Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Great Escape

There's surviving, and then there's getting hit by a bus and living to tell about it. That's the Sun, who gave coach Mike Thibault every reason to scowl following their 73-70 Game 2 victory Saturday -- and every reason to smile. Despite allowing New York to trim a 13-point lead to one with six 3-pointers, the Sun outlasted the Liberty to force a decisive Game 3 in their Eastern Conference first-round series.

To even begin to predict what will happen in that game (7 p.m., ESPN2) is downright impossible. Already in this series, the Sun have trailed the entire night and scored just 11 points in the first quarter, and then came back two nights later to lead for 39:02, hit their first six shots and then miss 13 of their last 15.


"I can't answer that," coach Mike Thibault said. "If I could answer that, then I would sell that and make a lot more money. I could give up coaching and sell it to everybody else in the world."

Some notes and thoughts from Saturday night's thriller:

(1) I made mention in game story of Svetlana Abrosimova's impact. The Russian import made her first start with the Sun and scored 12 points, including seven in the first quarter to spark the team's fast start. But Amber Holt, despite not starting for the first time in her short career, was solid as a reserve, adding seven points and five rebounds. The rookie and Asjha Jones were the only Sun players to play the entire fourth quarter, and though Holt shot 1-for-8, she made an definitive impact.

"I just felt with two rookies (Holt and Kerri Gardin) on the floor at the start of the game who have been streaky about their shooting, putting Svet on the floor with more experience and being a 3-point shooter would put more pressure on (New York)," Thibault said in explaining the switch. "I thought she did a good job getting us started. I probably should have run a few more plays for her in the fourth quarter. In hindsight, we'll look at the tape and figure it out. I thought we could have gotten her more involved in the offense and we kind of got away from her in the second half. That's probably on me.

"But I thought (the move) would give us a different look, and that Amber would relax a little bit and play better off the bench, which she did."

Abrosimova said that after the Sun started so poorly Thursday in New York, she "took that personally."

"I felt the last game we lost because we didn't start the game well," she said. Her fastbreak lay-up 26 seconds into the game tied it at 2-2 and the Sun were off and running from there.

As for Holt, she felt the switch was a positive one.

"I think it's good, now that I see it," she said. "It's better for me to come off the bench because it gives me more motivation to help my team. And evidently, we had some success off of it. I'm starting to see what needs to be done when it's not done."

Asked of the difference she saw in the Sun from Game 1 to Game 2, New York coach Pat Coyle pointed to hustle plays.

"I just thought they got every loose ball," she said. "And I thought they did a much better job on the glass than we did (37-29). They shot the ball from the free throw line much better than we did (20-of-26, compared to New York's 3-of-5) Twenty-one more free throws, there you go, you lose by three. I can't say that because I don't make enough money to get fined in this league."

(A note: New York has been one of the league's worst teams as far as getting to the free throw line this season. Yes, the officials missed foul calls on both ends, but the Liberty also set themselves up to take just five free throws. They shot 29 3s, nearly half of their total 63 attempts. You're not getting to the free throw line if you do that.)

(2) So what really happened in the last 10 minutes? The Sun, prone to cold streaks, hit one at the wrong time, and when New York started hitting 3 after 3, Connecticut tensed up even more on its own end. By the end of the game, it seemed like no outside Asjha Jones or Tamika Whitmore wanted to take a shot, and even the ones they got seemed rushed. There was one series in which the Sun got three offensive rebounds, but missed three lay-ups. Thibault said he thought the Sun got fouled on at least one, but regardless, that means they missed two open ones.

As for the defense, Cathrine Kraayeveld, who accounted for three of those six fourth-quarter 3s, got hot and largely had nothing but open looks to work with. Jones, Kraayeveld's defender, was guarding against the drive, and never quite committed to playing out on her until she had already hit a couple. Also, the Sun as a team seemed to ease off in the fourth, and was far less aggressive in the passing lanes and on the guards.

"The things I was doing in the first three quarters, I don't think I did in the fourth quarter on defense," Jones said. "Kraayeveld didn't make any 3s the first three quarters, and then she gets three or four. That's how they make their living. They're the best 3-point shooting team in the (East) and you give one of their supreme shooters open looks, you're in for a long night."

Kraayeveld said she didn't think the Sun did "anything special" to keep her from scoring earlier in the game. "I just think we needed to continue to make the extra pass and just continue to run through our stuff," she said. "We know how they are going to defend us, so it's just a matter of not trying to force anything."

Whitmore said the Sun may have tried to help on defense too often, which led to New York getting so many open looks.

"We were stuck on switching and with the post rolling the guard down, we were kind of trying to help and then they have such good 3-point shooters, you really can't help," she said. "We probably just went to help a little soon instead of waiting for them to put the ball on the floor."

(3) New York's Janel McCarville (11 points, five rebounds, six turnovers) never really found a comfort zone after she knocked knees with Abrosimova in the first quarter. But she returned in the second and played 26 minutes. As of right now, it doesn't appear to be anything serious.

"She's fine," Coyle said following the game.

As for other injury news, Jamie Carey dressed but didn't play Saturday. She's still sore from the turf toe, and at this point, it remains unclear if she'll play Monday.

I'm off to practice soon. Check back later this afternoon for more on Monday's game.

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