Saturday, May 31, 2008

Scouting Sun-Sky

Here is the Scout Box for Sunday's Sun-Chicago Sky match-up (5 p.m., UIC Pavilion).

5 p.m., today
UIC Pavilion, Chicago

Records: Connecticut 4-1; Chicago 1-2.
Last game: Connecticut beat New York, 89-84, on Friday; Chicago lost to Minnesota, 75-69, on Thursday.
Next game: Connecticut hosts Minnesota Friday; Chicago hosts Los Angeles Tuesday.
TV/Internet: None/
Series: The Sun lead the all-time series, 6-1, and they have never lost at Chicago (4-0). Connecticut won the season series, 3-1, last year.
Injuries: Connecticut—Kamesha Hairston (out, recovering from surgery to repair torn meniscus). Chicago—None reported.
Scouting report: Chicago is coming off a loss to Minnesota in which coach Steve Key criticized his team’s lack of focus. “Mentally, we weren’t prepared,” Key told the Chicago Tribune. “Not remembering what we said at a timeout. Not remembering where we’re supposed to go in a timely fashion. … If we can't remember what to do at the right time, we’re going to have these mistakes.” … The Sun are averaging 17.7 turnovers a game in their last four contests and committed 19 Friday against New York. … Chicago’s Candice Dupree averaged 19.8 points in four games against the Sun last year. She scored 28 in the Sky’s only win over Connecticut, an 87-74 drubbing at Mohegan Sun Arena. … Asjha Jones scored 20.8 points per game in four contests last year against Chicago. In that same loss to the Sky, she netted 22. … Lindsay Whalen sits third all-time in franchise history with 675 assists and is primed to pass Nykesha Sales (683). Shannon Johnson owns the franchise record with 737. Whalen is averaging 6.6 assists per game this season, and is playing with a sore right Achilles' tendon. … Sun guard Jamie Carey was recently named the head coach of Legacy High School in Colorado, and her father Mike will serve as an assistant. Legacy competes in the same conference as Horizon High School, where Carey earned national Player of the Year honors in 1999.

13 G Lindsay Whalen 14.8
33 G Jolene Anderson 8.0
1 F Amber Holt 6.0
15 F Asjha Jones 13.2
00 C Tamika Whitmore 14.4

Connecticut reserves
22 Barbara Turner 9.6
10 Jamie Carey 4.6
41 Kerri Gardin 4.0

22 G Armintie Price 12.0
11 G Jia Perkins 9.3
4 F Candice Dupree 13.7
3 F Dominique Canty 9.3
34 C Sylvia Fowles 11.0

Chicago reserves
44 Chasity Melvin 7.7
21 Brooke Wyckoff 3.7
32 K.B. Sharp 3.0

First nine players named to Olympic team

USA Basketball named the first nine players of the 2008 Olympic team Saturday, and there were no real surprises. Veterans Lisa Leslie, Katie Smith and Tina Thompson headline a team that also includes former UConn stars Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi, rookies Sylvia Fowles and Candace Parker, and other young stars in Seimone Augustus and Cappie Pondexter.

The team has until July 1 to fill the other three spots on the 12-person roster. Lindsay Whalen is the only Sun player who may make it, though if she were, she wasn't expected to be included in the first nine.

"I'm just thrilled to have these nine players officially named to the team," said U.S. coach Anne Donovan said in a press release. Sun coach Mike Thibault is one of her assistants. "It's such a great mixture of Olympic gold medalists with some really tremendous young talent. I love the combination of players that we have. We have Olympians who have experienced multiple Games like Lisa Leslie and Katie Smith, some who are returning for their second Olympics and then we have a very talented group of first-timers. Looking at these nine players, we've really covered the gamut in terms of experience and we have a tremendous balance of perimeter and post play."

Here's the roster thus far, and the press release.

Sun shine, then fly

The Sun improved to 4-1 Friday with an 89-84 win over the New York Liberty, in turn capturing the season series between the two teams. (They meet one more time this regular season.) By surviving another second-half comeback by New York, Connecticut proved it could bounce back from Tuesday's 29-point pounding at the hands of Indiana, but that it still has areas to improve upon.

"I’m happy we won," Sun coach Mike Thibault said. "That’s my statement. We won a season series with a team because we only play them three times. That may come into play later. The tempo was better. That was it."

The Sun were back at practice Saturday morning before leaving for Sunday's game at the Chicago Sky (5 p.m.). The Sky (1-2) are coming off a 75-69 loss to Minnesota on Thursday, and will open a stretch of three games in six days against the Sun.

But first, some points from Friday's win:

(1) As unhappy as Thibault was with the Sun's turnover problems, the offense was far better Friday than it was in the loss to the Fever. With 42 points at halftime, the Sun nearly matched their entire total from Tuesday's game, and utilized their post players far more often. Both Asjha Jones (16 points) and Tamika Whitmore (18) got their touches (12 and 10 shots, respectively) and were far more successful scoring from inside and outside. It helped the shots were falling for the Sun (they shot a respectable 44.3 percent), but they also gave themselves better looks throughout the game.

"We made some adjustments in our offense, especially in our fast-break offense, and I think you saw a lot of that," said Jamie Carey, who was solid off the bench with 11 points on 3-of-5 shooting from 3. "We have some great post-players here, and last game, they didn’t even get touches. That’s not how we play."

(2) As highlighted in today's notebook, Lindsay Whalen played through a sore right Achilles' tendon to notch 15 points and seven assists. She was key especially late as the Sun continually struggled against the Liberty press. Whalen was essentially the only player who looked comfortable dribbling and passing through it, and the team's 19 turnovers nearly cost it.

"They got one quarter of their points off our dumbass turnovers," Thibault said.

Players looked indecisiveness at times, but they also struggled when New York cut off the pass into the center of the press, the key for breaking pressure. The Sun, too, didn't help themselves. Often times a forward would be in position at halfcourt, but instead of flashing there to shake the defender, they would stay stationary, not really giving the guards a chance to make an open pass.

That's where Whalen came in, often dribbling through herself or drawing two to three defenders on a trap and finding an open teammate.

For the game, Whalen played 25 minutes, with Carey replacing her often in the first half. The fourth-year back-up logged nearly 20 minutes and didn't have a turnover.

"She’s kind of a steady Eddie out there," Thibault said of Carey. "I know she struggled like everybody else the other night (against Indiana). And I told her tonight before the game, ‘If you pass up an open 3, I’m going to take you out.’ So don’t pass them up. And she didn’t. And we needed it. We needed her to make those shots tonight.

"We give up a little something in size on the defensive end (with her in) but she did a good job of battling bigger players in the lane. She came up with a big rebound down in front of our bench when they were making their first-half run and got us started on a fastbreak. She works."

(3) Thibault changed up the starting lineup for the first time, inserting Jolene Anderson into the backcourt and moving Amber Holt to the small forward spot to replace Kerri Gardin. The Sun definitely started better, shooting 50 percent from the field and scoring 27 points in the first quarter, but it was hard to tell if the switch had much to do with it. Anderson scored nine points, but they came throughout the game instead of just early and as a team, Connecticut netted just 15 points in the second quarter.

So, who knows if it made a difference?

"I can’t give you some logical answers tonight," Thibault said.

Check back here after 2:30 p.m. as the members of the 2008 Olympic team will be revealed in a USA basketball conference call. Whalen has a chance to make it. It depends on how many point guards coach Anne Donovan wants to take past Sue Bird, as ball-handling responsibilities may just go to other guards, Diana Taurasi included.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Game Update: Sun down Liberty, 89-84

Tamika Whitmore and Asjha Jones combined for 34 points and the Connecticut Sun withstood another late-game charge by the New York Liberty to capture an 89-84 win Friday at Mohegan Sun Arena.

Playing on a sore Achilles' tendon, Lindsay Whalen added 15 points for Connecticut (4-1), and back-up Jamie Carey had 11. The Liberty (1-3) cut the Sun's lead to two points late in the third quarter and four with a minute to play in the fourth, but they couldn't avoid their second defeat to the Sun this season despite putting five players in double figures, including rookie Essence Carson (15 points).

Game Update: Sun lead Liberty, 42-34, at half

Asjha Jones has 10 points, Tamika Whitmore has eight and the Connecticut Sun are up on the New York Liberty, 42-34, at the half here at Mohegan Sun Arena.

The Sun led by as many as 17, but went cold near the end of the second period when the Liberty ripped off 13 points in less than two and a half minutes. Still, they've avoided some of the pitfalls from their loss to Indiana: They're looking inside more, getting better looks via drive-and-kicks and despite losing the rebound battle, 22-19, they have eight offensive rebounds. They had 11 against Indiana when they scored just 46 points for the entire game.

Thibault tweaks lineup

Jolene Anderson will join Lindsay Whalen, Amber Holt, Asjha Jones and Tamika Whitmore in the Sun's starting lineup tonight against the New York Liberty, replacing forward Kerri Gardin. The move gives Connecticut a smaller, more guard-oriented lineup -- Anderson is listed at 5-foot-9, Gardin at 6 feet. But the 6-foot Holt is capable of moving from the off-guard position to small forward.

New York's starters are the same as usual: Erin Thorn, Loree Moore in the backcourt and Shameka Christon, Cathrine Kraayeveld and Janel McCarville in the frontcourt.

Tonight's officials are Michael Price, Felicia Grinter and Jeffrey Smith.

The tip is about 10 minutes away. The game will be broadcast on MSG and NBA TV.

A Husky Update (2nd edition)

Every week, we’ll take a look around the league at UConn alums and how they’re performing in the WNBA. Apologies for the late update (it usually comes Thursday). There were some computer problems yesterday afternoon.

Atlanta Dream:
(1) Ann Strother, G/F (UConn, 2006): 0.0 points, 1.0 rebounds, eight minutes played (one game)
Low-down: Strother hasn’t seen any action since the Dream’s season opener at Connecticut. She and Kristen Mann are the only players who haven’t played in two or more games.

