Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Bird leads All-Star vote-getters

The Seattle Storm’s Sue Bird led all players (127,490) in final returns of the 2010 “WNBA vs. USA Basketball: The Stars at the Sun” balloting, released on Tuesday. San Antonio Silver Star Becky Hammon (116,391) finished second.

The All-Star showcase features the U.S. national team vs. a team of WNBA stars at Mohegan Sun Arena on July 10.

Rounding out the top five are the Indiana Fever’s Tamika Catchings (100,248), the Phoenix Mercury’s Diana Taurasi (93,649) and Bird’s Seattle teammate Swin Cash (85,236).

Lauren Jackson (80,392), the Los Angeles Sparks’ Candace Parker (78,624), Silver Star teammates Jayne Appel (69,316), Michelle Snow (67,906) and Sophia Young (65,974) made up the rest of the top 10, who are guaranteed a position on the team rosters. Unlike previous years, the players selected by fans will not necessarily be starters.

Bird, Catchings, Taurasi and Cash, already in the U.S. national team pool, will play for the U.S. and coach Geno Auriemma, while the remaining players who have been voted in by the fans will play on the WNBA team. Parker is in the U.S. pool as well but is out for the season with a shoulder injury.

Hammon is Russian citizen, Jackson is from Australia and Young is from the West Indies. The 11-member U.S. squad will be announced on Thursday, and could include Sun rookie Tina Charles, Sun guard Kara Lawson, Sun guard Renee Montgomery and UConn senior Maya Moore.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Injury update

The Sun avoided what could have been two major injuries.

An MRI revealed Anete Jekabsone-Zogota has a bone bruise in her right knee, and she is considered day-to-day. She injured her knee in Sunday's loss to New York, in which she played less than six minutes. She did not travel with the team to Tulsa and will miss Tuesday's game.

Sun guard Tan White, meanwhile, is in Tulsa with the Sun, but wore a splint on her shooting hand Monday. She has a sprained right thumb, but did participate in practice.

Even White is unsure exactly when and how she injured it, also during Sunday's loss, Sun coach Mike Thibault said, but he said before Monday's practice session that he’s “not counting on her playing” against Tulsa (3-11).

Jebasone-Zogota out, White doubtful for Tulsa game

The Sun are going to be short-handed Tuesday night.

Anete Jekabsone-Zogota did not travel with the team for Tuesday's game at Tulsa after returning to Connecticut to have an MRI on her injured knee, and coach Mike Thibault said he doesn't expect reserve Tan White to play either after she injured her shooting hand in Sunday's 77-68 loss at New York.

Jekabsone-Zogota played roughly five minutes against the Liberty before leaving the game. It appears the 5-foot-9 guard aggravated an old injury in her right knee, and she underwent an MRI on Sunday night, though Thibault said the team didn't expect to get the results until later tonight.

White is wearing a splint and had X-rays done. The extent of her injury is unclear at the moment, but Thibault doubted she'd be available against the Shock (3-11), who are in last place in the West but are known for their pressure defense. They lead the conference in steals (10.7 per game) and forced turnovers (18.5).

Game time is 8 p.m.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Agler to serve as WNBA All-Star coach

Seattle Storm coach Brian Agler has been named the head coach for the team of WNBA stars that will face the U.S. national team in the WNBA vs. U.S.A. Basketball All-Star event at Mohegan Sun Arena on July 10. Agler earned the nod by virtue of the Storm's league-best winning percentage through July 1 (13-2).

The national team, of course, will be coached by UConn's Geno Auriemma. His assistants are Jennifer Gillom (head coach, Los Angeles Sparks) and Marynell Meadors (head coach, Atlanta Dream).

The game will be televised by ESPN at 3:30 p.m.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Charles in charge

So Tina Charles was spectacular. She was "sensational," according to coach Mike Thibault and a monster, according to well ... anyone who probably watched the Sun's 82-79 victory over Phoenix.

She scored 19 points and grabbed a franchise-record 23 rebounds a week after setting the mark with 19 against Los Angeles. She tied Michelle Snow (2006) for the second most in a game and was one short of Chamique Holdscalw's 2003 WNBA record of 24 in a single game.

Charles had her 10th double-double of the season before halftime, and with 160 rebounds in 13 games, she is on pace to break the single-season WNBA record of 363 boards held by Cheryl Ford (2006). She's also two double-doubles shy of Taj McWilliam-Franklin's franchise mark of 12 double-doubles and should break her team record for rebounds in a season with 306 (also 2006).

Apparently that was a good year for rebounding. So far, this has been a great one for the No. 1 overall pick.

“With rebounding, it takes a lot of heart and having the (right) mindset,” said Charles. “A lot of people sometimes are lazy. … But I think that’s a key thing to winning, getting rebounds. When I was at UConn, every single game that I played since my freshman year, coach (Geno) Auriemma used to always challenge me to try to get a double-double before halftime, so that’s the mindset I have.”

Update: Charles sensational, Sun rally past Mercury

Tina Charles scored 19 points with a franchise-record 23 rebounds, and the Connecticut Sun rode its international stars late to rally past the Phoenix Mercury, 82-79, on Friday at Mohegan Sun Arena.

Sandrine Gruda and Anete Jekabsone-Zogota combined to score 14 of the Sun's final 16 points, and Connecticut (9-4) improved to 7-1 at home this season and 5-0 against the Western Conference.

Charles, who has 10 double-doubles in 13 games, had set the franchise record for rebounds in a game with 19 a week prior at Los Angeles.

Update: Sun lead Mercury at half

Tina Charles already has her 10th double-double of the season and the Sun went on long runs to end the first quarter and begin the second to take a 43-37 halftime lead over Phoenix here at Mohegan Sun Arena.

Charles has 11 points and 11 rebounds to help fuel Connecticut inside. Diana Taurasi has 12 points for Phoenix and Candice Dupree scored 11, all in the first quarter.

Down 17-5 to begin the game, the Sun closed the opening period on a 14-5 run and ran off a 14-0 stretch early in the second to lead by as many as nine points. The Sun have 18 points inside the paint where they tower over Phoenix, and unlike past games, they have lived at the line, making 11-of-16 free throws.

D-fense, D-fense

Greetings from Mohegan Sun Arena. The Sun and Mercury tip off in a little under two hours here, but there are some notes and quotes to go over before tonight's game, which is being broadcast on CSN:

* Defense has been the focus in practice since the Sun fell apart late against the Chicago Sky on Tuesday. As expected, the team spent a good portion of practice in recent days studying tape, and as Sun coach Mike Thibault put it, "getting back to good habits." Connecticut spent the previous week harping on rebounding, which improved, but apparently, Thibault said, the defense took a step back in the process.

He made it clear, however, that he doesn't think mental fatigue was a factor against Chicago despite coming off a weekend road trip.

"Nobody’s playing huge minutes," Thibault said following practice Thursday. No one on the Sun is playing more than 30 minutes a game (Tina Charles leads the team at 29.9), compared to a team like Phoenix that has two players (Diana Taurasi and Tangela Smith) topping 30 a night, with a third not far behind (Penny Taylor at 29.8).

"I think it’s a lack of focus on fundamental stuff," Thibault continued. "Staying in the stance, moving your feet. A lot of defense is just focus and energy. There’s technique involve, but you can’t get technique down if you don’t have basic stuff."

Phoenix continues to lead the league in scoring (93.4 points per game) and should provide an immediate test of where the Sun stand. Taurasi (23.1 ppg) leads all individuals in points per game.

"If we can play really well (today) and slow them down some, that means we have really good defense, given they’re the best offensive team," Asjha Jones said.

* The Sun also need to get their footing back late in games. For a team that's relied on late-game runs to put teams away this season, Connecticut was outscored, 27-12, in the fourth quarter Sunday at Phoenix and 25-17 against Chicago on Tuesday.

That obviously speaks to the team's defensive woes, but Tuesday also featured problems simply getting the ball off before the shot clock. Thibault described it after the game as too much standing around.

"Usually we won’t play good throughout a game but by a certain point or by the fourth, we’ll pick it up," Jones said. "And we weren’t able to do that. Our offense tanked, we couldn’t make the shots we were making in the first half, and then they were getting lay-ups."

* A quirky thing to watch for tonight: In the past five games, Anete Jekabsone-Zogota has been announced at a different height each time. It's ranged from 5-foot-7 to 5-foot-11 to 5-foot-9 and 5-foot-10. For the record, WNBA.com has her listed at 5-foot-9 and that's seems about right. Also, her official height isn't listed in the game notes, which may be the cause for the confusion.

Or she's simply shrinking. Or growing.

* Danielle McCray, the No. 7 overall pick in this year's draft, will be in the house tonight. McCray, who's rehabbing a torn ACL in Lawrence, Kansas where she attended school, is expected to pop in now and then with the Sun. She also was at practice Thursday.

Sun raffling off a Harley

The Connecticut Sun will begin selling raffle tickets to win a Harley-Davidson motorcycle during tonight’s game against the Phoenix Mercury at Mohegan Sun Arena.

Raffle tickets – already on sale at Mohegan Sun Summer Essentials – will be available for $20 each at the Mohegan Sun Arena merchandise stand on Friday night. Proceeds from the raffle will benefit Channel 3 Kid’s Camp and the Connecticut Sun Foundation.

First prize is a 2002 Harley-Davidson FLSTFI Fat Boy that has never been driven. This is a 1450 CC, 2-cylinder bike that has been dressed and modified with custom paint and chrome. It is valued at $14,000.

Second prize is four courtside seats to a 2010 or 2011 Connecticut Sun regular season game, redeemable at Mohegan Sun Arena. It includes a post-game meeting with a Sun player and is valued at $750.

Third prize is four tickets to a 2010 or 2011 Sun regular season game, redeemable at Mohegan Sun Arena, and a basketball autographed by the entire team. This package is valued at $250.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

'D' unpluggled

Coach Taurasi. Imagine that.

According to Diana Taurasi herself, that's all not too far-fetched for the reigning WNBA MVP and Phoenix Mercury guard after her career is over.

"Yeah I definitely would," Taurasi said Wednesday. "I think coaching is something I would love to do. I’ve been around some great minds of basketball that have taught me a lot. Being a coach is a tough thing, though. You have a lot of responsibility. It’s something I would be interested in. ... But you never know down the line. I might hit the lotto and move to Italy.

"How hard can it be? Look at him (UConn coach Geno Auriemma)," she added jokingly. "You just gotta be able to recruit. So I just have to hire CD (UConn associate head coach Chris Dailey) and I’d be OK."

Taurasi was her usual sarcastic, witty self on a wide-ranging conference call with members of the Connecticut media. She touched upon everything from the Mercury's current season ("up-and-down," she called it) to Sun rookie Tina Charles ("She really is playing unbelievable basketball") to to the state of women's basketball and her own career.

"These players have been going overseas for the last five years, not having a break, and you’re seeing a lot of injuries and a lot of tired play out there sometimes," she said. "It’s going to be a serious decision (about taking time off) people are going to start making. I know I’m getting really close to it, too, and I’m going to have to sit down, look at the calendar and really take time off to heal."

Taurasi was asked if taking time off from the WNBA, like many European players have, is an option.

"It’s always easier for the Europeans," she said with a laugh. "We’re hometown so if we did that, people would crucify us. ‘How dare you do that?’ But you have to look at your body and it takes a toll on you. Sometimes you need rest. I know I’m going to need it soon.

"There’s just no way your body can function for that long at that high level. You start to break down. You’re actually doing more of a disservice to your career by playing through being hurt and injured and tired. And a lot of players do a good job of going overseas halfway through (the winter season) but I’m going to have to sit down and really figure (it) out."

A reporter asked if a 15-year career is a reasonable estimate for Taurasi, which she called "realisitc." She's currently in her seventh WNBA season.

"If you think about it, the NBA guys that go 15, that’s a stretch and that’s with three months off every year," she said.

Taurasi, however, said taking time off from basketball overseas -- where she's made her WNBA salary multiple times over -- is less of an option for her.

"At this point, in my career right now, I don’t think I can do that, to take three or four months off," she said. "I don’t see that happening. Yeah, I think once I get to that point, I’m going to have to make a pretty firm decision of where my gap in time of rest is going to have to come from."

Taurasi also mused about life after basketball, which could include coaching (she almost said it half-jokingly most times) or a job in television, such as Sun guard Kara Lawson has.

"Hopefully Kara and I can host PTI together," she joked. "I’ve always been interested in that (TV). I love the game. I don’t see myself doing anything that didn’t concern itself with basketball. That’s the type of passion I have for it, whether it’s breaking down the game on TV or going out for coaching. Coach Auriemma will eventually have to retire."

Here's some other highlights from the call:

On UConn star Maya Moore, the expected No. 1 pick in next year's WNBA Draft: "She’s going to unbelievable. There are certain players that you just know once they get to the WNBA are going to be successful and turn another page, I think, in greatness. She has that ability. I know Coach Auriemma has talked to her a lot about me. She just seems so focused. That’s kind of inspiring to watch, even for me. ... I don’t see why she shouldn’t make the world championship team."

On Charles, who she'll play Friday when the Mercury visit the Sun: "The thing I like about Tina is she really is a hard-working, blue-collar, stick-to-what-I-know type player. ... She is just so relentless."

On her workout overseas, which last year started to include a personal trainer: "People always said, ‘I didn’t know you worked that hard.’ Well, yeah, you have to if you want to be competitive with the great basketball players. I just took a different angle with it to try to make myself better."

Taurasi added that watching Suns guard Steve Nash helped motivated her. "He was the one that I looked at and said, ‘You can get better. No matter where you’re at in your career, you can get better.’"

On still having fun on the court, a staple along with her colorful personality: ", that still has to be No. 1 on my list because if I’m not happy I’m not playing well."

'T' for one

Renee Montgomery couldn't believe she received a technical foul with 1:58 left in the first quarter of Tuesday's 86-77 loss to the Chicago Sky.

But she said official Cameron Inouye -- who didn't give her the 'T' -- said the situation Montgomery found herself in wasn't rare.

After driving to the hoop and scooping in a lay-up among some contact, Montgomery made an 'and-one' gesture toward official Lamont Simpson, who quickly assessed a technical foul amid argument from both coach Mike Thibault and the 6,981 fans at Mohegan Sun Arena.

"I was very surprised," Montgomery said. "But it was a miscommunication. The other ref (Inouye) told me he (Simpson) thought I was just pointing in his face. I was making the 'and-one' gesture. She said she’s going to talk to the front offices. Maybe it can get cleared up, I don’t know. She said she’s had a problem before where it was a miscommunication and they fixed it. Maybe they can fix it."

Montgomery said she has never received a technical foul before in her life at any level of basketball. It's not surprising from a player who doesn't swear off the court (she thanks her parents for that) and rarely chirps at officials on it.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Update: Sun fall apart in second half, lose to Sky

The Chicago Sky hit a flurry of fourth-quarter 3-pointers to complete a second-half rally and stun the Connecticut Sun, 86-77, at Mohegan Sun Arena on Tuesday.

Tina Charles had 14 points and 16 rebounds, and four other Sun players scored in double figures. But the Sky, which had lost four straight, hit 6-of-8 3-pointers and shot nearly 47 percent from the field to emerge from an eight-point third-quarter deficit.

Erin Thorn scored a season-high 18 points and Epiphanny Prince scored 19.

Connecticut (8-4) suffered its first loss in seven games this season at home, where it had won eight straight dating back to last season.

Update: Sun lead Sky at half

Anete Jekabsone-Zogota and Tan White each scored 10 points, and the Sun lead the Sky, 48-43, at the half at Mohegan Sun Arena despite one of their poorest defensive performances at home this season.

The Sun shot 55 percent from the field, but either allowed the Sky to snake right down the middle the lane or bailed them out with foul calls. Chicago shot nearly 49 percent from the field and got 12 points for Dominique Canty.

Renee Montgomery received a very questionable technical foul call early in the half. After driving and hitting a lay-up, she made the motion for an "and-one" call to referee Lamont Simpson, who quickly T'd her up. Montgomery responded by picking the pocket of Epiphanny Prince a play later and sneaking in for an uncontested lay-up. She has four points and four assists.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Charles named Eastern Conference Player of the Week

Sun rookie center Tina Charles was named the Eastern Conference Player of the Week on Monday after averaging 25 points and 15 rebounds over two Connecticut victories, including a 26-point, 19-rebound effort against Los Angeles.

Through 11 games, Charles has helped the Sun to the top spot in the Eastern Conference with an 8-3 mark. She is the WNBA’s top rebounder (11.0 per game) and ranks 13th in scoring (16.3 points per game, tops among rookies). She has eight double-doubles, already four shy of the franchise record of 12 set by Taj mcWilliams-Franklin in 2006.

The top overall pick in this past April's draft, Charles has led the Sun in rebounding in 10 of 11 games.

Minnesota's Seimone Augustus was the West's top player of the week.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Parker out for season

A shoulder injury will force Los Angeles Sparks star Candace Parker to miss the rest of the season, starting with tonight's game vs. the Connecticut Sun (10:30 p.m., Staples Center). Per The Associated Press:

The Sparks say leading scorer and rebounder Candace Parker will miss the rest of the season because of a dislocated left shoulder that will require surgery.

Los Angeles general manager Penny Toler made the announcement Thursday night. Parker, a forward, was injured Sunday in the first half of the Sparks' 88-84 home win over the Minnesota Lynx. The surgery will be scheduled in the coming weeks.

Parker averaged 20.6 points, 10.1 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game this season. Los Angeles (3-7) is fifth in the WNBA's five-team Western Conference.

"Losing Candace is definitely a huge loss for us and the league in general," Toler said. "We still have a great team that is led by two Olympians and loaded with talent. Our goal, as always, is still to win."

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Sore Sun

The Sun practiced Tuesday for the last time in Connecticut this week before leaving for Los Angeles, where they'll practice Thursday and play the Sparks at 10:30 p.m. (East Coast time) on Friday.

That said, the Sun are nursing some injuries. Kara Lawson sat out at least the 45-minute portion of the practice that was open to the media to rest her dislocated shoulder. She played 28 minutes Sunday two nights after suffering the injury, and coach Mike Thibault said the plan was to save her from contract leading up to Friday's game.

Coincidentally, Sparks star Candace Parker also dislocated her shoulder and is scheduled to undergo tests this week.

Sandrine Gruda said Tuesday she's also playing through a groin injury she suffered last Friday against Indiana, though she scored 12 points that night, and had eight points and five rebounds in 22 minutes Sunday. She is fully expected to play Friday.

Tina Charles, meanwhile, had to sit out roughly the last 20 minutes of Tuesday's practice after she caught a pass from DeMya Walker in the face, more specifically between her eye and nose.

"I think it's more her eye than her nose," Thibault said. "You gotta catch things in self-defense. We tell them to throw it (the pass) at their noise.

"You learn to put your hands up," he added with a laugh. "If you don't want to catch the ball there, you're asking for trouble."

And the winner is ... Michelle Snow?

Early returns on balloting for the U.S.A. Basketball-WNBA All-Star Event at Mohegan Sun Arena — dubbed "Stars at the Sun" — are in, and they're, let's say ... a little screwy.

San Antonio center Michelle Snow is the top vote-getter with 49,029 votes, and the next four after her are all her Silver Star teammates: Jayne Appel (48,746), Becky Hammon (42,720), Sophia Young (36,549) and Ruth Riley (35,612).

Obviously people in San Antonio know how to work a computer. And Hammon and Young are not surprises. But with all due to respect to Snow (9.3 points, 7.3 rebounds), Appel (1.8, 1.6) and Riley (5.4, 3.0), they simply don't belong.

Online voting runs through June 21, with the announcement of the top 10 vote-getters set for June 29. Expect some type of correction between now and then, or else, the WNBA's marquee midseason event is going to be somewhat of a joke without its best players represented.

The full list of vote-getters is below but just to see get a sense of how distorted the voting has been so far, consider this: Tina Charles, the league's top rookie thus far who leads the Sun in scoring (14.3 points) and is fourth in the league in rebounding (10 per game) is ... 29th.

Indiana's top vote-getter, meanwhile, behind Tamika Catchings is reserve Briann January (20,935) and Tulsa's Alexis Hornbuckle, who was suspended two games for a DUI and is averaging 5.6 points per game, ranks 12th, right behind former teammate Shavonte Zellous.

Michelle Snow (SA) 49,029; Jayne Appel (SA) 48,746; Becky Hammon (SA) 42,720; Sophia Young (SA) 36,549; Ruth Riley (SA) 35,612; Sue Bird (Sea) 30,384; Tamika Catchings (Ind) (24,486); Candace Parker (LA) 22,103; Diana Taurasi (Phx) 21,298; Briann January (Ind) 20,935; Shavonte Zellous (Ind) 19,800; Alexis Hornbuckle (Tul) 19,743; Penny Taylor (Phx) 19,638; Plenette Pierson (NY) 19,279; Scholanda Robinson (Tul) 19,135; Kara Braxton (Tul) 18,785; Lauren Jackson (Sea) 16,924; Candice Wiggins (Min) 16,224; Swin Cash (Sea) 15,195; Kara Lawson (Con) 13,970; Camille Little (Sea) 11,659; Tanisha Wright (Sea) 11,434; Katie Douglas (Ind) 9,890; Ebony Hoffman (Ind) 7,636; Tammy Sutton-Brown (Ind) 7,620; Tina Thompson (LA) 5,796; Sylvia Fowles (Chi) 5,740; Cappie Pondexter (NY) 5,557; Tina Charles (Con) 5,262; Nicky Anosike (Min) 4,856; Katie Smith (Was) 4,181; Candice Dupree (Phx) 3,291; Angel McCoughtry (Atl) 3,804; Monique Currie (Was) 3,237; Iziane Castro Marques (Atl) 3,195; Epiphanny Prince (Chi) 3,172; Lindsay Whalen (Min) 3,145; Betty Lennox (LA) 3,037; Shameka Christon (Chi) 2,981; Ticha Penicheiro (LA) 2,959; Crystal Langhorne (Was) 2,839; Catherine Kraayeveld (Chi) 2,825; Janel McCarville (NY) 2,734; Seimone Augustus (Min) 2,672; Erika de Souza (Atl) 2,599; Jia Perkins (Chi) 2,501; Lindsey Harding (Was) 2,475; Renee Montgomery (Con) 2,333; Marissa Coleman (Was) 2,252; Taj McWilliams-Franklin (NY) 2,240; Asjha Jones (Con) 2,114; Nicole Powell (NY) 1,861; Charde Houston (Min) 1,815; Sancho Lyttle (Atl) 1,656; Anete Jekabsone-Zogota (Con) 1,631; Temeka Johnson (Phx) 1,615; DeLisha Milton-Jones (LA) 1,566; Tangela Smith (Phx) 1,418; Essence Carson (NY) 1,282; Shalee Lehning (Atl) 1,209.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Gardin, Jones to sign autographs

Connecticut Sun players will sign autographs from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. at two different ShopRite locations on Tuesday.

Kerri Gardin will be at the ShopRite in New London while Asjha Jones will be at the store in Norwich. Aside from autographs, fans will also be able to win tickets to upcoming Sun games.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Update: Montgomery, Sun rally past Fever

Renee Montgomery scored a career-high 29 points and Kara Lawson came back from a separated shoulder she suffered in the first half to help lead the Connecticut Sun to an 86-77 victory over the Indiana Fever on Friday at Mohegan Sun Arena.

Tina Charles recorded her sixth double-double in eight games with the Sun (6-2), scoring 12 points with 12 rebounds, and Sandrine Gruda added 12 points. Jessica Davenport had a career-high 18 points for Indiana.

Update: Fever take lead entering fourth

Jessica Davenport has a career-high 18 points and the Fever lead the Sun, 62-57, after three quarters here at Mohegan Sun Arena.

Davenport, a former No. 2 overall pick who has never lived up to the expectations of her lofty selection, took over a stretch of the third quarter, scoring eight of Indiana's nine points. Her previous career high was 15, set on June 3, 2007 against Phoenix.

The Sun, meanwhile, went cold in the period, scoring 12 points after netting 45 through the previous two quarters.

Update: Lawson back in

Wearing a brace on her left shoulder, Kara Lawson has returned to start the second half for the Connecticut Sun. Lawson suffered a dislocated left shoulder on a collision with Indiana's Tammy Sutton-Brown with roughly four and a half minutes to play in the second quarterand had to have it popped back in by the Sun medical staff after she left the court, Lawson's husband, Damien Barling said.

Lawson has suffered a dislocated shoulder in the past and will likely have to wear the brace for at least a few days, Barling said.

Update: Sun lead Fever at half

Renee Montgomery scored 18 first-half points and the Sun shot better than 48 percent from the floor against the league's top defense to take a 45-39 lead over the Indiana Fever at the intermission here at Mohegan Sun Arena.

In a half marred by the apparent shoulder injury of Kara Lawson (see previous post), Montgomery carried the Sun's offense, hitting 4-of-7 3-pointers and 7-of-12 from the floor.

Jessica Davenport has 10 points off the bench for Indiana. Tamika Catchings -- who was trying to call timeout when Lawson, a fellow Tennessee alum, was on the ground in pain with 4:24 left in the second quarter -- had eight points, six rebounds and five steals.

Lawson injured

Kara Lawson has left the Connecticut Sun's game with Indiana Fever with an apparent shoulder injury. While driving to the hoop with roughly four and a half minutes to play in the second quarter, Lawson collided with an Indiana player near the baseline and passed the ball to the corner before grabbing her left shoulder.

Lawson appeared to say something to the closest official before going to the floor in extreme pain. Play wasn't stopped, and the Fever hit a lay-up on the other end, sparking an eruption of boos from the Mohegan Sun Arena crowd. Lawson lay on the floor for several minutes as her husband, Damien Barling, and Sun medical personnel came to tend to her. She was helped off the court to the Sun locker room and didn't return.

It was a busy day already for Sun trainer Jeremy Norman. Sandrine Gruda (apparent leg or groin injury) and DeMya Walker (apparent shoulder injury) each left the bench at different points of the first half for further medical attention. Both returned to play.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Update: Sun breeze by Stars

Tina Charles had 19 points and 11 rebounds, Renee Montgomery added 16 and the Connecticut Sun strode past the undermanned San Antonio Silver Stars, 81-68, on Sunday at Mohegan Sun Arena.

DeMya Walker scoreda season-high 12 points for the Sun (5-2), who have won all five of their games at home. Sandrine Gruda had two points on 1-of-6 shooting in her season debut.

San Antonio played without All-Star guard Becky Hammon (strained quad) and head coach Sandy Brondello (maternity leave).

The double-double is Charles' fifth of the season.

Update: Sun rally for halftime lead

Renee Montgomery scored 11 points, Tina Charles had nine points and seven rebounds, and the Sun used a 9-0 run early in the second quarter to take a 34-30 hafltime lead over San Antonio here at Mohegan Sun Arena.

The Sun hit five 3-pointers, including two straight by Montgomery that gave them their first lead, 23-22, with 7:42 left in the second. But despite playing a zone defense, Connecticut is struggling to keep San Antonio out of the paint, where they're outscoring the Sun, 12-8.

Chamique Holdsclaw has 10 points for the Silver Stars.

Shorthanded Stars

Hello from Mohegan Sun Arena. The Sun and Silver Stars tip off here at 1 p.m., though San Antonio will do so without several major components. Becky Hammon is out with a strained quad, and head coach Sandy Brondello is on maternity leave. Her husband and associate head coach Olaf Lange is handling her duties.

As a result, San Antonio features a starting backcourt of Roneeka Hodges and Edwige Lawson-Wade. Expect them to lean heavily on their frontcourt. Chamique Holdsclaw is averaging 13.8 points in the four games since being picked up on waivers, and Sophia Young is scoring a team-high 14.8. Michelle Snow, meanwhile, is averaging 9.0 points and 7.5 rebounds.

On the completely different side of that coin, the Sun have their entire roster for the first time this season. Sandrine Gruda isn't starting, but the 6-foot-4 center will dress and come off the bench. Sun coach Mike Thibault is going with the same starting five as last game in Renee Montgomery, Kara Lawson, Anete Jekabsone-Zogota, Asjha Jones and Tina Charles.

With their complete frontcourt, the Sun should have an advantage on the boards. San Antonio is grabbing only 31.2 rebounds per game (compared to 36.3 by their opponents) and surprisingly, Young is averaging just 3.8 total rebounds and 0.5 on the offensive end. She's averaged 6.3 rebounds over her career.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Gruda guaranteed delivery

Sandrine Gruda is in Connecticut and will practice Saturday in preparation for her season debut Sunday against San Antonio.

The 6-foot-4 French center arrived in New York earlier this evening and spoke to reporters shortly after Connecticut's 75-68 victory over the Liberty.

So the big question was: How did Gruda, who was scheduled to arrive Thursday night, miss her original flight to the U.S.? Apparently, when flying out of French-Martinique, travelers usually can arrive at the small airport 30 minutes prior to an international flight and make their plane. But unbeknownst to her, circumstances Thursday required Gruda to get there an hour before her flight, thus she missed it.

"The next day, I didn’t pay for anything (for a new ticket) because they knew it was unusual," she said.

Either way, the Sun are happy she's here. Gruda was second on the team in scoring (13.5) and tops in rebounding (6.3) last year in her second WNBA season, in which she also arrived late. But that doesn't get any easier, she said.

"No, it’s never easy. Never easy," she said. "That’s the hardest part actually, to come in the middle of the season because you need to learn all the plays and everything by yourself. You’re new. When the whole team’s new and everything, you can actually work and learn with everybody. When you come late, you have to work by yourself."

Gruda said she hasn't been training with her French national team but instead has been resting following her season in Russia.

She also said she has no pre-determined expectations of herself.

"Nothing. Nothing. I don’t think that much, that’s not me," she said, drawing laughter from reporters. "I’m telling the truth. When I come and I have to play, I always give what 100 percent of what I have that day."

Check out Sunday's Norwich Bulletin for more.

Update: Sun ride defense late, hold off Liberty

Tan White scored 18 points, Tina Charles registered another double-double after a slow start and the Connecticut Sun held on in a back-and-forth game with the New York Liberty, 75-68, on Friday at Mohegan Sun Arena.

Charles finished with 13 points and a season-high 15 rebounds for Connecticut (4-2), which led by as many as 16 points before the Foxwoods-sponsored Liberty (2-3) rallied to close it to two on several occasions. But the Sun outscored New York, 7-2, over the final 2:44 to improve to 4-0 at home.

Kara Lawson added 13 points for the Sun, and Janel McCarville and Taj McWilliams-Franklin each had 14 for New York. Former UConn star Kalana Greene scored 13 off the bench for the Liberty.

Update: Sun lead Liberty at half

Kara Lawson has 11 points, thanks to some well-time 3-pointers and Tan White was the best player on the floor for the Sun, who slopped their way to a 33-27 halftime lead over the New York Liberty.

White scored nine points, providing a lift offensively early when the Sun looked lost on their own end. She also added five rebounds, mostly on hustle plays, and helped hold Cappie Pondexter to two first-half points on 1-of-6 shooting.

Former UConn star Kalana Greene has six points as the Liberty's first person off the bench.

It was a pretty half by no means. The Liberty shot 32.4 percent from the floor and committed nine turnover. The Sun, thanks to a second-quarter push, managed 42.4 percent, but there were several head-scratching moments early.

Asjha Jones, making her first start of the season, missed the only shot she attempted and has zero points and one rebound in seven minutes.

Jones starting

Greetings from Mohegan Sun. The Battle of the Casinos kicks off in roughly 20 minutes, but one interesting thing of note before the game: Asjha Jones is re-taking her place as the Sun's starting power forward alongside fellow UConn alum Tina Charles. The backcourt remains the same (Renee Montgomery, Kara Lawson and Anete Jekabsone-Zogota).

As for the Liberty, Leilani Mitchell, Cappie Pondexter, Nicole Powell, Janel McCarville and Taj McWilliams-Franklin make up their first five.

Check back throughout the night for updates.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Gruda misses flight, to miss Liberty game

Sandrine Gruda will apparently not debut for the Connecticut Sun on Friday.

Gruda, originally slated to arrive tonight from France, missed her flight, Sun coach Mike Thibault said Thursday, and now isn't expected to arrive in New York until after 5 p.m. on Friday. The Sun and Liberty tip off at 7:30 p.m., tomorrow at Mohegan Sun Arena.

Thibault said Thursday afternoon he wasn't sure why the 6-foot-4 center missed her flight — her agent had called the Sun — but "the original deal was she wasn’t coming until Saturday anyway, but I had kind of convinced her to come today. But it backfired anyway."

"I hadn’t planned anything around her being here," Thibault said of Friday's game. "That had no bearing what we were doing for tomorrow. I was more interested in having her watch us play and getting used to her teammates and seeing all that."

Given Gruda arrives on Friday, she'll practice Saturday and suit up on Sunday against the San Antonio Silver Stars.

Meanwhile, Kerri Gardin (concussion) has been cleared to play Friday against New York. The forward was not limited in practice on Thursday and "should be good to go," Thibault said.

A lot to cover ...

Hello everyone. I didn't get the chance to blog following practice Wednesday, so let's get right to it:

* Asjha Jones's surgerically repaired Achilles' tendon felt sore following Sunday's loss at Washington, but it was to be expected.

"No red alerts," the All-Star forward said. "I've had worse days last year."

That said, Jones' minutes will likely be limited Friday vs. the New York Liberty (think between 15 and 17, according to Sun coach Mike Thibault) and her availability for Sunday's game will be determined about how her ankle responds following Friday's game.

Jones said she was encouraged by parts of her three-point, three-rebound performance against the Mystics. On one of first jump shots from the top of the key, she shot long and missed, but it felt better than she expected.

"Sometimes you don’t have enough legs or whatever" and it falls shot, she said. "But it went long, so I’m like, ‘OK, I’m good'. (laughs) It was just a little long. It wasn’t to the left or the right, just long. ‘OK, that happens usually, when I’m healthy. I’m OK.’"

Conditioning has been a big part of Jones' return and she said she wasn't nearly as tired as she expected she would be.

"I could have played more if I wasn’t so sore," she said.

That being the case, not playing to the potential she's used to is more furstrating in ways than simply not playing.

"I had a hard time after last game just getting mentally back in a good place," she said. "For me, now I’m used to being an All-Star, I’m used to playing a certain way. So for more to be on the court and not play the way I’m used to, it’s really difficult."

* Sandrine Gruda is expected to arrive in Connecticut tonight. The 6-foot-4 center, who was second on the Sun in scoring and led the team in rebounding last season, will participate in the team's shootaround early Friday and then suit up for Friday's game. Like Jones, she'll likely have limited minutes as she gets re-accustomed with the Sun's playbook, which has changed in some ways since last year.

"Some of it hasn’t, but it’s been a long time since she’s played with us and in the process ... you have to remember she’s played in a whole other system with different play calls, then her French team has different play calls," Thibault said. "Now you’re trying to remember which (play call) is which team. Some of it will come back right away. Some if it will take time. You have to reprogram your brain."

Last year, Gruda joined the Sun during a road trip and jumped right into a game against Detroit only to score 23 points. This time, she'll likely be eased into it more only because A) the Sun are deeper with Tina Charles, DeMya Walker and Kelsey Griffin than they were a year ago, and B) following Sunday's game against San Antonio, they have four days off before Friday's game against Indiana.

But once she gets settled, which should be quickly given its her third season in Connecticut, expect Gruda, 22, to continue her upward trend from last year (13.5 points, 6.3 rebounds per game).

