Wednesday, July 2, 2008

OT, DT and Three T's

Yes, it's been a crazy few games for the Sun. First it was an unexpected overtime battle with the Atlanta Dream on Friday. Then, Diana Taurasi rolled in, scored 25 points and blew sarcastic kisses to the crowd in the waning seconds of a Phoenix win. And finally, three Sun players received technicals in less than five minutes in the third quarter Tuesday -- only to go on a 10-2 run to finish the period en route to a 78-68 win over the Houston Comets.

When you go by X's and O's, the Sun improved to 13-5 because of three things:

(1) Employing a bigger lineup of Tamika Whitmore, Asjha Jones and Sandrine Gruda for most of the second half, Connecticut was able to limit Houston's rebounds and reduce the effectiveness of Michelle Snow and Sancho Lyttle, while putting Lyttle into foul trouble. (She later fouled out.) Gruda also hit several key shots, finishing with a career-high 14 points and Jones, as usual, was effective, registering 15 points and eight rebounds.

(2) The Sun shot far better in the second half (45.2 percent, 48 points) than compared to the first (36.4 percent, 30 points). Mike Thibault said Monday that sometimes people make this game far more complicated than it is. The point is to put the ball in the hoop. The Sun did that in the final two quarters.

(3) When Lindsay Whalen is playing well, the Sun are. She scored 13 points in the second half, grabbed six rebounds and dished out two assists. For the game, she had nine assists, pushing her career total to 744, breaking the Sun's franchise mark of 737, held by current Houston guard Shannon Johnson.

"I think everybody keyed in on it, everybody started hitting the boards, making shots and making plays," said Barbara Turner, who scored 10 points and grabbed nine rebounds in her first regular-season game against her former team. "A lot of that had to do with our captain and our leader over there (referring to Whalen). She controlled the game really well."

But, of course, most of the post-game questions were about the technical fouls, including: Had anyone ever seen three technical fouls called in one quarter before?

"No," Tamika Raymond said bluntly.

"If anyone gets the tech it’s usually Coach (Mike Thibault)," Lindsay Whalen said. "I don’t know what to say about it."

Here's the description of what happened. First, with Jones: Taking an up-court pass from Barbara Turner, Jones went in for a lay-up but was hit while being blocked from behind by Hamchetou Maiga-Ba with 5:15 to play in the third quarter. The referees only saw the latter part of that sequence, even when Jones went flying into the cameraman behind the basket, and the forward shot up, got in the face of referee Marat Kogut to argue her case and promptly earned a technical.

"I’ve been pretty quiet all season, but I couldn’t hold back on that one," Jones said. "I was upset and I had to get it out. I ended up into the camera so I wasn’t happy about that."

Less than three minutes later, Lindsay Whalen drove through the right part of the lane, split a pair of defenders and scooped in a lay-up attempt that rolled out. She appeared to draw contact. Latasha Byears rebounded the miss and as the Comets started to push it up the floor, Kogut blew his whistle and gave Whalen a technical.

Asked of what she did to earn it, Whalen said, "I think I kind of raised my hands," she said. "I think it was a gesture. Probably was a little too aggressive in what I said and how I said it more than anything."

"So you did say something?" Whalen was asked.

"I don’t remember," she said, shrugging her shoulders and putting on a wry smile. "It was a momentary lapse."

With 28.2 seconds left in the quarter, Whitmore stepped in front of Byears near the free throw line and appeared to draw the charge but instead was called for a blocking
foul. She didn't approach the ref to argue, but instead sat on the floor with her arms folded, got up with help from a few teammates, though she looked highly agitated, and stood there in silent defiance, perhaps making a comment or two to the three or four teammates around her before referee Cameron Inouye T'd her up.

"Whit’s was weird," Jones said of the technical foul. "She was kind of in a group of our teammates when she got hers. So I don’t even know if that was warranted. She was amongst teammates and she didn’t go toward a referee or anything. I don’t know about that one."

Afterward, Thibault said, "I don't even want to talk about the technicals because I don’t think two of them were warranted," most likely referring to Whalen's and Whitmore's calls.

"That’s my own opinion," Thibault added. "Sometimes those guys (the officials) have to walk away. They have to learn to walk away, too. Especially on a very controversial play. If a player hasn’t cursed them and hasn’t gotten in their face, then they need to walk away, just like players do, too."

Afterward in the locker room, past all the reporters' questions about the T's, the players were talking about it, too.

"Hey Barb," Tamika Raymond asked. "Did you get a tech yet?" Turner did, at Detroit last week.

Despite all that controversy, the Sun persevered. They ended the Comets' four-game win streak, and with Detroit's loss to in overtime to San Antonio, they own the league's and the East's best record. In their five-game-in-eight-day stretch, they also finished 3-2, not bad considering the circumstances. They'll now enjoy a day off Wednesday and travel on the 4th of July in preparation for Saturday's game at Indiana.

"It was a great (second) half," Jamie Carey said of Tuesday's game. "It did get a little heated there in the third quarter, but I think that's good. It made people more focused."

A few other quick notes: (1) The Sun are 8-2 at home. Last year, they started 1-6. ... (2) Tamika Whitmore was limited offensively, scoring four points on 2-of-9 shooting. Asked of what he thought was behind her struggles, Thibault said, "I don't have an answer for that." He added he would have to look over film to identify why Whitmore hasn't been producing more. Before Friday's 28-point performance against the Dream, Whitmore had failed to score in double figures in four straight games. (3) Asjha Jones has taken over the team lead in rebounding (6.2 to Whalen's 6.0 per game.) (4) Jamie Carey sandwiched two misses from 3 in the fourth quarter Tuesday around two huge makes, hitting one a trey to put the Sun up 64-60 with 5:19 to play in the game and later, one with 1:21 left that made it 72-67. The second all but sealed the Sun's win.

"Every shot you shoot you expect to make and everything is magnified in the stretch," said Carey, who looked visibly frustrated on the bench after her second miss. "You just want it to go down."

Carey, by the way, has continued to be solid off the bench this season. She's hit 16-of-42 3s (38.1 percent), is averaging 3.7 points (but has 10 and nine in her last two games) and is tied with the fewest turnovers on the team with Ketia Swanier, though she's played more than double the minutes of the rookie.

No comments: