Sunday, July 6, 2008

Long time, no see

Alright, I never intended for this to happen, but here I am, back on the blog for the first time since late Tuesday. Sorry about the extended absence. But I do have a few excuses: One, I had a chunk of the holiday break off, which was spent filtering in and out of the office, in and out of Connecticut and for a couple days there, putting together one of the longest pieces I've written while at the Bulletin: a look into the friendship of Asjha Jones and Tamika Raymond, who are finally on the same team after six years apart and have impacted each other immensely in coming back together. Check it out. If it's as fun to read as it was to put together, then I think it serves it's purpose.

As for everything Connecticut Sun basketball: With Saturday's 81-74 loss to Indiana, the Sun have officially fell into a rut. They've lost 3-5, are playing .500 ball (5-5) since June 13 and have now lost the season series to the Fever, who at 9-8 are keeping in striking range at third place in the conference.

There are several reasons to point to:
(1) Opponents.
Since June 18, Connecticut has faced an improving Phoenix team twice and both times, Diana Taurasi was firing on all cylinders. They also played at Detroit (the second best team in the East and perhaps the league), needed overtime to beat an Atlanta team desperate for win (and it finally got one Saturday), and most recently, fell to Indiana, who is turning into a bugaboo for the Sun. After winning 16 of 21 match-ups, the Sun now have dropped their last four to the Fever, including two in last year's playoffs. With the season series already decided, the teams meet again at Conseco Fieldhouse on August 28 for the first game back after the Olympic break.

Also the Fever got an unlikely offensive source during Saturday's win. Tully Bevilaqua (she of all of 6.2 points per game) hit all five 3s she took to finish with 17 points. She ignited the opening period, making 3-of-3 to start the game, and then plucked away at certain points late. Take away her night and the Sun make a few more 3s (conceivable, considering they 2-of-17) it's a different game.

But that's all shoulda, woulda, coulda.

(2) Youth. The Sun are young, inexperienced and full of rookies. A lull is expected at some point in the season, and this is largely it. Fortunately for the Sun, they've managed to hold the top spot because other teams are going through the same thing. For example, Detroit, which also plays three rookies regularly, have also lost three of five. In one of those games, Tasha Humphrey, Alexis Hornbucle and Olayinka Sanni combined for one point. In another loss, they combined for zero.

On the flip-side, the league's most experienced teams are surging. San Antonio and Seattle both have won three straight, pulling them in line with Los Angeles (which has lost three straight), while Houston has won eight of 10. The Comets are also relying on rookies (especially Matee Ajavon and Erica White) but neither are starting regularly and they have very-veteran players at those same positions (think Pee Wee Johnson).

(3) Shooting. Obviously, every team has its own problems outside of struggling rookies that will explain slip-ups and some teams are doing things that transcend basic experience. The Sun's been hurt by shooting woes in certain areas (they outshot Indiana, 44.8 percent to 38.8, overall, but of course, missed 15-of-17 from 3 and made 12 free throws to Indiana's 21). And at times, there have been defensive lapses. Sun coach Mike Thibault said Saturday he may have made a coaching mistake but switching between man-to-man defense and zone.

But if you take the last three losses, if the Sun simply shot better in one area, it would have made a difference. They started out poorly at Detroit, couldn't hit all game against Phoenix (35.4 percent, 6-of-28 from 3) and then, Saturday was Saturday. Sometimes it's as simple as that. The Sun have good outside shooters, but players like Barbara Turner and rookies Amber Holt and Kerri Gardin can tend to be streaky. That also includes post players like Tamika Whitmore and Asjha Jones, who at times settle too much from the outside, which adds to the team's woes when, A) they're not hitting, and B) no one's underneath to rebound because its post players were the ones shooting.

Now it's on to Detroit, a huge game that will decide the season series and undoubtedly play a major role later in the season as far as tie-breakers. I'll have more on this tomorrow and Tuesday.

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