Saturday, August 30, 2008

Svet's in the house ... along with Sue, Swin and the Storm

Do I have enough S's in that headline? Geez.

Well, the Sun set up a walk-through practice today at Connecticut College. They shot, watched tape, stretched and shot some more. The session was particularly helpful for Erin Phillips and Svetlana Abrosimova, who got a chance to walk through more of the Sun's plays. Abrosimova will debut tomorrow against Seattle (1 p.m., ABC), though don't expect her to play a ton of minutes before she gets accustomed to the Sun's system. Lindsay Whalen is not expected to play with a sprained right ankle, but more on that later.

The fact that Abrosimova is even here is somewhat surprising considering she ended her season overseas in Russia intent on not playing in the WNBA this season — for anyone.

"I wanted to take this year off, and kind of re-think," she said. "And another part of me wanted to actually stop playing in the WNBA. I felt like one team was enough, I played there for seven years. I felt like it was a good career and I wanted to keep continuing to play in Europe."

But she engaged in talks with Sun coach Mike Thibault, who even wanted her to come a month before the Olympics to train, mulled it over and decided in Beijing she would come for the Sun's stretch run.

"I had some time off from basketball, so I decided to do it," she said. "It’s a good team, in Connecticut, which is my second home in the States. That was my reason for coming back. I actually talked on the phone with Coach and the GM (Chris Sienko), and I always had the personal connection with Connecticut and I felt that Connecticut had a really good chance to be in the finals. I didn’t just want to go to a team that was trying to make the playoffs because I tried for seven years and we just couldn’t make it. I felt like this was the year."

Abrosimova made it to the playoffs twice with Minnesota in 2003 and 2004, but lost in the first round each year. There were other factors, too, some of which Thibault discussed earlier this week.

"When you go to a team and you meet the team and you know seven players out of 12, it’s not bad at all," said Abrosimova, who played with Asjha Jones and Tamika Raymond at UConn and with Jones and Sandrine Gruda this past season in Russia. "When you’re in a situation where you missed two months of the year, I needed it."

When asked if Jones and Raymond made a sales pitch to her, Abrosimova said, "They didn’t have to. I played with Asjha in Russia. It’s always been, ‘Come to Connecticut, come to Connecticut.’ Sue Bird did the same thing, but unfortunately, I chose them over Sue."

Thibault, on Svet: "We’ll see how the game goes, but she’s definitely going to play (today). I think it helped her to watch (Friday in Atlanta) and see how we played without having to be among all our plays. It might not be perfect, but our goal, like Erin, is to have her be ready by playoff time."

It was then suggested that Abrosimova is a quick study.

"She is," Thibault said. "She was already asking about certain plays, so she obviously watched the tape a couple times that I gave to her."

Some other notes and news from practice:

(1) Whalen is listed as day-to-day and isn't expected to play with a sprained right ankle. The league MVP candidate rolled it badly when she stepped on Jones' foot during an inbounds play Friday night, but said it's already starting to feel better. X-rays were negative and MRI results are expected to be released Sunday.

Jamie Carey is slated to start in her place.

“She’s day to day,” Thibault said of Whalen, who’s averaging 14.4 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.4 assists. “The swelling’s down. She feels a lot better. If it was a playoff game (today), she would probably tape it up real tight and try to play.

“It’s nice that we clinched,” he later added. “And the other people get their chance to get their minutes. That’s why we’ve had all these point guards (in Phillips, Carey and Ketia Swanier), for situations like this. Everybody goes through it somewhere with their team. We’ve been fortunate most of the year to not have to work our way through a lot of injuries.”

Whalen planned on receiving treatment for the injury through the night Saturday and today. She sprained her left ankle during the 2005 playoffs and required offseason surgery to repair damaged ligaments. But this isn’t nearly as severe, she said.

“It doesn’t feel terrible or anything,” Whalen said. “I’m obviously familiar with ankle injuries so I’ve definitely had worse. It’s one of those things. Step on somebody’s foot wrong, and that’s part of the game I guess. (But) I was worried.”

(2) Coincidentally, the first-place Sun (18-10) — and winners of five straight games — are facing a team dealing with its own missing star. Seattle forward Lauren Jackson underwent ankle surgery in Sydney, Australia, Thursday, and is expected to miss four to six weeks.

Storm coach Brian Agler has said he’s not expecting his leading scorer and rebounder to heal in time even for the playoffs, but he has a team (18-9) that still sits in second in the West after Thursday’s 66-49 win over Houston.

The Storm are 4-2 without Jackson, the reigning WNBA MVP.

“It’s sad in a lot of ways,” said former UConn star and Storm guard, Sue Bird, who scored 22 points Thursday. “For me personally, Lauren is one of my closest friends on the team, so to not have her not just on the court but off the court as well definitely sucks. ... But I think at times in previous seasons, we relied a little too much on Lauren. Everything we did was to get her the ball. This year really is just about setting each other up, equal opportunity.”

Said Swin Cash: "Everybody thinks we’re not going to make the playoffs, everybody’s just talking about we’re going to do without Lauren. But when something like this happens, opportunities open up for other people. We have so much scoring on this team, it comes down to how we focus on our defense and rebounding the basketball."

(3) For the second straight game, Cash won't be starting for Seattle. Agler said he’ll bring the 6-foot-1 forward off the bench as “we try to get her caught back up here.”

Cash reportedly received a cortisone shot in her back to relieve the pain from a herniated disk she’s played with since last season, and she spent the Olympic break working for NBC’s in-studio crew for women’s basketball. Cash’s agent told the Seattle Times surgery is a possibility, but Agler said the plan “at this point is to have it after the season.”

Agler has also said he would suspend and fine Cash for choosing to forgo practice during the break, but it appears he’s backed off benching her, most likely because they really need her. Seattle is 13-3 when she scores in double figures, and they need to make up points with Jackson out.

“That story (of the possibility of surgery) got exaggerated and it kind of sucks that it did because people are calling me, it’s on NBA TV that I’m getting surgery,” Cash said, adding there is no timetable for the decision. “But I’m just exploring all options. I want to get back to playing how I know I can play, and I’m just tired of having the aches and pains the last two years.

“I’m basically taking it one day at a time.”

Cash added that she doesn't plan on taking any more cortisone shots to relieve the pain.

"We’re going to support any decision that she makes," Agler said. "We know that she’s really fought through that this year, so I think the plan at this point is to have it after the season. But she’s dealing with a lot of issues right now with her back and she’s showed a lot of toughness this year. She hasn’t missed any games, and I know she’s been in a lot of pain."

As for her season as a whole, Cash has solid numbers (11.1 points, 5.6 rebounds) but she hasn't shot great (37.2 percent). Also being far from her family has been a difficult transition.

"Since probably middle school, my mom has always been able to come to games, so that’s one of the reasons I chose to go UConn, to stay on the East Coast and they played in the Big East and we had games at Pittsburgh or West Virginia," Cash said. "And I played in Detroit, which is only four hours away from my house. That’s probably been the toughest part, not being close to my family. And everybody knows that I’m close to my mother. Past that, it’s been good. I probably haven’t had the season that I would have liked to have but I’m a perfectionist."

(4) Bird said she's looking to take on more of a scoring load with Jackson out, but added, everyone has to pick it up in some way. She's also gotten some ribbing for having just one assist Thursday against Houston.

"Everyone’s getting on me with assists," she said, laughing. "What’s with that? I always say, an assist takes two people. It just wasn’t having it the other night. But I didn’t pass less than I normally do. I’ve had one assist before in my career so it’s not the first time."

No comments: