Sales, who played more than 36 minutes in Friday's win over Indiana, is dealing with some soreness, said Bill Tavares, the media relations director for the Sun. Sales also has dealt with a sore left Achilles tendon, but it's not apparent if that is acting up on her.

Nykesha Sales not in starting lineup

Le'Coe Willingham is starting in place of Sales tonight against the Silver Stars. It will be her second start this season. More information on why in the halftime update to be posted on

Sun to tip off against San Antonio

Sat down quickly with Sun coach Mike Thibault before tonight's game with the Silver Stars to ask a little about Friday's win over the Indiana Fever and the direction of the team. Here's some of what he had to say:

MT: I think the biggest difference last night was when we struggled or we made a mistake, we didn't let it affect us the next time down the court in either direction. I thought in the New York game in particular (a 76-73 loss on Wednesday), when we made a mistake, it might turn into two mistakes because we hung our heads on the play. And I didn't see any of that (Friday).

We had a controversial play on the baseline, there was a technical (foul), there was all this, we're down nine (points) -- and we just come right back and go bang, bang, bang. It was like, 'We're alright.' We had a different body language about getting through mistakes. I felt good (about the team) before the game and it carried over into the game.

Norwich Bulletin: Is there any way to explain that, especially with the team coming off the five straight losses?

MT: I think they know they've been in every game with a chance to win and they wouldn't let them beat themselves last night. Somebody else had to be great to beat us. It would be simple to put it all one thing, but it's not. Like in the games you lose, it's not one thing.

* * *

Thibault added that the team went big the whole night against Indiana, with all five starters getting 30-plus minutes, but it will be a different story tonight against San Antonio, a quick team with good guards and one known for causing turnovers and creating steals. That means Jamie Carey should see more tonight off the bench, and, like in their game with Indiana, the Sun's ability to handle the ball effectively should play a huge role tonight. They had 15 turnovers on Friday, their best showing since the loss to Detroit that started the skid.

Players to watch for on San Antonio: Becky Hammon, the team's leader and explosive point guard; Erin Buescher, who leads the team in steals (1.82 per game) and is starting at small forward; and Sophia Young, who's coming off a five-point game against New York but is averaging 14.5 per game.

One final note: the Sun are 1-4 at home this year. Despite the struggles, they're still bringing in an average of 7,661 fans a game. Those in attendance should be clamoring to see a victory tonight.

One more final note: The last blog detailed how the Sun have had trouble shutting down a team's top player (posted on Friday). That night, they stymied Tamika Catchings, one of the league's best players, by holding her to a season-low nine points on 3-of-13 shooting.

Go figure.

Catchings still had 12 rebounds but unlike their past five games, the Sun didn't let an opposing star hurt them late. Instead, Katie Douglas (30 points) did that to the Fever, scoring 12 points in the fourth quarter.

OK, no more notes. Check the home page of around 8 p.m. for a halftime update.

Friday, June 22, 2007

An array of problems

The Connecticut Sun enter tonight's match-up at the Indiana Fever (7 p.m., Conseco Fieldhouse) suffering from two glaring problems: too many turnovers and too few free throws. It's been well-publicized, surely, but when it's the same two problems over and over again, it's hard to avoid discussing them.

Even Sun coach Mike Thibault knows this. When he walked into the press conference following Wednesday's loss to the New York Liberty, he said, "Whatever you guys (the media) wrote on Sunday (following a loss to the Chicago Sky), that will probably suffice again." He then went on to call the team's troubles "a broken record" -- the same phrase he used following the Sky loss.

But one trend that's been overlooked is the Sun's inability to shut down their opponents' top players. Not since they held Phoenix's Diana Taurasi to 13 points in a 76-67 win to open June have they stepped up to quiet a team's big gun.

