Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Sun set to host Sky

Go figure, just an hour after I post that Evina Maltsi would probably start another game (or two) as Nykesha Sales gets eased back into the Sun’s rotation, Sales is listed in tonight’s starting lineup.

It’s not surprising, really -- Sales said she felt fine before and after Sunday’s game in New York, and said she hasn’t felt the effects from her mild concussion since about last Thursday.

Here are the rest of tonight’s starters:

Connecticut Sun (14-12)
Forward – Asjha Jones
Forward – Nykesha Sales
Center – Margo Dydek (her first start since Friday)
Guard – Lindsay Whalen
Guard – Katie Douglas

Chicago Sky (12-14)
Forward – Candice Dupree
Forward – Stacey Dales
Center – Chasity Melvin
Guard – Dominique Canty
Guard – Armintie Price

Check the front page of NorwichBulletin.com for updates at halftime (around 8 p.m.) and following the game.

A Huskies update (3rd edition)

Here’s the weekly update on UConn alums around the league, with their season averages in key categories:

Connecticut Sun:
(1) Nykesha Sales (UConn, 1998): 13.5 points, 4.17 rebounds, 3.4 assists per game
Low-down: Sales (mild concussion) officially returned to the Sun this week, contributing four points, three assists and three rebounds in roughly 13 minutes in the Sun’s 67-61 win over New York. Evina Maltsi will probably keep her spot in the starting lineup at least for another game or two while Sales gets eased in, but as she proved in her last return from injury, Sales is still capable of putting up big numbers; she topped 20 points twice in the five games before the concussion.

(2) Asjha Jones (2002): 15.6 points, 6.12 rebounds, 45.7 field-goal percentage
Low-down: Jones had a solid week, scoring 12 points twice and 16 another time. She didn’t shoot particularly well (38.3 percent in three games) but in two games against New York, she mostly relied on jumpers from the outside, most of which came from the top of the key or the elbows extended. Don’t expect Jones to abandon her inside game, though – she is still very capable, especially tonight against Chicago, a team she scored 22 against on 9-of-12 shooting last time out.

Detroit Shock:
(1) Swin Cash (2002): 11.7 points, 6.27 rebounds, 2.5 assists
Low-down: With Cheryl Ford sidelined for at least the rest of the regular season, Cash is going to be relied upon even more for rebounds, and she’s responded. In her last four games, she’s averaged 7.25 boards per game and has grabbed 10 twice. She added 16 points in Detroit’s last game, a 75-73 win over Los Angeles on Sunday.

Indiana Fever:
(1) Ann Strother (2006): 2.5 points, 0.88 rebounds (in eight games played)
Low-down: Seeing action for the first time in six games on Friday, Strother responded by scoring 11 points and grabbing four rebounds in 14 minutes, the most she’s seen in one game all year. She followed that with six points in eight minutes a game later. The Fever, however, are still struggling without Tamika Catchings, as they’ve lost their last six contests.

New York Liberty:
(1) Ashley Battle (2005): 8 points, 4.04 rebounds, 1.00 steal
Low-down: Battle somewhat struggled in two games against the Sun this past week, scoring 10 points in 36 minutes between the two contests. The performances hardly compared to her last showing against the Sun when she netted 18 points in 30 minutes. It doesn’t help the Liberty are in a huge rut at the moment, having lost six straight.

Phoenix Mercury:
(1) Diana Taurasi (2004): 18.3 points, 4.46 rebounds, 4.3 assists
Low-down: After a relatively quiet stretch two weeks ago, Taurasi turned it on in her last three games, topping 15 points and four 3-pointers in all three contests. She was especially dominant in the Mercury’s 98-96 win over Chicago last Friday, scoring 26 on 10-of-14 shooting and dishing out five assists. Oh yeah, she also nailed the game-winner with five seconds left.

(2) Kelly Schumacher (2001): 4.5 points, 4.12 rebounds, 46.0 field-goal percentage
Low-down: Schumacher wasn’t a factor in any of the Mercury’s three wins last week, netting a total of seven points and seeing 15-plus minutes just once. She only hit two field goals between the three games and didn’t score in the team’s victory over Chicago. But considering the Mercury’s style of play, Schumacher is prone to stretches like this.

Seattle Storm:
(1) Sue Bird (2002): 10.1 points, 4.9 assists, 1.71 steals
Low-down: Bird had perhaps her best game since returning from her knee injury on Sunday, scoring 17 points, making three steals and dishing out five assists. Unfortunately it came in a 92-88 loss to San Antonio and Bird also committed five turnovers. Two games prior – another Seattle loss – Bird scored 12 points and added seven assists, but went 0-for-6 from behind the 3-point arc.

Los Angeles Sparks:
(1) Jessica Moore (2005): 4.0 points, 2.67 rebounds, 39.4 field-goal percentage
Low-down: Moore has started her team’s last four games and she hasn’t disappointed. Since the last Huskies Update, she’s averaged 8.3 points per game – more than double her season average – and scored 12 points on 4-of-6 shooting on Sunday. But, like many of her fellow UConn alums this week, her performances have all come in losses, as Los Angeles has lost 10 of its last 11 games.

Houston Comets:
(1) Barbara Turner (2006): 5.3 points, 1.88 rebounds, 42.9 field-goal percentage
Low-down: In the Comets’ only two games this week, Turner had contrasting performances, scoring two points in seven minutes one game before netting 11 in 20 minutes her next. In that second game – an 88-70 loss to Chicago – Turner made 8-of-9 field goals and hit her only field goal – a 3-pointer.

Minnesota Lynx:
(1) Svetlana Abrosimova (2001): 8.7 points, 4.11 rebounds, 2.3 assists
Low-down: Don’t look now but the Lynx have won two straight to end a 10-game losing streak and Abrosimova remained a big part of the team’s success. She tied a game-high of 23 points in Minnesota’s first win, hitting 9-of-16 shots, and followed that with a 10-point, five-assist performance two nights later.

(2) Tamika Raymond (2002): 0.9 points, 1.14 rebounds
Low-down: Raymond scored zero points in her team’s last three games, seeing eight minutes between the contests. She saw just one minute of action in the team’s 78-73 win over Sacramento on Sunday, the same night Seimone Augustus torched the Monarchs for 39 points.

Changing face of the East

Two weeks ago, following the WNBA All-Star break, the Eastern Conference playoff picture seemed pretty predictable:

The Detroit Shock and Indiana Fever, fresh off two of the best first halves in conference history, looked to be locked in a battle for the regular-season title; the Sun, building momentum, were playing the New York Liberty for third; and the Chicago Sky, then losers of five straight, seemed to be playing themselves out of contention. The Washington Mystics, meanwhile, were a dangerous team but probably too outmatched to make a push for a postseason berth.

But this is why they played the second half.

Between injuries, a few unexpected runs and a few more unexpected stumbles, the stretch run for the Eastern Conference playoffs should make for an interesting three weeks.

Detroit, though seemingly comfortable up four games in first place, lost All-Star Game MVP Cheryl Ford for the rest of the regular season to a knee injury and possibly for the playoffs.

Indiana, after losing Tamika Catchings to a foot injury, is suddenly in a free fall, losing six straight after starting the season at 16-4.

Meanwhile, the Sun, as many around the team and league expected, have turned it around and with two straight wins over New York, are still climbing the standings. New York has also lost six straight, despite playing well in many of those games; and the Sky are riding a stretch of four wins in five games and took down Detroit last week.

The Mystics are still in last place but are by no means out of it. At 10-14, they are tied with New York and sit just a game back of Chicago (12-14) for the final playoff spot.

Indiana’s fall from grace may be the most interesting – and surprising – development. Catchings, who partially tore the plantar fascia in her left foot, was a big blow, and, according to Sun Mike Thibault, may force the Fever to find a different identity with her sidelined. She is expected to miss two to three weeks after suffering the injury on July 20. If she stays on schedule, she would return either for the end of the regular season or right before the playoffs, given the Fever make it.

The Sun are currently two games behind Indiana and two games up on Chicago for third. Here are the full standings on WNBA.com.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Sun, Liberty take two

The Sun and Liberty tip off shortly here at Madison Square Garden. Here are some quick notes entering the second of two straight match-ups between the two teams:

(1) Nykesha Sales (mild concussion) isn’t in the Sun’s starting lineup and is listed as questionable on the media game notes. But she was participating in the pre-game shoot around just a few minutes ago, and looks ready to play for the first time in four games.

When Sales came back from her ankle injury a few weeks ago, the supposed plan was to ease her back into her regular minutes. But with two overtime contests in her first three games back out West, she played major minutes (40 the first, 27 the second and 39 the third).

Expect Sun coach Mike Thibault to be a little more cautious this time around, especially with Sales’ replacement in the starting five, Evina Maltsi, playing so well as of late. In his defense, he didn’t really have the choice not to play Sales last time.

Another lineup note: Erika de Souza is making her first career start in place of Margo Dydek. This is solely because of the match-up problems New York center Janel McCarville creates.

(2) One of the hottest players in the league right now, Lindsay Whalen enters tonight eight assists shy of 600 in her career. Katie Douglas, who has already set a new single-season high with 99 dimes, needs one more to give the Sun two players with 100 assists in the same season for the first time in franchise history.

Check the front page of NorwichBulletin.com for updates at halftime (around 5 p.m.) and following the game.

Friday, July 27, 2007

A few minutes with Sun GM Chris Sienko

Not to harp on the passed WNBA trade deadline – which, for all intents and purposes, was just another day considering no deals were made – but here is a transcript of a quick interview with Sun general manger Chris Sienko regarding possible moves the team might have made that didn’t make it into Friday’s stories (game story, sidebar):

Norwich Bulletin: Considering the confidence you had a few weeks that this team could turn around its season around, these are pretty much results you expected.

Chris Sienko: It’s exactly what I expected. You have a senior group – there are some rookies who are sprinkled in there – but you have people who know the system and you have to expect things are going to turnaround.

NB: The trade deadline passed on Tuesday (July 24) and obviously no moves were made around the league. But did you and the Sun have any discussions with anyone (about a deal)?

Sienko: We talk to a lot of different teams, but again, what people are offering and what you’re offering and what people want in return are very different. And then you have teams who think they’re going to make, teams they don’t think they’re going to make it so the disparity is great.

And there are very few that are out of the playoffs already. So there is very limited chance to do stuff. It’s not (surprising) to not have any trades.

NB: Anything in particular you discussed?

Sienko: We talked to some teams about stuff that we wanted to do but we had no takers.

NB: It’s hard (to trade) anyway now, with the salary caps the way they are around the league.

Sienko: But that’s not really that big of an issue. You can either cut a player or you can trade a couple for a certain amount of players. You can give two $30,000 players for a $60,000 player so there are always ways to make it work.

NB: Even though you didn’t make any trades, the play of Evina (Maltsi) lately, considering she was as an in-season signing, must seem like a trade in itself.

Sienko: She’s fantastic. People aren’t expecting her ability but we know what it is. But to have a 28-year-old rookie is always a big plus because she has played so well overseas. So to come here and she started to get into the program, it’s going to take time for things to gel.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Sun host New York tonight

The Sun and Liberty renew their rivalry at 7 p.m. tonight. As expected, Nykesha Sales is out of the starting lineup as she still recovers from a mild concussion. Here are the full starting fives for both teams:

Connecticut Sun (12-12):
Forward – Asjha Jones
Forward – Evina Maltsi
Center – Margo Dydek
Guard – Katie Douglas
Guard – Lindsay Whalen

New York Liberty (10-12):
Forward –Shameka Christon
Forward – Catherine Kraayeveld
Center – Janel McCarville
Guard – Loree Moore
Guard – Erin Thorn

Some notes:
(1) The Sun jumped out to 17-0 lead on the Liberty last time at Mohegan Sun Arena, but New York switched to a zone defense and the Sun, then struggling to hit shots from the outside, made just eight of 24 3-pointers. Connecticut also made what was then a season-high 23 turnovers.

But the Sun have vastly improved in that department. In the first four games of their homestand, they’ve committed nine, 10, 14 and 10, respectively, for an average of 10.8 per game. Not bad.

Check the home page of NorwichBulletin.com for updates at halftime (around 8 p.m.) and following the game.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

A story and a note

Here’s a copy of the notebook that ran in the first edition of Wednesday’s Bulletin. Many of you probably didn’t get a chance to see it, so here it is:

Norwich Bulletin

MOHEGAN -- Back in 2004, when the Detroit Shock were defending their first WNBA title, they didn’t quite realize how hard it would be.

They watched the finals on television that year.

Three years -- and one more championship -- later, the Shock entered Tuesday’s night showdown with the Connecticut Sun as they have most games this season: focused, intense and, most importantly, well aware of what it takes to accomplish the one goal to elude them.

That is, winning two straight WNBA titles.

“In 2004, we were real young,” said Detroit coach Bill Laimbeer. “We were a bunch of babies and we didn’t realize how hard we had to play to defend the championship and we got caught up in some problems. We don’t have that right now.”

Detroit’s 15-5 start stands as one of the best in league history -- only this year’s Fever team’s 16-4 mark, an Eastern Conference record, was better through 20 games -- and it included some dandies.

The Shock scored a league-record 72 second-half points in a 111-82 win over Phoenix on July 8, the first victory in their six-game win streak entering Tuesday. Less than three weeks later, they held Washington to 13 first-half points, the third fewest in WNBA history.

Then of course, there’s the Shock 89-80 win over Indiana last Friday – a victory that, with Indiana’s loss the next night to Chicago, moved them into first.

A big part of their success has been UConn grad Swin Cash, who after injuring her knee at the end of the 2004 season, has seemed to regain that edge she had prior to going down, when she averaged more than 16 points per game for two straight seasons.

The forward is averaging 11.9 points and 6.1 rebounds per game, and has played a big role in place of Cheryl Ford, who sat out Tuesday for the second straight game with a sprained knee – the same injury that kept her sidelined for a handful of games earlier in the year.

“She wills herself to work hard,” Laimbeer said of Cash. “She goes out and gets out there after rebounds. If you play hard in this league, you’re going to get results. And with Cheryl being out, we needed her rebounding more this year.”

A quick note:
The WNBA trade deadline passed Tuesday rather quietly. Actually, it passed very quietly -- no trades were made anywhere in the league. It was expected, though -- current salary caps around the league make it harder to deal than in the past. As of a couple weeks ago, with the Sun struggling, there was a chance they could have pushed for a trade, but with the team’s improved play and the emergence of Evina Maltsi (an early-season signing) there really was no need.

Sun swept by Shock in regular season series

Despite the Sun’s sometimes patchy play down the stretch, their 92-88 loss to the Detroit Shock – and subsequently, the two teams’ rivalry – lived up to the hype on national television Tuesday. For the fourth time this year – all Shock wins – the game was decided by five or fewer points, and for the most part, it was an exciting, well-played game.

Both teams shot at or around 50 percent, they each got career nights from a player in Deanna Nolan (franchise-record 36 points) and Lindsay Whalen (career-high 33 points) and with the crowd into it, it had a great atmosphere.

The Sun weren’t terrible in the game’s waning moments – they only finished with 10 turnovers and shot 60 percent in the fourth quarter alone. But they didn’t do the things needed to win, more specifically make every possession count and get the key stop.

They had been doing those things (and everything else) throughout their six-game win streak.

“It was a great game for TV,” said Detroit coach Bill Laimbeer. “The Indiana game was played at Indiana (an 89-80 Detroit win) was the same way – both teams making shots, going up and down the floor. It was a high-scoring game and really fun to watch.”

It was actually the highest-scoring game in regulation the Sun have been involved in this season. Here are some other statistical highlights that didn’t make it into today’s stories (game story, notebook):

(1) Jamie Carey played despite being questionable with an ankle injury. She hit a three-pointer, her 20th of the season compared to just four two-point field goals.
(2) The Sun made 36 field goals, topping 30 for the seventh game in a row.
(3) Whalen became the fifth player in franchise history to score 30-plus points and the third this season, following Asjha Jones (31 points on May 31) and Katie Douglas (30 on June 22). Shannon Johnson – who started for the Shock Tuesday – holds the club record for 35 points in a contest, set back in 2002 in a triple-overtime game in Cleveland.

Some more notes:
(1) Evina Maltsi was held to four points in 29 minutes of action Tuesday but grabbed five rebounds in place of Nykesha Sales in the starting lineup. The Greece native has played well when called upon to start, but didn’t quite have her normal stroke Tuesday.

For more on Maltsi, check out her Web site, http://www.evanthia-maltsi.com/, dug up somewhere on the Web by Bulletin senior writer, Brian Girasoli.

(2) For all the talk of Nolan being the league’s most athletic and exciting player, she proved that to be true Tuesday. Just in her elevation on her jump shots you can see how skilled she is, and with her quickness and somewhat lanky frame, she may be the toughest guard to defend in the league.

Of Detroit’s 36 field goals on Tuesday, she had 16 of them – or roughly 45 percent of her team’s made shots – while only having to sink 2-of-4 foul shots.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

A Huskies update (2nd edition)

Here’s the weekly update on UConn alums around the league, with their season averages in key categories:

Connecticut Sun:
(1) Nykesha Sales (UConn, 1998): 14.1 points, 4.24 rebounds, 3.5 assists per game
Low-down: Already fighting off two nagging ankle injuries, Sales is expected to miss at least tonight’s game against Detroit and perhaps Thursday’s game against New York with a mild concussion she suffered last Friday. As of last year, the Sun’s all-time leading scorer was one of the league’s most durable players. Even when she does return this season, she’ll most likely play limited minutes some nights, depending on how she feels, but she is still a solid contributor on both ends of the floor.

(2) Asjha Jones (2002): 15.9 points, 6.41 rebounds, 46.8 field-goal percentage
Low-down: After already establishing herself as a player to watch this season with her first All-Star selection, Jones made another statement this weekend when she stood toe-to-toe with Seattle’s Lauren Jackson and Houston’s Tina Thompson – and emerged averaging nearly 20 points and six rebounds in the two games.

Detroit Shock:
(1) Swin Cash (2002): 11.9 points, 6.09 rebounds, 2.5 assists
Low-down: With Detroit playing as well as any team in the league – the Sun included – Cash enters tonight’s game in Connecticut having finished an impressive week. In three games, she averaged 13.3 points and 6.3 rebounds. She was especially good in the Shock’s 87-82 win over New York last Wednesday, scoring 19 points and hitting 9-of-11 free throws.

Indiana Fever:
(1) Ann Strother (2006): 0.5 points, 0.33 rebounds (in six games played)
Low-down: Strother didn’t see any time in the last three games for the Fever, who, without Tamika Catchings (foot), are struggling with losses in their last two games.

New York Liberty:
(1) Ashley Battle (2005): 8.3 points, 4.09 rebounds, 1.00 steal
Low-down: Battle continues to be a spark plug off the Liberty bench. Though New York is struggling with losses in its last four games, Battle scored in double figures twice in her last three games, and led her team with 17 points in 28 minutes in an 87-82 loss last Wednesday.

Phoenix Mercury:
(1) Diana Taurasi (2004): 18 points, 4.29 rebounds, 4.3 assists
Low-down: It was a quiet week for Taurasi – at least in her terms – as she averaged 13.3 points in three games and was limited to nine points on 2-of-10 shooting inn 87-77 loss to the struggling Los Angeles Sparks last Friday. She also didn’t get to the free throw line like she’s used to, making 8-of-10 free throws in the three contests. She leads the Mercury with 123 free-throw attempts.

(2) Kelly Schumacher (2001): 4.7 points, 4.39 rebounds, 46.3 field-goal percentage
Low-down: Schumacher continued to see her regular minutes this past week, playing just over 13 in three games. The center scored eight points in 16 minutes on Sunday, but still hasn’t reached double figures in scoring since scoring 10 on June 22, a span of nine games.

Seattle Storm:
(1) Sue Bird (2002): 9.8 points, 4.8 assists, 1.61 steals
Low-down: Bird returned last Friday from arthroscopic knee surgery to score seven points in a loss to the Sun. She followed that up with a three-point performance in a 77-75 win in New York, but they were crucial -points – Bird hit a 3-pointer with 10 seconds remaining to lift Seattle to the win. She also dished out five assists in the victory.

Los Angeles Sparks:
(1) Jessica Moore (2005): 3.4 points, 2.52 rebounds, 35.5 field-goal percentage
Low-down: Moore played a key role in the Sparks’ upset win over Phoenix last Friday – Los Angeles’ first in eight games – by scoring 10 points in 16 minutes. It was Moore’s ninth start of the season.

Houston Comets:
(1) Barbara Turner (2006): 5.1 points, 1.93 rebounds, 42.4 field-goal percentage
Low-down: As touched upon in Monday’s notebook, Turner played 27 minutes in a loss to the Sun Sunday, scoring a career-high 15 points and grabbing four rebounds. She’d only played 23 minutes in six July games entering the contest, but played big for Houston, as several of her friends and family watched from the stands.

Minnesota Lynx:
(1) Svetlana Abrosimova (2001): 7.9 points, 4.38 rebounds, 2.1 assists
Low-down: Though the last-place Lynx are struggling with nine straight loss – all in July – Abrosimova has played big, scoring in double figures in four of her last five games and registering 20 points twice in that span. She’s hit 12 of her last 17 3-pointers (70.5 percent).

(2) Tamika Raymond (2002): 1.2 points, 1.3 (through 11 games)
Low-down: Raymond has continued to see very little time, despite the Lynx’s recent struggles. She’s played a total of 14 minutes in her last three games, taking just one shot and scoring zero points. As for the rest of her Minnesota team, here’s a good glimpse into the club’s struggles as a whole, courtesy of the Star Tribune.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Sun-Comets starters and notes

Here are today’s starting lineups:

Connecticut Sun (11-11)
Forward – Asjha Jones
Forward – Evina Maltsi
Center – Margo Dydek
Guard – Lindsay Whalen
Guard – Katie Douglas

Houston Comets (7-15)
Forward – Sancho Lyttle
Forward – Tina Thompson
Center – Michelle Snow
Guard – Hamchetou Maiga-Ba
Guard – Crystal Smith

Watch out for Tamecka Dixon coming off the bench for Houston. The 10-year veteran signed with the Comets on July 2 and is averaging 11.5 points per game. She scored 20 in the Comets’ win over New York on Friday.

Also, expect a good night for Maltsi, who in three starts this season is averaging 13.3 points and four rebounds in 31 minutes of action. Her career high 23-point performance came in her last start on July 7 in L.A., a game in which she hit on 9-of-13 shots, including 5-of-5 from 3-point range.

It's interesting that the Sun have Maltsi listed as a forward, when in past starts she's played guard with Douglas moving to the frontcourt. But in the end, it doesn't make too much of a difference -- man-to-man match-ups aren't confined by positions. Last game, Douglas guarded Sue Bird at times, while at others, she had the assignment of Iziane Castro Marques.

One final note: UConn grad Barbara Turner makes her return to Connecticut today. Turner, who was signed in early June by the Comets, has been dealing with a severely bruised hip she suffered earlier this season, and has seen only 23 minutes of action in six July games.

As usual check the home page of NorwichBulletin.com for updates at halftime (around 5 p.m.) and following the game.

Sales home for today's Sun-Comets game

Some notes entering today’s Sun-Houston Comets game at 4 p.m. at Mohegan Sun Arena:

Nykesha Sales, who injured her head in a collision with Seattle’s Janell Burse Sunday during the Sun’s 76-58 victory, will be home for today’s game against Houston. Sales looked groggy when she left the court following the hit – indicating a possible concussion – and was taken to a local hospital following the game for observation.

She was released later that night and also missed practice on Saturday. As it has been widely publicized, Sales has been hampered by injuries the whole season (sore Achilles, sprained ankle) and today will mark the sixth game she’s missed this season.

Sun rookie Kamesha Hairston also didn’t dress last game and was wearing a brace on her right wrist while watching from the bench.

The Sun, however, aren’t the only team dealing of injuries. The Indiana Fever lost MVP candidate Tamika Catchings to a partial tear in her left plantar fascia (foot) on Friday, and she is expected to miss two to three weeks. It’s a big blow to the Fever, who also lost their hold on first place in the East with losses to Detroit on Friday and Chicago on Saturday.

Here is the game story from last night’s loss to the Sky, courtesy of the Indianapolis Star.

