Sunday, July 20, 2008

Starters, notes, etc.

Greetings from Mohegan Sun Arena. Sun players are mostly off the court now, though the Sky are doing a team stretch as the fans slowly file in. There's a lot of pink, too, for the team's "Pack the Place Pink" promotion for breast cancer awareness. The players will also be wearing pink t-shirts in place of their warm-up shirts.

As for the game, the Sun sit on the verge of setting team history. With a loss, they'll become the first team in Connecticut history (not franchise history) to lose six straight games, which also would continue the league's longest active skid. As discussed in today's story, the Sun are suffering from many of the same problems that have plagued them both during their streak and throughout the year. They've started slow, failing to score until four minutes into Friday's 73-65 loss at Chicago; they've continue to shoot poorly, missing 11-of-13 3-pointers and finishing with a 34.3-percent shooting mark from the field; and key contributors (first Tamika Whitmore and Barbara Turner, Friday it was Lindsay Whalen) have disappeared.

(A note: Don't expect Whalen to fall into a prolonged slump after her 1-for-8 showing Friday. Chicago sent three defenders at her on most of her drives, a tactic she has seen before this season, but when combined with an off-night all-around, she regressed into forcing the action instead of getting her points as she normally does.)

That's not to say the Sun have played flat-out badly over the last five games. Certain things have hurt them and despite those inefficiencies, they've been in position to win each of those contests. Friday, their defense ignited them in the third quarter, as did Sandrine Gruda (10 points, 11 rebounds) and Asjha Jones (18 point), who used her ability to get to the free throw line to make up for a poor 5-for-19 performance from the field.

Chicago, too, appears to be short-handed again with Dominique Canty sitting out with a left knee injury. Sylvia Fowles was going through drills with Sky assistant Michael Mitchell prior to the game, but she too will not play tonight as she continues to work her way back from a sprained left knee. (She may play before the Olympic break, though she is expected to be ready for Team U.S.A.)

Here are the full starters. For the Sun, Ketia Swanier makes her second straight start, most notably for her defense on Jia Perkins. Perkins finished with 15 points on Friday, but Swanier kept her subdued for a good part of the first half and, as usual, ran the floor well on offense.

G 11 Ketia Swanier
G 13 Lindsay Whalen
F 1 Amber Holt
F 15 Asjha Jones
F 00 Tamika Whitmore

G 11 Jia Perkins
G 32 K.B. Sharp
F 4 Candice Dupree
F 21 Brooke Wyckoff
C 44 Chasity Melvin

Officials: (53) Jeffrey Smith, (4) Sue Blauch, (18) Kurt Walker

Some other keys for the Sun today:
(1) Continue to get Whitmore in a groove. She found success Friday (13 points, six rebounds) mainly because she was aggressive on the offensive boards and passed well out of the high post.
(2) Do a better job on limiting Chasity Melvin. Even with a taller lineup that included Gruda, Jones and Kerri Gardin, Melvin still found ways to hurt the Sun. The veteran will find ways to score around shorter forwards and even a taller rookie in Gruda, but Melvin's work in the post was one of, if not the, main reason the Sky were able to build a 14-point lead by halftime on Friday.
(3) Don't sweat the small guys. And it's been all small guys lately. The Sun have allowed nine different players score a career high in points against them this year, including someone in the last three games (Washington's Nikki Blue with 13, New York's Lisa Willis with 18 and Friday, Quianna Chaney's with 10). It's frustrating and perplexing for Thibault the Sun have allowed this to happen time and time again.

"Kelly Miller had 17 against us one game," Thibault said. "It’s not that she’s not capable, it’s out of her norm. I don’t know if it’s not us preparing them right, but I’m watching film and the same shots that they’re missing, they’re making (against us). I don’t know if that’s partly unlucky. But it’s gotta stop."

(4) Hit shots early. A good start would take a lot of pressure off Connecticut. It's expended so much energy all season in climbing out of holes, they've played noticeably more relaxed when they're up early, the only exception being the Washington loss two games ago when they relaxed too much.

"The only consolation in all this," Thibault said, "is look around the league. There are only a couple people happy right now."

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