Here's how the next six games after the Phoenix win break down, focusing on a team's leading scorer(s), her season average and what she put up against the Sun. (Remember, the last five games were all losses):

June 8, at Houston:
* Michelle Snow (14.7 ppg) -- 22 points (season-high)
* Tina Thompson (18.9) -- 19 points
June 10, vs. Detroit:
* Katie Smith (13.3) -- 23 points (tied for season-high)
* Cheryl Ford (13.5) -- 20 points (season-high)
June 13, at Minnesota:
* Seimone Augustus (22.2) -- 28 points
June 15, at Detroit:
* Deanna Nolan (14.9) -- 18 points
June 17, vs. Chicago:
* Candace Dupree (19.2) -- 28 points
June 20, vs. New York:
* Shameka Christon (13.9) -- 22 points (season-high)

Mind you, these aren't role players exploding for big games. These are the players scouting reports tell you to watch for and yet, the Sun have continually allowed them to carry their team to victory.

When asked about this, Thibault countered with a valid point, saying, "You can look at it two ways: Did we shut down a whole bunch of other players and hold them as a group to their (average)?"

Mostly, they have. New York scored 76, just above their average of 73; Detroit scored 79 and 75, and average 78.5; and Minnesota scored 77 and avergae 74.8. Chicago was the only one to score well above their average (87 points as compared to its 73.6 average). Then again, New York's Ashley Battle also scored a season-high 18, well above her 9-point average off the bench.

The point is, when coupled with their turnovers and struggles to get to the rim and draw fouls, the Sun's inability to shut down a big-time player is also hurting it. If Taurasi hadn't struggled in that loss on June 2, would it have been a different game? Certainly. If Dupree doesn't score eight straight points and 13 overall in the fourth quarter, would the Sun have had a better chance of winning? Absolutely.

So far, Connecticut hasn't figured out how to correct its two biggest mistakes. Maybe eliminating a third one can help pull it from its slump.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The skid continues, Sun lose 76-73

The Sun fell into their same old habits, just at an even worse rate, committing a season-high 23 turnovers and shooting just eight free throws. When asked if he was "shell-shocked" by the loss or angered about it, Sun coach Mike Thibault said, "Both. I'm both."

You can't blame him, considering the Sun held that 17-0 lead during the first quarter. One positive change was the re-emergence of Nykesha Sales and Douglas, who took turns carrying the team offensively and looked confident doing so. But it obviously wasn't enough, as nothing seems to be lately for the Sun.

Check tomorrow's Bulletin for full coverage of the game.

Sun up on Liberty, 35-33, at halftime

For the first time in a long time, the Sun looked unreal the first six minutes of the game, jumping out to 17-0 lead while the Liberty shot 0-for-6 with just one rebound. But coach Mike Thibault subbed out the starters, the Liberty started chopping into the lead and by the middle of the second, New York was in the midst of an 18-7 run.

New York's press and trapping defense gave the Sun a lot of problems throughout the second quarter and the Liberty also hit of four-of-nine threes, somewhat expected out of the league's top three-point shooting team. (They do it with a lot of high pick-and-rolls and penetrating-and-dishing).

It's the Sun second first-half lead in three games -- they led Detroit at the half last Friday -- but it feels like it should have been more. Now, instead of a laugher -- which judging by the first five minutes, it could have been -- they have a game on their hands. Check back around 9:30 p.m. for the final score.

Thoughts and quotes entering game with New York

Some pre-game news from New York: the Liberty acquired guard Lisa Willis from the Los Angeles Sparks in exchange for guard Sherill Baker today. With the 5-foot-11 Willis, the fifth overall pick in the 2006 Draft, New York gets a little taller (Baker is 5-8), and adds a little more depth. Baker, the 12th overall pick in last year's draft, had played in three games this year, averaging 4.3 minutes and 1.7 points a contest.

As for the Sun, they enter tonight still looking for that elusive fifth win and consequently, an end to their team-record four-game losing streak. From talking with forwards Asjha Jones and Kristen Rasmussen on Monday -- and judging by coach Mike Thibault's instructions throughout practice -- it seems the forwards were taking the recent struggles from the guards upon themselves.