Check back in a few moments for today’s Sun-Comets starting lineups. Expect Evina Maltsi to start in place of Sales.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Tonight's starters for Storm at Sun

No surprises with the starting lineups but here they are:

Connecticut Sun (10-11):
Forward – Asjha Jones
Forward – Nykesha Sales
Center – Margo Dydek
Guard – Lindsay Whalen
Guard – Katie Douglas

Seattle Storm (11-10):
Forward – Lauren Jackson
Forward – Iziane Castro Marques
Center – Janell Burse
Guard – Sue Bird
Guard – Betty Lennox

Check the front page of NorwichBulletin.com for a updates at halftime (around 8 p.m.) and following the game.

Sun, Storm to clash

The Sun and Storm take the floor at 7 p.m. tonight, and it should be an interesting test for the Sun. They have clearly found a rhythm in recent weeks, winning their last four games, but Seattle can be a dangerous foe, especially with Sue Bird back after sitting out five games following arthroscopic knee surgery.

The Storm have lost three of four and are only 4-7 on the road, but the Sun are still trying to figure out how to win consistently at Mohegan Sun Arena, where they’re 3-6.

Players to watch for tonight are (obviously) Lauren Jackson (leads the league at 23 points per game) and Bird (second in the assists at 5.0 per game), but keep an eye on Betty Lennox, who picked up the offensive slack with Bird out, scoring 22, 14 and 12 in her last three games, respectively.

Erin Phillips, last season’s spark plug off the bench for the Sun, is in the house tonight. Phillips was “suspended” by the Sun after she tore her ACL during the offseason, but it was a strategic move to clear space under the salary cap.

She is meeting with the media sometime before the game, so pick up out tomorrow’s Bulletin for an update on the 22-year-old Aussie.

Check back before the game for full starting lineups for tonight’s game.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Sun, Lynx to square off

The Sun and Minnesota Lynx tip off on tonight ESPN2, starting at 7:30 p.m. Here are the game’s projected starters:

Minnesota Lynx (5-16)
Forward – Tiffany Stansbury
Forward – Svetlana Abrosimova
Center – Nicole Ohlde
Guard – Seimone Augustus
Guard – Noelle Quinn

Connecticut Sun (9-11)
Forward – Asjha Jones
Forward – Nykesha Sales
Center – Margo Dydek
Guard – Katie Douglas
Guard – Lindsay Whalen

Check the home page of NorwichBulletin.com for updates at halftime (around 8:30 p.m.) and after the game.

A Huskies update

This is the first in a new weekly post that will focus on UConn alums around the WNBA and what they’re doing. It will be updated every Tuesday afternoon.

Connecticut Sun:
(1) Nykesha Sales (UConn, 1998): 15.4 points, 4.33 rebounds, 3.5 assists per game
Low-down: After missing four straight games (and five of six) due to a sprained ankle/bothersome hip/sore Achilles’ tendon, Sales returned for the final two games of the Sun’s West Coast road trip, scoring 15 and 23 points respectively. Katie Douglas made a good point Monday in practice, saying Sales not only brings another offensive weapon to the Sun but one with fresh legs.

(2) Asjha Jones (2002): 15.9 points, 6.63 rebounds, 46.9 field-goal percentage
Low-down: Jones’s success as a first-year starter has been well-chronicled. Expect more of the same in the second half. Jones has played starter-like minutes the last two years and the better the guards around her are playing – which they are as of late – the more it will free up opportunities for her down low.

Detroit Shock:
(1) Swin Cash (2002): 11.7 points, 6.05 rebounds, 2.5 assists
Low-down: Cash was passed over for the All-Star team, but she’s still effective as ever, hitting on all her career averages in nearly every offensive category. More so, she’s looked as good as she has since coming back from a 2005 knee injury. Expect her to continue to be one of the Shock’s key contributors as they vie for their second straight WNBA title.

Indiana Fever:
(1) Ann Strother (2006): 0.5 points, 0.33 rebounds (in six games played)
Low-down: Strother has seen limited time this season, moving to the inactive list for the fourth time this season in the Fever’s last game. Strother has only played in one game since seeing 1 minutes, 48 seconds of time on June 16, and in that contest, she went 0-for-2 in 3:15 of action against Chicago.

New York Liberty:
(1) Ashley Battle (2005): 7.7 points, 4.05 rebounds, 1.00 steals
Low-down: Battle has been a steady contributor off the bench for the Liberty, the only team to not have a player named to this year’s All-Star game. She’s scored just 17 points in her last four games but was on fire to end June, topping 30 minutes in five straight games and scoring in double digits in four of them. Her best game, however, stands as her 18-point performance at Mohegan Sun Arena on June 20. She’s started five games this year.

Phoenix Mercury:
(1) Diana Taurasi (2004): 17.8 points, 4.3 rebounds, 4.2 assists
Low-down: Taurasi has continued to be one of the league’s top players, though it doesn’t look as if she’ll come close to reaching her WNBA-record 25.3 scoring average of last season. She was also suspended two games for comments she made to a ref at the end of a game this season. Still, one of the greatest players in UConn history continues to make that same case in WNBA history, as she is the leader of the league’s best offense again this season.

(2) Kelly Schumacher (2001): 4.9 points, 4.5 rebounds, 0.2 assists
Low-down: The Mercury’s primary center, Schumacher is sometimes lost in the mix of how the high-scoring Mercury play but she gives Phoenix solid minutes off the bench (16.6) but has had her best games against the East. All three of her double-digit scoring performances came against Indiana (14 points), Detroit (10) and Chicago (10).

Seattle Storm:
(1) Sue Bird (2002): 10.4 points, 5.0 assists, 1.56 steals
Low-down: The leading vote-getter in this year’s All-Star Game, Bird is second in the league in assists but has been sidelined the last week and half (and missed the All-Star Game) after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery to remove “particles.” There’s a good chance Bird returns, however on Friday – when the Storm visit the Sun.

Los Angeles Sparks:
(1) Jessica Moore (2005): 2.9 points, 2.4 rebounds
Low-down: A full-time starter last year for the Sparks Moore has started just seven of 19 games this season and has shot just 32.8 percent from the floor. She isn’t the only Sparks player struggling though as L.A. has lost six straight and are among the worst teams in the league right now.

