Saturday, May 31, 2008

Sun shine, then fly

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

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

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

But first, some points from Friday's win:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, who knows if it made a difference?

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

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

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