Whether that be from setting poor picks or not finding the open players on the wings, it helped give a little insight into why someone like Katie Douglas has been struggling to get both quality touches and points.

"They're on the wings and our plays are (designed) to get them screens and get them open, and we haven't even gotten to half of those," Jones said of the guards. "So for me, I'm gonna keep my focus on myself and keep my patience going, but also make those better screens to get K.T. open. Because I gotta do that, I gotta get these guys open and do whatever I can to help.

"I'm watching the video and my down screens are not good," she continued. "For me, I wasn't getting a good hit on people to get K.T. that open shot she normally gets."

If Douglas and Nykesha Sales can get on track, Lindsay Whalen produces like she has in her last four or five games and Ashja Jones -- who hasn't seen too many double teams yet this year -- continues to keep that rhythm in her jump shot, look for big things out of this Sun offense.

If that happens, their problem with turnovers may turn around (or not matter as much).

Margo Dydek has also found a small groove recently, hitting 14-of-26 shots (53 percent) in her last four games. She also had four blocks on Sunday.

* * *

Another quick thought on Rasmussen: Though the forward, like many of her fellow bench players, isn't scoring like the reserves of past years for the Sun, Rasmussen did play some quality defense on Chicago forward Candace Dupree on Sunday, though her final line (28 points) may not indicate that. Of course, as reported in Tuesday's article in the Bulletin, Thibault is looking for more offense out of her as well.

As for Erika de Souza, who had a great start to the season scoring-wise but has largely been a non-factor in recent games off the bench, Thibault said he believes she will be a big contributor as the season progresses. In her defense, de Souza hasn't played in the WNBA since 2002, spending three seasons in the Spanish League, where she was named the MVP in the 2005/06 season.

(A side note: de Souza's last name has been spelled differently in past articles because her name is spelled differently in certain places. Boxscores has it as "DeSouza," while her warm-up shirt reads "DE SOUSA." Rest assured, it is "de Souza.")

Check back around 8 p.m. for a halftime update of tonight's game with New York. Players to watch on the Liberty: Erin Thorn, Shameka Christon and Catherine Kraayeveld. Also, former UConn standout Ashley Battle makes her return to Connecticut tonight. Battle, a 2005 grad, plays off the bench for New York.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Sun trail Sky, 40-34, at half

Once again, the Sun dug themselves in early hole and were forced to play catch up throughout the half. The bench played a key role in mounting a charge in the second frame though, as Kristen Rasmussen, Jamie Carey, Le'Coe Willingham, Evanthia Maltsi and Kamesha Hairston started the quarter and closed it to within 26-22.

Asjha Jones took over from there, scoring nine of her 13 first-half points in the period, but the Sun could only get as close as three points at 37-34. Katie Douglas (two points) had a chance at a key three-pointer late in the period but missed.

Candace Dupree, as expected, has been a game-changer so far, scoring 13 points. She laid a huge block on Lindsay Whalen with roughly two minutes left in the second uarter but was called for a foul on the play. Incensed, Chicago coach Bo Overton drew a quick technical foul from the refs.

Sun kick off against Sky

Welcome to the first post in this season's blog. Tip-off is a little under 90 minutes away but check back at around 5 p.m. for a halftime update of today's game against Chicago. Players to watch for on the Sky: Candice Dupree (former Temple teammate of current Sun guard Kamesha Hairston), Dominique Canty (an eight-year veteran) and Chasity Melvin. Also making her return to Mohegan Sun Arena is forward Brooke Wyckoff, who the Sun lost to the Sky in the 2005 expansion draft that November.

It will be interesting to see how the Sun come out in today's game, considering their habit of starting slow. But coach Mike Thibault asserted that his team turned a corner despite its loss in Detroit on Friday. Remember, the Sun opened its last game against Chicago in a rut, fell behind by 17 at one point and then rallied to win in it overtime.