Houston Comets:
(1) Barbara Turner (2006): 4.9 points, 1.7 rebounds
Low-down: Turner has seen time in just 11 games this season, after signing as a free agent with the Comets. She hasn’t topped 10 minutes mid-June and has been ruled inactive five times since then.

Minnesota Lynx:
(1) Svetlana Abrosimova (2001): 6.6 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.1 assists
Low-down: Abrosimova visits Mohegan Sun Arena with the Lynx tonight and as always, expect the crowd to give her a warm welcome. The six-year veteran has been steady this whole year for the up-and-down Lynx, who took a big hit when they lost point guard Lindsay Harding to a torn ACL before the All-Star break. Abrosimova had her best game of the season recently, though, when she scored 20 points in a 91-83 loss at Washington, the same night Harding went down.

(2) Tamika Raymond (2002): 1.6 points, 1.25 rebounds (through eight games)
Low-down: Raymond has been limited to eight games this season due to a variety of injuries that include a mild concussion and strained hamstring that kept her out at the start of the season. She’s played sparingly since, seeing a combined 14 minutes after playing 20 minutes on June 13.

Monday, July 16, 2007

All-Star tidbit: Douglas falls in first round of Shootout

A note from All-Star Sunday that didn’t make it into today’s story:

Katie Douglas, last year’s runner-up in the WNBA Three-Point Shootout and this year’s first participant to shoot, didn’t make it out of the first round of the competition Sunday despite tallying 19 points. In last year’s inaugural event, 19 was the highest one-round total of the day.

Washington’s Laurie Koehn (23 points in the first round) compiled 20 in the finals to edge out Phoenix teammates Diana Taurasi (16 points) and Penny Taylor (19).

“I had the disadvantage of going first. I don’t know how I get runner-up last year and have to go first this year,” Douglas joked, according to WNBA.com.

Check out tomorrow’s Bulletin for the advance story on the Sun’s match-up with the Minnesota Lynx on Tuesday at Mohegan Sun Arena (7:30 p.m., ESPN2).

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Sales, Whalen buoy Sun on road trip

Although hampered by a sprained ankle, sore Achilles’ tendon and aching hip, Nykesha Sales played back-to-back games Wednesday and Thursday and played a major role in the Sun’s increasingly potent offense.

She scored a game-high 23 points in an 82-78 overtime win over the Sacramento Monarchs on Thursday, a night after scoring 15 points in a 76-63 win over the Seattle Storm. In both games, she led the Sun in shots (18 against Sacramento, 15 against Seattle).

Sun coach Mike Thibault said there was a question if Sales would play against the Monarchs – the veteran forward didn’t play last Saturday in L.A. after returning the night before against Phoenix. But the Sun (3-1 on the West Coast road trip) put the Storm away early in the fourth quarter, making it a very easy decision to sit Sales (27 minutes played) for the rest of the game.

“(Thursday) night she was pretty gassed but it kind of gets your adrenaline going when you go into overtime, and you just have to gut it out for the next five minutes,” Thibault said. “She was limping for a while there but we took her out, gave her a break late in the third or early in the fourth quarter and she kind of got her second wind a little bit.

“She’s not going to be 100 percent at all the rest of the year,” he continued. “The Achilles and hip (problems) are always going to be there. That's not going away the rest of her career. It's just a matter of how much pounding she can take. She’s just keeping at it.”

Lindsay Whalen also finished a strong road trip. Over the four games, she averaged 15 points and six assists and shot nearly 58 percent from the field.

“It's how she played … before she got hurt,” Thibault said of Whalen, who underwent offseason ankle surgery in 2005. “She's been aggressive the whole trip and I think our whole team has been.

“Ever since we lost that Washington game at home (91-75 on June 26), I think that's been kind of a turning point for us,” he continued. “We had probably reached our low and like I said then, either you fight your way out or give in, and that's not our nature to give in.”

Some All-Star notes:
(1) Asjha Jones was in Washington Friday for All-Star weekend, said Bill Tavares, the Sun’s media relations manager. Jones had missed Thursday’s games for what Thibault called “personal reasons” and a “family illness.” Jones is expected to play in Sunday’s All-Star Game, her first.

(2) Katie Douglas was chosen to participate in the Three-Point Shootout, one of two pre-game skills competition on Sunday. Others players competing include the Phoenix Mercury’s Diana Taurasi and Penny Taylor, Los Angeles Sparks guard Sidney Spencer, Detroit Shock guard Deanna Nolan and Washington Mystics’ guard Laurie Koehn.
The set-up is as follows, according to WNBA.com: It’s a two-round competition with the top three finishers from the first round advancing to the finals. Five shooting stations will be set up around the three-point line, with four WNBA balls each worth one point and one “money ball” worth two points at each location.

(3) Seattle guard and UConn grad Sue Bird, who led all players in fan voting for the All-Star Game but will sit out after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery last Friday, was replaced on the roster by Sacramento guard Kara Lawson (11.4 points, 2.2 assists, 2.6 rebounds per game).

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

All-Star rundown

In case you missed today’s article in the Bulletin, here’s a complete list of the WNBA All-Star rosters, starters and reserves included.

Eastern Conference:
Tamika Catchings (Indiana Fever), forward
Cheryl Ford (Detroit Shock), forward
Deanna Nolan (Detroit Shock), guard
Anna DeForge (Indiana Fever), guard
Kara Braxton (Detroit Shock), center

Katie Douglas (Connecticut Sun), guard
Alana Beard (Washington Mystics), guard
Tammy Sutton-Brown (Indiana Fever), center
Candice Dupree (Chicago Sky), forward
DeLisha Milton-Jones (Washington Mystics), forward
Asjha Jones (Connecticut Sun), forward

Coach: Bill Laimbeer (Detroit Shock)

Western Conference:
Diana Taurasi (Phoenix Mercury), forward
Lauren Jackson (Seattle Storm), forward
Sue Bird (Seattle Storm), guard
Becky Hammon (San Antonio Silver Stars), guard
Yolanda Griffith (Sacramento Monarchs), center

Seimone Augustus (Minnesota Lynx), guard
Cappie Pondexter (Phoenix Mercury), guard
Taj McWilliams-Franklin (L.A. Sparks), center
Tina Thompson (Houston Comets), forward
Rebekkah Brunson (Sacramento Monarchs), forward
Penny Taylor (Phoenix Mercury), forward

Coach: Jenny Boucek (Sacramento Monarchs)

Some reaction from Connecticut Sun players and coach (from press release):
Asjha Jones (16.4 points, 6.5 rebounds per game; first-time selection)
“It’s an honor to be considered in the same context with all of those great players,” Jones said. “I have been working hard and it’s nice to be recognized for my growth as a player.”

