Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Sun rise to meet Mercury

The Road Trip That Won't End continues for the Sun tonight when they take on the surprisingly last-place Phoenix Mercury (10 p.m.). No TV tonight, but you can catch it online at the Sun's Web site.

Here are some links previewing the game from Phoenix's angle. Despite boasting the league's top offense and its top two scorers in Cappie Pondexter (25.5 points per game) and UConn alum Diana Taurasi (23.5), Phoenix has several problems. It owns the worst scoring defense in the league, it is second to last in rebound differential and shooting woes have continued to hurt them. Taurasi and Pondexter, for one, shot a combined 6-for-37 in a loss to Detroit last Saturday.

Then again, defense and rebounding weren't Phoenix's strong suit last year either. But they had Penny Taylor -- and that, Sun coach Mike Thibault explained makes all the difference.

"Penny Taylor was their MVP last year," Thibault said. "Taurasi might be there most talented player, but Penny Taylor was their glue. They miss her, it’s that simple. It’s like if you took Asjha out of our team right now.

"Tangela’s Smith has missed a couple games with injuries, too," he continued, though she is expected to play tonight after missing two straight games. "So you’re talking about taking their two starting frontcourt players off the floor, it’s just a big loss for any team. It’s like watching the Celtics and you can pick whatever bench player you want to pick and you’re going to have them besides (Kevin) Garnett or somebody. It’s just different."

Phoenix, the league's quintessential run-and-gun team, also aren't shocking opponents' systems anymore. More and more teams (the Sun, Minnesota, L.A. being the best examples) have upped their tempo to the point that Phoenix may out-run you, but not as much as before.

"Usually we go to Phoenix, it’s like, ‘Oh my God, they wanna run, they wanna run,'" Sun forward Asjha Jones said. "But the teams we’ve played so far have been running teams also. We went out to L.A., and they had an up-tempo pace, more than they had in the past. So that’s been getting us ready for this one. Hopefully we’ll get out to a good start — finally."

A note on Jones: The 6-foot-2 forward has now scored in double figures in five consecutive games, and seems to be finding a better rhythm playing alongside Tamika Whitmore, who has also netted 10 or more in every game but one this season.

"I’m not satisfied," Jones said of her individual success. "I’m not satisfied at all. It’s still early. Even last game, there were a couple things that I wish I could have had back, shots I should have made. But as far as getting involved, definitely. People have looked for me and I’m trying to make to play. I’m looking to score first.

"On teams in the past, (Whitmore and I) were the only four (position), and now we’re both the four," she continued. "I don’t have a true center that I’m playing with. I’m with someone who’s like myself. So just the whole inside-outside game, usually I would go more outside, but now I have to do both, and she does, too. We’re figuring it out."

The two also connected for several passes in the Sun's win over Seattle, including a nice first-half feed from Whitmore at the top of key to Jones alone under the hoop.

Before I get to the scout box for tonight's game, there's something I have to comment on: I realize the WNBA is continually looking to validate itself on the national sporting landscape, but I find it ridiculous it made a Bob Ryan blog post it's lead story for more than a day ... and then had a reaction from president Donna Orender as one of its top stories after that.

Now, Ryan was glowing in his remarks after watching the L.A.-Detroit game last week, and for any WNBA supporter, I'm sure it made them feel good. But does the league's official Web site really need to scream, "Hey, look! We're relevant! Did you see what Bob Ryan said? You know, the guy from the Boston Globe. He was 'blown away' by us! Can you believe it! He likes us, he really, really likes us! Look right here!'


The league has a good product, and it's getting better every year. But let people realize it by watching it from themselves instead of straining to make a blog post (not even a column, mind you) the most important thing on the Web site. It looks like you're trying too hard.

Sorry, but I had to say it. On to the scout box ...

10 p.m., today
U.S. Airways Center, Phoenix

Records: Connecticut 9-2; Phoenix 2-6.
Last game: Connecticut beat Seattle, 74-67, on Monday; Phoenix lost to Detroit, 89-79, on Saturday.
Next game: Connecticut plays at Sacramento Friday; Phoenix hosts Chicago Friday.
Series: Connecticut leads the all-time series, 8-7, but is 2-6 in Phoenix. The Sun haven’t won at the Mercury since June 25, 2005.
Injuries: Connecticut—Kamesha Hairston (recovering from surgery to repair torn meniscus, day-to-day). Phoenix—Tangela Smith (right knee swelling, probable).
Scouting report: Phoenix starting center Tangela Smith missed her second straight game last Saturday against Detroit. She bruised her knee on June 6 in an 85-79 win over Los Angeles. … The Sun were part of the second highest scoring game in Phoenix history last season, a 111-109 double-overtime win by the Mercury. Penny Taylor, who won’t join Phoenix until after the Olympic break as she trains with the Australian national team, scored 30 points that night to become the fourth player in league history to score 25 or more points in four straight games. … Diana Taurasi is coming off a season-worst nine-point performance. The former UConn star ranks second in the league in scoring behind teammate Cappie Pondexter. … With 13 points Monday in Seattle, Sun guard Lindsay Whalen has scored in double figures in a career-best 15 straight games, two shy of the franchise record set by Katie Douglas in 2006. She also leads the Sun in rebounding (6.2 per game), assists (5.5, third in the league) and steals (1.4). … Phoenix coach Corey Gaines played under Sun coach Mike Thibault on the CBA’s Omaha Racers. … The Mercury, aiming to become the first team in league history to lead the league in scoring in three straight seasons, are tops in the WNBA in points scored (84.4 per game) — but also points allowed (88.1).

1 F Amber Holt 4.8
15 F Asjha Jones 15.4
00 C Tamika Whitmore 14.9
13 G Lindsay Whalen 15.5
33 G Jolene Anderson 5.8

Connecticut reserves

22 Barbara Turner 10.8
7 Sandrine Gruda 6.0
10 Jamie Carey 2.5

3 F Diana Taurasi 23.5
43 F Le’Coe Willingham 7.5
C Tangela Smith
2 G Kelly Miller 6.5
23 G Cappie Pondexter 25.5

Phoenix reserves
30 LaToya Pringle 5.3
33 Kelly Mazzante 4.4
54 Barbara Farris 3.9

1 comment:

James said...

I don't know if the Bob Ryan thing is really all that bad. It breaks up the "everybody says" meme, negating the Norman Chads and Bill Simmonses. What are other sportswriters going to say, that Bob's an idiot? Hardly.

Now if the WNBA highlights every Joe Blowski who likes the WNBA, then we can start to ponder desperation.