Connecticut Sun:
(1) Asjha Jones, F (2002): 12.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, 55.6 shooting percentage
Low-down: Jones had a streak of 13 games in double figures scoring snapped Tuesday in the Sun’s 75-46 loss to the Indiana Fever. With Connecticut shooting poorly from the outside, Indiana cheated into the paint all night, in turn limiting Jones touches; she only took five shots. Still, she had 12 points and five rebounds in the Sun’s win over Sacramento earlier in the week, and should benefit with the introduction of Sandrine Gruda to the Sun’s frontcourt.

(2) Tamika Raymond, F (2002): 3.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, 33.3 shooting percentage
Low-down: Raymond continues to provide the Sun with a consistent rebounder and paint presence. The 6-foot-2 forward scored three points and grabbed four rebounds in 13 minutes against Indiana, though she missed three free throws. But with Jones, Gruda and Tamika Whitmore, she isn’t counted on for much scoring.

(3) Ketia Swanier, G (2008): 0.0 points, 0.3 assists, 3.0 minutes
Low-down: Swanier played a season-high eight minutes against Indiana, checking in during the second quarter for the first time in the regular season. She’s yet to score this season, and at times, looked overwhelmed against the Fever’s pressure defense.

(4) Barbara Turner, G/F (2006): 10.3 points, 3.5 rebounds, 21 minutes
Low-down: Through four games, Turner is making an early case for the league’s Sixth Man of the Year award. She leads the Sun in 3s (nine) and 3-point percentage (42.9), and already has set a career high with 17 points against Sacramento. Sun coach Mike Thibault did say he may change the starting lineup for tonight’s game with New York. Turner is a good candidate, though Turner’s energy off the bench would be hard to duplicate.

Los Angeles Sparks:
(1) Jessica Moore, F/C (2005): 2.0 points, 1.0 rebounds, 6.7 minutes
Low-down: Moore’s only points this season came in the Sparks’ double-overtime loss to Indiana Thursday, as she netted six and grabbed two rebounds in nine minutes. She took just one shot in six minutes in Los Angeles’ 74-56 win over Atlanta four days prior.

Minnesota Lynx:
(1) Charde Houston, F (2008): 12.0 points, 2.3 rebounds, 14.7 minutes
Low-down: Houston followed her 21-point performance in the Lynx opener by playing just seven scoreless minutes Tuesday against Houston. But she may have had her best game Thursday, totaling 15 points and six rebounds in a season-high 21 minutes.

New York Liberty:
(1) Ashley Battle, G/F (2005): 1.3 points, 8.7 minutes
Low-down: Battle is averaging a team-low in points and at least through three games, has lost minutes to the Liberty’s younger bench players, namely Essence Carson and Leilani Mitchell. After playing 10 minutes against the Sun in New York’s season opener, her minutes have actually gone down each game.

Phoenix Mercury:
(1) Willnett Crocket, F (2006): 3.0 points, 3.0 rebounds
Low-down: Crockett has come off the bench since starting in the Mercury’s season opener, and scored just one point in each of her last two games. But she did log a season-high 15 minutes against San Antonio on May 20.

(2) Diana Taurasi, G/F (2004): 22.3 points, 3.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists
Low-down: Through three games, the Mercury are still winless, but Taurasi continues to be an across-the-board contributor. She ranks fourth in the league in scoring and hasn’t scored fewer than 20 points this season. With Cappie Pondexter (5.0 assists per game), Phoenix’s top two scorers are also sharing the ball well. The Mercury go for their win at Minnesota on Saturday.

Seattle Storm:
(1) Sue Bird, G (2002): 16.0 points, 6.3 assists, 2.8 rebounds
Low-down: Bird is again among the league leaders in assists, ranking second behind the Sun’s Lindsay Whalen, and she had seven on May 24 in a 15-point loss to San Antonio. Bird, though, hasn’t quite found her stroke (36.7 percent), and made 4-of-12 against the Silver Stars. Bird’s a career 42.6 percent shooter.

(2) Swin Cash, F (2002): 16.0 points, 5.8 rebounds, 52.2 shooting percentage
Low-down: The Storm aren’t necessarily running a lot of plays for Cash, but she has settled in nicely within the Seattle offense. She hasn’t scored fewer than 13 points this season and has been quite efficient while doing it; she made 6-of-9 from the field on May 24 and has missed just one free throw this year (16-of-17).

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Off and running

Following their 75-46 loss to Indiana on Tuesday, the Sun have refocused on their running game during practice the last two days as they prepare for a rematch with the New York Liberty Friday night (7 p.m., MSG/NBA TV).

Mike Thibault even brought in film of his 1993 CBA champion Omaha Racers -- who averaged nearly 120 points per game -- "so they can kind of see where my vision is for them (as far as) tempo," the coach said. The heightened level of intensity carried over to practice where the team spent the at least the final 30 minutes of practice (that of which is open to the media) running full-court drills and scrimmaging.

"We’ve had some tired people walk out of here the last couple days," Thibault said. "Basically, I think Coach (Scott) Hawk said it best (Wednesday) to them. He said, we have really high expectations for them because we think they have the ability, but their expectations of themselves have to get up to where ours are. They need to raise their expectations of what they’re capable of physically, skill-wise and everything. It’s still a learning process right now."

Look for more in tomorrow's Bulletin, but here's the Scout Box for Friday's game, with more info from Thursday's practice. Also, check back here later tonight for an update on former UConn players around the league.

7 p.m., today
Mohegan Sun Arena, Mohegan

Records: Connecticut 3-1; New York 1-2.
Last game: Connecticut lost to Indiana, 75-46, on Tuesday; New York lost at Detroit, 72-62, on Sunday.
Next game: Connecticut plays at Chicago Sunday; New York hosts Seattle Tuesday.
TV/Internet: NBA TV, MSG/
Series: The Sun lead the all-time series, 18-16, and are 10-7 against the Liberty at Mohegan Sun Arena. Connecticut took the previous meeting between the teams this season, 77-63, in New York on May 18.
Injuries: Connecticut—Kamesha Hairston (out, recovering from surgery to repair torn meniscus). New York—Jessica Davenport (out, stress fracture in tibia).
Scouting report: Sun guard Lindsay Whalen sat out portions of practice Wednesday and Thursday with what coach Mike Thibault said was a sore Achilles’ tendon. But he didn’t seem concerned. “She went more full-court (Wednesday),” Thibault said. “I don’t if it’s an Achilles’ strain. (But) it’s sore, and we wanted to kind of give her some rest days right now.” … Thibault said he expected a much more energized New York team than the one the Sun saw in the Liberty’s season opener less than two weeks ago. Despite a 10-point loss at Detroit on Sunday, New York has gotten solid play from its younger players off the bench, especially Tiffany Jackson, who is tied for the team lead with 5.3 rebounds per game, and rookie Erlana Larkins, who saw just four minutes the first time against the Sun. “It was only their second game,” Thibault said of the teams’ first match-up. “They only had on exhibition game, and then a regular season game and like everybody else, with some people who only had a couple days of practice (beforehand). I think we’ll see a better New York than we did down there.” … Thibault said he’s contemplating changing the starting lineup to find a rotation that would better help the Sun avoid a slow start. But Barbara Turner, the team’s top reserve thus far, pointed to other problems. Connecticut has given up 21 or more points in the first quarter in three of its four games this year. “It’s just the speed of the game that we play at,” Turner said. “I think we play fast instead of smart early on. The last few days, we’ve been practicing hard and going fast, but he (Thibault) wants us to be efficient at the same time.” … The Sun will honor the CIAC girls high school basketball champions for the third straight year during halftime of tonight’s game. Class LL champion Career, Class L champion Kolbe Cathedral, Class M champion Avon and Class S champion Bloomfield will all be recognized during a ceremony at mid-court.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

'Holy moley'

Those were the first words out of Sun coach Mike Thibault's mouth as he sat down for his post-game press conference Tuesday night. He was right on.

The Sun suffered their worst loss in franchise history, a 75-46 pounding at the hands of Katie Douglas and the Indiana Fever. The previous mark was 28 points, set on June 14, 2003 at now-defunct Cleveland. By that was not all. They also scored the second-fewest points in team history, escaping the most dubious distinction by a point, and their seven fourth-quarter points were a team worst.

Throw in the fact it was Douglas, the former face of the franchise, leading the charge (she had 23 points, and now is averaging 24.3 on the season), things probably couldn't have been worse for the Sun.

A reporter jokingly asked Thibault if he's disappointed that he won't go undefeated this year, which he replied, 'I haven't really thought about that, but I guess that's out of the question.' But go figure: After the best three-game start in franchise history, the Sun played like the worst team ever to wear Connecticut uniforms.

The reasons are many"

(1) The Sun started slow -- a trend this year —- but let their problems snow ball when they became impatient, living from the perimeter but having nothing fall. They shot 29 percent from the field and finished 3-of-24 from 3 after making a combined 23 3-pointers their last two games. The Sun will be a better outside shooting team than in past years, but they leaned far too heavily on that Tuesday.

"When you're missing, they don't have to go out there and guard you," said Asjha Jones (four points). "Tonight, they (the Fever) just got to sit in the lane. Everyone just sat looking at the person posting up. We had plays where our guard post up and they had no room to maneuver. I had no room to maneuver. So when we're not making jump shots, we have to figure out other ways to get to the basket."

Lindsay Whalen was the only player in double figures with 11 points.

(2) They didn't rebound. That was a direct correlation to this first problem. With both their guards and post-players (i.e. Tamika Whitmore, Jones) settling for outside shots, no one was underneath to challenge the likes of Ebony Hoffman (13 rebounds) or Tammy Sutton-Brown (seven). Heck, even Tan White pulled down seven boards, which would have tied her for the Sun team lead (Jones had seven).

The 48-38 rebound deficit comes after the Sun won the rebounding their first three games. (Note: Excuse me if some of the numbers here, which are right, differ from those in past posts or the game story in the newspaper. There have been some problems with Mohegan Sun stat-keeping system, and the team's staff has been working to catch problems as they happen. Alas, some things slip through until far later.)

"We missed 24 shots in the first half and only got five offensive rebounds," Thibault said. "A lot of those shots were jump shots. The only person to get to the rim really was Lindsay and she got to the line. But we weren’t very good. I thought we were impatient shooting jump shots. If we are going to miss that many, we needed to get a few more of them (rebounds). Offensively, that is the worst we have played since I have been here."

(3) The mood in the Sun locker room was obviously down, but not like it was after most of the losses last year. This team, even with its talent, is inexperienced, and as Thibault put, that "showed up tonight." In how the Sun responded to a large deficit, to its rushing of shots, etc. Everyone struggled, but rookies like Jolene Anderson (2-for-10 from the floor, 0-of-7 from 3), Kerri Gardin (1-for-4, two points) and Amber Holt (3-for-8, one rebound) looked uncomfortable or out of sync or some combination of the two.

As I'll get into more in tomorrow's story, something like this (but maybe not this bad) was bound to happen, and the Sun are just glad that it happened early. Though "happy" may not be the best word to use after Tuesday.

"It would be hard to give anybody much of a passing grade tonight," Thibault said. "I give Asjha a little bit of the pass that she didn't touch the ball very much tonight. She has to get a lot more touches than five field-goal attempts to be effective. She rebounded and I thought she did some other things, but they (she and Douglas) hit knees (in the second half), I just decided once we were down that far, it wasn't worth putting her back in and let the other kids play."

(4) Aside from their offensive problems, the Sun's defense also wilted, failing to give help defense when needed and not stopping either Douglas or Tan White (15 points), who are the teams' leading scorers.

"They ran their offense," Jones said. "We didn’t stop any of their plays. We didn’t make the other players scored. Their two best players scored. We didn’t do a good job of slowing them down even."

Said Whalen of Douglas, "She shot the ball well, got to the line a couple times, got herself going -- she's a great. That's a scouting report thing for us. We have to make their scorers work harder for their points. That's another thing that's disappointing for the night."

I'll also get into this more tomorrow, but the Sun may make some changes going forward, just in using personnel early. That may mean using more experienced players earlier or in the starting lineup, as in Barbara Turner replacing Kerri Gardin, but that remains to be seen. The Sun also will welcome Evina Maltsi to the fold sometime after June 4, Thibault said, which will give them another experienced guard. (Maltsi is only in her second year in the WNBA, but the 29-year-old Greece native has played overseas since 1999 and was part of the 2004 Olympic team in Athens.)

A bright spot Tuesday was Sandrine Gruda, who despite shooting 1-for-5, had six rebounds and showed immense athleticism. If Gruda can establish herself early, she will important post-presence as Whitmore has proven she likes working from the outside-in. And at times when both Whitmore and Jones are getting most of the defensive attention, Gruda appears to have the ability to be aggressive and score to take the pressure off of them.

I'm not going to get into this too much because it was the focus of the notebook, but Douglas' reception from Connecticut fans was as expected: Lots of cheers in the introduction and then boos during the game.

"I definitely don’t have any anger or animosity towards that," Douglas said. "They’re cheering for their team and I’m no longer a member of their team. That’s fine. When the ball went up, I’m competing now for the Indiana Fever."

Still, it was strange to hear fans react harshly to times when Douglas would get fouled and flash a cocky smirk or make a comment to the official. She did those things the whole time she was with the Sun, but as it is, the jersey a player is wearing makes all the difference in the world.

"I remember when Sue Bird first came here," Thibault said. "She got a great, great standing ovation until the first call went her way, and then she got booed. She’s the enemy now. I can like Katie Douglas all I want, but she’s a wearing an Indiana uniform and she’s now going to be the enemy."

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Game Update: Fever pound Sun, 75-46

Katie Douglas scored 23 points and the Indiana Fever rolled the Connecticut Sun, 75-46, to hand them their first loss of the season. The Sun had just one player in doubles figures in Lindsay Whalen (11) and the seven points they scored in the fourth quarter set a franchise low for points in a period.

(Update: The official box score was changed after this was posted Tuesday night. Whalen actually had 11 points, as corrected, instead of 13. Check back here later today for full reaction from last night's game, and how it impacts the Sun going forward.)

Game Update: Fever dominating Sun, 46-24, at half

Katie Douglas has 14 points, Tan White has 11 and the Indiana Fever led by as many as 25 points en route to a 46-24 lead over the Connecticut Sun at the half here at Mohegan Sun Arena.

Settling for too many jump shots, the Sun shot 8-for-32 from the floor (25 percent) and 3-of-14 from 3, compared to the Fever, who are outscoring the Sun, 26-2, in the paint. Connecticut's interior defense has been almost non-existent as the Fever have continually dished off for easy lay-ups, racking up 17 assists.

Douglas has especially hurt Connecticut. She shot 6-of-10 from the field to go along with four assists, and at one time, even drew some jeers from the crowd when she flashied a confident smirk after she was fouled by Barbara Turner late in the second half.

Lindsay Whalen leads the Sun with five points, all on free throws.

Sun have the Fever

The Fever and Sun tip off in about 10 minutes here at Mohegan Sun Arena. Not surprisingly, Tamika Catchings won't play tonight, but she didn't even make the trip with the team as she is still rehabbing her torn right Achilles' tendon. Here are tonight's starters and officials:

Connecticut Sun:
G 13 Lindsay Whalen
G 1 Amber Holt
F 41 Kerri Gardin
F 15 Asjha Jones
C 00 Tamika Whitmore

Indiana Fever:
G 15 Tan White
G 41 Tully Bevilaqua
F 23 Katie Douglas
F 32 Ebony Hoffman
C 8 Tammy Sutton-Brown

Officials: Sue Blauch, June Corteau, Tony Dawkins

Whalen named Player of the Week

Sun point guard Lindsay Whalen was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week, it was announced Tuesday.

Earning her third such honor and first of this season, Whalen averaged 16.0, 4.3 rebounds and 7.0 assists last week, and through three games, she is tied with L.A.'s Candace Parker for the league lead in assists per game.

Sophia Young earned Western Conference Player of the Week honors. The San Antonio Silver Stars forward averaged 23.3 points and 5.3 rebounds in three games.

Another candidate for the weekly award was former Sun forward Erika de Souza, who has made an immediate impact for the expansion Atlanta Dream. She scored 10 points and grabbed a career-high 18 rebounds in her debut before registering 11 and six two nights later. The 18 rebounds is the most in a game thus far this season, and frankly, that may stand for a while.

Ngoyisa will be eligible for Fever tonight

Bernadette Ngoyisa, a 6-foot-4 forward and recent trade acquisition from the Chicago Sky, will be with the Indiana Fever for tonight's game against the Connecticut Sun. With Ebony Hoffman (5.0 points per game) and Tammy Sutton-Brown (6.0) providing marginal offensive help, she may provide a boost, though she'll be in much of the same boat Connecticut's Sandrine Gruda is: with little knowledge of the team's offensive system.

Here's the press release from the Fever's Web site:

INDIANAPOLIS -- A recent trade acquisition from the Chicago Sky, Bernadette Ngoyisa (nuh-GOY-suh), has joined the Indiana Fever during its current road trip to face the Connecticut Sun on Tuesday evening (7:00 p.m., ESPN2).

The French-speaking Ngoyisa was signed to a contract this weekend by Fever Chief Operating Officer and General Manager Kelly Krauskopf, and completed travel visa requirements before arriving in Indianapolis on Sunday. She joined her new teammates Monday morning en route to Hartford, Conn. She will practice with the Fever for the first time on Monday afternoon, and is eligible to play in Tuesday night's game against the Sun.

"Bernadette gives us more power and size at the post position," said Krauskopf upon trading for the 6-4 center's negotiating rights on May 14. "She will be a big presence in the paint both offensively and defensively. She also has experience in the WNBA as well as internationally. I am very happy to be adding Bernadette to our core group of post players."

Ngoyisa, from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, did not play in the WNBA in 2007, but was the Sky's top rebounder and second-leading scorer in 2006, averaging 10.1 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. She shot 52.8 percent from the field in her last season in the league. She played overseas in Italy during the 2007-08 winter, leading Schio to the Italian League championship. Ngoyisa, 26, played for the New York Liberty as a rookie in 2002, and appeared in 26 games with the San Antonio Silver Stars in 2005.

Sun to be out in the community

The Connecticut Sun will be out in the community at two different events this week.

On Wednesday, Asjha Jones, Tamika Whitmore, Kerri Gardin and Jolene Anderson will visit The Ronald McDonald House of Connecticut in New Haven from 6-7 p.m., bringing dinner to the residents and volunteers.

On Thursday, Tamika Raymond, Lindsay Whalen and Barbara Turner will be at the Paterson School in Newington from 9-10 a.m. for a Reading and Fitness event involving the school's third-grade class.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Douglas, Gruda, 4-0? ... All on national TV

There are a lot of sublets surrounding Tuesday's Indiana Fever-Connecticut Sun (7 p.m., ESPN2). For one, two-time All-WNBA selection Katie Douglas is making her return to Connecticut after she asked for (and was granted) an offseason trade to the Fever back in February. Two, rookie Sandrine Gruda is set to make her long-awaited debut in a Sun jersey more than 13 months after she was drafted in the first round of the WNBA draft. Also, with a win over one of their biggest rivals, the Sun would move to 4-0 for the first time as a franchise.

Douglas met with members of the media Monday before Indiana's practice at Connecticut College. She spent five years in Connecticut, where she grew into one of the league's most complete guards.

"Honestly, I haven’t thought too much about it," she said of her return to Connecticut. "I don’t think the scheduling has allowed me to. It’s just been honestly a whirlwind since I got back into the states and into Indiana. I got there 24 hours before the (first) game, so it’s kind of been a constant thing and me getting acclimated to a new thing and getting adjusted and learn everything. So I really didn’t even look at this game on the schedule. It so happened to be the third game and I’m obviously here now, here for business."

Still, Douglas admitted it would be strange to return to Mohegan Sun Arena for the first time as a visitor. She said she still keeps in contact with her old teammates, Lindsay Whalen and Asjha Jones especially, and following her interview, greeted Whalen with a hug.

In deciding to ask for the trade, Douglas said "did a lot of soul searching ... at the end of last season," though following the Sun's first-round loss to Indiana in last year's playoffs, she sounded intent on returning.

"In the locker room I just wanted to get out and play another game and have another opportunity to put our team in a position to go to the Eastern Conference finals," she said. "And that’s just the competitor in me. But after you take a step back and kind of evaluate things and the situation and circumstances, you kind of have to go come up with a decision based on not only myself but my family, my husband and I. But I’ve stated all along that Connecticut is a first-class organization."

Jones agreed it will be different playing against Douglas for the first time in four years.

"It’s going to be great to see her, I haven’t seen her in a long time, hang out with her," Jones said. "But on the court, it’s going to be the same thing for her — it’s going to be business on the court. And afterward, we’ll have fun and hang out."

As for Gruda, who at 20 years old has already established herself as a star overseas, she spent parts of her first practice with the Sun watching and practicing. During the time the media was allowed to watch practice, she showed flashes of aggressiveness down low and an ability to utilize her long, 6-foot-4 frame.

A native of Cannes, France, Gruda speaks very good English, and has already studied up on her playbook. She came into practice with already 10 plays down, Thibault said, and is expected to fit in well, both in terms of ability and personality.

"Good first day," Sun coach Mike Thibault said. "She’s a quick learner. We threw a lot stuff at her yesterday and today, and I know she studied the playbook because she came back in and Coach Hawk was starting to explain something to her and she said, ‘That’s such and such.’ It means she already read it all last night, so that was good. It’s going to take a while for her to see things as they happen on the court. That’s why when she’s in the game, we’re going try to keep the offense really simple."

Said Jones, who played with Gruda overseas for Russian power UMMC Ekaterinburg: "She’s kind of like all of us. She has the side of her that’s pretty loud and excitable. She has her side where she’s more high-energy. Then she has her side that’s more quiet. I think that’s what everybody is seeing her right now. Everything is really new to her."

Gruda will provide with the Sun with the height they need. They're the smallest team in the league without her, and while Thibault said she needs to improve her strength and footwork, she's been praised by coaches and players alike for her rebounding and defense. She also the ability to step out for 12- to 15-foot jump shots, though she needed some encouragement to improvise within the Sun's system Monday.

"I don’t have any expectations, just come in and play," she said. "If I can’t bring a lot of stuff to this (team), I wouldn’t be here. I just hope we’re going to (go) really far in the playoffs, win the championship. That’s my goal. I can’t put my goal really low. I’m a competitor, you know what I mean? I’m here to win. I’m here to win."

Check out the links to both full stories to the right. As for a closer look at the actual match-up between the Fever and Sun -- it's gotten kind of lost in the other story lines -- here is the scout box for Tuesday's game:

7 p.m., today
Mohegan Sun Arena, Mohegan

Records: Connecticut 3-0; Indiana 1-1.
Last game: Connecticut beat Sacramento, 87-64, on Saturday; Indiana lost to Indiana, 76-71, on Wednesday.
Next game: Connecticut hosts New York Friday; Indiana hosts Los Angeles Thursday.
TV/Radio/Internet: ESPN2/WNLC (98.7 FM)/
Series: The Sun lead the all-times series between the two teams, 22-11, and are 11-5 all-time against the Fever at home.
Injuries: Connecticut—Kamesha Hairston (out, recovering from surgery to repair torn meniscus). Indiana—Tamika Catchings (out, recovering from surgery to repair torn Achilles’ tendon).
Scouting report: Still rehabbing after undergoing offseason surgery to repair a torn Achilles’ tendon, Fever forward Tamika Catchings appears unlikely to play tonight, and there is still no set date for her return, according to report Monday in the Indianapolis Star. Asked if he expected to see the perennial All-Star on the court, Sun coach Mike Thibault said, “I doubt it. But you never know.” ... Though still far too early to determine trends, the young season has shown that Indiana still projects to be among the league’s best defensive teams. It’s allowed a combined 129 points in two games (a league-leading 64.5 per game) and owns the league’s top rebound percentage (79.3). “We’re obviously trying to keep our identity with defense and rebounding,” Katie Douglas said. “I think that can always be a constant for our identity and our team, and I think we’re also looking to push the ball a little bit more and be a little more aggressive.” ... Asjha Jones has scored in double figures in each of her last 13 games dating back to last season. The streak ties her for fifth all-time in team history. ... Douglas and Tan White have established themselves as the focal points of the Fever’s offense. They’re the only players averaging in double figures, and together, their 56 attempts make up more than 49 percent of the teams’ total shots through two games. Indiana has also used more pick-and-rolls this season, which better suit both Douglas and White’s abilities. ... The Sun have hit 13 and 10 3s in their last two games, respectively, marking only the second time in their history they’ve hit 10 or more in consecutive games. They also lead the league in points per game (88.0) and are tied for second in total assists (70).

13 G Lindsay Whalen (16.0 ppg)
1 G Amber Holt (7.7)
41 F Kerri Gardin (4.7)
15 F Asjha Jones (15.3)
00 C Tamika Whitmore (16.7)

Connecticut reserves
22 Barbara Turner (10.7)
33 Jolene Anderson (9.0)
10 Jamie Carey (4.0)

41 G Tully Bevilaqua (4.0)
23 G Katie Douglas (25.0)
15 F Tan White (12.0)
32 F Ebony Hoffman (5.0)
8 C Tammy Sutton-Brown (6.0)

Indiana reserves
42 Alison Bales (6.0)
10 LaToya Bond (4.5)
1 Khadijah Whittington (3.0)

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Three has no company

For the first time as a franchise, the Sun are 3-0 after handily dispatching Sacramento 87-64 Saturday. The Sun have now won all of their games by at least 14 points, and boast a margin of victory of 23.3 points in remaining the only undefeated team left in the Eastern Conference.

Here are some key notes from Saturday's surprising laugher:

(1) Lindsay Whalen notched 21 points, five rebounds and five assists, and did most of her damage in spurts. She scored seven straight points at one point in the second quarter and another eight straight again in the fourth. The first run was vastly more important, however, as it gave the Sun their first lead on the night, 29-28, the highlight being a long 3 in front of the Sun bench with six minutes to play until the half.

"In the first half, we were always down four, six, eight, 10. I think we were even down 12 at one point," Whalen said. "I just tried to be aggressive, and I just tried to look for my shot a couple times, just try to get things going. And I think everybody kind of felt that. The one possession I can think of is when I shot the 3 instead of trying to drive to try to get us going. I thought that, maybe that's not the best shot to take, but I could get this one to go, that could get us going. That's my thought process."

(2) Amber Holt scored a career-high 15 points in a little over 21 minutes, mostly working inside for rebounds (she led the Sun with seven) and lay-ups. The performance came after scoring a total of eight ponts her first two games.

She and Barbara Turner also had the task of slowing down Kara Lawson, which outside of a quick 10 points in the first half they did. Holt was especially aggressive denying the ball and has continued to show a gritty work ethic inside.

"We drafted her because we thought she was pretty multi-faceted player. The greatest pleasure I have in it is coming out of college, if you read every bio about her, (it said) she was the leading scorer in the country. And what we saw when we saw her play was a very committed defensive player.

"And I think she's one of the brightest players I've ever coached," he continued. "Her basketball IQ might be off the charts. She doesn't have to be told anything twice. She sees things like point guards see it sometimes."

Holt, like several of the Sun's rookies, has continued to impress the veterans around her as well.

"I see someone who's fearless," Turner said. "She doesn't play like a rookie at all. Most rookies who start in the WNBA, sometimes they play a little tentative and haven't seen that in Amber. I think she has the opportunity to be one of the best defenders in the league just because she's so strong on the perimeter."

Holt, of course, is also known as perhaps the Sun's quietest players.

"No, no, no, Amber doesn't talk at all," Turner said. "She gives me the good, 'Hi Barb!' because I had to tease her one time about saying, 'Hi Barbara,' being shy. I'm so talkative and out-going myself, I got her out of that shell a little bit."

(3) The Sun now have 23 3-pointers in two games, including a Mohegan Sun Arena-record 13 against Sacramento. Connecticut may be a much-improved outside shooting team this year, but Thibault said "he isn't putting any trends out there" considering how early in the season is.

"We had a bad start shooting 3s early in the game, but our 3-point shooters stuck with it," he said. "Barb and Jolene (Anderson, who hit two 3s), that's what they do. They stayed with it and it turned the game around. They give you some of those shots, too, because of the way they play defense. They load up the strong side of the floor and dare you to beat them with those types of passes. As the game went on, they got tired and we got a little bit smarter, and we found those people more easily. It was a great win."

Turner was especially hot from outside. She took 10 3s, making a career-best five. She shot 6-of-13 from the field for the game.

"I was watching in the first quarter and I saw some of the opportunities that would be open," she said. "So I was saying to myself on the bench that I might have a lot of open shots. I just have to be ready to knock them in."

Sacramento coach Jenny Boucek said she didn't think all of Turner's looks were "all easy shots." But conceded that the third-year guard/forward "shot great."

Tamika Whitmore hit three 3s as well, giving her eight on the year, but she said she doesn't want to be known as a shooter.

"A shooter looks for that 3," she said prior to the game. "They live, even die about it. Me, I don't care if I have to put the ball on the floor and go to the hole, take a mid-range jumper. I just read what the defense gives me, and I take it and run with it."

(4) Asjha Jones played her 200th career game Saturday, and with 12 points, pushed her streak of double-figure scoring games to 13 dating back to last season. It ties her for the fifth longest in team history. Katie Douglas set the record in 2006 with 17 straight.

Game Update: Sun pound Monarchs, 87-64

Lindsay Whalen scored 21 points, Barbara Turner had 17 thanks to five 3s and the Connecticut Sun dominated the Sacramento Monarchs in the second half to secure an 87-64 victory Saturday at Mohegan Sun Arena.

With the win, Connecticut improved to 3-0 for the first time as a franchise. It had five players n double figures, including Amber Holt (15 points in 21 minutes), Asjha Jones (12) and Tamika Whitmore (11). The Monarchs (1-3), who led by as many as 12 in the first half, shot 37 percent from the field, but 8-of-29 in the second half (27.5 percent). The Sun outscored Sacramento 23-12 in the third quarter to pull away.

Game Update: Sun lead Monarchs, 39-37, at half

Down by as many as 12 points early, the Sun went on 12-2 run to open the second period and closed by scoring six of the final eight points to take a 39-37 halftime lead over the Sacramento Monarchs at Mohegan Sun Arena.

Lindsay Whalen leads all scorers with 13 points and Amber Holt has 10 on 5-of-11 shooting. Sacramento went to the foul line 12 times in the first period, hitting 11 shots, and got 10 points from Kara Lawson.

As expected, the game is a physical one; 21 fouls have been called.

Also, today is Sun mascot Blaze's fifth "birthday." There are at least a dozen different mascots at the arena, including the Red Sox's Wally, the Providence College Friar, "Lucky" of the Boston Celtics, the UMass Minuteman and Cutter of the Connecticut Defenders, among many others.

A new reign?

The Sun and Sacramento Monarchs tip off in moments. With Seattle's 87-72 loss at San Antonio earlier in the day, Connecticut can stand alone with the league's best record and improve to 3-0 for the first time as a franchise.

Some basics for tonight's game, which isn't being televised.

Tonight's starting lineups:

Connecticut Sun
G Lindsay Whalen
G Amber Holt
F Kerri Gardin
F Asjha Jones
C Tamika Whitmore

Sacramento Monarchs
G Ticha Penicheiro
G Kara Lawson
F Rebekkah Brunson
F Nicole Powell
C Adrian Williams-Strong

Officials: Lamont Simpson, Tom Mauer, Kevin Sparrock.

Today's preview wasn't post online, but rookie Sandrine Gruda won't be in attendance tonight. Sun coach Mike Thibault said her plane from France is scheduled to touch down in Hartford sometime around 10 p.m., and the 6-foot-4 forward will practice with the team Monday in preparation for Tuesday's game against the Indiana Fever.

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

Thursday, May 22, 2008

A Husky Update (1st edition)

Every Thursday, we’ll take a look around the league at UConn alums and how they’re performing in the WNBA. Twelve former Huskies started the season with teams, a number that could have been more if Nykesha Sales (Connecticut), Kelly Schumacher (Phoenix) and Svetlana Abrosimova (Minnesota) were still playing this year. Here's a team-by-team breakdown.

Atlanta Dream:
(1) Ann Strother, G/F (UConn, 2006): 0.0 points, 1.0 rebounds, eight minutes played (one game)
Low-down: Strother told reporters prior to the Dream’s 100-67 loss to the Connecticut Sun on Saturday that she hoped for a larger role as she starts her third year in the league with her third different team. That remains to be seen, but the sharp-shooting guard hopes to improve upon her quickness to keep up with smaller perimeter players. The Dream, though, do like the attitude she brings to the locker room; league GMs picked her as one of the league’s top 10 most easy-going players on the court.

Connecticut Sun:
(1) Asjha Jones, F (2002): 17.0 points, 5.5 rebounds, 61.9 shooting percentage (two games)
Low-down: Jones hasn’t missed a beat since returning to the Sun last Thursday. The team hasn’t looked exclusively to her often, but she’s shown good range, has finished around the rim and looks a little quicker this season. There have been times they’ve run plays directly through her, the most noticeable being early in the third quarter against Atlanta. The forward had her breakout season last year. If she continues this, she will have another.

(2) Tamika Raymond, F (2002): 5.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 36.4 shooting percentage (two games)
Low-down: All the talk of a re-motivated Tamika Raymond was justified in the Sun’s opening weekend sweep. Raymond was active on the boards, finished well at times and looked energized by the start of the year. The newest member of the Kansas Jayhawks coaching staff, Raymond only needs to stay healthy to make an impact on the floor. There’s no doubt she’s been — and will continue to be — a major factor in the cohesion of the locker room.

(3) Ketia Swanier, G (2008): 0.0 points, 1.0 assists, four minutes played (one game)
Low-down: Swanier may see long stretches of little time with Lindsay Whalen and Jamie Carey in front of her, and with Jolene Anderson playing well and Evina Maltsi set to arrive, time will be hard to come by at the off-guard spot as well. She’s not particularly suited there, but Mike Thibault has been known to run two-point guard sets in the past. Either way, Swanier’s quickness will help her when she does see time, but at least in the beginning, it may be more of a learning situation.

(4) Barbara Turner, G/F (2006): 7.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2-of-6 from 3-point range (two games)
Low-down: Turner was absolutely electric in the opener against Atlanta, tying her career high with 15 points while providing instant offense off the bench. She didn’t look for her shot often in New York, and when she did, she didn’t nearly look as comfortable as she did the night before. But Turner, capable of starting, may be the energy/impact player off the bench the Sun lacked early and late last season.

Los Angeles Sparks:
(1) Jessica Moore, F/C (2005): 0.0 points, 1.0 rebounds, five minutes played (one game)
Low-down: When the Sparks were ravaged by departures and injuries last year, the 6-foot-3 Moore was solid in stretches, finishing the year with averages of 4.2 points and 3.0 rebounds while starting 17 games. But with Lisa Leslie back and DeLisha-Milton Jones and Candace Parker in the fold, she’s probably looking at a scarce minutes on a loaded Los Angeles team.

Minnesota Lynx:
(1) Charde Houston, F (2008): 21.0 points, 1.0 rebounds, 9-of-12 shooting (one game)
Low-down: Outside of Parker’s 34-point outburst, no rookie made as big a debut as Houston when she shredded Detroit in only 16 minutes of action. The performance was Houston’s best since her junior year at UConn; she hadn’t scored more than 15 points her entire seanior year nor did she ever shoot as well. Right on the fence to make the team to start training camp, the third-round pick was solid during the preseason and at least in one game, has been spectacular. It will be interesting to see how she impacts this team going forward.

New York Liberty
(1) Ashley Battle, G/F (2005): 3.0 points, 10 minutes (one game)
Low-down: Like several of the Liberty players, Battle was held in check against the Sun. But the fourth-year pro will continue to be an integral part of the Liberty’s bench. She’s New York’s top backcourt reserve and assuming Essence Carson doesn’t turn into a world-beater (I think she’ll have a solid rookie year), Battle will stay in that role as New York seems primed for a playoff berth.

Phoenix Mercury:
(1) Willnett Crocket, F (2006): 4.0 points, 3.0 rebounds (two games, one start)
Low-down: Technically a WNBA rookie, Crocket played her way onto the defending champs with a solid preseason that included a 12-point performance at Connecticut, and so far, projects to be a key part of this year’s Phoenix team. She made her first career start the other day and has seen 28 minutes of action through the team’s first two games. Until Penny Taylor returns, she’ll figure for decent time, though it may be a competition between her and former Sun player Le’Coe Willingham for more minutes.

(2) Diana Taurasi, G/F (2004): 22.0 points, 3.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists (two games)
Low-down: The Mercury are an uncharacteristic 0-2, but Taurasi again figures to be one if not the best scorer in the league as she and Cappie Pondexter try to carry more of a load left by Taylor’s absence. Taurasi is coming off another highly-successful season in Russia, and though I haven’t got a chance to see her play in person yet, there’s no reason to believe she won’t be as good or better than she has been already.

Seattle Storm:
(1) Sue Bird, G (2002): 15.0 points, 6.0 assists, 42.9 shooting percentage (two games)
Low-down: Bird has been one of the team’s top scorers through two games, but with the options around her, expect her assists totals to rise this season, too. Her durability, however, may be the most important part of her season. As much as the Storm added this offseason, their bench may be the thinnest it’s been in years, meaning Bird may have to be ready to duplicate the 70 minutes she played through her first two games.

(2) Swin Cash, F (2002): 15.0 points, 5.5 rebounds, 45.5 shooting percentage (two games, one start)
Low-down: Part of said makeover, Cash is one of the league’s best bets for a re-emergence. Under a new coach in a new team with expectations that rival those she’s had in Detroit, Cash has been renewed out West. The key, of course, is staying healthy and continuing to score like she did through the first two games. Last season, when Cheryl Ford went down, she’d go through stretches where she was relied upon more for rebounding than offense. Now, the Storm need her for both all the time.

More power to you

As one of only two undefeated teams left in the league -- albeit at 2-0 -- the Sun jumped up to third in's Power Rankings. You can check out the full list, but here is the write-up on Connecticut:

"Most so-called experts, including yours truly, thought Connecticut would have a rough go in 2008 without the services of Katie Douglas, Nykesha Sales, Margo Dydek, et al., but the Sun have been impressive in their two wins. Tamika Whitmore has been brilliant in each of the victories, Lindsay Whalen just keeps solidifying her status as one of the league's top point guards and rookies Amber Holt and Jolene Anderson are providing better-than-expected boosts. Yes, it's early, but Mike Thibault is the Coach of the Year so far."

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


The Sun have incorporated a new workout into their routine at the suggestion of strength and conditioning coach Jodi Hopkins: Yoga. The team has brought in a teacher from outside the organization and will conduct sessions once a week following practice. Slated to go roughly 35 to 40 minutes Tuesday, the first session lasted closer to an hour.

"Oh, it felt longer than an hour," said Jolene Anderson, who never did yoga before. "I knew we were in there for a long time."

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Imports, injuries and more

Some updates from Sun practice Tuesday at Connecticut College:

(1) The schedule for the arrival of Sandrine Gruda is starting to get a bit clearer. Her estimated touch-down of late this week appears to be either Friday or Saturday, Sun coach Mike Thibault said. Though Thibault probably won’t have Gruda dress for Saturday’s game against Sacramento, it’s almost a certainty that she’ll be in attendance.

“It’s more when flight things get straightened out,” Thibault said. “We know that Sandrine will be here by Saturday.”

Evina Maltsi, however, may not be here until next week.

“She still hasn’t gotten her stuff back from the consulate in Greece as I know of (Tuesday) morning,” Thibault said. “So she has to get that done, work visa stuff. We don’t make the flight until the work visa paperwork is in her hands. We completed our end. Now it’s up to consulate or the embassy in Greece.”

(2) Kamesha Hairston didn’t participate in practice Tuesday, but was biking on the sidelines and shooting around on an adjacent court. Coming off surgery to repair a torn lateral meniscus in her right knee on May 9, the second-year guard still was moving gingerly, but Thibault is confident she can return to practice sometime next week.

“Hopefully she can be ready by the New York (on May 30) or the Chicago game (on June 1) — maybe,” Thibault said. “We’ll see how she goes. You still want to make sure there’s not a lot of swelling in there after she does her workouts.

“She missed the last part of training camp so she still has stuff to do to catch up with everybody. There’s no timetable on it.”

(3) Following Sunday’s 77-63 win over New York, Thibault said, “From top to bottom this is (the most athletic we've been).” The Sun have ranked in the top five in the league in scoring in virtually every season since arriving in Connecticut, so to think they won’t again be one of the league’s best offensive team would be difficult.

“One of the things I told our players is one of our strengths is our depth so we have to play at a pace that takes advantage of that,” Thibault said.. “If you’re going to play 10 or 11 people, then you have to play at a pace that makes that an advantage for you. I thought we played at a ¾ speed pace a lot in the New York and we still scored 77 points. But I don’t think we played anywhere near what we could have. And the turnovers (24 of them) cost us, too.”

(4) A little more from today’s article on the Sun’s ability to gel so quickly, especially when it comes to their on-court chemistry: Thibault gives his players freedom to shoot if they show the willingness to work on their shooting during and after practice. That’s made the transition of someone like Tamika Whitmore nearly seamless thus far. A scorer with a fitting mentality, she hit a career-high 21 3-pointers last season, but already has five this year. Younger players are looking to her for scoring, and while she’s obliging, the Sun’s balanced system are allowing the other veterans to catch touches (Asjha Jones had 18 and 16 in her first two games) while the rookies are making the most of their opportunities.

Obviously it won’t always work out as smoothly as it has the first two games, but even with a lot of people with the potential to score, having enough touches to please everyone doesn’t seem like it will be a problem. The Sun have a system that promotes sharing, and enough youth where those younger players know when to defer to the more-established scorers.

"The reason she (Whitmore) has fit in is A, from playing against us, she knows how we like to play. She knows our best players, she knows Asjha and Lindsay (Whalen) and how they like to play,” Thibault said. “And that’s really helped us because the three of them have played off each other really well.

"And the others kids have sort of put themselves in around them. And I think she's having fun. If you ask her, I think she feels she has a new lease on life here. And these young guys will energize you, too.”

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Game Update: Sun improve to 2-0

The Sun had four players in double figures and weathered a fourth-quarter comeback by the New York Liberty to post a 77-63 win at Madison Square Garden. Tamika Whitmore had 17 points and Asjha Jones and Lindsay Whalen each had 16, but one of the biggest contributors was Jolene Anderson, who hit four 3s and finished with 13 points off the bench.

Game Update: Sun up on Liberty at half

Tamika Whitmore has 14 points and the Sun used a 14-6 run early in the second quarter to build a 36-26 lead over the New York Liberty at the half here at Madison Square Garden. Connecticut seemed to tire a little bit toward half's end, but the offense (45.5 percent shooting) was very fluid for long stretches, thanks largely to Whitmore, who has 6-of-9 from the field, including two 3-pointers, and is the only one player on both teams in double figures. The Sun already have five 3-pointers.

They struggled at times, though, breaking the Lberty's zone press. New York is bringing pressure at the third-quarters court mark, and at times, Connecticut has been unable to get clean passes through the middle to break it. That said, the Sun are largely in control at this point.

Give me Liberty ...

Greetings from Madison Square Garden, where the Sun and New York Liberty square off for the first time this season. Tip-off is about 15 minutes away. I'm interested to see New York. Its starting lineup today (Erin Thorn, Loree Moore, Shameka Christon, Cathrine Kraayeveld and Janel McCarville) was the same one it ran out during its postseason run last year, and coach Pat Coyle has better depth now by adding rookies Essence Carson and Erlana Larkins to a group that includes former Huskies Ashley Battle and Loree Moore, Tiffany Jackson and eventually, Jessica Davenport (currently injured). Today is the Liberty's season and hope opener.

Here's a transcript from an interview with Coyle prior to the season where she touches upon several things for the upcoming season.

(On expectations) Right now, we’re just looking to really start blending, getting everybody back, get some chemistry, and get them acquainted again. This is the first year since I’ve taken over that we don’t have major turnover. This is the first year going into camp where we have three new players as opposed to eight. It is in a sense that there’s always going to be a lot of teaching, but because these players have been here for at least a year and several years, they know how things are done. They know how we play, how we guard. That process isn’t as long.

(On building from last year) I hope we keep the momentum going. It was sa great rush last year, it was a great finish for us. In the Detroit series, a basket here or there or a charge here or there, it’s a different story. But we understand that that wasn’t good enough last year. To lose the way we did, the rush we made to get into the playoffs was great, but our players were highly upset that we didn’t go further because we felt like we could of — we should of — so they feel like business isn’t quite done yet.

We’re still young. Barb Farris went to Phoenix so we’re probably the youngest team in the league now. But to me, these players had a chance to get playoff experience under their belt. I think that experience will help. I want us to play well, play together and whatever’s going to happen is going to happen.

(On rookies) We did our homework on both of them (Carson and Larkins). We think they’re going to fit in nicely for this group, the personality, the character, all that stuff. As far as playing, I think Essence is a big, athletic guard. She can guard, she rebounds, and with Larkins, she’s strong in the paint, she can finish around the basket. But I think with the two of them, I’m not sure what we’re going to get from them yet. How quickly they adjust to this level will be beneficial for us.

The thing here, we don’t lean on one person, we don’t lean on just two. We’re all about everyone carrying the load. Not one person is going to carry the load here and I like it that way. Last year we had three or four players in double figures and easily could have had six. Our strength is going to be in our numbers.

(On Carson) Let me to you what: Essence Carson is going to be fine on the offensive end. Are there things that she needs to work on? Absolutely. But does she have the ability? Absolutely. She’s going to be fine at this level. Trust me.

(Is there more pressure this year?) I thought we were a good team last year. Once through the schedule, you can say we snuck up on people, but once we got to playing people two, three, four times, I don’t think that was the case. I don’t know how many people we snuck up on after the initial start. To me, that’s part of this team’s initial growth and the maturity and all that. Instead of doing the hunting, people will be hunting us, which is fine. That’s just the next part of the growing process for all of us.

(On concerns) We need to rebound better and we need to take care of the ball. Those are two things we really need to address and we have been addressing.

(On McCarville) She had a terrific year last year, but she’s gotten better and the people around her have gotten better. So I expect us to grow and be even better as a team. (Arrived Thursday)

(On conference) If you really look at the history of the East, New York was so dominant for how many years and we went through a transition period, where as those players got older and we had to get younger, that was a process that we started two years ago. I think Connecticut is starting to go through it right now. They’re starting to flip their roster, and that’s probably going to happen to Detroit in the next year or two. They’ve had great success with the people that they’ve had, but at some point, these players get older and that’s what happens.

But from top to bottom, everyone in this league has gotten better. There are no cupcakes, no one’s going undefeated, I don’t think. I could be wrong with L.A. But this league is really, really competitive.

* * * * *

As for the Sun, it appears they'll go with the same starting lineup as Saturday (Lindsay Whalen, Amber Holt, Kerri Gardin, Asjha Jones and Tamika Whitmore). Shutting down McCarville is key, as she touched the Sun for 18 and 14 points in each of the teams' final two match-ups last year.

Officials for today: June Corteau, Tony Dawkins and Marat Kogut.

Also, here are some other tidbits from Saturday's season openers: KT Douglas was stellar for Indiana, Alexis Hornbuckle stole the show for Detroit and, of course, Candace Parker showed everyone she may not be the league's next great superstar but its current great superstar.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

A fine start

The Connecticut Sun showed a little muscle Saturday in a 100-67 win over the Atlanta Dream. Tamika Whitmore showed exactly what she was capable: hitting from the outside, working inside, rebounding. You can't ask for much more than her 22-point, 10-rebound performance, and the Sun probably aren't going to.

"Pretty good start," Sun coach Mike Thibault said. "Twenty-two and 10, and you know, she showed why we got her. She still wasn’t comfortable with all the offense yet, but she knows how to play. And I thought she did a great job in her first game with a new team."

Whitmore was the individual story, surely. There will be more on her. But the Sun's overall performance was impressive, even against an expansion team. They outrebounded the Dream, 53-29, setting a team record for boards in a game (the previous mark was 52 set on July 6 of last year in a 111-109 overtime loss at Phoenix), and had 24 assists against 10 turnovers. Four players scored in double figures, and ended the game strong on a 24-6 run. Connecticut actually trailed 15-8 four minutes in before Barbara Turner (a career high-tying 15 points) hit consecutive 3s to start a 32-8 run over the next nine and a half minutes.

"In the first half, it was just getting our feet wet a little bit," Whitmore said. "But as the game went on, we really got comfortable with each other. It’s just a little taste, I would say a minute centimeter of what’s to come. The longer we get to play together, the longer we’re around each other.

"I wouldn’t even say it’s the chemistry that we need," she continued. "We have it. It’s just that we have to really get comfortable with each other as far as knowing where somebody likes the ball or knowing what somebody really likes to do. And get them the ball and let them do it. It’s just a matter of time."

Whitmore isn't lying about the chemistry already being there. These players genuinely like each other. It's easy when you have out-going personalities like Whit's, Tamika Raymond's and Barbara Turner's. Plus, people like Turner, Raymond, Ketia Swanier and Asjha Jones are already familiar with each other after having played with each other at UConn or simply knowing each other through the program's social circuit.

It's a big reason why Thibault has called this year's training camp one of the best he's had, and why it's so easy for one teammate to talk about another, even someone like Raymond who has had some physical battles with Whitmore over the years.

"That’s my dog," Raymond said, laughing. "She brings energy, she brings experience. Me, her and Asjha stand next to each other and she’s like, ‘I’m little.’ But she’s like, ‘I always tell people they can’t be my height and do what I do.’ And it’s true. She has spin moves, she can shoot the 3, she can shoot the jump shot, she can dipsy-doo in the lane like a guard. And you look at her and she’s the shortest post player in our league. And one of the most dominant.

"She’s funny, she’s witty, she’s southern, she’s country," Raymond went on. "She has a spectrum of all those things, and we just love her. She came in the locker room and did the old lady dance."

Asked of the kind of energy Whitmore brings -- the nine-year vet has made her lineup announcements a dance routine -- Raymond only smiled. "Me and Barbara bring energy, the giddy, sorority girl energy. She brings like the president-of-the-university, the ‘Let’s go,’ serious (energy). She has the side where’s she funny, but she brings the let’s-go-to-work energy. And I think you need that balance."

As for Turner, she came off the bench to score her 15 points Saturday. She seemed like a shoe-in to start, but Thibault said he likes the "instant offense" she provides. And her 3s couldn't have become more instant. She hit her first 3 11 seconds after subbing in, on her first touch. The next time she touched the ball, she shot again -- and scored again. Later in the first quarter, she drove baseline, was tripped and lofted a lay-up in as she was fouled. Walking to the foul line, she raised her arms up, encouraging the crowd to cheer louder. They did, and the Sun simply poured it on more.

"She came in and really just jump-started us right away," Lindsay Whalen (11 points, eight assists) said of Turner. "That group that came in really hit some big shots and they played great. Barbara hitting 3s and then we got out running and things just kind of went out from there."

Said Whitmore: "I’ve called her “Wet, Wet,” because in training camp, every shot she shoots, it’s like the net is wet because it’s snapping every time. And that’s just a nickname that I gave her and she hasn’t missed."

As for some other notes
: Kerri Gardin (eight points, five rebounds) started at small forward alongside Whitmore, Jones, Whalen and fellow rookie Amber Holt. Jolene Anderson (eight points, seven rebounds) played 20 minutes off the bench, and Danielle Page got in the last four minutes to score two points. Of Gardin, Anderson and Page, most likely one will be cut when Sandrine Gruda arrives next week. Kamesha Hairston, when she comes off the inactive list, could also be waived to clear room.

Jamie Carey scored seven points in 13-plus minutes, her first action since the team’s preseason opener. She’s sat out the last two weeks with a strained Achilles’ tendon.

The Sun ran few specific sets for Jones in essentially her third day of action with the team outside of early in the third quarter when she scored six of the team’s first 10 points. She shot 8-for-11 from the field.

"At first, it was kind of keep it easy, take my time, get used to the game. It’s my first game and I had one practice pretty much. And eventually I got going and my teammates did a good job of finding me when I was open. And from there, I made a jump shot, I was rolling and everyone did their part."

Game Update: Sun dreamy in season-opening romp

Tamika Whitmore notched 22 points and 10 rebounds in her first regular-season game in Connecticut, Asjha Jones added 18 and six, and the Sun dominated the expansion Atlanta Dream, 100-67, Saturday in their season opener at Mohegan Sun Arena. (Update: A late score change came across at 8:05, switching the Dream's total from 68 to 67 points.)

Barbara Turner netted 15 points and Lindsay Whalen had 11 and eight assists. The Sun never led by fewer than 17 in the second half.

Game Update: Sun lead Dream, 51-34, at half

Trailing 17-12 with under four minutes to play in the first quarter, the Sun sent Barbara Turner in. 'Nuff said.

Turner hit two 3s in less than a minute, sparking a 20-4 run to end the frame, and the Sun entered the half up 51-34 on the expansion Atlanta Dream Saturday. Turner leads all scorers with 11 points, Asjha Jones has 10 and the Sun offense couldn't miss at times as it continually held a double-digit lead during the second frame. Tamika Whitmore also has nine points and five rebounds.

Some notes: Amber Holt (two points, two rebounds) has either streaked red dye into her hair or braided red extensions in, but with her hair style, she really resembles Charde Houston.

Danielle Page and Ketia Swanier are the only Sun players who didn't play. Everyone else saw at least five minutes and scored. Turner also has five rebounds and three assists, and was simply flying around the court.

It's finally here

The Sun's season opener with the Atlanta Dream tips off in about 10 minutes. Here are the starting lineups:

Connecticut Sun
(G) Lindsay Whalen
(G) Amber Holt
(F) Kerri Gardin
(F) Asjha Jones
(C) Tamika Whitmore

Atlanta Dream
(G) Kristin Haynie
(G) Betty Lennox
(F) Iziane Castro Marques
(F) Jennifer Lacy
(C) Stacey Lovelace

It's surprising to see Gardin in the starting lineup, but it's a testament to how well the Virginia Tech product has been playing in camp. Plus, at 6-foot-1, she's a little bigger than Barbara Turner, which the Sun need against the Dream, a good-sized squad that features two forwards 6-foot-2 or taller and the 6-foot-8 Katie Feenstra coming off the bench.

Some keys to watch: Asjha Jones has had two practices before her first game. Unless she comes out on fire, expect Mike Thibault to temper her minutes a little today (and he still might even if she's shooting well). Even playing overseas, she'll have to get her legs a little bit, and of course, she hasn't had much time to get used to any of the teams' new plays or the rhythm the other players have developed together. That said, Thibault said she on Thursday she looked like she never left, so it will probably come to her quicker than it would most other people because she has spent so much time in the Sun's system.

Just hopped off the court with UConn alum Ann Strother, who seems genuinely excited about the chance she's getting in Atlanta. She isn't starting today but she hopes for a bigger role than she did in Indiana last year. Plus, she said there is a real buzz around Atlanta about the team.

"Our first exhibition game, we had like, 8,000 people there ... not even for a real game, and it was loud," she said. "We go around the city and people know us. It's exciting.

"It's kind of like," she said, pausing for effect, "Connecticut."

Officials for today: Sue Blauch, Denise Brooks-Clauser and Jeff Smith. Check back here around 5 p.m. for a halftime update.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Cori Chambers cut

On the same day Asjha Jones debuted in camp, the Sun cut second-year guard Cori Chambers. Chambers had played one minute of one game last year, but looked primed to compete for one of the open guard positions after adding strength over the offseason. But while other players emerged, namely Kerri Gardin, Danielle Page and Jolene Anderson, Chambers struggled to stand out in the team's preseason games, netting a combined 15 points in three exhibitions.

This was a tough decision for the Sun to make, though. At 5-foot-9, 160 pounds, Chambers has a pro body and can hit from the outside (she had a three in every preseason game). This was just a matter of having too many players too few spots.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Thibault, Sun assistants signed to extensions

This got up on the Bulletin Web site earlier this morning, but here is the brief on Mike Thibault's contract extension, which is for three years, including an option in the final year (2010).

Norwich Bulletin

MOHEGAN — The Connecticut Sun have signed head coach Mike Thibault and assistants Bernadette Mattox and Scott Hawk to three-year contract extensions, including an option year, the team announced Wednesday at its Tip-off Breakfast at Mohegan Sun Casino.

The trio has led the Sun since its move from Orlando five years ago, and will be under contract until 2009, with the option year to return in 2010.

Sun general manager Chris Sienko said he has been in discussions with Thibault over his new deal since October, and though under team policy no terms were released, Sienko said the new contract puts Thibault “toward the top” when compared to other WNBA coaches’ salaries. It also keeps together one of the longest-tenured staffs in the league.

“I think that’s probably the key to our success,” Sienko said of that continuity. “These guys love to teach, the players love learning from them, they’re a good group. And I think again because they’ve been together for so long, it helps. Players want to come here because of that.”

Without a new deal, this season would have fallen under Thibault’s option year in his old contract, but instead, will be enhanced with as many as two seasons to follow.

If Thibault sees out the life of the deal, it would bring him into his eighth season in Connecticut and would match the longest tenure in a single organization in his diverse career. Thibault also spent eight years with the Omaha Racers of the CBA in the late 1980s and early to mid '90s.

“When I came here, I came with no set plans about length or anything else,” Thibault said. “I’ve already turned down three or four NBA situations the last couple years because I like doing what I’m doing. The organization has treated us great, I have a great coaching staff with me, I like my team, I like being a head coach. There are reasons to go into the NBA, but there are reasons not to, too.”

Thibault said he’s also had at least one offer to coach a women’s college basketball program since coming to Connecticut.

Instead, he’s stayed, leading the Sun to a winning season in each of their first five years and the most regular-season wins by any franchise in that span. Entering this year, Thibault sports a career record of 106-64 in the WNBA (.623 winning percentage, second among active coaches), and has reached the finals twice. Last season, he became the third-fastest coach in league history to reach 100 wins, and was named Coach of the Year in 2006.

“I didn’t even look at anything this year; I didn’t want to,” Thibault said. “I’m happy. I think the biggest thing in life is to quit worrying about where you’re going and just be happy where you are. I think there are a lot of people in my profession who spend a fair amount of their time always looking ahead to something else instead of enjoying what you got. Maybe it comes with an age, the wisdom that you don’t have when you’re younger, (but) as you get older and have kids, you learn what the more important things are.”

This is the second extension Thibault has signed with the Sun.