Katie Douglas (16.9 points, 4.5 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 2.2 steals per game; two-time selection)
“It’s always exciting to make the All-Star game,” Douglas said. “I have great memories from last year and I’m looking forward to another great experience.”

Mike Thibault (Sun coach on Douglas and Jones)
“They deserve to be on the All-Star team,” Thibault said. “They have played like All-Stars. Katie proved how good she was last year, not only in the All-Star game but in the totality of her season, and I’ve said all year that Asjha could be our next All-Star.”

(1) The Detroit Shock, Indiana Fever and Phoenix Mercury led all teams with three selections each. New York, currently third in the East, was the only team not have a player named.

Essentially, Catherine Kraayeveld (11.3 points, 5.39 rebounds per game) was passed over for hometown player, DeLisha Milton-Jones (14 points, 5.72 rebounds) of Washington. It’s a close call, though it’s hard to argue the conference’s last place team deserved two selections while one of it best – and most surprising teams – deserved none.

(2) Sue Bird will need to be replaced on the roster, as she is out for the next two weeks or so after undergoing arthroscopic surgery to remove “particles” from her left knee.

If she is replaced by guard, two good candidates are her teammate Betty Lennox (12.5 points, 3.1 assists, 4.5 rebounds, 93.5 free-throw percentage) or San Antonio’s Erin Buescher (11.9 points, 6.41 rebounds, 2.06 steals, 2.4 assists per game), though as she’s moved into the starting lineup, the listed guard has played more forward.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Some All-Star predictions (Part 2)

As advertised, here’s a look at five standouts in the Western Conference who should earn a reserve spot in the WNBA All-Star Game, set for Sunday, July 15:

Western Conference:
Seimone Augustus, Minnesota (Averages: 22.3 points, 4.2 rebounds, 50.9 shooting percentage)
Low-down: It’s not often the league’s second-leading scorer doesn’t get a sniff of the All-Star starting lineup, but with Sue Bird and Becky Hammon leading the ballot, Augustus didn’t come close to garnering enough votes. Her talent, though, is undeniable – Augustus hasn’t been held to single figures all season and for a guard, her 50.9 field-goal percentage is downright ridiculous.

Cappie Pondexter, Phoenix (Averages: 16.9 points, 3.4 assists, 3.25 rebounds)
Low-down: One of the many cogs in the Mercury’s high-powered offense, Pondexter currently sits ninth in the league in scoring and has actually made more baskets than All-Star starter Diana Taurasi (106 to 99) in fewer minutes (499 to 545). And it’s not like its unexpected – Pondexter averaged 19.5 points per game as a rookie last year.

Tina Thompson, Houston (Averages: 18.4 points, 5.7 rebounds, 37.1 minutes)
Low-down: Thompson didn’t get much love in the All-Star voting – teammate Sheryl Swoopes, who has played just three games thus far, beat her out – but the 11th-year veteran deserves a spot. Thompson leads the league in minutes played per game, is sixth in scoring and is second on the Comets in rebounding.

Penny Taylor, Phoenix (Averages: 16.6 points, 6.05 rebounds, 49.5 shooting percentage)
Low-down: Like Pondexter and Taurasi, Taylor clearly benefits from the Mercury’s style of offense, but on a team that lacks a low-post presence, Taylor picks up the slack, as she leads the team in both offensive and total rebounds. In Phoenix’s 111-109 double-overtime victory on Friday – perhaps the game of the year thus far – Taylor was the star, scoring 30 points in 33 minutes.

Taj McWilliams-Franklin, Los Angeles (Averages: 11.6 points, 5.87 rebounds, 50.4 shooting percentage)
Low-down: Though slowed by a hamstring injury as of late, McWilliams-Franklin is one of the few major offensive threats in the West at center, perhaps the thinnest position in the league. She played 23 minutes, scoring 10 points, against her former team, the Sun, on Saturday. But don’t be surprised if an extra forward, such as Nicole Powell, gets this spot instead.

Open up Tuesday’s Bulletin for a story on who made the cut.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Some All-Star predictions (Part 1)

Monday, the WNBA announces the reserves for the All-Star Game, scheduled for Sunday, July 15, in Washington.

The Sun’s Katie Douglas and Asjha Jones – both among the top 15 scorers in the league and the clear leaders of a suddenly surging Sun offense – should be included in those added, with point guard Lindsay Whalen having an outside shot of making the team.

Here’s a look at a few others, by position, who should earn a spot:

Eastern Conference:
Alana Beard, Washington (Averages: 18.9 points, 2.2 steals, 43.2 shooting percentage)
Low-down: Anyone who watched Beard scorch the Sun for 20 points on June 26 – scoring 16 of her team’s 18 points in one stretch – can attest to the fourth-year pro’s dangerous offensive game. And she’s finished the first half strong, too: Beard is averaging 22.3 points per game in July.

Katie Smith, Detroit (Averages: 13 points, 4.3 assists, team-leading 31 3-pointers)
Low-down: As if the Shock needed another All-Star representative – they already have three starters – but Smith is as deserving as her teammates. The veteran can score when called upon (20 and 19 points in her last two games) and she leads the Shock in assists. She had 10 of them in one game earlier this season.

Candice Dupree, Chicago (Averages: 19.8 points, 8.1 rebounds, 50.2 shooting percentage)
Low-down: Dupree should have been a starter, as she sits third in the league in scoring and has led the Sky’s resurgence this season in just their second year as a franchise. But the second-year star will have to settle for a simple All-Star nod; she has only scored in single figures twice this season.

Catherine Kraayeveld, New York (Averages: 11.2 points, 5.24 rebounds, 1.18 steals)
Low-down: The former late-round pick leads the Liberty in rebounds and, in large part, they go as she goes. In the New York’s eight losses, Kraayeveld averaged 8.1 points per game; in its 10 wins, she’s scored 12.8 per. Her four season-highs this year have all come in Liberty wins.

