Wednesday, August 29, 2007

A Huskies update (1st round edition)

Sorry for the late update but was waiting for the Detroit-New York series to finish before posting it. Great game by the way. You have to feel for McCarville, who had a great series (14 points, 5.67 rebounds, 2.67 steals per game) but missed the game-tying free throw with less than four seconds to play. But it seemed like that was the Liberty’s game to lose for a while, and they simply couldn’t stop Cheryl Ford, who played 39 minutes, scored 17 points and grabbed 10 rebounds on an aching knee.

“We gave Cheryl a new nickname tonight,” Deanna Nolan said, according to WNBA.com. “She’s now the ‘Woman-Child.’”

Too bad she’s a Louisiana Tech grad. On to the former Huskies.

(Note: All the players’ averages are their first-round series numbers)

Connecticut Sun:
(1) Nykesha Sales (UConn, 1998): 12.3 points, 5.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists per game (three games played)
Low-down: After leading the team with 25 points in its Game 1 triple-overtime win, Sales was almost nonexistent in Games 2 and 3, totaling 12 points. Her first points Monday came on a game-tying 3-pointer with less than 10 seconds to play, but her play exemplified her inconsistency during the season.

Sales’ offseason remains one of the ones to watch for the Sun. Her contract is up and she reportedly said earlier this season she doesn’t plan to retire. But after missing 20 games the past two seasons with injuries, her durability is certainly a concern. Her return to the Sun is, at best, up-in-the-air.

(2) Asjha Jones (2002): 15.7 points, 8.0 rebounds, 3.3 assists (three games played)
Low-down: Jones followed a breakout season, her first as an All-Star, with a solid series. She scored 21 points Monday after notching 20 in the opener and carried the Sun offense for long stretches in Game 3. Of all the Sun starters, she is the only one under contract through next year, and remains a cornerstone to build from with Katie Douglas (who is definitely expected to re-sign) and Lindsay Whalen (who, if she didn’t return to the Sun, would probably surprise many).

Detroit Shock:
(1) Swin Cash (2002): 8.7 points, 5.33 rebounds, 1.7 assists (three games played)
Low-down: Unlike Jones and Sales, Cash’s season surges on into the Eastern Conference finals after the Shock’s 71-70 win over the Liberty in Game 3 of their first-round series Tuesday. Shock finished the game with eight points and nine rebounds, and hit the game-winning lay-up in overtime. It followed a 14-point, three-assist performance in the Shock’s Game 2 win.

In three games played this year against the Indiana Fever – Detroit’s opponent in the next round – Cash averaged 9.67 points.

Indiana Fever:
(1) Ann Strother (2006): 3.0 minutes, 1.0 steals (one game played)
Low-down: Strother saw three minutes of garbage time in the Fever’s 19-point Game 2 win on Saturday, but she didn’t play in either Game 1 or Game 3. It’s a safe bet she won’t see any meaningful time in the Eastern Conference finals.

New York Liberty:
(1) Ashley Battle (2005): 3.7 points, 2.33 rebounds, 1.3 assists (three games played)
Low-down: Battle saw 33 minutes in the Liberty’s Game 3 overtime loss, scoring three points and grabbing four rebounds. Her best offensive game, strangely, came in the game she played the least: Game 1, six points in 14 minutes.

Phoenix Mercury:
(1) Diana Taurasi (2004): 21.0 points, 2.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists (two games played)
Low-down: Taurasi, Cappie Pondexter and Penny Taylor combined for 64 points a game in the Mercury’s two-game sweep of the Storm. Game 2 certainly wasn’t easy as Seattle tied it at one point after trailing by as many as 22. But Taurasi had a big hand in making sure the Mercury rolled through into the Western Conference finals. She scored 20 points, dished out six assists and hit the tie-breaking 3-pointer with 2 minutes, 30 seconds left after Seattle clawed back to knot it at 85 points.

(2) Kelly Schumacher (2001): 1.5 points, 2.0 rebounds (two games played)
Low-down: Schumacher was largely a non-factor in both games, seeing an average of 15.5 minutes and scoring a team low three points. She did add two assists, though, after averaging 0.4 a game during the regular season.

Seattle Storm:
(1) Sue Bird (2002): 16.5 points, 5.0 assists, 2.0 steals (two games played)
Low-down: Seattle was the only team in the playoffs to bow in two games, but Bird played well, leading the team in minutes in the series and notching 21 points, six assists and three steals in the Storm’s Game 2 loss. While disappointing, the loss now starts an offseason that may see the end of Lauren Jackson’s time in Seattle. Thinking around the league says Jackson may skip next season to train with the Australian national team for the Olympics, and there have been rumors she doesn’t want to play for the team if it moves to Oklahoma City with the Seattle Supersonics (which is still a very likely possibility).

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

A familiar face

A cool little story line lost in the Sun’s meltdown: Sun forward Nykesha Sales was able to have a reunion with hometown friend and Colts star defensive end, Dwight Freeney. The two Bloomfield natives grew up down the street from each other – Freeney is the same age as Nykesha’s brother, Brooks – and they met up Saturday following the Sun’s Game 2 loss and the Colts’ preseason win over the Detroit Lions.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Sun up, 44-32, at half but Indiana has momentum

The Sun opened the game on fire and with an attitude. They literally looked angry as they scored 29 first-quarter points and extended their lead to 22 points early in the second quarter. They started to cool down midway through the period, with several jump shots falling short on consecutive possessions, and the Fever responded. With just six field goals through the first 16 minutes of the game, they netted five in the final 3:50, the last coming from Anna DeForge (10 first-half points).

Surprisingly, the Sun didn’t have a single offensive rebound the entire half. It didn’t matter early, as they seemingly hit everything but they’ll have to hit the boards throughout the second half. They may not be able to keep shooting 58.1 percent from the floor.

A note: Indiana forward Ebony Hoffman, considered probable before the game with a strained hamstring, didn’t dress. The Sun’s Kristen Rasmussen did, but she didn’t play in the first half. It makes you wonder if she is still feeling the effects of the whiplash from Game 2. Le’Coe Willingham has filled her minutes, playing solid defense on Tamika Catchings.

Fever Juice?

That’s what’s being served in the media/dining area inside Conseco Fieldhouse prior to the game. There are two kinds of “Fever Juice”: cantaloupe and watermelon. Perhaps this is what Anna DeForge has been drinking the last few games. I’ll stick with my Pepsi, thank you. (By the way, Day writer Need Griffin brought this up: Pepsi, instead of Coke, is sold in nearly every restaurant around here. Why? Maybe it’s just a Midwest thing.)

Game 3 starters

Starting lineups were just released:

Connecticut Sun
Forward – Asjha Jones
Forward – Nykesha Sales
Center – Margo Dydek
Guard – Lindsay Whalen
Guard – Katie Douglas

Indiana Fever
Forward – Tamika Catchings
Forward – Sheri Sam
Center – Tammy Sutton-Brown
Guard – Anna DeForge
Guard – Tully Bevilaqua

Sam was a late addition to the starting lineup in Game 2 and most likely earned a spot again with her defense of Katie Douglas. She didn’t hurt the Sun too much offensively (six points, three rebounds), but she was solid throughout her 29 minutes on the floor.

Excitement building

Tip-off for Game 3 of the Sun-Fever series is a little more than three hours away. Here are some keys to tonight’s match-up:

(1) Offensive remarks: Outside of their first-half performance in Game 1 of this series, the Sun’s offense has been spotty at best, mainly because of its inability to hit open shots. Connecticut’s shot under 40 percent in three of their last four games and its struggles hit a new low on Saturday, when only Katie Douglas scored in double figures and it scored eight second-quarter points.

One of the main reasons for this has been their inability to get going on the fast-break. They were rarely in transition Saturday, and with so many shots not falling from the outside, they weren’t able to overcome that with a key lay-up from time to time.

(2) Road to victory: With Saturday’s performance, it may have felt like the Sun were done. But remember, this is a team that’s been better on the road all year (10-7 during the regular season, as compared to 8-9 at home) and had won every game in Indiana for two years before Game 2. Things like that don’t change with one loss.

(3) Forging ahead: To contain Anna DeForge (28.7 points in her last three games against Connecticut), the Sun will have to be better in a number of areas: One, pick-and-roll defense. That responsibility falls on the post players like Jones and Margo Dydek as much as Douglas and Sales. They’ll need to do a better job of flaring out to prevent DeForge from hitting open 3s off screens as well as backing each other up to cut down on pick-and-roll passes to Tamika Catchings or Tammy Sutton-Brown for easy lay-ups. It’s a lose-lose situation at times but too often they’ve failed to step and put a hand in DeForge’s face.

Two, forgo help defense. Whether its Katie Douglas or Nykesha Sales, the Sun may want to release them from help-defense responsibilities off her. Given, most of the time they do give help defense, it’s on Tamika Catchings. But Catchings still hasn’t proven she can hit jumpers consistently since returning from her foot injury. Perhaps those guarding her (Jones, Kristen Rasmussen, etc.) play off her a bit, take away the lane and make her beat them from the outside.

When the Sun shut down Catchings at home back on June 30 (4-of-13 shooting, five fouls), it was Douglas who covered her. But don’t expect her to be switched off DeForge, for obvious reasons.

(4) Getting it back: It’s simply a mindset, but the Sun need to regain some of swagger they had during the second half of the year. It may only take a few quick lay-ups and a few stops, but it’s important.

(5) Margo factor: As much as players like Sutton-Brown and Tan White have been non-factors this series, Dydek’s effect has not been nearly what is was expected to be. That’s mainly because the Fever haven’t needed to challenge her inside with DeForge hitting so many perimeter shots. If she starts cold and Indiana is forced to look in the paint more, Dydek can play a big role in turning the tide here.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Quick update from practice

Kristen Rasmussen practiced today after suffering a small case of whiplash when she was picked from behind in yesterday’s 78-59 loss in Game 2 against Indiana. She is expected to play, as well is Indiana’s Ebony Hoffman (strained hamstring).

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Rasmussen leaves game

Kristen Rasmussen was apparently elbowed in the back of the head with 5:13 left to play in the game, sending her to the ground for several moments before she was helped off the court by Sun trainer Jeremy Norman. It looks unlikely she’ll return. The Sun trail 67-50.

Moments earlier, Fever forward Ebony Hoffman left the game with an apparent hamstring injury after she dove to break up a pass near the Indiana bench.

And the only prescription is ...?

The Indiana Fever lead 40-21 at the half and are outplaying the Sun in every way imaginable. The Sun’s 15 turnovers are a franchise-record for most in a half in a playoff game, and they’re having a tough time figuring out the Fever defense.

Indiana guard Tully Bevilaqua is essentially acting as a rover, double-teaming whenever she has an opportunity, especially when the ball is passed into the post from the wing. She’s also sagging inside the 3-point line when guarding the ball up top, forcing Sun guard Lindsay Whalen and others to settle for long-range shots. Connecticut shot 31 percent (9-of-29) in the half.

Anna DeForge, meanwhile, made 6-of-8 shots and leads all scorers with 15 points. She had 29 and 31 points, respectively, in her last two games against the Sun.

Also, I take back what I said about the Sun seeming loose before the game. They still looked that way but it obviously wasn’t a good sign.

A chuckle and a note

The Sun seem pretty lose during warm-ups, which is a good thing. During the lay-up line, Megan Mahoney went up for a shot and her warm-up pants fell right to her ankles, drawing a good laugh out of all her teammates. (She had her shorts on underneath, of course.)

There’s also a change to the Fever starting lineup. Sheri Sam replaced Tan White, with Anna DeForge moving to the off-guard position and Sam joining Tamika Catchings in the frontcourt. It’s the second game in a row the Fever have made a last-minute switch.

By the way, Conseco Fieldhouse lives up to the expectations. The whole arena is decked out in green chairs, making it feel like the stands close in on the court. It’s also just a beautiful place to play basketball. OK, enough about the court. Game’s starting.

Game 2 starters

The starting lineups were just handed out and there are no surprises. Sun forward Asjha Jones – new braids and all – is warming up on the court at the moment and is starting, as expected, along with Lindsay Whalen, Katie Douglas, Nykesha Sales and Margo Dydek.

Tamika Catchings is also starting again, as the Fever’s lineup didn’t change from last game. Tully Bevilaqua and Tan White are in the backcourt and Anna DeForge (fresh off her 31-point performance Thursday) and Tammy Sutton-Brown round out the frontcourt.

Keep an eye on Douglas, especially, tonight. The Indianapolis native usually plays big in her hometown and she is due. She hasn’t really found her stroke since shooting just 3-of-9 against Sacramento way back on Aug. 7, and her struggles seemed to reach a new low Thursday when she shot 4-of-21 (that’s 19 percent from the floor).

Douglas is too good of a player to stay cold, especially at the most important time of the year. She usually plays her best, however, when the Sun absolutely need her to. That’s probably why she should make the All-WNBA First Team again this year. Don’t be surprised if the Fever come out firing, the Sun fall behind early and its Douglas who sparks a run to get them back into it.

Tip-off is in about 24 minutes.

Catchings update ... courtesy of Catchings

Indiana Fever forward Tamika Catchings posted on her WNBA.com blog on Friday and had this to say about her foot after playing 46 minutes in Thursday’s triple-overtime loss in Connecticut:

“Playing 46 minutes in a triple-overtime game was DEFINITELY NOT part of the plan for my first game back, but I’m feeling better today than I thought I would,” she said. “After the game (Thursday), as far as my foot goes, I was in a little bit of pain... Yeah, I think pain is the right word to use right now. After playing last night and sleeping and getting up this morning and getting back here to Indiana, my foot is not as swollen as we thought it would be. It’s a little bit swollen, but not too bad, so I’m feeling pretty good. I’m just trying to keep it iced and elevated to get ready for tomorrow.”

To look at her full post, go here.

Also in case you missed it, here is the latest post from Katie Douglas on her WNBA.com blog, regarding her reaction of Thursday’s epic game. It’s dated Friday. Just scroll down a little bit to find it; it's under Catchings' post.

Welcome to Indy

Here in Indianapolis, tip-off between the Sun and the Indiana Fever is about four hours away. I’m not at Conseco Fieldhouse just yet, which from the outside looks as gorgeous as I’ve been told, but here are a few sights and sounds from around the city:

(1) Conseco sits several blocks away from the new stadium the city is building for the Indianapolis Colts, creatively named Lucas Oil Stadium. Set to open in 2008, it looks similar to Detroit’s Ford Field from the outside – boxy, with a brick fa├žade, resembling more a humongous warehouse than the curved domes and arenas we’re used to seeing. According to my cab driver (and confirmed by reports I read), the city plans to tear down the old RCA Dome, where the Colts currently play, to make room for expansion of the city’s convention center.

(2) Looking forward to actually seeing the inside of Conseco. The Sun PR people and other writers have touted it as the best venue in the WNBA, made so by everything from its set-up to the cool Indiana-state memorabilia that supposedly lines the concourse. Also, the Fever draw good crowds.

(3) Here’s a quick breakdown of things to come in this series: If the Sun win today at 4 p.m., they move on to their fifth straight conference finals. Five times in Sun history they have won the first game of a best-of-three series (not including Thursday night’s victory) and each time, they closed out the series in Game 2. If they lose today, Game 3 is set for Monday here in Indianapolis at 7 p.m., but is only being televised on NBA TV.

(4) In a shocker, the New York Liberty handily took Game 1 against the top-seeded Detroit Shock on Friday, winning 73-51 at home on the strength of an 18-0 third-quarter run.

Here’s what Detroit coach Bill Laimbeer told the Detroit Free Press following the game: “We didn’t play basketball,” said Laimbeer. “We didn’t want it, basically. We didn’t want it at all, and that was a little bit discouraging. We didn’t have any desire to compete. We weren’t cohesive as a ball club coming into this game. They have to find it in the next day and a half, and I hope they do.”

New York can close out the series Sunday at 1 p.m. at the Palace at Auburn Hills.

There will be more to come in the hours before, during and following tonight’s game.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Rest assured

Sun coach Mike Thibault gave his team the day off Friday after its epic, 93-88 triple-overtime victory over the Indiana Fever on Thursday. Connecticut planned to just watch film.

The Sun, up 1-0 in their best-of-three series, stand a win away from their fifth straight conference finals appearance, and with Asjha Jones still on the mend from her sprained right ankle, she and several of her other teammates should appreciate the rest.

The Sun are 11-4 all-time at Indiana’s Conseco Fieldhouse.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Sun win in historic fashion

Now that was a game.

The Sun beat the Indiana Fever, 93-88, in the first triple overtime game in WNBA playoff history Thursday to take a 1-0 lead in their best-of-three series.

They were up by as many as 17 points in the third quarter before Indiana came back to force a first overtime … and then a second … and then a third. The Sun had to come back from five points down in the final extra frame before two Katie Douglas free throws iced it.

Here are just a few of the records set, besides it being the first game of its kind in league history:

Douglas made eight steals, a WNBA playoff record, and her five in the first half tied the league mark set by Nykesha Sales on Sept. 27, 2004, against Washington. Douglas’ 47 minutes and 44 seconds on the court were the most by a Sun player in a playoff game.

Lindsay Whalen set a franchise record with 10 assists and a personal record in a playoff game.

The Sun's 95 field-goal attempts was a playoff record.

It was the first time in league history that both teams had at least two players with double-doubles. For the Sun, it was Asjha Jones (20 points, 10 rebounds), Whalen (13 points, 10 assists) and Margo Dydek (11 points, 11 rebounds). For the Fever, it was Tamika Catchings (14 points, a career-high and Fever playoff-record 20 rebounds) and Tamika Whitmore (24 points, 14 rebounds).

Anna DeForge’s 31 points is the most by a Sun opponent in a playoff history.

Connecticut’s 37 defensive rebounds was a franchise postseason record. Its 27 assists was also a franchise single-game playoff mark.

There will be much more to come in tomorrow’s post about the best game in WNBA playoff history.

Sun lead Fever, 32-25 at half

Some notes from the first half of Game 1 of the Sun-Fever first-round series:

The game got underway at 7:22 p.m. (it was scheduled to start 7:00).

Tamika Catchings was a late addition to the starting lineup, replacing Ebony Hoffman, but she looked rusty. She's made 1-of-6 shots for two points.

Katie Douglas had five steals, tying the WNBA playoff record for thefts in a half. Sun teammate Nykesha Sales actually set the all-time mark on Sept. 27, 2004 against the Mystics.

Sales leads all scorers with 13 points. Tamika Whitmore has 10 for the Fever.

Former NBA great Charles Barkley is in attendance.

Sun-Fever start delayed

Game 1 of the Sun-Indiana series, set to start at 7 p.m. tonight on ESPN2, is in delay. The start is being pushed back because the Japan-China Taipei Little League World Series Game, now showing on ESPN2, is running late and is currently tied at 2-2 in the sixth inning. The word is tip-off is now 7:20 p.m.

Sun-Fever starters for Game 1

Here are tonight’s starting lineups. Note that Asjha Jones (sprained right ankle) is in, as expected, but the Fever decided not to start Tamika Catchings (partially torn plantar fascia). Both Catchings and Indiana coach Brian Winters said she would play tonight, though Winters opted to go with the lineup he has over the last few weeks. That means Tan White, a candidate for Sixth Player of the Year, is starting and former starter Tamika Whitmore will remain in her reserve role, where she’s been very effective.

No. 3 Connecticut Sun:
Forward – Asjha Jones
Forward – Nykesha Sales
Center – Margo Dydek
Guard – Lindsay Whalen
Guard – Katie Douglas

No. 2 Indiana Fever:
Forward – Anna DeForge
Forward – Ebony Hoffman
Center – Tammy Sutton-Brown
Guard – Tan White
Guard – Tully Bevilaqua

The Sun swept the season series against Indiana and have won 15 of the last 20 meetings between the two teams.

Tidbits before tip-off

The Sun and Fever are about 35 minutes from tipping off in Game 1 of their best-of-three first-round playoff series at Mohegan Sun Arena. Starting lineups will be posted soon, but here are a few quotes and tidbits that didn’t make it into today’s coverage in the Bulletin.

Sun coach Mike Thibault on Margo Dydek and the effect she can have on opposing offenses:
“On the defensive end, just the fact that she can change the angle of people taking shots coming to the basket (makes her effective). She’s a huge defensive presence. The last couple years the defensive field goal percentage (of our opponents) has gone down and the previous two years to this, people were shooting 38, 39 percent against us. And even when you sub her out, people forget that she’s not in there and they stop going to the basket.”

Indiana coach Brian Winters talked about Dydek’s ability to hurt teams offensively from the outside in today’s preview, and Thibault also touched upon it in Tuesday’s conference call with the media:
“That’s not how she grew up playing the game,” he said, referring to Dydek’s lack of a back-to-the-basket-type game. “She grew up with face-up game over in Europe. As much as I would like her to (be in the blocks) and she’s worked on that, she really does stretch defenses because she can make 3-point shots and you can’t guard her as conventionally as other post players.”

Against the Fever this year, Dydek is averaging 8.5 points and 9.25 rebounds, the most against any team in the WNBA this season.

Catchings is expected to return tonight after missing the final 13 games of the regular season but in two games against the Sun this year, she scored just eight and nine points, respectively. She scored in single figures only once the rest of the year (nine against New York on July 12).

This has nothing to do with the Sun-Fever series but it’s interesting nonetheless. Mercury coach Paul Westhead, well known for running a fast-break oriented team, was asked if he was concerned his players would wear out by this point in the season. Phoenix set a league record by averaging better than 88 points per game, and lives and dies by its run-and-gun approach.

The top-seeded Mercury play at Seattle on Friday to open their first-round series.

“My approach has always been when you get in situations like that, when in doubt, go faster. We’re pretty well conditioned to play that speed game. We’ve played four games in eight nights on the road and it didn’t seem to have any impact on our pace, particularly when you play against the same team. We’re more geared to do that more than most people. If both teams seem a little tired going into game two or three, I think that will play to our advantage.”

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Indiana's Catchings also plans to play

Indiana’s Tamika Catchings said she was “close to 100 percent” following practice Wednesday at Mohegan Sun Arena and expects to play Thursday in Game 1 against the Connecticut Sun. How many minutes she plays is still to be determined, but after missing the final 13 games of the regular season with a partially torn left plantar fascia, she’ll see her first action since sustaining the injury on July 20. She said she doesn’t know if she’ll start.

Jones still expects to play Thursday

Sun forward Asjha Jones wore a brace around her right ankle and didn’t participate in every drill Wednesday in practice, but said she expects to play Thursday in the Sun’s playoff opener against the Indiana Fever. Sun trainer Jeremy Norman said the problem with Jones’ sprained ankle isn’t with lateral movement. She feels pain, however, when she moves it up and down (or more specifically when she flexes her toes up toward her shin).

Jones didn’t feel any soreness after practicing on Tuesday, though, which is a good sign.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A Huskies update (6th edition)

Here’s the weekly rundown on UConn alums around the league, with their season averages in key categories. As the playoffs get underway, next week’s update will be considerably smaller, as only those players involved will be included.

Connecticut Sun:
(1) Nykesha Sales (UConn, 1998): 13.1 points, 4.04 rebounds, 3.2 assists per game
Low-down: After her career-high 32-point performance, Sales somewhat struggled in the Sun’s final two games. She scored seven points on 3-of-13 shooing against New York on Friday, and after scoring 15 points in the first half against Washington on Sunday, she had just two in the second. She missed most of the third period after taking an elbow to the lip, but it’s nothing serious. Expect a fully healthy Sales entering the playoffs.

(2) Asjha Jones (2002): 15.3 points, 6.10 rebounds, 44.9 field-goal percentage
Low-down: Jones’ sprained ankle kept her out of the last three games, but she said Friday that she expects to play Thursday in the Sun’s playoff opener against Indiana. Sun coach Mike Thibault didn’t sound as confident Tuesday, but it would be surprising if Jones saw no time in Game 1.

“Today when we practiced she did some minimal stuff, some shooting, some walk-through stuff,” Thibault said in a conference call. “She’s probably going to be a shoot-around decision on the day of the game. We’ll see how she reacts each day after practice. She’s still pretty sore.”

Detroit Shock:
(1) Swin Cash (2002): 11.1 points, 6.10 rebounds, 2.5 assists
Low-down: Cash sat out the Shock’s final two games. She’s battled a sore back but she is expected to play in Detroit’s playoff opener Friday in New York. Shock coach Bill Laimbeer opted to either sit or play most of his starters limited minutes after the team clinched homecourt advantage, and as a result, the Shock lost their final four games.

Indiana Fever:
(1) Ann Strother (2006): 2.3 points, 0.75 rebounds
Low-down: Strother didn’t play in either of the Fever’s final two games – both wins. With Tamika Catchings’ eminent return, she probably won’t see much time, if any at all, in the playoffs.

New York Liberty:
(1) Ashley Battle (2005): 7.4 points, 3.71 rebounds, 1.03 steals
Low-down: Battle scored seven and six points in two of the Liberty’s final three games, helping to lift her team into the fourth and final playoff spot. She may not put up big offensive numbers in the playoffs – though she’s capable of getting hot – but New York coach Pat Coyle values Battle for other reasons.

“The one thing about A.B. is she’s been around a lot of pressure situations,” Coyle said. “I think she really gives us that extra boost and being that she’s been in so many pressure situations at Connecticut, she can lend a hand to our younger player in the preparation part in our first playoff series.”

Phoenix Mercury:
(1) Diana Taurasi (2004): 19.2 points, 4.22 rebounds, 4.3 assists
Low-down: In perhaps the Mercury’s biggest regular-season game, Taurasi came up huge. She netted 32 points – her second highest total this season – to lift Phoenix to a 101-91 win over Sacramento and the top seed in the West entering the playoffs. To top it off, she dropped another 24 on the Monarchs two nights later for her fifth 20-plus-point game of the month. Phoenix plays at Seattle in Game 1 of their first-round series Friday.

(2) Kelly Schumacher (2001): 4.4 points, 4.32 rebounds, 45.6 field-goal percentage
Low-down: Schumacher saw solid minutes (19 and 20) in the Mercury’s final two games, and responded with her usual line. She scored five points, grabbed four rebounds and dished out three assists in Phoenix’s 101-91 win over the Monarchs. Two nights later she hit two foul shots but racked up five fouls of her own.

Seattle Storm:
(1) Sue Bird (2002): 10.4 points, 4.9 assists, 1.48 steals
Low-down: Seattle had already clinched a playoff spot, but Bird played 30-plus minutes in all three of the Storm’s final three games, scoring 17, six and 14 points, respectively. Despite registering 15 assists in the final two games, Bird missed out on a share of the assists title, falling just short of Lindsay Whalen and Becky Hammon (5.0 per game).

Los Angeles Sparks:
(1) Jessica Moore (2005): 4.2 points, 3.03 rebounds, 39.7 field-goal percentage
Low-down: Moore returned from a sprained right knee to play in the Sparks’ final two games, and she finished in style. The third-year pro scored 13 points and pulled down eight rebounds in the season finale, an 82-72 loss to Houston.

Houston Comets:
(1) Barbara Turner (2006): 4.2 points, 1.91 rebounds, 40.3 field-goal percentage
Low-down: Turner didn’t play in Houston’s final game, and only saw 11 minutes in the previous one, failing to score. It will be interesting to see what direction she (or Houston) decides to go in. Turner played with Seattle in 2006 before being waived.

Minnesota Lynx:
(1) Svetlana Abrosimova (2001): 10.1 points, 4.41 rebounds, 2.5 assists
Low-down: With 25- and 18-point performances in the Lynx’s final two games, Abrosimova finished the year with a double-digit scoring average, the first time she’s done that since 2003 (10.6). She also ended with career-highs in field-goal percentage (44.3), assists and 3-point percentage (44.6 percent).

(2) Tamika Raymond (2002): 1.5 points, 1.9 rebounds
Low-down: Raymond notched season highs in points (six) and rebounds (11) in the Lynx’s season finale, an 81-55 win over San Antonio. She also played a season-high 20 minutes.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Season Award Picks

Meant to do this sooner but here are the Bulletin's picks for this year's WNBA awards, with a little note on each:

Most Valuable Player: Lauren Jackson (Seattle, F/C) 23.8 ppg, 9.68 rbg, 51.9 FG %
(Runner-up: Tamika Catchings, Indiana, F)
Notes: Of any of the awards, this is the easiest to predict. Jackson has been almost unstoppable this year, as she leads the league in scoring, rebounds per game, is third in field-goal percentage and second in blocks per game. At 6-foot-5 and athletic, she is the hardest player to guard in the league whether she's playing as a forward or center. Tamika Catchings (16.6 ppg, 9.0 rbg, 3.14 spg) is the league's best all-around player and would have made this a great race, but she has missed much of the second half of the season after suffering a foot injury on July 20.


Best Defensive Player: Lauren Jackson (Seattle, F/C)
(Runner-up: Alana Beard, Washington, G)
Notes: It's basically the same situation here, with Jackson being a cut above everyone else except Catchings, but the injury makes this a one-horse race. Beard gets a nod here as runner-up, though. The Mystics' leading scorer is also their best defender at 1.94 steals per game, and has been among the leaders in the category all year with Catchings, New York's Loree Moore and the Sun's Lindsay Whalen.


Sixth Player Award: Plenette Pierson (Detroit, F/G)
(Runner-up: Kara Lawson, Sacramento, G)
Notes: This may have been the toughest category to pick, with players like San Antonio's Shanna Crossley (9.0 ppg), Houston's Tamecka Dixon (11.9) and Indiana's Tan White (11.2) serving as viable candidates. But Pierson has been a catalyst in the Shock's run at a second straight title all season, and is playing better than ever. Her 11.5 points and 5.7 rebounds per game are both career highs and she led Detroit in scoring four times this season. Lawson would make a great pick here, too, as she was the only reserve to be named to the All-Star team. Her numbers (11.1 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 2.0 apg) back that selection up, but they're not enough to push her past the best reserve on the league's best team.


Most Improved Player: Janel McCarville (New York, C) 10.4 ppg 4.75 rbg, 54.6 FG %
(Runner-up: Asjha Jones, Connecticut, F)
Notes: The first overall pick in the 2005 Draft, McCarville struggled in her first two seasons as her mother engaged in a lengthy battle with cancer before passing away prior to this season. But after a solid campaign overseas, McCarville came back refocused and has been perhaps the biggest reason the Liberty surged into the playoffs as the No. 4 seed. She leads the entire league in field-goal percentage and has posted career highs in virtually every category. She's also a solid defender (1.2 spg) with the ability to make a steal in the open court on the quickest of guards.

Jones gets the nod here over several other worthy candidates because of her ability to raise her game under immense pressure. Faced with the task of replacing Taj McWilliams-Franklin in the starting lineup, the former UConn star posted career bests in scoring (15.3 per game), rebounds (6.1) and assists (2.5), and has turned into a lock-down defender capable of handling the best in the league. It all led to her first All-Star selection.


Rookie of the Year: Armintie Price (Chicago, G) 7.9 ppg, 6.0 rebounds, 2.9 assists
(Runner-up: Lindsey Harding, Minnesota, G)
Notes: Harding (11.7 ppg, 4.35 rebounds, 3.9 assists) would have been the hands-down favorite here if she didn't tear her ACL in mid-July. But Price is just as deserving. The 5-foot-9 guard showed an incredible knack for working around the rim and was as durable (she didn't miss a game) as she was consistent. Her season-high was a modest 17 points but she scored in double figures nine times and scored nine points on seven occassions.


Coach of the Year: Bill Laimbeer (Detroit)
(Runner-up: Tree Rollins, Washington)
Notes: Yes, Laimbeer has a heck of a lot of talent to work with, but the fact that few of his players are being considered for season awards and the Shock proved to be far-and-away the best team is a testament to what he was able to do with this club. Even after Cheryl Ford went down, he made the decision to go with Katie Feenstra in place of starter Kara Braxton to carry the load and it worked out beautifully, as Detroit went 9-3 to end the season, only losing after it locked up homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs.

Rollins may have been the pick here if the Mystics made the playoffs. But there's still no denying what he did, taking over midway through as interim coach and turning an 0-8 team at the start of the year into a playoff contender until the regular season's final day.


All-WNBA First Team:
Center -- Lauren Jackson (Seattle)
Notes: She's technically a forward but is usually regarded as a center in these circles.


Forward -- Katie Douglas (Connecticut) 17 ppg, 4.6 rebounds, 3.7 assists
Forward -- Penny Taylor (Phoenix) 17.8 ppg, 6.3 rbg, 2.9 assists
Notes: Douglas, a first team selection last year, was even better this season, setting a franchise record in scoring and career bests in rebounds, assists, steals (1.9) and three other categories. Taylor was in the same boat and was arguably the first-place Mercury's best player. The 6-foot-1 Aussie started every game and topped 30 points on five different occasions.


Guard -- Becky Hammon (San Antonio) 18.8 ppg, 5.0 apg, 1.3 spg
Guard -- Diana Taurasi (Phoenix) 19.2 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 4.3 apg
Notes: After being traded from New York, the 30-year-old Hammon enjoyed her best season as a pro, tying Lindsay Whalen for the league-lead in assists per game and finishing among the top four scorers in the league. Taurasi didn't have the season she did last year scoring (a league-record 25.3 per game) but she was a better all-around player this year with career bests in rebounds, assists and steals (1.4) per game. It also helps that the Mercury were the best team in the West behind the former UConn star.


Honorable Mention: Deanna Nolan (Detroit) 16.3 ppg, 4.4 rbg, 3.9 apg
Notes: The league won't give this out but we will. Nolan is considered the league's most athletic player and is certainly one of its toughest to stop. The seventh-year pro set career marks in scoring and assists and has never shot better (46 percent from the field). She also set a franchise-record with 36 points against the Sun on July 24.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

One last time

Set to host the Washington Mystics in their regular season finale, the Sun (18-15) are searching to find the rhythm that carried them through July. They’ve lose three of six, alternating wins and losses the last two weeks, and their offense has seemed to stall. At times over their road trip, they’d rely on one person for long stretches, whether that is Katie Douglas, Nykesha Sales or Lindsay Whalen scoring in bunches.

Sun coach Mike Thibault has repeatedly drilled into Kristen Rasmussen to take open shots, and Evina Maltsi has struggled over the last few games. If those two can get going, and Margo Dydek continues to provide additional offensive support, Connecticut may start clicking like it’s used to.

Today, however, stopping Alana Beard is as important. The silky smooth guard has single-handedly buried the Sun this year (24 points, 5 rebounds a game vs. Connecticut), and it will take a team effort to shut her down. That includes helping off screens better and trapping Beard when the opportunity calls for it.

As expected, Asjha Jones is out of the starting lineup. The rest of the lineups are as follows: Whalen, Douglas, Sales, Rasmussen and Dydek for the Sun; Beard, Nikki Teasley, DeLisha Milton-Jones, Monique Currie and Nakia Sanford for Washington.

Note: Today is Fan Appreciation Day at Mohegan Sun Arena and every fan attending receives a free t-shirt.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Here's a start

Tip-off is near here in Madison Square Garden for the Sun-Liberty showdown, and though no official starting lineups have been provided to the media yet, here’s a guess at the Sun’s:

Connecticut Sun (18-14)
Guard – Lindsay Whalen
Guard – Katie Douglas
Forward – Kristen Rasmussen
Forward – Nykesha Sales
Center – Erika de Souza

Notes: Sun coach Mike Thibault said Thursday that Rasmussen is expected to replace the injured Asjha Jones (ankle) in the starting five. But he may also go with de Souza, who started Connecticut’s last game against New York in place of Margo Dydek. New York center Janel McCarville, who plays more like a small or power forward in a center’s body, creates huge match-up problems for Dydek. The 7-foot-2 center was limited to a combined six minutes in the last two games against the Liberty.

Playoff scenarios still unsettled

The Sun play at the New York Liberty tonight (7:30 p.m., Madison Square Garden), and stand one game back of the Indiana Fever for second place in the East. If Connecticut, which can’t finish any lower than the No. 3 seed for the WNBA playoffs, hopes to catch the Fever, one of two things has to happen:

Connecticut has to win both of its final games (tonight and Sunday at home vs. the Washington Mystics) and the Fever have to lose on of their final two (tonight at San Antonio, Sunday vs. Detroit). If the Sun win just once, Indiana has to lose twice. Connecticut swept the season series between the two teams so it has the tie-breaker.

New York, meanwhile, stands a half-game back of Washington for the fourth and final playoff spot. If New York wins both of its final games (it hosts Chicago Sunday), it’s in because even if Washington wins on Sunday, the two teams would tie with a 15-19 record and the Liberty won the season series, 3-1, giving them the tiebreaker. If New York loses tonight, however, they’ll move a full game back of the Mystics and would need to win in the regular season finale and for Washington to lose.

Also, dates for the first round were released on Friday. The Sun-Fever series, a best-of-three event, kicks off Thursday, Aug. 23, at the home of the lower seed and continues on Saturday (Aug. 25) and, if necessary, Monday (Aug. 27) at the home of the No. 2 seed. Locations, of course, are still to be determined.

No matter their opponents, Detroit opens its best-of-three series Friday (Aug. 24) on the road and will host games on Sunday (Aug. 26), and if necessary, Tuesday (Aug. 28). The winners of each series meet in the conference finals, which is also a best-of-three series.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

A Huskies update (5th edition)

Sorry about the late update, but here’s the weekly rundown on UConn alums around the league, with their season averages in key categories. Expect another full update on Tuesday, and then a considerably shortened one in the weeks to follow as the playoffs start and fewer Connecticut grads will be playing.

Connecticut Sun:
(1) Nykesha Sales (UConn, 1998): 13.2 points, 4.08 rebounds, 3.3 assists per game
Low-down: Sales exploded for a regular-season career high of 32 points in the Sun’s 77-74 win over Indiana Wednesday. She had 11 straight points during one stretch and her 13 made field goals tied a franchise record set by Lindsay Whalen earlier this year.

There will be more to come on Sales in Friday’s edition of the Bulletin.

(2) Asjha Jones (2002): 15.3 points, 6.10 rebounds, 44.9 field-goal percentage
Low-down: Jones sat out Wednesday’s game after she injured her right ankle in Tuesday’s loss to Washington. The severity of the injury is unclear – a Sun official called it a strain following the game – but a Washington Mystics official said Jones was seen leaving the Verizon Center that night wearing a protective boot. Jones had hurt it on the final play of the game.

With the Sun already a lock for the playoffs and the third seed, the expectation here is they’ll be cautious with Jones, even if it’s not too bad of an injury. Connecticut, a game back of the Fever, still has a chance of catching them for the No. 2 seed, but the Sun have always played well against Indiana, home or away. Having one home game rather than two may not matter in this case.

Detroit Shock:
(1) Swin Cash (2002): 11.1 points, 6.10 rebounds, 2.5 assists
Low-down: After the Shock clinched homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs with a win over Indiana on Saturday, Aug. 11, Cash, battling a balky back, sat out the next game and only saw 16 minutes of action – the fewest among starters – in the Shock’s 81-73 loss to Houston on Tuesday. Though Detroit has lost two straight and is also dealing with the loss of Kara Braxton (suspended two games), expect the team and Cash to be ready to go for playoffs. It’s not surprising they’re not playing to their potential in what really are throw-away games at this point.

Indiana Fever:
(1) Ann Strother (2006): 2.3 points, 0.75 rebounds
Low-down: Strother played only six minutes in the loss to Detroit last Saturday and didn’t see any time against Connecticut on Wednesday. She’ll most likely see little to no time from here on out, especially when Tamika Catchings (day-to-day, partially torn plantar fascia) returns.

New York Liberty:
(1) Ashley Battle (2005): 7.6 points, 3.81 rebounds, 1.06 steals
Low-down: Battle remains one of the Liberty’s top options off the bench and in her last three games, she’s played 18, 19 and 21 minutes, respectively, and scored nine and 11 points in consecutive games. She, like the rest of her teammates, need to step up big tonight against Washington if playoffs are going to remain a possibility. If the Mystics win tonight, they clinch the league’s final playoff berth.

Phoenix Mercury:
(1) Diana Taurasi (2004): 18.6 points, 4.2 rebounds, 4.4 assists
Low-down: The Mercury have won nine of 10, recorder their franchise record 21st win last Saturday and are in the driver’s seat for the top seed in the West – if they can hold off San Antonio. Taurasi wasn’t at her best in Phoenix’s last game on Saturday (12 points on 4-of-14 shooting) but she did tie a season high with eight assists. With a lot still at stake, don’t expect the Mercury to rest Taurasi or any of their starters, and don’t expect Taurasi to not play like she deserves another First-Team All-WNBA selection.

(2) Kelly Schumacher (2001): 4.5 points, 4.3 rebounds, 47.1 field-goal percentage
Low-down: Schumacher continued to see her usual minutes (16 minutes per game over her last three) and has done the things the Mercury expect of her. She’s averaged 5.0 points and 8.0 rebounds since Aug. 7.

Seattle Storm:
(1) Sue Bird (2002): 10.3 points, 4.8 assists, 1.50 steals
Low-down: Bird, much like the Sun’s Whalen, is capable of very different games on different nights but seems to contribute each time regardless. She’s scored 17 points on 7-of-11 shooting in a blowout win of the Mystics last Saturday and followed that with a six-point, seven-assist performance in an easy win over Minnesota. The Storm already have a playoff and are locked into the No. 4 seed.

Los Angeles Sparks:
(1) Jessica Moore (2005): 3.9 points, 2.81 rebounds, 38.0 field-goal percentage
Low-down: Moore has played in the Sparks’ last give games because of a sprained right knee. With Los Angeles playing out the string in a lost season, it’s anyone’s guess if she even tries to return.

Houston Comets:
(1) Barbara Turner (2006): 4.4 points, 1.90 rebounds, 40.8 field-goal percentage
Low-down: Turner continues to see limited time as the Comets are out of playoff contention. In her last three games, she’s seen a total of 10 minutes on the floor and she’s scored four points.

Minnesota Lynx:
(1) Svetlana Abrosimova (2001): 9.4 points, 4.34 rebounds, 2.3 assists
Low-down: Abrosimova continues to finish off the season in strong fashion. She’s played 26 or more minutes her last three games, where she’s averaged 15 points and 3.3 rebounds. She had 20 points in the Lynx win over Seattle last Tuesday, Aug. 7.

(2) Tamika Raymond (2002): 1.1 points, 1.3 rebounds
Low-down: Raymond played 10 minutes last Tuesday, scoring three points, but she didn’t plat Tuesday, a game after going a scoreless eight minutes against the Sparks.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

A few links

Here are two interesting links: The first, courtesy of wnba.com, is a first-person story written by Katie Douglas about the Sun and their quest for their first WNBA title.

The second is a story from the Detroit Free Press on Detroit Shock center Kara Braxton, who was suspended two games Monday after pleading no contest to operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol.

Also, a quick note on tonight’s Sun-Mystics game: Mystics guard Nikki Teasley, who missed last game with a sprained knee, is in the team’s starting lineup. The Sun’s starting lineup is the same as usual, with Margo Dydek at center, Asjha Jones and Nykesha Sales at the forward positions and Katie Douglas and Lindsay Whalen starting in the backcourt.

Road showdown

The Sun and Mystics are close to tip-off here in Washington. The Sun have a lot to play for, as they sit 1.5 games back of Indiana for second in the East, but Washington has even more at stake.

Though the Mystics (14-17) have the inside track on the fourth and final seed for the playoffs, they don’t have much room for error with New York (13-17) and even Chicago (12-19) still a quick win streak – and a Washington slip-up – away from stealing the berth.

Some quick notes on the Sun, the game and more:
(1) Expect Katie Douglas to draw the assignment of Alana Beard. Douglas did a good job on Beard during the first half of the teams’ last game, holding her to four points, but Beard then ran wild, both on Douglas and the rest of the Sun defense, when she scored 11 straight at one point to finish with 20.

Like any good scorer, Beard is best contained when she doesn’t have the ball. The Sun will most likely play some form of man-to-man or at times, a match-up zone defense, meaning Douglas will be shooting to do three things: deny, deny and, well, deny.

(2) The Verizon Center, the Mystics’ home court, has something few if any arenas can boast: Because it sits in Washington’s Chinatown, the arena has both a ‘Verizon’ sign spelled in English and Chinese. The Chinese lettering, however, is in big, bright fluorescent lights – making it much more noticeable than the English version.

(3) With the extra travel today and the limited Internet access at the hotel, the weekly ‘Huskies Update’ that appears in this blog will be posted tomorrow. You wait with bated breath, I know.

Monday, August 13, 2007

With Mystics' loss, Sun clinch playoff berth

In a previous blog post, it was outlined that the Sun would have to win Tuesday in Washington to clinch a playoff berth. Sunday, the Mystics made sure that wasn't the case.

With its 86-82 loss to the Sacramento Monarchs, Washington dropped to 14-17 and officially pushed the Sun into the WNBA postseason. Here's why:

At 17-13, the Sun can lose out and still finish at 17-17, which is the best possible record for both Washington and New York (13-17). But the Liberty and Mystics still have one game to play between each other on Thursday, meaning one of them can't reach .500 and thus, catch the Sun. With Chicago (12-19) already out of striking distance of Connecticut, it ensures the Sun their fifth playoff berth in as many years.

A New York loss Sunday to Detroit also would have clinched it for Connecticut. But Erin Thorn hit a buzzer beater to lift the Liberty to an 85-84 win and keep them well within reach of Washington.

Tuesday's game in Washington still remains important, though. At 1.5 games back of Indiana with four games to play, the Sun are still trying to catch the Fever for second place and homecourt advantage in at least the first round of the playoffs. They meet again Wednesday in Indiana for their final regular-season meeting this year.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Clear Sky (but still a clouded forecast)

The Sun easily handled the Chicago Sky Saturday, 88-66, to kick off their four-game road trip in successful fashion. They also moved within 1.5 games of second-place Indiana (a 74-69 loser to the Detroit Shock) and stand a win or a New York loss away from clinching a playoff spot.

Strangely, according on the wnba.com standings, the Sun have clinched a spot (denoted by the small 'x' next to their name) but they clearly haven't. There remains the possible, though improbable, scenario of the Sun losing out and the Liberty winning out, putting them both at 17-17 and tied 2-2 in the season series, and the Liberty moving into the playoffs because they would then own a better in-conference record (11-9 to 9-11).

The Liberty, however, have the toughest test in the WNBA today as they host Detroit, which wrapped up homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs with its victory over Indiana on Saturday.

Unlike the West, where the playoff field is set, every team remains in contention in the East. Chicago, despite dropping to 12-19, can still win out and finish 16-19, meaning it has a chance of catching the fourth-place Washington Mystics. Washington, entering a match-up with Sacramento today (Sunday), stands at 14-16.

That being said, expect Tuesday's Sun-Mystics match-up to be a heated one. Here's a look at the full standings in both conference's.

East:
* Detroit: 24-6 (.800) --
* Indiana: 19-12 (.613) 5.5 games back
Connecticut: 17-13 (.567) 7.0 games back
Washington: 14-16 (.467) 10.0 games back
New York: 12-17 (.414) 11.5 games back
Chicago: 12-19 (.387) 12.5 games back

West:
* Phoenix: 21-11 (.656) -- (The Mercury set a franchise record with 21-reg. season wins)
* San Antonio: 19-11 (.633) 1.0 game back
* Sacramento: 17-13 (.567) 3.0 games back
* Seattle: 15-17 (.469) 6.0 games back
o Houston: 11-20 (.355) 9.5 games back
o Los Angeles: 9-21 (.300) 11.0 games back
o Minnesota: 8-22 (.267) 12.0 games back

* Clinched playoff spot
o Eliminated from playoff contention

Friday, August 10, 2007

Eastern Conference playoff picture

With the New York Liberty’s 97-86 loss to the Phoenix Mercury on Thursday, the Eastern Conference playoff picture became a little clearer, but there is still much to be settled. Actually, there’s a lot to be settled.

Here are some possible scenarios for each of the conference’s six teams, though there are many that can still happen:

(1) Detroit Shock (23-6, 1st in East; clinched a playoff spot):
Up 4 ½ games on the second-place Indiana Fever with five games to play, the Shock can sew up the top seed in the East Saturday with a win over the Fever. The defending champs have won five straight and clearly stand as the favorite in the East, and perhaps the WNBA, to take home the title.

(2) Indiana Fever (19-11, 2nd in East; clinched a playoff spot; 4.5 games back of first):
The Fever have won three of four without Tamika Catchings (the only loss coming to Connecticut) and are still in striking range of first place. They’ll need to beat Detroit Saturday – and again in the season finale on Aug. 19 – and hope the Shock lose out. It’s an unlikely scenario, but if the Fever can pull it off and return Catchings from injury, they’ll have all the momentum one could wish for entering the playoffs.

They still haven’t secured the second spot, though. Even if they beat the Sun on Wednesday, they still don’t own the season series against Connecticut. If they can win three out of their last four, though, they’ll clinch it, even if the Sun win out.

(3) Connecticut Sun (16-13, 3rd in East; 7.0 games back)
With a win tonight, the Sun will take another step toward a playoff berth, though it won’t officially clinch it. A victory will put Chicago out of range of catching them, but the Sun still have to worry about New York. At 12-17, the Liberty can win out and if the Sun, after beating Chicago, lose out, they’ll both own a 17-17 record and a 2-2 record against each other.

It then goes to the next tiebreaker, which is record within the conference. Holding true to our scenario, the Sun would own a 9-11 mark and New York would be at 11-9, meaning New York would have the final spot.

That, of course, is only one scenario – and an extreme one – and it doesn’t include Washington and its playoff possibilities. But if the Sun win Saturday and again in Washington on Tuesday, then everything surrounding the Sun would be mute – they would be in the playoffs. Their seeding however will still be up in the air.

(4) Washington Mystics (14-15, 4th in East; 9.0 games back)
Washington is playing great with four straight wins and with two games between it and New York, it looks in great position to clinch a spot. But the Mystics need to keep on winning. They still have two games against Connecticut (Tuesday and the season finale on Sunday, Aug. 19), meaning they still have a chance of catching the Sun for third.

They don’t have it easy though. They play at Seattle on Saturday and at Sacramento on Sunday. They also trail New York, 2-1, in the teams’ season series, so winning next Thursday at home against the Liberty will be a big step toward earning a postseason berth. Essentially, the worse they can finish at is 14-20 – which could put them in last – and the best they can finish is 19-15, which could be good for third.

(5) New York Liberty (12-17, 5th in East; 11.0 games back)
The Liberty don’t have to win out to make the playoffs, but it’s getting to that point. They’re down 2-1 to the Sun, 2-1 to Washington and tied 1-1 with Chicago in all their season series, so a lot still has to be figured out before we get into all the tiebreakers and such.

At this point, it might be a little too early to say exactly what they need to.

(6) Chicago Sky (12-18, 6th in East; 11.5 games back)
If the Sky lose to the Sun Saturday, they’ll be out of the running for the third playoff spot but they’ll still have a chance at the fourth. And if they win, well ... that changes everything.

Check back here Sunday for an updated look at who’s in and who’s out.

Sun prepare for final stretch

The Connecticut Sun returned to practice Thursday and after scrimmaging to start the session, they worked primarily on late-game situations thereafter. At one point, Sun coach Mike Thibault put 1:10 on the clock with the “home” team down by seven – which, of course, was pretty much the exact situation the Sun were in during the fourth quarter of their 81-79 loss to Sacramento on Tuesday.

“It’s becoming playoff time and the games are getting tighter and tighter and everyone is fighting for their lives,” Katie Douglas said. “It’s good to just have that kind of practice under your belt.”

Douglas was then asked if the chose of drill was primarily because of the Sun’s loss the other night.

“Coach reiterated that this is the case that we were in against Sacramento and we still had a chance to win it,” she said. “We’ve just got to find a way to get stops and find a way to get quick scores. And you always get better with practice so we’re just finding a way to stay in the game with only a 1 minute, 10 (seconds) to go. Maybe it was ironic that it happened the other night but I think it’s also about preparing for these last couple games.”

Some extra notes from Tuesday’s loss:

* In the last blog entry, it was detailed how Douglas was on the verge of setting several new career-highs. But with her nine-point, two-rebound and two-assist performance, she still needs three total rebounds, four offensive rebounds and four defensive rebounds, among other things, to pass her previous career bests.

* Strangely enough, Douglas also had a team-high four turnovers, most of which came on botched pick-and-rolls with Asjha Jones. Usually the pair’s go-to play, the set didn’t quite work against the Monarchs, who read it very well and made of habit of stepping into the passing lane.

* The 21 points Kara Lawson scored on the Sun was the most any bench player has dropped on Connecticut this season.

Stories and blogs to come:

* Check Friday’s Bulletin for a feature on back-up point guard Jamie Carey.

* Check back here Friday for an update on playoff scenarios around the WNBA.

* Check Saturday’s Bulletin for an advance story on the Sun’s game with the Chicago Sky.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

It's not a job, it's her career

If it wasn’t already apparent, Katie Douglas is having another stellar season with the Sun. But more so, it’s turning into one of her best. Entering tonight’s game with Sacramento, Douglas has already set a new single-season high for assists (109), she’s scored 20 or more points 10 times and she’s on the verge of posting career bests in several other categories.

Here’s the rundown of what she needs, with her current season high in parenthesis:
* Four more to set a new high in offensive rebounds (45)
* Five more for total rebounds (135)
* Six more for defensive rebounds (95)
* Seven more for steals (62)
* Twenty more for made 3-pointers (73)
* Her 17.9 scoring average is also on pace to surpass her previous career best of 16.4

The Sun and Sacramento Monarchs kick-off their final regular season match-up shortly. As it’s been the last few years, this is a preview of a possible WNBA finals showdown, as both teams currently sit in third in their respective conferences. Here are tonight’s starting lineups:

Connecticut (16-12)
Forward – Asjha Jones
Forward – Nykesha Sales
Center – Margo Dydek
Guard – Lindsay Whalen
Guard – Katie Douglas

Sacramento (16-11)
Forward – Rebekkah Brunson
Forward – Nicole Powell
Center – Yolanda Griffith
Guard – Chelsea Newton
Guard – Ticha Penicheiro

Sacramento can clinch a playoff berth tonight with either a win or a Los Angeles loss. Check the front page of NorwichBulletin.com for updates at halftime (around 8 p.m.) and following the game.

A Huskies update (4th 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): 12.7 points, 4.05 rebounds, 3.5 assists per game
Low-down: Sales this past week didn’t produce offensively like she’s used to (a combined 11 points in two games on 4-of-15 shooting). But the Sun haven’t needed her to with the continued stellar play of Katie Douglas, Lindsay Whalen and Asjha Jones and the emergence of Evina Maltsi. The good news, Sun coach Mike Thibault said, is “she was the best she’s been physically in a long time.”

“I think watching her play the other day, physically she looked like she had the most bounce she’s had in a while,” the coach said. “That’s my opinion. She might have felt like crap and not have told me. But she looked like she had it.”

(2) Asjha Jones (2002): 15.4 points, 6.15 rebounds, 45.4 field-goal percentage
Low-down: Jones has rarely missed a step in the last month and her steady play continued this past week, scoring 16 and 11 points, respectively, and shooting 5-for-11 (45 percent) from the field. Jones has had to mix up her game as the season has gone along, shooting more jumpers in favor of working out of the post, but that’s because she’s seeing more double teams. Look for more on this development in Wednesday’s Bulletin.

Detroit Shock:
(1) Swin Cash (2002): 11.6 points, 6.29 rebounds, 2.6 assists
Low-down: Like the rest of her Detroit team, Cash continues to plug away, scoring 14 points and grabbing eight rebounds in the Shock’s last win, a 66-60 victory in Chicago on Friday. Detroit all but has the East locked up with the WNBA’s best record, and hasn’t missed a step without Cheryl Ford, thanks in large part to Cash, who’s played 35 minutes twice in her last three games.

Indiana Fever:
(1) Ann Strother (2006): 2.8 points, 0.9 rebounds
Low-down: After getting a loud ovation from the Connecticut crowd on Saturday, Strother played a season-high 17 minutes in the Fever’s 84-59 loss to the Sun, scoring five points. Prior to the last two weeks, she was rarely used by coach Brian Winters.

“Especially in this league, you really have to be ready all the time and anytime you get an opportunity to get in, you just have to have the mindset that anything can happen, someone can get hurt and it can be your turn to go in and make something happen,” Strother said prior to the game. “So for me, it’s (about) being ready all the time.”

Winters echoed that.

“Ann always keeps herself ready,” he said. “She knows how to work hard and I don’t have a problem with putting her in the game. There are a few people ahead of her right now but that doesn’t mean she won’t get in.”
The Fever clinched a playoff spot this week with a 66-58 win over Sacramento.

New York Liberty:
(1) Ashley Battle (2005): 7.7 points, 3.85 rebounds, 1.11 steal
Low-down: After a strong stretch that started in late June and stretched into mid-July, Battle continued to cool in August, combining for 16 points in her last three games (5.33 average) while only grabbing seven rebounds. The Liberty, a nice surprise at the beginning of the season, snapped a seven-game losing streak with a 71-66 win over Minnesota on Aug. 2, but followed it up with an 80-68 loss to Washington the next night. They’re quickly playing themselves out of a playoff spot.

Phoenix Mercury:
(1) Diana Taurasi (2004): 18.9 points, 4.3 rebounds, 4.2 assists
Low-down: Things are only getting better for Taurasi and her Phoenix teammates. Taurasi notched games of 19, 24 and 28 points this past week, and the Mercury, despite falling 111-101 to Seattle on Saturday to snap a six-game winning streak, have secured a playoff spot and are tied for the top seed in the West with San Antonio. Taurasi tied a season-high of six 3-pointers last Thursday in a crucial win over the Silver Stars.

(2) Kelly Schumacher (2001): 4.4 points, 3.93 rebounds, 47.7 field-goal percentage
Low-down: Schumacher notched 15 minutes twice this last week and had five points and five rebounds in that loss to Seattle. Oddly enough, she scored six points two games earlier in a 76-74 win over Houston, but, at 6-feet, 5-inches, failed to grab a single rebounds. That’s only the second time that’s happened this season.

Seattle Storm:
(1) Sue Bird (2002): 10.5 points, 4.8 assists, 1.63 steals
Low-down: Bird came up big in Seattle’s win over Phoenix on Saturday, scoring 18 points – the most she’s had since dropping 25 on Minnesota on June 22 – and committing zero turnovers in 30 minutes. The Storm entered with three straight losses, and though they’re hardly in danger of falling out of playoff contention with 3.5 games on fifth-place Houston, the victory over the red-hot Mercury was a much-needed one.

Of course, out of it came some good news, courtesy of the Seattle P-I, and some bad news, according to wnba.com.

Los Angeles Sparks:
(1) Jessica Moore (2005): 3.9 points, 2.81 rebounds, 38.0 field-goal percentage
Low-down: It was a touch week for both Moore and the Sparks. Los Angeles has dropped its last two games to fall to 9-18, and Moore has just 10 points combined in her last three contests. In Los Angeles’ 86-67 loss to San Antonio on Saturday, she played just 10 minutes – her fewest since June – and didn’t grab a rebound. Despite 15 starts, Moore hasn’t topped 30 minutes all season, but coach Michael Cooper subs with a deep bench.

Houston Comets:
(1) Barbara Turner (2006): 4.6 points, 1.89 rebounds, 40.3 field-goal percentage
Low-down: Turner didn’t play all that much her last three games (nine, five and eight minutes, respectively) and she wasn’t all that effective on the offensive end either (four combined points). But Houston has won its last two and isn’t out of the playoff race, though they sit 3.5 games back of Seattle. The Comets have six games remaining, including three against Eastern Conference teams.

Minnesota Lynx:
(1) Svetlana Abrosimova (2001): 8.9 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.2 assists
Low-down: Well, the Lynx (7-22) have become the first team to officially be eliminated from the playoffs, following two losses to New York (71-66 on Aug. 2) and Houston (88-70 on Aug. 4). Abrosimova played well in the first defeat, scoring 14 points and grabbing four rebounds. But she scored in single figures (nine points) for the first time since July 12 two nights later and shot just 4-of-15 from the field.

(2) Tamika Raymond (2002): 1.1 points, 1.25 rebounds
Low-down: Raymond saw 11 minutes of action against New York, the most since playing 13 minutes on June 20, and she scored two points on the only shot she took. She had three points in six minutes against Houston.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Differentiating from the past

Some statistical difference from the Sun's first 15 games (5-10) and their last 12 (10-2), courtesy of the Sun game notes:

Record: (5-10)
Field goal percentage: .411
3-point field goal percentage: .281
Turnovers: 17.5
Scoring average: 76.3

Record: (10-2)
Field goal percentage: .441
3-point field goal percentage: .364
Turnovers: 14.2
Scoring average: 83.2

Sun, Fever prepare for showdown

Here are the starting lineups for tonight’s game between the Sun and the Indiana Fever. No surprises on either side, but watch out for Tamika Whitmore coming off the bench for the Fever. The former starter was moved to a reserve role in recent games, and with Tamika Catchings sidelined with a partial tear of the plantar fascia in her left foot, she has helped provide a major boost. Tan White, starting at the off-guard position, has scored 20 or more in her last two games, both as a starter.

Connecticut Sun (12-15):
Forward – Nykehsa Sales
Forward – Asjha Jones
Center – Margo Dydek
Guard – Katie Douglas
Guard – Lindsay Whalen

Indiana Fever (17-10):
Forward – Anna DeForge
Forward – Ebony Hoffman
Center – Tammy Sutton-Brown
Guard – Tan White
Guard – Tully Bevilaqua

Note: The Sun can move within a game of the second-place Fever with a win tonight. Essentially, if the two teams hold course the rest of the season, they’ll meet in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs as the No. 2 and 3 seeds, making this match-up (and their last on Aug. 15 in Indiana) a battle for home-court advantage in the best 2-of-3 series.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Minneapolis bridge disaster touches Sun

From the wreckage of the I-35W bridge collapse on Wednesday have come stories of those in and around Minneapolis frantically calling friends and families to make sure of one thing: We’re they on the bridge?

Lindsay Whalen was no different.

A Hutchinson, Minn. native, Whalen said she has several friends and family around the Minnesota metropolis, including a sister who goes to the University of Minnesota – her alma mater – and her aunt, who works in the downtown area. She called all of them in the hours after the collapse during rush hour on Wednesday afternoon, and luckily no one she knows was among those involved in the disaster, which, according to a report on cnn.com Friday afternoon, has claimed five lives already.

She said her aunt, however, had passed over the bridge some five minutes before a section of the 40-year-old bridge crumpled into the Mississippi River more than 60 feet below.

Whalen, speaking after practice Friday at Stonington High School, recalled seeing the bridge every day her senior year of college from her off-campus apartment, no more than a five-minute walk from the disaster.