Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Sky's the limit ...

... at least the Sun hope so, as far as their losing streak goes. With a win Friday at the Chicago Sky (7:30 p.m. ET, MyTV9), the Sun can end their four-game skid and avoid tying last year's squad for the longest losing streak in team history (that's Connecticut history).

In the meantime, the Sun have stayed positive, contending the all the laughs and team chemistry that came together so quickly to start the year hasn't evaporated just because they're in a tough stretch. I'll have more on this in tomorrow's advance, but as Asjha Jones explains, "Everything’s good when you’re winning, and the test of a team is what happens when you have bad times.

"And I think we’re doing a really good of sticking together and not pointing figures," she continued. "I think everybody right now is trying to take responsibility for themselves, and I think that’s going to be our way back or to even get better."

Here are a few notes and developments from today's practice at Mohegan Sun Arena: (Connecticut, by the way, left Mohegan around 3 p.m. this afternoon for Chicago and will return Saturday to play the Sky again at home on Sunday.)

(1) Tamika Whitmore contends her back is feeling fine, and coach Mike Thibault has no worries she'll break out of a slump that's dropped her average to 11.9 points per game.

"She’ll come back," Thibault said. "I’m not even worried about it."

Turner, meanwhile, has also dealt with back pain, though she said she is "fine" after also seeing a chiropractor.

"Just spasms, just normal stuff you go through after you play a long stretch of games," Turner described the injury as. " It’s not a concern at all. It has nothing to do with the way I’ve been playing. It’s just one of those minor things that come up during the course of the season."

Turner does have other problems, though. She played just four minutes in Tuesday's 77-71 loss to New York, taking no shots, and Thibault said earlier this week her playing time dwindled because other players have performed better in practice.

But Turner and Thibault sat down for an extended conversation on Wednesday in which the coach emphasized that Turner can still do other things to help the Sum while she works through her shooting troubles.

"He just kind of brought me back to the beginning and what got me to Connecticut, why I was able to make the roster and why I was able to have some success early," Turner said. "He just told me to get my mindset back. It’s always good to have somebody kind of refresh your memory and remind that you’re here for a reason and don’t get down on yourself because things aren’t going well offensively."

Asked to elaborate on what specific points Thibault hit on with the third-year forward, Turner pointed to leadership. "My energy isn’t the way it was in the beginning," she said, "and I have to have that because we have our young wings who look up to me." Turner continued, saying, "I got caught up in the fact that I was missing shots and not doing all the other little things that got me here. With him just reminding me of that, totally changed my mindset."

Both Thibault and Turner agreed she had a solid practice Thursday. Then again, everyone is still working hard, according to the coach.

"They haven’t lost their upbeat-ness," Thibault said. "They’re working hard. Everybody goes through this somewhere (referring to the losing streak), and it’s how you react to things. I told them earlier in the year. There’s that old saying that adversity builds character. I don’t believe that. I think adversity reveals it. Going through a tough time, you can feel sorry for yourself or you can work hard. And they’ve worked hard.

"It’s been great," he added. "I have no problems."

(2) The Sun's shooting struggles have been a reoccurring problem (and topic here) during their losing streak. To correct, the Sun have taken more repetitions and more at game speed, but Thibault said it's not a constant point of discussion.

"If you talk about too much or bring it up or try drills that players see through, it doesn’t do any good," he said. "If a person has a mechanical flaw, you work with them on that, try to get them to do it at game speed. Sometimes I think you get into shooting situations because you don’t have enough repetitions are game speed in practice, so we’re trying to pick up the space in shooting drills in practice a little bit. Take more contested shots (in practice)."

(3) The Sun have four games until the Olympic break. Jones said they aren't looking ahead.

"We definitely want to get those four wins going into a long stretch of practices," she said. "It would leave a bad taste in our mouths, in his (Thibault's) mouth. It would be a little harder than if we went out with momentum. For me I haven’t looked forward that far yet. I like to go day by day by day."

Being so close to the break may also contribute to players hitting the "wall," falling into a rut mentally and/or physically while waiting for a vacation to break them out of it. Jones and Turner said some people may have hit that wall -- "myself included," Turner said -- but Thibault dismissed that notion.

"No, I don’t think so because we’re only talking about it in a year where we all know we’re going to have a month off," he said. "Any other time we would just be going on with the season. … I don’t think so. If there are ones who have, I don’t see it particularly.

Thibault continued, saying, "Right now, a lot of players at all levels, they view how they’re playing by whether their shots go in or not. It’s human nature. And there’s a lot of ways you can help your team while you’re working to get that back. Just stick with it."

For more, here's the scout box for tomorrow's game. Chicago, by the way, has lost five of six, and sits second to last in the East with a 6-14 record. Jia Perkins (17.4 points per game) is having a career year in her fifth season and Candice Dupree (16.9 points, 8.5 rebounds per game) is as solid as usual. Losing rookie center Sylvia Fowles has been a huge loss with a sprained knee; Chicago is 5-10 without her and haven't lived up to the contender expectations many people put on them early in the year. Armintie Price has also moved to the top reserve role. Her 6.7 scoring average isn't quite what many hoped it would be.

8:30 p.m. ET, today
UIC Pavilion, Chicago

Records: Connecticut 13-9; Chicago 6-14.
Last game: Connecticut lost Tuesday to New York, 77-71; Chicago lost Wednesday at Detroit, 66-63.
Next game: Connecticut hosts Chicago Sunday.
TV/Internet: MyTV9, NBA TV/
Series: The Sun lead the all-time series, 7-1, and they have never lost at Chicago (5-0). They won the only previous meeting between the teams this season, 75-73, on June 1.
Injuries: Connecticut—none reported. Chicago—Sylvia Fowles (out, left knee sprain).
Scouting report: During the Sun’s last eight games, Lindsay Whalen and Asjha Jones have accounted for nearly half (45.4 percent) of Connecticut’s points and are shooting a combined 51.2 percent. The rest of the Sun players are shooting 33.8 percent. … Kerri Gardin is averaging a team-high 6.3 rebounds over her last four games. She had 17 total rebounds in her previous 12 contests. The long, 6-foot-1 forward also gives the Sun more size in their starting lineup, a move Chicago has gone to in recent games by starting former Sun forward Brooke Wyckoff at the small forward position. … The Sun have four games left before the Olympic break, including the next two against Chicago. But Jones contends the Sun aren’t looking ahead. “It could be more mental exhaustion,” she said of the Sun’s recent struggles. “For me I haven’t looked forward that far yet. I like to go day by day by day.” … Whalen is second in the league in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.6) and second in assists per game (5.5). The 5-foot-9 guard, second on the team in rebounding, also has 21 more defensive rebounds than any other Sun player. … The Sky trailed Detroit by as many as 23 points Wednesday before roaring back to cut it to one with under a minute to play. Of their last five losses, none have come by more than nine points. “They stay in every game,” Sun coach Mike Thibault said of Chicago. “We had enough struggle with them at their place last time. They kind of hang around.”

41 F Kerri Gardin 3.0
15 F Asjha Jones 16.3
00 C Tamika Whitmore 11.9
13 G Lindsay Whalen 15.7
1 G Amber Holt 6.1

Connecticut reserves
22 Barbara Turner 8.4
7 Sandrine Gruda 5.9
33 Jolene Anderson 4.5

21 F Brooke Wyckoff 2.3
4 F Candice Dupree 16.9
44 C Chasity Melvin 8.7
3 G Dominique Canty 8.3
11 G Jia Perkins 17.4

Chicago reserves
22 Armintie Price 6.7
9 Cathy Joens 4.6
42 Tye’sha Fluker 4.0

No comments: