Thursday, July 31, 2008

A few notes on ... Jolene Anderson

It's exactly 12 days from the (re-)start of Sun practice, so with the season on an official hiatus and Connecticut 26 games into its surprisingly successful season, each day I'm going to take a look at a player on the Sun roster, discuss the good and bad of their season thus far and try to gauge their impact for the remainder of the year. Starting alphabetically, first up is ...

Jolene Anderson
5-foot-8 rookie guard
Averages: 4.0 points, 2.4 rebounds, 27.8 percent shooting
The Good: Anderson started the season on fire, en route to making seven starts during the Sun's early-season run. After scoring 16 points in the team's final preseason game, she netted 13 on the road against New York and at least nine points four more times in the next month. She's shown a fantastic touch from long range, a confidence to keep shooting and, like Lindsay Whalen, she has a knack for the boards; she has four games of five or more rebounds this year. For a second-round pick, she's looked like a real steal at times.

The Bad: Anderson's playing time has waned considerably in recent weeks. Since June 27, she's topped double-digits minutes just twice, equaling the amount of times she's dressed but didn't play. There are several reasons for this: (1) A mid-year shooting slump cost her minutes late in June, which coincided with the improved play of fellow rookie Ketia Swanier; (2) Defensively, Anderson has been a step slow at times, and as a rookie, she doesn't have the background on personnel to make up a lack of speed when compared to other premiere guards in the league (Swanier, meanwhile, has asserted herself as a defensive stopper); and (3) the always-steady Jamie Carey has been even better in recent weeks, replacing Anderson has one of Mike Thibault's top 3-point threats off the bench.

Outlook: As a rookie, some of her struggles are expected, and as of mid July, Thibault said he felt Anderson was starting to correct some problems. The month-long break, too, may be the best thing that's every happened to the Sun's first-year players. Several veterans on the team said the toughest year physically (and consequently, mentally) was their first year.

It's essentially a whirlwind: For six months, you're working every day toward the NCAA tournament; then you're vying for a national title (or at least a few wins); then, in some cases, the next day you're experiencing draft day, which can be an exhausting experience; a week later, you're in your first training camp, either trying to simply make the team (as in Anderson's case) or show the coaches they made the right choice by bringing you there; then the season starts and you're competing against players three levels above anyone you saw in college, you're traveling more than you ever did, youre' truly living on your own for the first time; and then, in any normal season, here come the playoffs in mid August.

The life of a professional women's basketball player is one devoid of offseasons, and after a few years, you become adjusted to it. But as a rookie, this is a whole new experience, both in terms of the competition you're seeing and the physical demands that are being put on you. All that said, to get a full week off from basketball and then have roughly two and a half weeks just to slow down, practice and work on some individual things, it makes a huge difference in clearing your mind and perhaps returning to some of the good things you did at the start of the year, when you're weren't exhausted.

For someone like Anderson, that may be the case. She has the skills to be a great asset off the bench for the Sun in the stretch run and into the playoffs. Her only problem may still be playing time. With Erin Phillips expected to join the team shortly after the conclusion of the Olympics and play a major role in the Sun's backcourt, that's one more person taking minutes from Anderson. (In her defense, Phillips will most likely take minutes from Swanier, too.)

Also, the Sun face some bigger teams in their final eight games, including Seattle, Houston (this time with Tina Thompson), Chicago (with Sylvia Fowles most likely) and San Antonio (twice). Anderson can play bigger than her size, but with two small guards in Carey (5-foot6) and Phillips (5-foot-7) already seeing a good share of minutes, Thibault may stick with larger lineups, a la Kerri Gardin, Amber Holt or even Asjha Jones at the small forward position.

On deck: Jamie Carey
In the hole: Kerri Gardin

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

For those interested ...

Seattle Times reporter and Storm tracker Jayda Evans is blogging daily for the U.S. women's Olympic training camp. It's pretty thorough. I suggest you take a look.

Whalen making WNBA promotional rounds

Lindsay Whalen was in San Francisco Tuesday for the dedication of a new reading and learning center, a portion of the WNBA's Inspiring Women project. Here's the visual proof. It's part of a few commitments she's has out West before spending a few days back home in Minnesota prior to the start of Aug. 11 practice.

Joining her for the dedication were UConn alum Ashley Battle, Lynx rookie Candice Wiggins and WNBA president Donna Orender, among others.

(Note: Thank you Barb L. I had Candace Parker written originally, instead of Candice Wiggins. I had the right spelling of Candice, though. With all the news surrounding the brawl in recent weeks, I got so used to writing Parker, I essentially glazed over. Sorry for that slip-up.)

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

WNBA tops in diversity study

The WNBA received the first A-plus given in Richard Lapchick's annual diversity report card on race and gender in sports.

Here's the full story, per The Associated Press:
(Note: Not included in the study finding's was the promotion of Jessie Kenlaw, a black woman, to the Mystics' head coaching job)

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — The WNBA has received the first A-plus given in Richard Lapchick’s annual diversity report card on race and gender.

The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport study, which grades professional leagues on the number of participating women and minorities, shows women own three WNBA teams, up two from 2007 and one the previous year.

The number of minority head coaches and players increased, but there was a slight decrease in women and minority assistant coaches.

Lapchick, director of the University of Central Florida institute, said the WNBA has long led the way in his studies and benefited from its relative youth. The league began play in 1997.

"They started at the same time the (NBA) began its diversity initiative, so the WNBA was able to include a good pool of candidates from the very beginning," Lapchick said.

The WNBA said it had no comment on the study.

Carla Christofferson and Katherine Goodman own the Los Angeles Sparks, Colleen J. Maloof and Adrienne Maloof-Nassif own the Sacramento Monarchs, and the Seattle Storm’s owners are Anne Levinson, Ginny Gilder, Dawn Trudeau and Lisa Brummel.

There are now as many teams with women holding a partial or full stake in a WNBA team as there are in the NFL and more than in any other sport. Women own all or part of the St. Louis Rams, San Francisco 49ers and Jacksonville Jaguars in the NFL and the Sacramento Kings and Washington Wizards of the NBA. Major League Baseball has no female majority ownership.

Of the WNBA's 14 teams, five had female head coaches: Linn Dunn of the Indiana Fever, Pat Coyle of the New York Liberty, Jenny Boucek of the Sacramento Monarchs, the Houston Comets' Karleen Thompson and the Atlanta Dream's Marynell Meadors.

Five head coaches were black: Thompson, Michael Cooper of the Los Angeles Sparks, the Chicago Sky's Steven Key, Corey Gaines of the Phoenix Mercury and Tree Rollins, who was recently fired by the Washington Mystics.

(An aside: It's both interesting and odd the WNBA had no comment to the study. Why not produce a canned quote for Donna Orender saying how proud the league is. After all the negative news the brawl has produced in recent weeks (despite the league's attempt to spin it all), wouldn't this be something they'd jump at to promote?)


It's been a while since I posted one, so instead I created two new polls in the right column. By all means, respond with comments and opinions in the 'Comments' section of the latest blog post if you have anything to add about your vote. Also, now that we'll have a few days to breathe with the WNBA season on hold, I welcome all suggestions on how to make this blog better for the remainder of the season. Nothing, really, is off limits. Tear me apart on my work if you feel you must. I can take it.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Over the top

Not only a fantastic Sylvester Stallone movie, but it's exactly where the Sun are now: In first in the East by a half-game over the stumbling Shock and the surging Liberty — a "somewhat amazing" development, Sun coach Mike Thibault said Monday, considering the Sun lost five in a row before its current three-game winning streak heading into the break.

"I think with as many young players as we have, the break will do us good in some ways, to kind of get rejuvenated a little bit," Thibault said. "Tha's true for a lot of teams, but I think they have expended a great effort to get themselves in a position that they're in right now. Obviously part of it is because some other teams have struggled, but at the same time, we've exceeded probably most people's expectations and I'm happy we played hard enough to do that."

Thibault is currently in California resuming his duties as an assistant coach for the U.S. Olympic team, which is holding a mini-training camp at Stanford University. Lindsay Whalen, who is an alternate for the team, is to arrive in California for the team banquet, but she will not practice, barring any injuries or setbacks to the 12 players on the roster. Whalen will also shoot a WNBA playoff commercial while out on the Left Coast.

Speaking of Whalen: Her line Sunday (nine points, eight rebounds, seven assists) has become more and more common this year to the point that a tripe-double seems inevitable. Of course, it will also depend on how her teammates are shooting on a particular night, but after coming close to being the second player in league history to average 13 points, five rebounds and five assists last year — she missed in rebounds — Whalen, on proper rest following the break, could record the league's fifth triple-double and first in team history. The previous four in the WNBA below:

Sheryl Swoopes (Houston): vs. Detroit on 7/27/99, 14 points, 15 rebounds, 10 assists
Margo Dydek (Utah) vs. Orlando on 6/7/01, 12 points, 11 rebounds, 10 blocks
Lisa Leslie (Los Angeles) vs. Detroit on 9/10/04, 29 points, 15 rebounds, 10 blocks
Deanna Nolan (Detroit) vs. Connecticut on 5/21/05, 11 points, 10 rebounds, 11 assists

As for the Sun's turn-around this past week, I'll leave it Thibault:

"It wasn't so much just the one game, it was a relief to see us play pretty good basketball for the most part. The things we were struggling with in that losing streak, we corrected some of them. Not everything is corrected, but I had challenged them a week ago to get better this (past) week. And then I challenged them (Sunday) to use the break properly to get better individually. If we each get a little better individually, then our team collectively will get better.

"We were completely focused on little details (Sunday) that we asked them to be better at than the last time we played (Washington). It was a huge improvement, particularly on the defensive end. I just thought we were really, really good defensively, we followed the scouting report, just doing a better job of making them work to catch the ball. We were good.

"Then on the offensive end, we got back to being aggressive to get Asjha (Jones) and Whit (Tamika Whitmore) more good shots. And Lindsay was her usual really-good self. "

Jones named East's Player of the Week

Asjha Jones was named the Eastern Conference's Player of the Week Monday. A two-time honoree this season (she has three for her career), Jones averaged 18.0 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists in wins over Los Angeles and Washington. She posted 27 points Sunday against the Mystics. Houston's Tina Thompson was named the West's Player of the Week. Here's the full release:

NEW YORK — Asjha Jones of the Connecticut Sun and Tina Thompson of the Houston Comets were named the WNBA Eastern and Western Conference Players of the Week, respectively, for games played Monday, July 21 through Sunday, July 27.

Jones earns her third-career Player of the Week award and second this season after averaging 18.0 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game while shooting .500 from the floor (13-26) and .714 from the free-throw line (10-14). She helped Connecticut to a 2-0 record this week, with convincing victories over Los Angeles and Washington. Connecticut is in first place in the Eastern Conference at 16-10 heading into the WNBA’s break during the month of August for the Olympics.

Jones nearly posted a double-double against the Sparks on July 24, tallying nine points and eight rebounds to go along with three assists in 26 minutes of action. Against the Mystics on July 27, she recorded a game-high 27 points while shooting .625 from the floor (10-16) and .875 from the free throw line (7-8) in 28 minutes. A member of the 2007 Eastern Conference All-Star Team, Jones ranks among the top 20 WNBA leaders this season in almost every scoring and rebounding category, including points per game, rebounds per game, field goal percentage and double-doubles.

Thompson earns the fourth Player of the Week award of her career and first since 2004. She posted 17.3 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.0 assists this past week en route to an unblemished 3-0 record. The Comets, in the midst of a five-game winning streak, currently own a 14-12 overall record and sit in fifth place in the tightly-contested Western Conference. In a 94-92 win over the Mercury on July 22, Thompson had 19 points and seven rebounds in 38 minutes. She posted similar numbers against the Shock on July 24 with 17 points, seven rebounds and four assists.

Thompson is averaging 17.2 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game this season. In addition, she ranks among top 20 WNBA leaders this season in many categories, including points per game, rebounds per game and free throw-percentage. She ranks first overall in minutes per game (36.0) and fourth in three-point field goal percentage (.447).

Other candidates for WNBA Players of the Week were Atlanta’s Iziane Castro Marques, Chicago’s Candice Dupree, New York’s Janel McCarville, Phoenix’ Diana Taurasi, Sacramento’s Kara Lawson, San Antonio’s Becky Hammon, Seattle’s Sue Bird and Washington’s Taj McWilliams-Franklin.

Sun appearances abound

Apologies for the lack of blog posts Sunday. While I was not sent to cover the Sun's 82-60 win over the Washington Mystics in D.C., I also had a scheduled day off and was on the North Shore of Massachusetts with no Internet connection. I'll have more reaction later today, but for those interested in still seeing some Sun players, though there are no games, here is the appearances schedule the team has set up for the next few weeks:

Tuesday: Jolene Anderson, Jamie Carey, Kerri Gardin, Sandrine Gruda, Amber Holt and Ketia Swanier will take part in a basketball clinic from 1-2 p.m. at the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.

Wednesday: The same group will host a WNBA Fit Clinic from 2-3:30 p.m. with children from the Drop-in Learning Center at Connecticut College in New London.

Aug. 5: Asjha Jones, Tamika Raymond and Danielle Page will be on hand from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Lake Compounce in Bristol to welcome Mohegan Sun employees taking part in Employee Appreciation Days.

Aug. 7: Jones, Raymond and Page will sign autographs, teach basketball skills and conduct contests for children from 1-2 p.m. at the Dunkin Donuts on 704 Foxon Road in East Haven.

(A note: Be aware, there are two Dunkin Donuts locations within a mile of each other on Foxon Road, also known as Rt. 80. The 704 location is across the street from the Eblens plaza. The other location is technically in New Haven, but there are essentially four Dunkin Donuts in the East Haven area. It's borderline ridiculous.)

That same day, Barbara Turner and Tamika Whitmore will be at Lake Compounce also welcoming Sun employees to the park.

Aug. 8: Anderson, Gruda and Swanier will be at Lake Compounce for the same event.

Aug. 11: Raymond Turner and Lindsay Whalen will conduct a Fastbreak to Reading Timeout from 3-5 p.m. with children from the Stamford community at the Pitney Bowes Headquarters in Stamford. WNBA president Donna Orender will also be on hand.

Aug. 14: Whalen, Whitmore and Turner will sign autographs, teach skills and conduct contests for children at the Dunkin Donuts on 129 Westin Street in Hartford.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Schumacher signs with Shock

Former UConn star Kelly Schumacher signed on to play for the Detroit Shock for the remainder of the season, it was announced Saturday. Terms of the dealwere not disclosed.

The 6-foot-5 Schumacher was a reserve for the WNBA champion Phoenix Mercury a year ago, averaging 4.4 points and 4.3 rebounds in 16 minutes per game. The veteran center had played in New York the year before and played her first five seasons with Indiana.

Schumacher will help give Detroit some more depth with Cheryl Ford sidelined the rest of the year with a torn ACL. Kara Braxton will most likely take up a regular spot in the starting lineup, and with regular minutes, she may be a force down low. The Shock have other frontcourt reserves, but Schumacher provides the most experience.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Around the WNBA ...

(1) It looks like good news for the Minnesota Lynx. After both leaving Thursday's 84-80 overtime win over Indiana with apparently serious injuries, Minnesota rookies Candice Wiggins (lower back contusion) and Charde Houston (knee contusion) are currently day to day and will miss tonight's game against San Antonio. Initially, there was fear Houston may have tore her ACL. Fortunately, that wasn't the case.

(2) Some reaction from Nancy Lieberman's return to the WNBA. Shock coach Bill Laimbeer and Lieberman both said this wasn't a publicity stunt (and maybe it wasn't; she wasn't even signed on to play a home game). But it is two things, in my opinion: One, a way to draw attention away from the Shock's brawl with the Los Angeles Sparks and the ensuing fallout; and two, a disappointing way to rob some younger -- and probably better suited -- player a chance for some time in the WNBA. The reason this league is still hoping to grow is because it can't accomodate all the talent from overseas and college. So you're telling me there wasn't some recent grad out there who probably was good enough to be drafted but didn't make it out of training camp that could have made an impact for Detroit, at least bigger than two assists in nine minutes? I'd be surprised if there wasn't.

The Shock by the way have lost three straight after Thursday's79-61 loss at Houston. With Plenette Pierson unavailable again for Sunday's game against San Antonio, there's probably no team hastily awaiting the Olympic break more than the Shock.

(3) Here are the links to today's stories, first on the Sun's actual win over L.A. and the reaction fro the WNBA's ruling to suspend 10 players and one coach following Tuesday's brawl.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Sun-Sparks Game Thread

Final, Sun win 87-61: The Sun did what they were supposed to, handling the depleted Los Angeles Sparks, behind Lindsay Whalen, Sandrine Gruda and Barbara Turner. The Sun put this game away early, and Los Angeles simply didn't have the energy, talent or depth to compete. It resembled more a preseason game, as far as the Sparks' personnel were concerned.

End of 3rd quarter, Sun lead 64-47: The Sun have started to stretch their lead and have all but made the fourth quarter a formality. Lindsay Whalen (22 points) especially took advantage of the Sparks' thinned frontcourt defense, driving in for a variety of pretty finger rolls and scoop lay-ups. Perhpas the prettiest came in transition when she split two defenders, drew the foul and rolled in an impossible-looing reverse lay-up with 5:25 left in the quarter. She had 13 points alone in the frame.

End of 2nd quarter, Sun lead 34-26: The Sun held the already-tiring Sparks to one field goal in the final six minutes, sparking a 9-2 run to close the half. Lindsay Whalen has nine points and Sandrine Gruda has eight to lead Connecticut.

Tamika Whitmore also has six points, playing with a large black brace on her right knee and 'Free Rick' written on the back of the tape on her right ankle, a homage to Detroit assistant coach Rick Mahorn, who was suspended two games for his involvement in the Sparks-Shock brawl on Tuesday. Many feel Mahorn was acting only as a peacemaker and that he didn't deserve his suspension, though he appeared to knock Lisa Leslie to the ground.

"I know Rick from his playing days and even though we had some altercations together, Rick is still a nice guy," Sparks coach Michael Cooper said prior to tonight's game. "And after our playing days, we still have a competitive edge about us as coaches, and I really believe that he wasn’t out there to hurt anyone. I just think he should have done a better job of corralling his players, just work on your players. That’s what I was doing. I wasn’t trying to touch any woman out there. I was just trying to make sure our players didn’t get into any other altercations.

"I’m sure if Rick had to do it again, he probably would have done it a lot different. But Rick wasn’t out there maliciously trying to hurt anyone. And I believe that in my heart."

Mike Thibault also showed his support for Mahorn by wearing a small 'Free Rick Mahorn' sign during his pre-game interview with Bob Heussler that was aired during halftime.

End of 1st quarter, Sun lead 21-18: As expected, the Sparks have come out with energy in trying to fill in for their suspended stars, but the Sun -- and what appears to be the sell-out crowd everyone expected -- have matched it. They ended the quarter on a 7-0 spurt, highlighted by two Sandrine Gruda jumpers and a Barbara Turner 3-pointer.

Starters for Sun-Sparks

Doing this quick, but here are tonight's starters. I'll have more reaction from the suspensions from Michael Cooper, Mike Thibault and others before and during the game when I have time to post it on the blog. Tip-off is roughly two minutes away here.

Los Angeles (Keeping in mind Shannon Bobbitt, Candace Parker, Lisa Leslie and DeLisha Milton-Jones are all suspended):
G 1 Sidney Spencer
G 2 Temeka Johnson
G 24 Marie Ferdinand-Harris
F 00 Murriel Page
C 31 Jessica Moore

G 13 Lindsay Whalen
G 11 Ketia Swanier
F 1 Amber Holt
F 15 Asjha Jones
C 00 Tamika Whitmore

A note on Whit: Thibault said that the MRI conducted Wednesday revealed no tears in the veteran forward's knee, though there may be some scar tissue. It doesn't look like anything too serious, or something that she hasn't been playing on anyway.

BREAKING NEWS: WNBA levies a bevy of suspensions

The WNBA finished its review of Tuesday's brawl between Los Angeles and Detroit, and hardly anyone involved was left unaffected.

A league-record 11 people, including 10 players and one coach, were issued suspensions ranging anywhere from one to four games Thursday afternoon, a disciplinary action so heavy-handed, players on both teams will stagger their punishments so the teams can dress the minimum number of players (eight) for their upcoming games.

"The WNBA and its players represent all that is good about sports: passion, hard work and sacrifice," WNBA president Donna Orender said in a statement. "On a nightly basis our players display extraordinary skill, athleticism and competitive fire. The events Tuesday, however, were inexcusable and in no way indicative of what the league stands for. We hold our players to a very high standard and these suspensions should serve notice that the behavior exhibited at the end of Tuesday’s game will not be tolerated."

Here's the lengthy list, by team:

* Shock forward Plenette Pierson has been suspended for four games for her actions that initiated and escalated the altercation.
* Shock assistant coach Rick Mahorn has been suspended for two games for escalating the altercation.
* Shock center Kara Braxton has been suspended for one game for leaving the area of the bench during an on-court altercation.
* Shock forward Tasha Humphrey has been suspended for one game for leaving the area of the bench during an on-court altercation.
* Shock guard Elaine Powell has been suspended for one game for leaving the area of the bench during an on-court altercation.
* Shock forward Sheri Sam has been suspended for one game for leaving the area of the bench during an on-court altercation.

Los Angeles:
* Guard Shannon Bobbitt has been suspended for two games for leaving the area of the bench and becoming physically involved in an on-court altercation.
* Guard Murriel Page has been suspended for two games for leaving the area of the bench and becoming physically involved in an on-court altercation.
* Center Lisa Leslie has been suspended for one game for throwing a punch.
* Forward DeLisha Milton-Jones has been suspended for one game for throwing a punch.
* Forward Candace Parker has been suspended for one game for throwing a punch.

The ruling hits the Sparks especially hard for tonight's game. Bobbitt, Leslie, Milton-Jones and Parker will all sit out, leaving Marie Ferdinand-Harris as the lone regular starter left in the lineup. Page will begin serving her suspension tomorrow against New York.

For Detroit, Pierson and Mahorn will begin serving their respective suspensions with tonight's game at Houston, as will Braxton and Humphrey. Sam will serve her suspension on Sunday, when the Shock host San Antonio. Powell is injured and will serve her suspension at a later date after being medically cleared to play.

More on this as the day goes on. Fines are usually tied to certain disciplinary action, as well, though the league did not release those penalties.

Looming decisions ...

It's roughly 10 a.m. and there's no word from the league office yet on possible suspensions and fines surrounding Tuesday's Detroit-L.A. brawl. Here are the links to today's story, one more from the Sun's angle and another L.A.'s.

This didn't make the print or online edition, but here's the scout box and some notes for tonight's game.

(1) Lisa Leslie didn't practice Wednesday, sitting out to get treatment on what she described as a sore back, neck and hip suffered during Tuesday's game and ensuing fight. She's called it a game-time decision if she'll play, but it didn't sound serious.

"I'll probably put some padding on," Leslie said.

(2) Much like the Sun (14-10), the Sparks (14-10) have endured a streaky season. A stretch of six wins in seven games in mid- to late-June was replaced by a difficult July, in which they've gone 4-6 and lost four of five before Tuesday's win over Detroit. One of the main problems, coach Michael Cooper said, is Los Angeles has played down to its opponents. The Sparks have beaten teams like Connecticut, Detroit (twice) and Seattle, but have lost to inconsistent teams like Washington, Minnesota and Phoenix.

"Have we underachieved? To some people, we have," Cooper said. "But to us, I think it's gone along those same lines that we knew this was going to be difficult. People looked at us on paper before the season and were like, 'Wow, you should blow everybody away.' That's not going to happen anymore. This league is tough all around. (The Western conference) reminds me of the East early in the '90s, where the East was the toughest conference and separated by a game or two."

Scout Box:
(Note: I didn't include Los Angeles' probable starters because they'll most likely be vastly different than usual.)

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

Records: Connecticut 14-10; Los Angeles 14-10.
Last game: Connecticut beat Chicago, 74-67, on Sunday; Los Angeles won Tuesday at Detroit, 84-81.
Next game: Connecticut plays Sunday at Washington; Los Angeles plays Friday at New York.
TV/Internet: MyTV9, NBA TV/
Series: The Sparks lead the all-time series, 10-7, and took the previous meeting between the two teams this season, 98-93, in overtime on June 13 at the Staples Center. The Sun are 4-3 against Los Angeles at home.
Injuries: Connecticut—Tamika Whitmore (knee injury, questionable). Los Angeles—none reported.
Scouting report: The Sparks are in the midst of a five-game-in-nine-day stretch. Their final six games before the Olympic break were or are all on the road. "I believe the road helps develop the chemistry and the consciousness to help win a championship," Sparks coach Michael Cooper said. "I don't mind being out on the road. I think it brings a lot together for a team trying to win a championship and the road is where it's going to be won. Pat Riley always told us in the '80s, championships are won on the road. If you can get out there and play well on the road, split 50-50 … then when you play at home, it just makes it easier." … Since June 27, Connecticut is shooting 66.2 percent (114-for-172) from the free throw line; it went 9-for-15 in Sunday's win over Chicago. … Lindsay Whalen needs two 3-pointers to pass Adrienne Johnson (88) for fourth on the Sun's career list. Her 25 3s this season are already a career high. … The Sun are holding an 'Olympic send-off' for Thibault, an assistant for the U.S. Olympic team, at tonight's game. The first 4,000 fans at the game receive a complete set of Sun trading cards. ... The Sun announced a 4-for-$40 ticket plan is now on sale for each of the team's final four home games following the Olympic break. Those who buy the package will also receive priority purchase standing for the playoffs. Call 1-877-786-8499 or e-mail for more information.

41 F Kerri Gardin 3.0
15 F Asjha Jones 16.7
00 C Tamika Whitmore 11.7
13 G Lindsay Whalen 15.3
1 G Amber Holt 6.2

Connecticut reserves

22 Barbara Turner 8.2
7 Sandrine Gruda 6.0
33 Jolene Anderson 4.4

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Leslie: 'It was just crazy'

The Sparks finished up their practice Wednesday at Mohegan Sun Arena, unsure which of them will be suiting up for tomorrow's game and which ones will be watching with street clothes on -- and for how long.

Los Angeles coach Michael Cooper didn't seem too concerned.

"Our team is built of 11 players," he said. "We have 13, only 11 can play, and I don’t think they can suspend them all, so we’ll have five players we can put on the floor and we’ll be ready to play."

Cooper, though, agreed with his stars, Lisa Leslie and Candace Parker that the brawl is the last thing the WNBA needs, the extra publicity be damned.

"No, I don’t (subscribe to the theory that all publicity is good publicity)," he said. "I think if you look at that game from the start to that point, the fight, it was an excellent, well-played game and that’s what the WNBA’s about. It’s about playing hard, being competitive and after the game is over with, you leave it there. It’s unfortunate that that happened and the league will do the appropriate thing."

Said Leslie, who was especially adament about the brawl's affect on the percetion of the WNBA: "We get so much more publicity when it’s something negative than we do when it’s something positive. You would have thought when Candace dunked twice already this year that it would have been all over the news this way and maybe she would have had interviews and some national attention from that. But it’s not even probably one-third of this type of attention happened for her.

"Any attention you look at in the league, this is the biggest thing that happened," she continued. "And I don’t know what that says for us, as a society, I really don’t. But I knew last night … it’s just unfortunate this happened on national television because we’re going to get so much media attention and this is not the way that we want attention."

As for who'll be suspended, no one could say for sure what they expected.

"I have no idea," Parker said. "I have never been in this situation before. I’m sure they’re reviewing it. ... I think within basketball you have altercations. (I have never been apart of) one of that magnitude. I’ve never been suspended before. I like to play the game between the lines and after the game is over, (I’m) friends with everybody."

Leslie said league officials go over the ramifications of a fight and the actions players should take during oritentation. But she said she's "never focused on it because I’m like, ‘OK, that’s not going to affect us.’"

"I don’t really know what the rules are about it or anything," she said. "Who’s supposed to break up a fight? The 10 players involved, are we responsible to break up the fight? Are the official responsible? Are the coaches supposed to come help and restrain? I don’t even know the rules of what’s supposed to happen. I was thinking about Candace, I was thinking about her shoulder and I saw her flat on her back with a Detroit Shock (player) on top of her."

Leslie also described the situation surrounding her and assistant coach Rick Mahorn, who appeared to push Leslie during the fracas. Cooper, Detroit coach Bill Laimbeer and Mahorn said he was acting as a peacemaker, but Leslie said "when I got in contact with him, I just felt him push me back."

"Originally I thought, ‘Go pull your player (off). You had two of your players at one time on top of my teammate,’" said Leslie. "So that’s where the issue was. So to be a peacemaker, to me, after watching it, why wouldn’t you go over there and pick your player up, take her away? Or if you were going to be a peacemaker, he could have had his hands out maybe to kind of say, ‘Hold on,’ or whatever. But he didn’t."

Leslie also appeared to take a swing at Mahorn, something she didn't readily deny.

"I was really upset because he kind of knocked me off my feet," said Leslie, who said she didn't try to swing at Mahorn prior to being pushed. She instead was trying to "sweep through" with a swin move similar to that defensive lineman use in the NFL. "And I’m not sure but I don’t think that was his intention but that’s what happened. It wasn’t good. I tried to sock him, I guess, on my way down just because I was in the air and I was swinging at air and falling at the same time. That’s all I remember."

As for all the possible fall-out, it's difficult to tell how far the WNBA will go. This is an unprecedent situation, and there are varying opinions all over the league on who's to blame, who did what and who didn't do what. As far as tomorrow goes, I think the Sparks will be without several starters, most likely Parker, DeLisha Milton-Jones (who punched Mahorn after his run-in with Leslie) and Shannon Bobbitt, who received a technical foul for coming off the bench. Under WNBA rules, anyone who leaves the bench during a fight is automatically suspended for one game. There may be more players besides her who are guilty of that, but for now, she seems to be the one person most people point to.

Suspensions put on hold

The WNBA won't make a decision on possible suspensions or fines surrounding Tuesday's Detroit-L.A. brawl until tomorrow before each team's respective games, Ron Howard, the league's director of basketball communication, said Wednesday. It appears whatever actions are handed down will take effect immediately.

It is believed the league, in addition to reviewing tapes, have or will interview some participants of Tuesday's game, though Sparks coach Michael Cooper said he nor his players had been contacted as of prior to their practice at Mohegan Sun Arena Wednesday afternoon.

Check back here later tonight for more from Cooper, Candace Parker and Lisa Leslie on their reflections a day after the WNBA's first big brawl.

Further developments:

The Shock also announced Wednesday that Cheryl Ford will miss the remainder of the regular season and playoffs due to a torn ACL in her right knee suffered during Tuesday's game. The injury was diagnosed following an MRI administered Wednesday morning.

Ford suffered the injury while grabbing a rebound with 2:06 left to play in the fourth quarter. She left the game temporarily and returned, but apparently had her knee buckle under her while trying to subdue teammate Plenette Pierson during the late-game melee. She left the court in a wheelchair.

It's a humongous blow to the East-leading Shock, who have lost two straight games (both at home) anyway. They were already leaning heavily on rookie Tasha Humphrey in the froncourt and will now most likely look more to fellow first-year forward Olayinka Sanni and recent acquisition, center Stacey Lovelace. Ford, who had micro-fracture surgery on her left knee this past offseason, was averaging 10.1 points and 8.7 rebounds.

Sun give their take on Palace Brawl

Just finished the Sun's post-practice session with the media, and naturally, all the talk centered around the brawl.

Unfortunately for the Sun, they've become embroiled in the firestorm that will most likely envelop this situation only because of their schedule. If Connecticut was playing New York or Indiana or somebody other than L.A. or Detroit, Sun players and coaches would have been asked about the brawl, but had every right just to dismiss it with a 'no comment.' Because L.A. is practicing in their arena tonight in preparation for their final match-up tomorrow, they have really have no choice but to say something about the situation.

That's not to say there aren't some ways around it.

"I wasn't there," Asjha Jones said when asked of her reaction to the brawl. "I was outside." (The entire team had met at Thibault's house the night before for dinner and to watch the game.)

Tamika Raymond, though, did see it. (Or at least admitted so.)

"It was unfortunate that it happened, but we’re just worried about what we have to do and who we’re going to be playing against," she said. "We gotta play L.A. That’s kind of how we look at it. Of course, I was like everybody else and looking at it and saying, ‘Wow, this is not the publicity that we want.’ (But) we gotta play L.A."

Asked if all publicity is still good publicity for the league -- the clip of the brawl led Sportscenter with the actual story not following too far behind -- Raymond didn't really agree. (Asked the same question, Thibault said, "I'm not going there.")

"I don’t know," Raymond said. "Of course I think that’s bad publicity. We have a young crowd and an older crowd and that’s not what you want. But like I said and Coach said before practice, whoever shows up tomorrow, they’re going to be gun-ho for the people who are sitting out or whatever happens, they’re going to be ready to play. We have to be ready and prepared for what we have to do.

"Is it surprising?" she continued. "Yes because it doesn’t happen every day. When you say something is a surprise, if I went off and punched all three coaches in the face, that’s a surprise. That’s something nobody does. If I win the lotto, that’s a surprise. This is a surprise because it hasn’t happened a lot in this league. We’re a pretty straightforward league, family-oriented supposedly so something like this just looks bad. I think the players involved probably feel bad about it, and for us, we’re just trying to focus on (today)."

Thibault said he had never seen anything like this in women's basketball. But he has been a part of similar situation, including when he worked as an assistant coach with the Chicago between the 1982 and 1986 seasons.

"I was in the league before the clearing-the-bench rule was in so everybody was in (the fight)," Thibault said. "The first one I was ever in, a big one, I went out to try and be a peacemaker and ran smack dab into Moses Malone. (I was) with Chicago. We had a fight with Philadelphia. I said, ‘Excuse me big fella.’ (He did) nothing. He probably didn’t even notice I was there, with the size difference.

"It’s an unfortunate thing," he added of the Detroit-L.A. fight. "The whole thing."

L.A. was apparently held up in Detroit, but they are scheduled to practice later today here at Mohegan Sun Arena.

One other significant note from Sun practice: Tamika Whitmore left roughly an hour into the session to undergo what Thibault said was a scheduled MRI on her knee. The appointment has been set up for some time, but the coach did add that Whitmore "tweaked" earlier in the day.

"She’s got creaky knees," Thibault said. "We’ll see. It’s been a while (that it’s been scheduled). We wanted to do it before the Olympic break."

Asked what he would designate her as (doubtful, questionable or probable), Thibault said, "Seriously, I have no idea (if she’ll play)." There's no word on when the results will come back either, so count Whitmore's status as unknown at the moment.

Update: No word on suspensions or fines or when they'll come down. It seems likely some type of word will come from the league office today, but there's no definite timetable.

The Brawl (as it may come to be known)

If you didn't catch it, here is some links and reaction from no doubt the biggest news story in the WNBA this season and perhaps its history. It just so happens to be the kind of publicity this league never wanted or imagined it would have to deal with. The brawl that broke out in the final 4.6 seconds of the Los Angeles Sparks' 84-81 win over the Detroit Shock Tuesday will most likely produce fines and suspensions for several players, including Candace Parker, Plenette Pierson and Shock assistant Rick Mahorn. I didn't catch the game last night, but I have poured over some footage, including this from ESPN News, some extended footage from the actual game that includes an interview with Lise Leslie around the 4-minute mark and another few minutes of replays and commentary.

The Sparks were scheduled to have practice at Mohegan Sun Arena later this evening in preparation for their game with the Sun tomorrow night, so check back here for more info from their perspective. But here are a few things we (kind of) know from the fracas:

(1) Parker and Pierson seem pegged from some type of disciplinary action. If that affects Parker's status for Thursday's game is unclear. Rick Mahorn, who appears to push Lisa Leslie, and DeLisha Milton-Jones, who punched Mahorn in the back in retaliation, may also receive some type of fine, suspension or mixture of the two. As far as I know, the league has never had to deal with something like this, so it will be interesting to see how quickly they respond.

(2) Cheryl Ford left the court in a wheelchair after apparently spraining her right knee trying to restrain Pierson from the fight. The AP story doesn't give any more details after that on her condition, though it includes a blow-by-blow of the fight.

(3) The Palace, home of the infamous Pacers-Pistons brawl of 2004 that Mahorn was also involved in, may start to get a rep. Here's another take from Detroit's local media.

As far as I can recall, nor has anyone written as such, this is unprecedented for the WNBA or women's basketball. If you can recall a similar situation, albeit international play, college or pro ball, post it in the comments.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Reason No. 496,756 ...

... Why this league makes no sense sometimes. Indiana loses to Atlanta at home, blows a 17-point lead to a Lauren Jackson-less Seattle team and then beats a streaking New York team in its own Outdoor Classic, a game they have all the reason in the world to win. Then, that same Seattle team, riding a seven-game winning streak, is blown out by 32 points Sunday by Washington, a team in turmoil after the firing of its head coach and coming off its two worst losses of the season.

Actually, that's a couple reasons. But nevertheless, as in most years, the WNBA is terribly difficult to predict. For example, even Sun coach Mike Thibault said Sunday that he never thought his team would go on a five-game losing streak, which ended with a 74-67 victory over Chicago.

"I thought we would two or three in a row just because of some of the habits we have sometimes and just because of our newness to each other," Thibault said. "I thought that could happen. I didn’t think we would lose the way we lost a couple of our games. It’s just one game right now. It feels good to win, but they have to remember what that feels like and the level of play you have to play at this league to win every night."

That being said, Sunday's win wasn't too much different than a lot of the Sun's recent losses. They didn't shoot particularly well at times, especially from the free-throw line (9-for-15), and they made several mental mistakes, ranging from a bad Barbara Turner turnover midway through the fourth quarter (Thibault wanted her to slow it down on a fastbreak, but instead she threw a pass that sailed high on Jamie Carey), to a technical foul on Thibault, to an inability to get a consistent scorer outside Asjha Jones (23 points, 10 rebounds) and Lindsay Whalen (20, 8, six assists).

But, in what differed greatly from previous weeks, the Sun finished strong, thanks in large part to Amber Holt, they rebounded well and played pressure defense the entire game. Right from the start, Thibault was urging his players to get up in the faces of their opponents. It produced a a good amount of turnovers (16), something the Sun have struggled to do this season, but more importantly, it set a tone for the entire game.

Another note that didn't make it into today's stories:
Jamie Carey continues to be the Sun's most consistent 3-point shooter, even as the rest of the team has fallen into a funk in recent weeks. She hit two straight early in the fourth quarter that extended the Sun's lead to eight points, partly, Thibault said, because in switching to a zone defense, Chicago didn't automatic recognize what personnel was on the floor and left Carey open twice when the ball was rotated around.

"Those two threes that Jamie (Carey) hit were huge," Lindsay Whalen said. Carey is now second on the team in 3s (25) behind Barbara Turner (30) and leads the Sun in 3-point percentage (41.7), an area she led the league in a year ago. There have been times Thibault has had to remind Carey to shoot more often, mainly because, he said, he can put a bigger player on the floor who won't shoot. Carey, though, has responded most nights; she has four double-digit scoring efforts to her credit this year, including the career-best 18-point performance against New York last week.

