Saturday, May 17, 2008

A fine start

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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