Tammy Sutton-Brown, Indiana (Averages: 12 points, 5.5 rebounds, 56.1 shooting percentage)
Low-down: Like Dupree, Sutton-Brown probably should be starting, especially over Kara Braxton (5.9 points, 6.0 rebounds, 37.1 shooting percentage). One of the best free-agent signings this past off-season, Sutton-Brown has lifted the Fever to first place in the conference and has helped make them one of the league’s better rebounding teams as well.

Check here Monday morning for a run-down on five players in the Western Conference who should playing be in the nation’s capital next Sunday.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Several highs on a low night

The Connecticut Sun lost on a last-second (actually, last 2.1-second shot) Friday in a 111-109 double-overtime setback to the Phoenix Mercury, but they set several season highs in the process:

* Points (109)

* Field goals (37)

* Field-goal attempts (87)

* 3-point field goals (16) (Also a franchise record)

* 3-point field goal attempts (31)

* 3-point field goal percentage (51.8 percent)

* Rebounds (52)

* Offensive rebounds (18)

* Defensive rebounds (36)

And (unfortunately for them):

* Turnovers (25)

Oddly, it came against Phoenix on June 2 when they shot a season-low 11.1 percent from behind the three-point arc. Friday, they also fell one short of a season high in steals, with 10.

Here's a look at the top-10 highest scoring games this season (by date and total). The Sun have been apart of two of the top three while the Mercury, who lead the league in scoring at 87.28 points per game, have been apart of four of the top five.

Highest scoring games this season (by date):

May 23: Seattle 100, Phoenix 87 (187 points)

May 25: Phoenix 111, Houston 85 (196 points)

May 31: Phoenix 97, Houston 85 (182 points)

May 31: Connecticut 102, Chicago 97 (OT) (199 points)

June 8: Los Angeles 90, Minnesota 87 (177 points)

June 20: Washington 106, Phoenix 101 (207 points)

June 22: Houston 95, Washington 85 (180 points)

June 22: Los Angeles 96, Sacramento 88 (2 OT) (184 points)

June 23: Washington 99, Chicago 86 (185 points)

July 6: Phoenix 111, Connecticut 109 (2 OT) (220 points)

Highest scoring games this season (by total):

July 6: Phoenix 111, Connecticut 109 (2 OT) (220 points)

June 20: Washington 106, Phoenix 101 (207 points)

May 31: Connecticut 102, Chicago 97 (OT) (199 points)

May 25: Phoenix 111, Houston 85 (196 points)

May 23: Seattle 100, Phoenix 87 (187 points)

June 23: Washington 99, Chicago 86 (185 points)

June 22: Los Angeles 96, Sacramento 88 (2 OT) (184 points)

May 31: Phoenix 97, Houston 85 (182 points)

June 22: Houston 95, Washington 85 (180 points)

June 8: Los Angeles 90, Minnesota 87 (177 points)

Friday also marked the third double overtime game in the league this season.

Double overtime games:

July 6: Phoenix 111, Connecticut 109 (2 OT)

June 22: Los Angeles 96, Sacramento 88 (2 OT)

June 29: Chicago 92, Sacramento 84 (2 OT)

The Sun tip-off tonight against the Los Angeles Sparks, starting at 10:30 p.m. Check the home page of NorwichBulletin.com for updates at halftime and following the game.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Sun begin road trip tonight

Sorry for the long wait between posts this week. I’ve moved into a new place in Norwich and have been without Internet since last Saturday. Expect a bevy of entries over the next week.

OK, enough about me. On to the important stuff …

The Sun kick off their West Coast road trip tonight in Phoenix against the Mercury. Coincidently, as the Sun try to pull themselves out of this rut they’re in, they’ve started to do it against the only two teams they’ve beaten in the last month: the Indiana Fever (which they beat on consecutive Fridays the last two weeks) and now the Mercury (who they beat at home earlier in June).

As outlined in today’s advance story on the game, Connecticut handcuffed Phoenix in that win with solid defense from the opening tip to the final whistle. Realistically, it’s been the only game this year in which they’ve played the entire 40 minutes. Perhaps they’re just motivated against certain opponents. Perhaps they step up against the best teams. (Their best games in June were against Detroit, Indiana and, of course, Phoenix)

Whatever it is, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Sun start to play well on this road trip. The bench is starting to play better – especially Erika de Souza, Kristen Rasmussen and, though she has started lately, Evina Maltsi. Nykesha Sales is expected to play at least a game or two this next week. And Katie Douglas, who has long said she or someone else needs to step up as the team’s leader, is looking that way after her performances the last two weeks against the Fever.

Rookie Kamesha Hairston, another improving option off the bench, knows this well.

“It’s been like a rookie year should be – it’s been up and down,” Hairston said. “You have some good games, you have some bad days, and I’m learning a lot. And I’m learning a lot from KT. I admire her and I continue to look at her and how hard she works and her desire and will to win.”

Tonight, expect the Mercury to come out firing with Diana Taurasi back in the lineup – she was suspended two games for making comments to the referees and returned to score 15 points against Minnesota on Tuesday. But mind you, the Sun have an added advantage tonight with Margo Dydek, who sat out last time against Phoenix. The Mercury, for all the points they put up, lack size and depth down low.

* * *

Some quick hits from practice the other day:

Sun coach Mike Thibault on what has been surprising to him thus far this year (and it seems like he’s answered this question differently at different times; then again, a lot has been surprising):
"Some of it is our inconsistent perimeter shooting, which has been the worst it’s been in the five years. The fact that we are in the bottom of the league in three-point shooting, it’s hard for to envision it given our past."

Douglas on whether the first 16 games was an indicator of the second half to come:
“Let’s hope not. For our franchise, for our sanity and for our sake, it’s not a good a testament of what’s to come because we’ve been extremely inconsistent and it’s disappointing. So we’re hoping to bounce off that win we had Friday and take that kind of energy and that kind of focus and determination and hopefully get it done on the West coast.”

Check the home page of NorwichBulletin.com for updates at half time and following the game, which starts at 10 p.m.