Also, from around the league, Deanna Nolan and Cappie Pondexter were named the Eastern and Western Conference's Players of the Week on Monday.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Sun-Sky Game Thread

Final, Sun 74-67: Asjha Jones scored 23 points, Lindsay Whalen had 20 and the Sun avoided becoming the first team in Connecticut history to lose six straight games. The Sun (14-10) allowed Chicago to creep within one, 64-63, before Amber Holt hit a 3-pointer with 3:12 remaining, kick-starting a 10-2 run to put it away.

Holt scored seven of the Sun's final 10 points, also putting back her own miss after a huge offensive rebound with about a minute and a half to play. To put it simply, the Sun made their shots down the stretch, an ability that deserted them in recent games. Five different Sky players scored in double figures, but Connecticut also didn't allow anyone to get hot late. Jia Perkins led Chicago (7-15) with 14 points.

With the victory, Connecticut moved a full game ahead of New York (12-10) for second place in the East.

End of 2nd quarter, Sun lead 35-33: An Asjha Jones lay-up with 1.5 seconds left provided the two-point margin, but it could, and probably should, be so much more. The Sun shot 37.8 percent from the field and had a number of misses in close range to the basket. They missed three lay-ups to open the game, and during a four-minute stretch in which they only scored three points, they missed at least right around the basket plus three foul shots. (They were 6-for-10 from the foul line overall.)

Jones leads all scorers with 13 points on 6-of-10 shooting while, reminiscent to Friday, the Sky got balanced scoring; four players have six points while Jia Perkins has seven. Lindsay Whalen, who had her shoe fall off before putting it back on untied to draw a foul, has eight points, six rebounds and three assists.

End of 1st quarter, Sun lead 20-14: Don't look now, but the Sun just played a very solid first quarter. They made the Sky work for their points, and their scoring was very balanced with five different players scoring their final six baskets. They had a good mix of inside and outside as well.

Quick note ... on Washington

I included this in today's advance, but Washington fired head coach Tree Rollins Saturday and promoted assistant coach Jessie Kenlaw into an interim role. Here's a few takes on the news, both from the organization itself and other news outlets. For some reason, I can't get the link but The Washington Times also has a story on the coaching change.

Asked for his take on it, Sun coach Mike Thibault said simply, "I have no take on that. I have problems of my own."

Starters, notes, etc.

Greetings from Mohegan Sun Arena. Sun players are mostly off the court now, though the Sky are doing a team stretch as the fans slowly file in. There's a lot of pink, too, for the team's "Pack the Place Pink" promotion for breast cancer awareness. The players will also be wearing pink t-shirts in place of their warm-up shirts.

As for the game, the Sun sit on the verge of setting team history. With a loss, they'll become the first team in Connecticut history (not franchise history) to lose six straight games, which also would continue the league's longest active skid. As discussed in today's story, the Sun are suffering from many of the same problems that have plagued them both during their streak and throughout the year. They've started slow, failing to score until four minutes into Friday's 73-65 loss at Chicago; they've continue to shoot poorly, missing 11-of-13 3-pointers and finishing with a 34.3-percent shooting mark from the field; and key contributors (first Tamika Whitmore and Barbara Turner, Friday it was Lindsay Whalen) have disappeared.

(A note: Don't expect Whalen to fall into a prolonged slump after her 1-for-8 showing Friday. Chicago sent three defenders at her on most of her drives, a tactic she has seen before this season, but when combined with an off-night all-around, she regressed into forcing the action instead of getting her points as she normally does.)

That's not to say the Sun have played flat-out badly over the last five games. Certain things have hurt them and despite those inefficiencies, they've been in position to win each of those contests. Friday, their defense ignited them in the third quarter, as did Sandrine Gruda (10 points, 11 rebounds) and Asjha Jones (18 point), who used her ability to get to the free throw line to make up for a poor 5-for-19 performance from the field.

Chicago, too, appears to be short-handed again with Dominique Canty sitting out with a left knee injury. Sylvia Fowles was going through drills with Sky assistant Michael Mitchell prior to the game, but she too will not play tonight as she continues to work her way back from a sprained left knee. (She may play before the Olympic break, though she is expected to be ready for Team U.S.A.)

Here are the full starters. For the Sun, Ketia Swanier makes her second straight start, most notably for her defense on Jia Perkins. Perkins finished with 15 points on Friday, but Swanier kept her subdued for a good part of the first half and, as usual, ran the floor well on offense.

G 11 Ketia Swanier
G 13 Lindsay Whalen
F 1 Amber Holt
F 15 Asjha Jones
F 00 Tamika Whitmore

G 11 Jia Perkins
G 32 K.B. Sharp
F 4 Candice Dupree
F 21 Brooke Wyckoff
C 44 Chasity Melvin

Officials: (53) Jeffrey Smith, (4) Sue Blauch, (18) Kurt Walker

Some other keys for the Sun today:
(1) Continue to get Whitmore in a groove. She found success Friday (13 points, six rebounds) mainly because she was aggressive on the offensive boards and passed well out of the high post.
(2) Do a better job on limiting Chasity Melvin. Even with a taller lineup that included Gruda, Jones and Kerri Gardin, Melvin still found ways to hurt the Sun. The veteran will find ways to score around shorter forwards and even a taller rookie in Gruda, but Melvin's work in the post was one of, if not the, main reason the Sky were able to build a 14-point lead by halftime on Friday.
(3) Don't sweat the small guys. And it's been all small guys lately. The Sun have allowed nine different players score a career high in points against them this year, including someone in the last three games (Washington's Nikki Blue with 13, New York's Lisa Willis with 18 and Friday, Quianna Chaney's with 10). It's frustrating and perplexing for Thibault the Sun have allowed this to happen time and time again.

"Kelly Miller had 17 against us one game," Thibault said. "It’s not that she’s not capable, it’s out of her norm. I don’t know if it’s not us preparing them right, but I’m watching film and the same shots that they’re missing, they’re making (against us). I don’t know if that’s partly unlucky. But it’s gotta stop."

(4) Hit shots early. A good start would take a lot of pressure off Connecticut. It's expended so much energy all season in climbing out of holes, they've played noticeably more relaxed when they're up early, the only exception being the Washington loss two games ago when they relaxed too much.

"The only consolation in all this," Thibault said, "is look around the league. There are only a couple people happy right now."

Friday, July 18, 2008

Sun-Sky Game Thread

Final, Sky 73-65: The Sun went scoreless over the final 3:09 of the game and have now tied a team record for longest single-season losing streak at five games. Asjha Jones finished with 17 points, Sandrine Gruda recorded her first career double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds, but Connecticut (13-10) couldn't overcome five different Sky players in double figures, including Jia Perkins, who had a team-high 15 points.

Lindsay Whalen had by far her least productive game of the season, finishing with a season-low two points, three rebounds and two assists. Despite going 2-for-14 from 3, the Sun hardly relied on the long-range shot to cut into what was a 14-point second-half Sky lead, but after pounding the ball inside, they simply didn't make shots late. Barbara Turner missed two free throws with 2:21 left and then a lay-up less than a minute after that, and after Whalen missed a leaning jump shot with 45 seconds left, Jia Perkins all but put the game away with a lay-up with 22.2 seconds left.

The Sky, losers of five of six and second to last in the East, improved to 7-14.

Tamika Whitmore (13 points, six rebounds) had her best offensive game in four contests, but only playing 18 minutes, as she lost time to Gruda.

Update: Here's the boxscore from the game.

8.2 seconds, fourth quarter, Sky 73-65: Asjha Jones missed an open 3 and though Kerri Gardin grabbed the rebound, her pass out to the key was stolen by K.B. Sharp, who was fouled by Jones. Sharp hit both free throws and the Sun appear destined for their fifth straight loss.

22.2 seconds, fourth quarter, Sky lead 71-65: The Sun chose note to foul after Lindsay Whalen missed a leaner in the lane, and Jia Perkins capitalized, dribbling around the defense and scooping in a left-handed lay-up to push Chicago's lead to six, their largest lead of the quarter. The Sun need a quick core, preferably a 3, though they're 2-for-13 from long range tonight. Jamie Carey has been inserted into the game.

53.2 seconds, fourth quarter, Sky lead 69-65: Frustrating few minutes for Barbara Turner. The forward/guard missed two free throws with 2:21 left, and then had an open lay-up rim out a few moments later.

2:22, fourth quarter, Sky lead 68-65: The Sky continue to prevent the Sun from getting over the hump. A Candice Dupree jump shot from the left baseline just pushed Chicago's advantage back to 3, though Kerri Gardin kept alive a Sun possession with an offensive rebound, after which Mike Thibault signaled for a timeout.

4:01, fourth quarter, Sky lead 65-62: Sandrine Gruda has continued to be very aggressive on the boards and now has her first double-double of her career (11 points, 10 rebounds). She has, though, gotten herself in foul trouble by guarding Chasity Melvin. She has four, and nearly got her fifth minutes later, though Barbara Turner was called for a push on Brooke Wyckoff.

5:31, fourth quarter, 60-60: We officially have a game. The Sun have continued to buckle down on defense, none more so than on Candice Dupree, who has turned invisible the last quarter, and they're running more, too. By feeding off their defense, they simply look more fluid in moving up and down the floor, and it's helped that Jones has come on strong. Dupree, by the way, has just nine points on 2-of-10 shooting. Most of her attempts have come on contested baseline jumpers.

Lindsay Whalen, though, is still struggling through one of her worst games this year. She has just two points on 1-of-7 shooting, and while she hasn't always scored in bunches this year, her assists (two) and rebounds (two) are also way down.

6:35, fourth quarter, Sun lead 60-58: Jones dished to Gruda near the elbow for a 15-foot jumper. It's the Sun's first lead of the game.

8:43, fourth quarter, 56-56: Two Asjha Jones free throws tied the game for the first time since the start of the game. After a Jia Perksin lay-up, Jones came right back with another lay-up to tie it, 58-58. Jones now has 14 points.

End of 3rd quarter, Sky lead 56-52: The Sun turned up the defensive intensity and it helped spark a 10-2 run to finish the quarter. The highlight came with 1.8 seconds left, when on an Asjha Jones missed lay-up, Gruda kept a rebound alive by tipping it to Turner, who in one motion, caught, shot and was fouled to cut the Sky's lead, 56-52. Meanwhile, the Sky committed two shot-clock violations in the final three minutes and had just six points in the final five minutes.

3:36, 3rd quarter, Sky lead 54-42: The Sky's K.B. Sharp just left the game with what appears to be an injured right ankle after jamming it while diving to make a steal near the sideline. She looks like she's quite a bit of pain. Adjust her WNBA fantasy lineups accordingly.

4:58, third quarter, Sky lead 52-41: Whitmore has cracked double digits (13 points) and the Sun's offense is finding its footing, but they still aren't backing up their points with stops. Whitmore, for example, stepped back for a the kind of 17-footer she was hitting so often early, only to watch K.B. Sharp hit a 3 from the corner 13 seconds later. Jia Perkins, however, appeared to injure her ankle after an Armintie Price lay-up, and was asking for a sub right before the media timeout was taken. With her out, the Sky lose one of their top scoring options.

8:28, 3rd quarter, Sky lead 42-33: Tamika Whitmore just threw in an impossible shot as she was fouled, cutting the Sky's lead to single digits for the first time since midway through the second quarter. Amber Holt hit her first basket, a 3-pointer, the last time down the floor. Connecticut is getting some rhythm.

End of 2nd quarter, Sky lead 42-28: The Sky's active defense has given the Sun a lot of problems, holding them to 12-of-34 shooting and a 1-of-8 mark from 3. The Sun, coincidently, looked to put the ball inside for most of the half, but managed just three free throws and is being outscored, 16-10, in the paint.

Some concerns: Lindsay Whalen has just two points on 1-of-4 shooting. She's largely deferred, but also only has one assist to show for it. The Sun have closed the rebound deficit (18-16), but largely, their second-chance points aren't making a huge impact.

The Sky, meanwhile, first got a boost from Quianna Chaney (eight straight points) and then Chasity Melvin, who has nine points and four rebounds, the majority of those coming late in the half. She's handled smaller forwards in Jones and Whitmore and frustrated an inexperienced Gruda despite giving up some height. Chicago also scored 26 points in the second period, this from a team ranked 10th in the league in scoring and hasn't broken 80 points in any of its last four games. The Sun looked passive at times, choosing to go under screens instead of challenging shooters, and Chicago has gotten too easy of looks inside.

As often as the Sun have started games slow, they've come out strong in the third quarter, too. Don't be surprised if Whalen takes more of a load offensively, and if that works, the Sun build from there.

2:50, 2nd quarter, 36-22: The Sky are starting to build some cushion. A Ketia Swanier 3 is the only Sun basket to break up a stretch of 10 straight Chicago points, as the Sun are doing little to slow a well-balanced Sky offense. Mike Thibault is going with a lineup of Whalen, Swanier, Jolene Anderson, Jones and Gruda coming out of the timeout.

5:16, 2nd quarter, Sky lead 26-17: Sharpshooter Quianna Chaney has abused Kerri Gardin over the last few minutes, scoring eight straight points to push Chicago's lead to 11 at one point. One time, she took Gardin off the dribble for a pull-up jumper and then made her fellow rookie pay when she went under a screen, leaving the LSU product open for a 3.

Tamika Whitmore, meanwhile, has come on for the Sun. She has two straight put-backs, including an acrobatic scoop-in that she probably was fouled on.

End of 1st quarter, Sky lead 16-8: The Sun shot just 26 percent (4-for-15) in the opening frame despite taking just one 3 and continually looking to push the ball inside. Mike Thibault has also been busy with substitutions. The entire starting lineup was out of the game by the two-minute mark before Asjha Jones subbed back in for Sandrine Gruda (four points) with under 10 seconds to play.

The Sun were outreboudnded, 13-7, and outscored in the paint, 10-2.

3:44, 1st quarter Sky lead 9-4: Sandrine Gruda and Barbara Turner are the first subs off the bench, replacing Jones and Holt.

5:01, 1st quarter, Sky lead 9-2: Another poor start for the Sun. The Sky have done a good job at limiting looks on the perimeter and when the Sun have gotten inside, they've already missed a couple lay-ups (Jones and Holt, in particular). Chasity Melvin missed a jump hook roughly four minutes in, got the rebound over a flat-footed Whitmore and then scooped it back in. Whitmore's funk also appears to still be in full-gear; she missed badly on a turnaround jump shot along the baseline early in the quarter.

9:48, 1st quarter, no score: Sun and Sky just tipped off. Ketia Swanier started at point guard, moving Lindsay Whalen to the two-guard position. Amber Holt, Asjha Jones and Tamika Whitmore, as usual, round out the frontcourt. Dominique Canty isn't starting for Chicago; K.B. Sharp has taken her place in the backcourt beside Jia Perkins.

Wear your Sunday pinks

The Sun are encouraging all fans to wear pink as part of their “Pack The Place Pink” promotion for Sunday's 1 p.m. game against the Chiacgo Sky at Mohegan Sun Arena.

All fans in attendance at the game will also receive a pink ribbon to promote breast health awareness. The Sun are partnering with Backus Hospital in Norwich as part of the Sun Community All-Stars Program. As part of the program, the Sun will host a pre-game reception for Backus breast cancer survivors and supporters.

The Sun also announced they've paired with the PBS Kid's show, Design Squad, to film an episode in which two groups of aspiring engineers design a t-shirt shooter for use at a game. The finale of the episode will be filmed at Sunday's game.

The challenge, which was posed to the two groups earlier in the week by Sun
players Tamika Raymond and Lindsay Whalen as part of the promotion, was to design and build a way to safely distribute t-shirts to fans in the upper deck of the arena at a game. The winning team will be revealed live during the game.

The episode is being filmed for Season 3 of Design Squad, which premieres on PBS in the fall of 2009. The show is aired locally on CPTV on Saturdays at 10 a.m.

Around the league

The Liberty moved within a half-game of the Sun with their 77-56 win over the Mystics Thursday night. Ashley Battle, whose minutes have been sparse, made the most of her 18, scoring 15 points. Nikkie Blue -- that of 13 points against the Sun -- took three shots, scoring four points for Washington.

Meanwhile, the Mercury outlasted the Sparks and DeLisha Milton-Jones' 38 points, and Tina Thompson scored 25 points off the bench to lead Houston over Minnesota, which got 27 from Candice Wiggins.

Also, here's some literature on the Liberty and Fever's outdoor game, set for Saturday, an event I've heard the Sun were interested in playing in before Indiana got the nod.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Sky's the limit ...

... at least the Sun hope so, as far as their losing streak goes. With a win Friday at the Chicago Sky (7:30 p.m. ET, MyTV9), the Sun can end their four-game skid and avoid tying last year's squad for the longest losing streak in team history (that's Connecticut history).

In the meantime, the Sun have stayed positive, contending the all the laughs and team chemistry that came together so quickly to start the year hasn't evaporated just because they're in a tough stretch. I'll have more on this in tomorrow's advance, but as Asjha Jones explains, "Everything’s good when you’re winning, and the test of a team is what happens when you have bad times.

"And I think we’re doing a really good of sticking together and not pointing figures," she continued. "I think everybody right now is trying to take responsibility for themselves, and I think that’s going to be our way back or to even get better."

Here are a few notes and developments from today's practice at Mohegan Sun Arena: (Connecticut, by the way, left Mohegan around 3 p.m. this afternoon for Chicago and will return Saturday to play the Sky again at home on Sunday.)

(1) Tamika Whitmore contends her back is feeling fine, and coach Mike Thibault has no worries she'll break out of a slump that's dropped her average to 11.9 points per game.

"She’ll come back," Thibault said. "I’m not even worried about it."

Turner, meanwhile, has also dealt with back pain, though she said she is "fine" after also seeing a chiropractor.

"Just spasms, just normal stuff you go through after you play a long stretch of games," Turner described the injury as. " It’s not a concern at all. It has nothing to do with the way I’ve been playing. It’s just one of those minor things that come up during the course of the season."

Turner does have other problems, though. She played just four minutes in Tuesday's 77-71 loss to New York, taking no shots, and Thibault said earlier this week her playing time dwindled because other players have performed better in practice.

But Turner and Thibault sat down for an extended conversation on Wednesday in which the coach emphasized that Turner can still do other things to help the Sum while she works through her shooting troubles.

"He just kind of brought me back to the beginning and what got me to Connecticut, why I was able to make the roster and why I was able to have some success early," Turner said. "He just told me to get my mindset back. It’s always good to have somebody kind of refresh your memory and remind that you’re here for a reason and don’t get down on yourself because things aren’t going well offensively."

Asked to elaborate on what specific points Thibault hit on with the third-year forward, Turner pointed to leadership. "My energy isn’t the way it was in the beginning," she said, "and I have to have that because we have our young wings who look up to me." Turner continued, saying, "I got caught up in the fact that I was missing shots and not doing all the other little things that got me here. With him just reminding me of that, totally changed my mindset."

Both Thibault and Turner agreed she had a solid practice Thursday. Then again, everyone is still working hard, according to the coach.

"They haven’t lost their upbeat-ness," Thibault said. "They’re working hard. Everybody goes through this somewhere (referring to the losing streak), and it’s how you react to things. I told them earlier in the year. There’s that old saying that adversity builds character. I don’t believe that. I think adversity reveals it. Going through a tough time, you can feel sorry for yourself or you can work hard. And they’ve worked hard.

"It’s been great," he added. "I have no problems."

(2) The Sun's shooting struggles have been a reoccurring problem (and topic here) during their losing streak. To correct, the Sun have taken more repetitions and more at game speed, but Thibault said it's not a constant point of discussion.

"If you talk about too much or bring it up or try drills that players see through, it doesn’t do any good," he said. "If a person has a mechanical flaw, you work with them on that, try to get them to do it at game speed. Sometimes I think you get into shooting situations because you don’t have enough repetitions are game speed in practice, so we’re trying to pick up the space in shooting drills in practice a little bit. Take more contested shots (in practice)."

(3) The Sun have four games until the Olympic break. Jones said they aren't looking ahead.

"We definitely want to get those four wins going into a long stretch of practices," she said. "It would leave a bad taste in our mouths, in his (Thibault's) mouth. It would be a little harder than if we went out with momentum. For me I haven’t looked forward that far yet. I like to go day by day by day."

Being so close to the break may also contribute to players hitting the "wall," falling into a rut mentally and/or physically while waiting for a vacation to break them out of it. Jones and Turner said some people may have hit that wall -- "myself included," Turner said -- but Thibault dismissed that notion.

"No, I don’t think so because we’re only talking about it in a year where we all know we’re going to have a month off," he said. "Any other time we would just be going on with the season. … I don’t think so. If there are ones who have, I don’t see it particularly.

Thibault continued, saying, "Right now, a lot of players at all levels, they view how they’re playing by whether their shots go in or not. It’s human nature. And there’s a lot of ways you can help your team while you’re working to get that back. Just stick with it."

For more, here's the scout box for tomorrow's game. Chicago, by the way, has lost five of six, and sits second to last in the East with a 6-14 record. Jia Perkins (17.4 points per game) is having a career year in her fifth season and Candice Dupree (16.9 points, 8.5 rebounds per game) is as solid as usual. Losing rookie center Sylvia Fowles has been a huge loss with a sprained knee; Chicago is 5-10 without her and haven't lived up to the contender expectations many people put on them early in the year. Armintie Price has also moved to the top reserve role. Her 6.7 scoring average isn't quite what many hoped it would be.

8:30 p.m. ET, today
UIC Pavilion, Chicago

Records: Connecticut 13-9; Chicago 6-14.
Last game: Connecticut lost Tuesday to New York, 77-71; Chicago lost Wednesday at Detroit, 66-63.
Next game: Connecticut hosts Chicago Sunday.
TV/Internet: MyTV9, NBA TV/
Series: The Sun lead the all-time series, 7-1, and they have never lost at Chicago (5-0). They won the only previous meeting between the teams this season, 75-73, on June 1.
Injuries: Connecticut—none reported. Chicago—Sylvia Fowles (out, left knee sprain).
Scouting report: During the Sun’s last eight games, Lindsay Whalen and Asjha Jones have accounted for nearly half (45.4 percent) of Connecticut’s points and are shooting a combined 51.2 percent. The rest of the Sun players are shooting 33.8 percent. … Kerri Gardin is averaging a team-high 6.3 rebounds over her last four games. She had 17 total rebounds in her previous 12 contests. The long, 6-foot-1 forward also gives the Sun more size in their starting lineup, a move Chicago has gone to in recent games by starting former Sun forward Brooke Wyckoff at the small forward position. … The Sun have four games left before the Olympic break, including the next two against Chicago. But Jones contends the Sun aren’t looking ahead. “It could be more mental exhaustion,” she said of the Sun’s recent struggles. “For me I haven’t looked forward that far yet. I like to go day by day by day.” … Whalen is second in the league in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.6) and second in assists per game (5.5). The 5-foot-9 guard, second on the team in rebounding, also has 21 more defensive rebounds than any other Sun player. … The Sky trailed Detroit by as many as 23 points Wednesday before roaring back to cut it to one with under a minute to play. Of their last five losses, none have come by more than nine points. “They stay in every game,” Sun coach Mike Thibault said of Chicago. “We had enough struggle with them at their place last time. They kind of hang around.”

41 F Kerri Gardin 3.0
15 F Asjha Jones 16.3
00 C Tamika Whitmore 11.9
13 G Lindsay Whalen 15.7
1 G Amber Holt 6.1

Connecticut reserves
22 Barbara Turner 8.4
7 Sandrine Gruda 5.9
33 Jolene Anderson 4.5

21 F Brooke Wyckoff 2.3
4 F Candice Dupree 16.9
44 C Chasity Melvin 8.7
3 G Dominique Canty 8.3
11 G Jia Perkins 17.4

Chicago reserves
22 Armintie Price 6.7
9 Cathy Joens 4.6
42 Tye’sha Fluker 4.0

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Camp Day

The Sun host their Camp Day today, opening Mohegan Sun Arena to children ages 6-17 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tickets are $10 and campers can participate in a two-ball competition, a player and coach question-and-answer session and a meet-and-greet with Sun mascot, Blaze.

Unfortunately, that also means no media availability for players and coaches. I'll have more tomorrow when the team returns to practice in preparation for Friday's game at Chicago.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Four to the floor

Some thoughts, quotes and notes on the Sun, who extended their season-high losing streak to four games tonight with a 77-71 setback to the New York Liberty.

(1) For the Sun's inability to hold off the Liberty late Tuesday, a lot of credit has to go to New York. It was deadly from 3 (10-for-25), hit all 15 of its free throws and used its balance to wear down a Sun team that's relying on too few players at the moment. The 15 free throws without a miss are the most by a Sun opponent in their franchise history.

And while the Sun's frustrations continued, the Liberty broke their own "skid": For 11 games, they alternated wins and losses before following Saturday's win over Detroit with their victory over the Sun.

"Thank God that’s over," New York coach Patty Coyle said. "I don’t know what that’s about but hopefully we’re out of that."

(2) The absence of players like Tamika Whitmore, Barbara Turner and Jolene Anderson are still hurting the Sun. The three combined for four points in 34 minutes, missing all nine field goals they took. Turner only saw four minutes and didn't even enter until late in the third quarter. Whitmore, meanwhile, only took four shots. If one of the three can become a reliable offensive force sometime before the break, the Sun could very easily break out this slump; their last four losses have come by an average of just six points.

(3) I mentioned this directly after the game, but it still stands as the turning point of the night. The Sun led 59-56 when Asjha Jones went to the bench with five fouls. New York scored 10 straight points before the Sun scored again with 2:07 left, and the Liberty never looked back.

"It hurts," Sun coach Mike Thibault said. "She was having a good game. She was rolling. It took the rhythm of the game away from us."

(4) For all the Sun's woes, Thibault still is showing signs of optimism for this young club.

"The only thing we can do is persevere," he said. "We have good basketball players, and they’re here for a reason. They made it before in their career and you have to have the confidence in them that they will make them again. It’s lack of experience right now, more on the defensive end than on the offensive."

That inexperience was often magnified by the Liberty, who lived on drive-and-kicks and hitting open 3s. The Sun did a good job of switching in the half-court during the first two quarters, but New York, despite technically being the youngest team in the league, figured out ways to exploit the Sun's young wings later in the game.

(5) It's easy to get along when you're winning. But now that the Sun aren't (winning that is), all that team chemistry they built early in the season will be tested more than ever. This dynamic deserves a more in-depth look, but it's an important point to bring up.

"Our attitude is fine," Jones said. "I was impressed with the way we came out tonight. We could fold right, but we have people on this team who pride in the team and know that we’re better than that."

Sun-Liberty Game Thread

Final, Liberty, 77-71: The Sun continue to slide with their fourth straight loss and sixth in eight games. Lisa Willis scored a career-high 18 and Shameka Christon added 16 to help New York (11-9) overcome 19 by Lindsay Whalen and a career-high 18 by Jamie Carey. The key came midway through the fourth quarter when Asjha Jones (16 points) picked up her fifth foul and went to the bench. Over the next six minutes, New York went on a 17-6 run, forcing the Sun to watch as it hit foul shots to put them away.

9.1, fourth quarter, Liberty lead 75-68: After two Loree Moore free throws, Carey missed an off-balance 3. The Sun will lose their fourth straight game.

21.1, fourth quarter, Liberty lead 73-68: Carey is keeping the Sun alive. She just hit her career-high fifth three of the game, giving her a career-high 15 points. The Sun, though, are still in foul mode.

29.9, fourth quarter, Liberty lead 71-65: The Sun are in a tough spot. Amber Holt had her 3 blocked, recovered for the rebound but missed the baseline jumper, which New York rebounded. After a Sun foul, New York is about to inbound the ball, and the Sun will be forced to foul again. They'll need New York to miss free throws. The Liberty are a middle-of-the-road foul-shooting team at 75.4 percent.

1:51, fourth quarter, Liberty lead 69-61: Catherine Kraayveld just followed a Lisa Willis 3-pointer with her own from the corner, extending New York's lead to eight.

3:45, fourth quarter, Liberty lead 63-59: New York is on a 7-0 run and the Sun haven't scored since Asjha Jones left the game with her fifth foul. Lisa Willis (a season-high 13 points) has been especially killing Connecticut. She has hit a jump shot right before Jones' final points and drained another 3 to give New York a two-point lead. Her steal on the other end of Jamie Carey also led to the Janel McCarville lay-up that prompted Mike Thibault to call a timeout.

6:27, fourth quarter, 59-56: Jones just picked up her fifth foul and was replaced by Tamika Whitmore. It comes at a bad time for her and the Sun. She just had two jump shots in the last three minutes.

End of 3rd quarter, 51-49 Sun: A Shameka Christon pull-back jumper cut the Sun's lead to two with 2.1 seconds left. Twenty second earlier, Jamie Carey hit her fourth 3-pointer of the game, a long laser from the left wing. Carey has provided a spark offensively more and more this season compared to past years. Her numbers would be even better if not for an early Achilles injury, which she still ices after every game. She has 12 points, Whalen has 13 and Asjha Jones has 10. No Liberty player is in double figures yet.

2:55, 3rd quarter, 42-42: A Lisa Willis 3 just tied it, More notable, Barbara Turner just checked in for the first time following a Jolene Anderson free throw. It will be interesting to see what kind of energy she brings despite her recent struggles. She didn't play because of a coach's decision.

3:49, third quarter, Sun lead 40-35: Asjha Jones just blocked Essence Carson, but was called for a foul, prompting Mike Thibault to, ahem, disagree. But with Thibault miked up, that forced ESPN to cut the sound off. I guess you can't say bull poop on TV.

As for the game, Whalen has found a rhythm, scoring the Sun's first six points of the frame, which helped open up the rest of the offense. New York, too, has found its range, allowing the game to find a real flow over the first part of the quarter.

End of Half, Sun lead 30-26: Whitmore finally got on the board with a pair of three throws with 4.1 seconds left. Pam Ward just pointed out that the Sun are 11-1 when leading at the half.

Lindsay Whalen also just took a minute to talk with Rebecca Lobo.

On the offense: "Well, for one, I think we need to work on taking care of the ball. I know I have four (turnovers) of my own. (She actually has three). I know we took a couple early 3s so I think we just need to be patient."

And the defense, which has held New York to 9-of-28 shooting and nine turnovers: "We've done a good job of containing penetration."

1:31, 2nd quarter, Sun lead 28-23: Jamie Carey just hit her third 3 of the game, a pull-up dagger on the break.

2:35, 2nd quarter, Liberty lead 23-22: Janel McCarville has sparked the Liberty midway through the frame. She broke a string of eight straight misses with a lay-up over Gruda and has six of her team's last eight points. Whalen had a pretty lay-up-and-foul over her moments later, though she missed the lay-up.

As for struggling Sun players: Whitmore is 0-for-2 and missed a lay-up she may have got hit on with about three minutes to play in the quarter. The forward just doesn't seen to have that swagger she had earlier this year. Part of it is her back troubles, but even as that feels better, she has to recapture her rhythm by making some shots.

5:36, 2nd quarter, Sun leads 17-15: Neither team is scoring right now. A Whalen lay-up at the 7:22 mark gave the Sun their two-point lead while New York has missed its last eight shots. The Liberty are getting decent looks, too. It seems the Sun are simply fighting the shot clock more.

Sandrine Gruda is about to take the Sun's first free throws of the game coming out of a timeout.Considering the Sun's struggles, they should be looking to get the rim, but New York can make that tough by constant double-teaming in the post.

End of 1st, 13-13: The Sun made a little 5-0 run to close a quarter short on offense. The Sun are 5-for-18 from the floor, New York 5-for-14, and both are being very liberal with the 3s. The Sun are 3-for-8, New York 2-for-9.

The Sun forced New York into four turnovers in the final three minutes, which helped sparked their late spurt. But certain players are still struggling. Jolene Anderson missed two 3s and a jumper from the elbow, continuing the rookie's shooting woes. She's made one 3 since June 20 (1-for-13 in that span).

4:48, 1st quarter, Liberty lead 8-3: Mike Thibault just called a timeout, irked by Amber Holt's inability to get out on Shameka Christon for a 3. So far, the Sun have one field goal (a Kerri Gardin 3), four turnovers and just haven't looked in sync. They've switched well on defense for the most part, but the offense looks out of rhythm, though New York's zone press has had some effect.

8:30, 1st quarter, no score: Whitmore just made a great pass to Jones, who missed the open lay-up. That's just how they've been falling for the Sun lately.

7:02, real time: Tip off is a few moments away. Just noticed that in the whole 'Super Woman' intro ESPN2 has before the game, there's not one clip of the Sun. Just an example of everyone's expectations they would play near the bottom of the league.

As for the starting lineup: Kerri Gardin and Tamika Whitmore join Lindsay Whalen, Asjha Jones and Amber Holt. Whitmore came off the bench for the first time in Washington on Sunday.

Injury report

Apologies to those expecting to see an advance for the Sun's game with the New York Liberty tonight (7 p.m., ESPN2). I underwent an appendectomy yesterday afternoon, and was unable to attend Sun practice, nor will I be at Mohegan Sun Arena tonight. Joe Perez, normally our UConn women's basketball beat writer, is taking my place.

No worries on this end, though. For those of you who have ever had your appendix removed, you know it's not too serious a procedure. I should be back by mid-week.

As for tonight's game, the Sun are in desperate need of a turnaround. Losers of three straight and five of their last seven, they haven't shot well, nor have they gotten consistent offensive production from anyone outside of Lindsay Whalen and, aside from last game, Asjha Jones.

To illustrate, here are some notable stats from the last three games:
(1) 81-74 loss at Indiana (July 5)
Field goals: 30-67 (44.8 percent)
3-pointers: 2-17 (11.8 percent)
Scorers in double figures: Asjha Jones (20), Lindsay Whalen (18), Tamika Whitmore (15)

(2) 88-82 loss at Detroit (July 8)
Field goals: 32-67 (47.8 percent)
3-pointers: 6-23 (26.1 percent)
Scorers in double figures: Asjha Jones (21), Lindsay Whalen (20), Amber Holt (12)

(3) 69-64 loss at Washington (Sunday)
Field goals: 20-60 (33.3 percent)
3-pointers: 3-22 (13.6 percent)
Scorers in double figures: Lindsay Whalen (33), Amber Holt (10)

Some observations: Outside of the Washington loss, the Sun haven't shot poorly overall from the field, thanks largely to when they have an inside presence, namely Jones. Whitmore, too, has moved more inside to try to cure her personal shooting struggles, but she's even had trouble hitting from close range and on lay-ups. Conversely, Connecticut is taking too many 3s considering how its shooting.

Repetitions and confidence usually are the cures for shooting woes. Returning home, where the Sun are 8-2, may help solve the second part. Nevertheless, the Liberty -- despite dropping both games to Connecticut this year -- have given the Sun problems with their press and depth, both times clawing back, only to fall short in the fourth quarter. At 10-9 and 3-7 on the road, they've also been inconsistent and haven't enjoyed a winning streak longer than two games this season.

Though I won't be at the game tonight, check back during the game, as I will be watching and analyzing from home.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Sun fall to Washington

Here's a copy of the combined staff and wire report on the Connecticut Sun's Sunday.

Here some notable things to know:
(1) The Sun have lost a season-high three straight and four of their last five. Sunday also marked their fourth straight road loss.
(2) Lindsay Whalen played on a different level, matching a career high and franchise record with 33 points. She also tied a franchise record for made free throws with 13. But she was pretty much alone. Asjha Jones scored six points, Tamika Whitmore had five and Barbara Turner netted four. Amber Holt (10 points) was the only other Sun player in double figures.
(3) The Sun are still in a shooting rut: They hit 20-of-60 from the field and missed 19-of-22 3s. They made 6-of-28 last game and 2-of-17 3s the game before that.

Here's the story:

Staff and wire reports
Norwich Bulletin

— Lindsay Whalen took the Connecticut Sun upon her back and carried them back to within a point of the Washington Mystics on Sunday at the Verizon Center.
Yet, Whalen can’t do it alone.

Whalen tied a career high and franchise record for points in regulation with 33, shouldering the offensive load herself during long stretches, but the Mystics, leading by as many 14 points, held on to send Connecticut to a 69-64 loss, the Sun’s third straight and fourth in five games.

Whalen made 9-of-17 shots and tied the franchise record with 13 made free throws, a mark set by in August 2003 by Nykesha Sales. Whalen added team highs of eight rebounds and six assists, but she was largely on an island.

Outside of Amber Holt (10 points), no other Sun player scored more than six points. Moved to a reserve role for the first time this year, Tamika Whitmore’s struggles continued, as she netted five points on 2-of-10 shooting, as did those of Barbara Turner (four points). Both are dealing with back troubles.

Asjha Jones came into the game as Connecticut’s leading scorer (16.9 points) and was riding a streak of 14 consecutive games in double figures. But Jones was limited, too, scoring six points before being assessed a technical with 25 seconds left in the game.

Nikki Blue scored a career-high 13 points, including two key free throws in the final minute to lift Washington (8-12), which won despite making only two baskets in the fourth quarter. It was enough against the Sun (13-8), who shot 33.3 percent (20-for-60) and missed 19-of-22 3-pointers.

“That was ugly,” Sun coach Mike Thibault said. “We have to get more people to step up and make open shots. I don’t know how to cure people missing open shots, other than slowing down and (getting) repetition and believing every shot is going to go win.

“(But) as a group we’re not making shots right now,” he later added. “When your point guard has half your points, it’s not a good thing."

Washington played much of the second half without leading scorer Alana Beard, who missed about 11 minutes after the break due to a contusion above her right eye in the third quarter. She also hyperextended her knee 14 seconds into the fourth.

Beard returned with 4:35 left and then combined with Blue to make a few crucial plays that the Mystics needed after Connecticut cut a 14-point fourth-quarter lead down in the final minutes.

Beard, who finished with nine points, hit a 17-foot shot that gave Washington a 65-62 lead with 37 seconds left, her only second-half basket and the Mystics’ only bucket in the final 9:28. Blue then made two free throws with 17.8 seconds remaining to close the scoring.

“We’re kind of searching for answers (with) three (losses) in a row,” said Whalen, whose 10 free throws in a half also tied a franchise mark. “There are ups and downs, and we just have to get through the tough times and get back to playing if not as well then better than we were earlier in the year. We’re working hard and everybody is trying.”

Washington got 32 points in the paint, while the Sun stuck to shooting long jumpers and had just 18.
Sandrine Gruda started in place of Whitmore, scoring four points in 15 minutes.

“We have to know that Connecticut is the best team in the East and we can play with them,” said Washington forward and former Sun player Taj McWilliams-Franklin, who had 10 points and 11 rebounds.
“We beat L.A., the best team in the west. So what’s left for us is to build on that. There should be no other team that should beat us. We have to do it every time.”

The Sun return home today to prepare for Tuesday’s game with the New York Liberty at Mohegan Sun Arena (7 p.m., ESPN2). Connecticut has taken both matchups with New York this season, including an 89-84 win at home June 30.