“They’ve had opportunities elsewhere and they’ve interviewed other places to be coaches,” Sienko said. “I think part of that is wanting the right situation and I think part of that is he (Thibault) likes what we have here and believes in what we can accomplish.”

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

WNBA GMs: L.A. to win it all

Here's a copy of the press release about the league's annual GM poll, which predicted the Los Angeles Sparks will win the WNBA title, Lisa Leslie will win MVP honors and teammate Candace Parker will take home the Rookie of the Year award. You can see all the results below, but the Sun got nods in two categories: Mike Thibault will be the Coach of the Year award while Lindsay Whalen was slated to be the "best at making her teammates better." (Uh, you mean she'll lead the league in assists?)

Full release:

NEW YORK (May 13) -- WNBA general managers predict the Los Angeles Sparks to win their third WNBA title in franchise history during the 2008 season. Sparks center Lisa Leslie will win her league record fourth MVP, while teammate and first pick of the WNBA Draft Candace Parker will earn Rookie of the Year honors, according to respondents of the Sixth Annual GM Survey.

The Sparks received 42 percent of the GMs’ votes to win the WNBA Finals. The Phoenix Mercury and Seattle Storm finished tied for second with 17 percent of the votes.

Leslie received 36 percent of the GMs’ votes to win the 2008 MVP award. Other MVP candidates included the Storm’s Lauren Jackson (27 percent), who finished second, while the San Antonio Silver Stars’ Becky Hammon and Mercury’s Diana Taurasi (18 percent) finished tied for third.

Parker garnered 75 percent of the votes to win Rookie of the Year this season while the Chicago Sky’s Sylvia Fowles received the remaining 25 percent. Despite finishing second in Rookie of the Year voting, Fowles was voted as the rookie most likely to develop into the best player in five years with 67 percent of the votes. Parker finished second with 25 percent.

The GM Survey also revealed that last season’s MVP, Jackson garnered 54 percent of the votes as the best power forward in the WNBA while her Storm teammate Sue Bird earned 42 percent of votes as best point guard. The Sparks’ Leslie was voted the best center in the WNBA with 75 percent of the votes while 33 percent of GMs believe that the Mercury’s Taurasi is the best small forward. The Detroit Shock’s Deanna Nolan received 42 percent of votes as the WNBA’s best shooting guard.

Additionally, Jackson received 92 percent of the votes for the being best international player in the WNBA.

Additional results of the GM Survey include:
(1) Detroit Shock: winning the Eastern Conference.
(2) Mike Thibault, Connecticut Sun: best head coach (50 percent)
(3) Tamika Catchings, Indiana Fever: winning Defensive Player of the Year (32 percent)
(4) Phoenix Mercury: most fun team to watch in 2008 (42 percent)
(5) Deanna Nolan, Detroit Shock: most athletic player (67 percent)
(6) Shanna Crossley, San Antonio Silver Stars: best pure shooter (25 percent)
(7) Katie Douglas, Indiana Fever: acquisition that will make biggest impact (29 percent)
(8) Lindsay Whalen, Connecticut Sun best at making her teammates better (27 percent)

Also: The league announced it entered into a new marketing promotion with McDonald's which will put the McDonald's logo on the front of every WNBA jersey for "Tip-Off games" -- every team's home opener and nationally televised games on ABC (May 17 and 24) and ESPN2 (May 20).

McDonald's is hoping to promote it's new Southern Style Chicken Biscuit and Sandwich.

I'm not necessarily crazy about the idea of putting logos on jerseys, especially ones for a sandwich that probably won't be around in a few months, but this is pretty significant. Every so often you hear rumblings of pro teams in the U.S. following the lead of the professional soccer teams around the world (which cover their jerseys with advertisements) and NASCAR (ditto, with their cars). But at least on a national stage, this is one of the first here in this country (outside, of course, the McDonald's All-American game).

Monday, May 12, 2008

Asjha Jones to arrive this week

Sun forward Asjha Jones will arrive in Connecticut Wednesday night and practice Thursday with the team, coach Mike Thibault said Monday. That means Jones, whose UMMC Ekaterinburg team swept Vologda in the third-place series in the Russian League, should be available for the season-opener Saturday against Atlanta at Mohegan Sun Arena.

Jones' Ekaterinburg teammate and Sun rookie, Sandrine Gruda, will not join the team until next week, however, as she will return home to France to sort a few personal responsibilities, including shoring up her work visa.

The Sun are currently practicing at Emmanuel College in Boston and will return to Connecticut Wednesday.

Friday, May 9, 2008

A preview of a post-game

Here's the unedited game story on tonight's game. Check online or in the print edition of the Bulletin for more, as well as back here tomorrow morning for more reaction from tonight's 88-80 preseason win over Houston.


Norwich Bulletin

MOHEGAN — With roughly four-and-a-half minutes to play Friday and the Connecticut Sun clinging to a two-point lead with four rookies on the floor, coach Mike Thibault looked down his bench for Lindsay Whalen — and no one else.

He had his team. Whalen, the Sun’s floor leader, joined newcomers Barbara Turner, Kerri Gardin, Jolene Anderson and Amber Holt to take on a Houston Comets squad that featured a combined 22 years of pro experience on the floor. Outside of Whalen, the Sun boasted two — both courtesy of Turner.

And you know what? The Sun didn’t blink.

Tied with two minutes to go, Connecticut scored 13 of the game’s final 18 points to take an 88-80 exhibition win over the Comets in front of 4,411 fans at Mohegan Sun Arena.

Whalen led all Sun scorers with 18 in her first preseason game, hitting a tie-breaking 3-pointer to propel the late-game run on her 26th birthday. But just as huge were Anderson and Gardin, netting 16 points apiece, and Turner, who notched 12 against her former team.

The Sun’s final preseason game, the win essentially means nothing. How they did it does.

“I left them out there to see how they would handle it,” Thibault said of his final five. “I thought with Lindsay out there also, some of those young kids would play a little calmer. Obviously Lindsay hit some big shots and some free throws, but overall, they showed good poise. That group was good.”

Fighting for essentially two remaining roster spots, Gardin and Anderson made strong pushes to avoid final cuts before next Saturday’s regular-season opener against Atlanta. Gardin made 7-of-8 shots and grabbed five rebounds, continually attacking the rim in 26 minutes of action, more than any Sun player not named Whalen.

Anderson, meanwhile, hit 4-of-7 3s and led Connecticut with seven boards after grabbing eight against Phoenix on Sunday, showing that her ability to overcome her height (5-foot-8) has translated from college. As a team, the Sun hit 13-of-25 3s after making 8-of-40 through their first two preseason games.

“They’ve been doing that throughout training camp,” Turner said of Gardin and Anderson. “Those guys have been coming along, coming along. Jolene’s confidence has shown the last two or three days. She went through one practice where she didn’t miss a shot. And Kerri is Kerri. She has the same expression, the same look, doesn’t change, no emotion. But she gets a lot of things done.”

It wasn’t all pretty Friday. The Sun struggled early, missing 12-of-17 shots to start, and largely were bailed out by new edition Tamika Whitmore, who scored nine of her 10 points in the opening frame. They also committed 23 turnovers, which Thibault attributed to the new faces and “being careless.”

But they shot 55.2 percent in the second half, outscoring Houston by 14. Gardin (14 points in the second half) and Anderson (13) were the biggest reasons why.

Danielle Page, also vying for a roster spot, tallied seven points and four rebounds, playing well beyond her numbers. Cori Chambers, who started, score three points on 1-of-4 shooting.

“Shoot the ball … that’s what Coach Thibault tells me to do,” Anderson said. “That’s probably one of the things I do best. So I just wanted us to get an opportunity in the second half to let our team win.”

Gardin got similar advice for Whitmore, who arrived in camp on Wednesday.

“Be aggressive,” the 6-foot-1 Gardin said. “I’m undersized in the post, so I just wanted to use my quickness and get around the bigger post players. Going up against her (Whitmore) in practice, I learned.”

“Buckets,” Whitmore said. “That’s her new nickname. There are a lot of big girls in this league so use what you have to your advantage. And that is her quickness and her length.”

The Sun have an off-day today and will travel to Boston Sunday for a three-day “retreat” at Emmanuel College for practice and training.

“It does complicate things and I have no answer for you,” Thibault said of deciding who’ll be cut. “It is complicated. I don’t know ultimately what we’re going to do. We’re going to get away from a couple days, practice, get a chance to work on some things. And try to make a decision somehow.”

Reach Matt Stout at 425-4250 or

Game Update: Sun down Houston, 88-80

Kerri Gardin and Jolene Anderson, both fighting for a roster spot, netted 16 points apiece to lead the Sun, 88-80, over the Houston Comets Friday. Lindsay Whalen led all Connecticut players with 18 in her first preseason game, and Barbara Turner, traded from the Comets in March, scored 12.

The Sun hit 13-of-25 3-pointers (52 percent), a game after making 3-of-22 against Phoenix on Sunday.

Game Update: Sun trail Houston, 39-33, at half

The Sun have been pushed around inside by the Comets en route to a 39-33 halftime deficit here at Mohegan Sun Arena. Tamika Whitmore missed most of the second quarter after picking up her third foul, though she netted nine of the Sun's 12 points in the first quarter, several on long-range jumpers. With her out, Marcedes Walker, Latasha Byears and Mistie Williams have combined for 18 first-half points.

The Sun's offense has also looked out of sync, even with Lindsay Whalen back in the fold. The point guard, who is celebrating her 26th birthday, did have a pretty lay-up, though, in which, with one hand, faked a pass to the wing and rolled in a lay-up. Danielle Page, who hit a jump shot at the halftime buzzer, imitated the move on the bench to Tamika Raymond, moving her hands around to mimic the point guard's fake. "That's sick," Page said.

Former Rutgers guard Matee Ajavon leads all Houston players with nine points, hitting 4-of-7 shots.

A note: Three WNBA teams have scouts here, including the New York Liberty (with three) and the Atlanta Dream, who'll be here next Saturday for the regular-season opener.