Wednesday, May 28, 2008

'Holy moley'

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

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

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

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

The reasons are many"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 comment:

James said...

Great analysis. The Sun have four rookies and about three or four players who have never appeared in a Sun uniform before. It's going to be a work in progress, but the team is going to have to know what to do when it falls in holes like this or it's going to be a tough road to the playoffs.