Jones, for one, is excited to see Gruda and Charles, the WNBA's newly minuted Rookie of the Month, match up in practice.

"I think it will be good for Tina to have somebody to play against in practice," Jones said. "... She needs to have somebody who’s really long and more of who’s she’s going to see from day to day in games. I said I was excited just to see those two play against each other because it’s just going to be arms everywhere. They’re both all elbows everywhere and they’re both really competitive, so it’s going to be really good for Sandrine, too, to have another young player. And they’re both going to be vying for the same position. It’s going to be a good intensity in practice and it’s going to make our team better.

"It’s going to be a war everyday in practice."

A fun side bet could be, who takes the first elbow from Gruda? The French center doesn't try to take people out, but lean at 6-foot-4, she has a knack for keeping defenders and would-be rebounders at bay. Ask Amber Holt, who took so wicked a shot from Gruda during practice last season she needed medical attention.

"Not me," Jones said, laughing. "I’ve had my share already for three years. I’ve had enough. She gets everybody. If you come around there, be prepared. She doesn’t even know she’s doing it, that’s the first worst part. She’s just long. It happens."

* Kerri Gardin participated in some drills Wednesday as she recovers from a concussion sustained in last Thursday's game against Minnesota. Thibault said the forward's headaches are gone and she was expected to participate more fully in today's workouts.

"The original plan was that she was going to practice (Thursday) so we’ll see," Thibault said.

Check back later today for an update on her status for Friday's game.

* The addition of Jones and Gruda creates some interesting decisions for Thibault. Both are expected to be starters once fully healthy and fully comfortable, respectively, meaning some roles will change. Thibault has always planned to use Walker and Griffin off the bench, but Charles and her team-leading 16.6 points and 9.6 rebounds per game are definitely not moving out of the starting lineup.

"I’m not envisioning taking Tina out of the lineup," Thibault said, adding he'd like to see Gruda, Jones and Charles in the Sun's froncourt. That'd move Kara Lawson, Renee Montgomery or Anete Jekabsone-Zogota to a reserve role, though Jekabsone-Zogota (for her scoring ability) and Lawson (as a veteran) could have a leg-up on Montgomery.

Either way, the Sun plan to use their bench liberally whether it be Tan White coming on in the backcourt for legitimate minutes or Walker and Griffin in the frontcourt. Of course, Allison Hightower and Gardin will also be in the mix on several nights. As the season progresses, a nine-person rotation, given everyone remains healthy, will likely develop with the possibility of any of the Sun's reserves giving a helping hand on a given night.

Thibault mused that he could make a starting lineup based on matchups or even platoon, though he's admittedly not leaning toward the latter option.

"You can make a case that you can put together two even teams on this team," Thibault said.

For kicks, let's say you divided the teams like this: Lawson, Jekabsone-Zogota, Gardin/Hightower, Gruda and Charles vs. Montgomery, White, Griffin, Jones and Walker. It'd be tough to pick a winner on paper.

"I got a lot of thinking to do over the next couple of weeks," Thibault said. "But I can’t really do it until I see it in practice and see who’s healthy on the court. Asjha’s health will determine a lot of how much we can do of different things. How soon can she increase her minutes? If she’s gonna stay at 16 to 20 minutes for three or four weeks, it changes your thought process of what you’re going to do. So I don’t know."

* Asked to evaluate the Sun's good and bad habits, Lawson and Thibault both pointed to the team's work ethic and willingess to share the ball as two major positives to the team's 3-2 start.

Lawson added, however, that the Sun need to take advantage of their post players more.

"Maybe just by virtue of having more bigs here, we’ll see more value in trying to get them the basketball more in advantageous positions," Lawson said. "We have to get Tina, as much as she’s getting touches, more good touches because she’s efficient. When we get her the basketball on the block, she scores. DeMya’s good one-on-one on the block. Asjha’s obivously really good on pick-and-rolls and stepping up. We have to utilize that more. We have to do a better job of using our post play as the centerpiece of our offense and then just set up what we’ll get as guards out of it."

When Lawson says touches, however, that doesn't mean Charles is shooting it every time she gets it.

"New York, Washington — a lot of teams have shown the propensity to double (Charles), so we get her the ball, all of the sudden, everywhere else on the court, we’re 4-on-3 because she’s being double-teamed," she said. "And then knowing that she is double-teamed, if we can find her in one-on-one (situations), we know she can score.

"When the ball hits the post, we have a better offensive possession. Anytime the ball just goes like this (around the perimeter), more often than not, it’s not a good offensive possession. If the ball hits the paint on a given offensive possession, it’s proven if you look up all the percentages, that there is a higher rate of success. It could be from a drive but it can be from getting the ball into the posts. ... One of Coach’s emphasis was, look in the post. Every time you come down, look in the post."

* Also, in case you didn't see it, Foxwoods is now a major sponsor of the New York Liberty. (The team, by the way, is staying there while in Connecticut instead of at Mohegan Sun, like other opponents do.) That means new jerseys, too, which with such a big 'Foxwoods' logo reminds me more of a European soccer jersey than it does anything we're used to seeing in the U.S.

Of course, the Liberty aren't the first to go this rout. Phoenix did it last year.