Friday, June 22, 2007

An array of problems

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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