Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Moving On

It's hard to believe the WNBA Finals start tonight and the Sun won't be playing.
Another season of promise turned into one of disappointment, with players and coaches left scratching their heads over what it will take to get over this hurdle. The Sun actually backtracked this season after winning two straight conference titles.
As for a winner, I like Detroit over Sacramento. The physically-imposing Shock players are a tough match for any team.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Cool As A Cucumber

Game 3. What Game 3?
That might have been the impression you received by the mood among the Sun's players after their Sunday morning shootaround. Connecticut, one day removed from staving off elimination, seeks its third consecutive trip to the WNBA Finals tonight at home against Detroit.
The players looked more than comfortable about eight hours before tonight's tip, chatting and laughing as their session came to a close.
"It'’s not rocket science," coach Mike Thibault said. "We've just got to go play basketball. We'’ll see what happens."
Although Thibault and some of his players tried to dismiss the notion of momentum after securing the Game 2 win, it certainly can't hurt the Sun with the turnaround to this decisive game coming with little rest for either side. Playing at home should also be an advantage, but early signs as of last night made it seem like the crowd's size was still below an acceptable number. It'll be something else to keep an eye on.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

The Stuff of Legends?

A matter of minutes after my last posting, Katie Douglas took the court at roughly 2:55 for some shooting.
She began similar to Thursday night only shooting with her hands and not jumping. The difference was, she was elevating on her toes as opposed to remaining flat-footed.
She then progress into short jumpers before playing some half-speed defense against teammate Jamie Carey. Mike Thibault watched intently and Douglas also did one half-sprint from sideline to sideline.
Douglas eventually returned to full shooting, which included waves of 3-pointers from different spots on the court. If I had to guess, I’d say she plays and possibly starts today.

Waiting for KT

We're approaching an hour until game time and still no sign of Katie Douglas on the court for shooting. Her status is still unknown after a glimmer of hope came through when she shot pre-game Thursday in Detroit.
In other news, injured forward Brooke Queenan, who didn't even make the trip for Game 1, worked out beforehand. Suffering from a sprained right ankle, the rookie, who is on the playoff inactive list as a result of limited playing time during the season, said today was the first day she's been able to jump when shooting.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Try, Try ... And Try Some More

Here's a tip for all you aspiring sports writers out there.
It's been my experience that making yourself available at all times is the only way to be assured of getting the desired interview and story. With that in mind, I never turn my cell phone off and tend to schedule interviews based around the subject's schedule and not mine.
The only time this philosophy becomes an issue is when I'm on a plane, where cell phones can't stay on.
That was the case today, as I got into a little game of phone tag with Indianapolis-based orthopedic surgeon Dr. David. A. Porter, who spent part of Thursday examining the Sun's Katie Douglas. Luckily, we finally got a hold of each other and he was very helpful in providing some new information in what seems like a story that takes a new turn every day.
I feel like I'm on KT watch and we're up to Day 6.
I don't want to give away the insight from Porter —— you'll have to wait until the paper for that —— but I promise it'll make for an interesting read.

The Unknown

As I’m sitting here in Detroit Metro Airport waiting for my flight and getting some advance work done for articles set to run in Saturday’s paper, I’m left wondering what it’s going to take for the Sun to win a game in the Eastern Conference finals.
Connecticut looked to be missing Katie Douglas more than anyone might have expected last night, playing as if they were trying not to lose — the curse of death in sport’s circles — after building an early 14-point lead. In a game that felt tense from courtside, the Sun made things even more dramatic by turning many possessions into 24-second countdowns to destruction.
Outside of Erin Phillips and, at times, Lindsay Whalen, no one seemed willing to take big shots with the expectation of making them. The forwards each went through spells of being trigger-happy, but the attempts were so rushed they resulted in poor misses and fastbreak chances the other way. If that happens again, the next game won’t be until the 2007 preseason.
Add to that the uncertainty of whether Douglas might return for Game 2, which coach Mike Thibault had categorized as something “miraculous” on the eve of Game 1. Knowing KT, she won’t play unless she’s capable of truly contributing. My biggest concern would be the players being distracted by the possibility of her return and then playing through disappointment if Douglas isn’t able to go.

Only twice did the Sun sell out Mohegan Sun Arena for games during the regular season. If they don’t pack the house for Saturday’s win-or-the-season’s-over Game 2 — starting at a reasonable time for fans of all ages, 4 p.m. — I think the franchise should be very disappointed. Not only is the team playing the rival Detroit Shock and trying to reach its third straight WNBA Finals, knowing the game’s significance has to draw a crowd.
I’m going on record as saying there is no excuse for fans not to be there in person when the Sun return home.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Should I Feel Insulted?

Bill Laimbeer will never be confused for a charmer. At the same time, as the old saying goes, you have to talk some of his words with a grain of salt.
Known in his playing days as someone capable of getting under the opponent's skin, he has transitioned that some with how he now deals with the media. Working on a story on Detroit's Cheryl Ford, I went to team shootaround this morning to talk to her and assistant coach Rick Mahorn. As I approached Mahorn, who was sitting on the scorer's table next to Laimbeer, I introduced myself and said what paper I was from. Laimbeer then says to Mahorn, 'That's one of those Podunk papers.'
Fully expecting that response since Laimbeer has said that to other reporters from smaller-sized papers before, I responded with, 'I had a feeling you might say that.'
Truth be told, I didn't mind the comment because I don't think it was meant to be personally insulting. I think it's his way of ribbing the media a little -— myself and another the writer were also told twice to leave and comeback during the shootaround because Laimbeer didn't want anyone watching until league rules make it mandatory to be open - which I'd like to see more often from all coaches. You spend so much time with these players and coaches over the course of a season that if you can't crack a joke here or there it just makes everything feel way too uptight.
Besides, with his history, Laimbeer could have said a lot less flattering things if he actually wanted to insult me.

Thankfully, we have Lindsay Whalen to keep things relaxed on the Sun side. Although she can appear shy at first glance, once you get know Lindsay she is as funny as they come. She's great to talk to when you're chatting about non-basketball related subjects and is usually good for a quirky line or two along the way.
But sometimes I can't even figure out some of the little jokes she's playing. One can only imagine what kind of pranks she's capable of in the locker room.

Travel Day

Let me begin by saying, I am not a fan of flying. I know that's a problem in the profession I'm in, but I'll find a way to get over it.
(Although, it is funny to see people always look out the windows in unison as a plane approaches the ground.)
Sorry to be getting this update out so late, but the day became a bit longer than expected. By the way, I hope you check out my story and some of the others across the state tomorrow to get a take on what Bill Laimbeer was saying Wednesday at practice.
Who knows if what they said was really true, but the Shock could be in for something unexpected if they really think Katie Douglas is healthy enough to play.

As for some team updates, you can find more in my notebook running in the Friday paper - talk about planning ahead - Brooke Queenan did not travel with the team to Detroit and the ice on Asjha Jones' knee shouldn't be perceived as problematic.
More to come tomorrow, which begins early with team shootarounds and hopefully leads to some good notes to share with you guys.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

'You're My Best Friend'

At least Katie Douglas could laugh a little on an otherwise rough day. Meeting with reporters for the first time since learning her season is over, Douglas let her guard down when most of the media members walked away.
Apparently known for her love of movie quotes, Douglas showed off a few lines from a new favorite, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. As she waited for Lindsay Whalen to wrap things up and give her a ride home, Douglas referred to the team's point guard as, 'Cal,' the friend and racing teammate of Will Ferrell's character in the movie.
"You're my best friend," Douglas said in her impersonation of Ferrell's voice as Bobby.
For Douglas, aside from movie quotes, seeing some wins from the Sun will keep the star guard smiling.

Wrapping Things Up

With the Eastern Conference finals now just two days away from starting, here are some final thoughts on the Sun's first-round win over Washington.
After watching Game 2, it's hard not the believe a rivalry was born. The second game took on a much more physical feel than the opener, in part, because the officials lost control. The game featured one flagrant foul —— DeLisha Milton-Jones delivered a solid elbow to the head of Katie Douglas —— and a pair of technical fouls. Washington coach Richie Adubato was whistled for excessive complaining and Nykesha Sales got a tech midway through the first quarter.
The feistiness was probably a good thing for the Sun, who can expect an even more physical series in the upcoming round against rival Detroit. Winning ugly could also prove key since the loss of Douglas will certainly slow or limit the offense.

More than a half hour after Game 2 was complete, Alana Beard of the Mystics made her way out of Mohegan Sun Arena through the tunnel and walked by the Connecticut locker room. She gave Lindsay Whalen a hug and delivered a quick message. "Get it done, man," Beard said. "Third time's a charm."
Time will tell.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Wait And See

The news isn’t looking good on Katie Douglas, as some of the reporters have already began to speculate whatever her injury may be — a ruptured Achilles might not be a terrible guess, but who knows — will keep her out the remainder of this postseason.
She be examined examined and re-evaluated on Monday, but this seems to be another bit of bad luck in the playoffs after Lindsay Whalen went through knee and ankle problems last year leading up to the team’s second straight loss in the finals.
Seeing Douglas head into the tunnel putting no weight on her right foot was an unfortunate end to a very entertaining basketball game Sunday at Mohegan Sun Arena.

Trouble Brewing

The Connecticut Sun may be going to their fourth straight Eastern Conference finals, but Katie Douglas could be forced to miss some time.
After leaving late in Sunday's game with an apparent injury just below her right calf — which she injured late in the year and forced her to miss the regular season's final two games — Douglas has what's being called an unknown right foot injury. She's scheduled for x-rays and an MRI Monday and we're currently awaiting a comment from her and/or the team doctors.

Friday, August 18, 2006

All-Defensive Snub

Mike Thibault was asked a day later about Taj McWilliams-Franklin not being named to the WNBA’s All-Defensive Team and he still showed the same level of surprise.
Thibault, who was informed Thursday by a group of reporters of the picks, considers McWilliams-Franklin among his defenders, along with her role of being team captain. The Sun were represented by the selections of Katie Douglas to the first team for a second straight year and Margo Dydek on the second team after leading the league in blocks.
“I’m absolutely shocked because she’s the best post defensive player 1-on-1 in the league,” Thibault said of McWilliams-Franklin. “You’ve got Lisa (Leslie) and people like that, and Margo, who are shot blockers, but you’re talking about somebody who can guard somebody 1-on-1 and take them out of their rhythm.
“Especially when she made second team last year, I thought she had a chance at first team this year.”
It’ll be interesting to see if her snub inspires McWilliams-Franklin at all. A highly self-motivated player, she doesn’t tend to think too much of individual accomplishments, but did show some shyness about discussing her addition to the All-Star Game as an injury replacement.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Win Or That's The Season

And now we play the waiting game.
Myself and two other members of the Connecticut media just completed our interview session with the Washington Mystics, but we won’t see the Sun until roughly 3:45. Normally, I wouldn’t mind the long gap since it gives me a chance to get a lot of my writing done, but after walking out the door at 5:25 a.m. to begin my drive to DC, I’d prefer to just be done and perhaps call it a night by 6.
Since that’s not going to happen, I’ll just search for a little food and get to the task at hand.
One observation from talking to a few Washington representatives was how aware this team is of the significance attached to Friday’s Game 1 in this best-of-3 series. The Mystics are basically in a must-win situation with the odds stacked against them to win twice at Connecticut.
But there is a quiet confidence among the home side, which treated the Sun to a loss at the Verizon Center during the regular season. It’ll be interesting to get a fresh take on that game from Connecticut’s players later in the day.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

On The Road Again

It’s that time of year again: the playoffs. Just like when I’m covering UConn, the postseason is my favorite time to be working because it means more roads trips and not knowing what city you might in the following week.
I’m closing in on a very early morning start to my drive down to Washington for practice Thursday and Game 1 of the Sun’s Eastern Conference semifinal Friday night.
I’ll check in at some point once I arrive in the nation’s capitol with a report on the happenings from the eve of the series opener.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Rewarding The Right Teams

The WNBA held a teleconference today featuring all eight coaches of the playoff teams, along with ESPN on-air personalities Doris Burk and Linda Cohn.
One popular subject during my time on the call — thankfully, Mike Thibault was the first coach on, as these tend to take way too long — was the league’s playoff format. The subject deserved to be critiqued because it is a terrible system.
Having teams with better records starting on the road before returning for Games 2 and 3 of a best-of-3 series in the first two rounds in ridiculous. It’s a poor attempt to reward the stronger side and risks something the WNBA should always be fearful of: not putting its best product on display.
I understand the league can’t afford to go to five games for all three playoffs rounds — like in the finals — but if it must stick to only three games early on, give the better-seeded team home-court advantage throughout. With a relatively short schedule and more than half the league making the postseason, rewarding teams like Connecticut and Los Angeles with nothing but home games is a way to place more emphasis on the regular season.
It’s hard to think about the Sun or Sparks getting edged out on the road and then facing elimination throughout the rest of their first-round series. It just doesn’t seem fair.
Since alternating sites for each of the three games is never going to happen because of travel costs, giving one team all the home games seems like the next best option.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Preparing For The Playoffs

The result shouldn’t matter, but you have to wonder if losing the regular season’s final two games will at all affect into how the Sun perform once the playoffs begin for them Friday.
Granted the team was playing depleted and obviously lacked some necessary emotion with nothing at stake, but it’s hard to turn the switch on after nothing mattered for a period of time. Consider the Indianapolis Colts last season going from a destructive bulldozer to losing in their first postseason game, albeit the death of coach Tony Dungy’s son was also a factor.
I watched most of Sunday’s Connecticut loss at Detroit as I did some other work and here are a few points I took from a mostly dominant performance from the Shock:

Nykesha Sales looked a little fatigued, which is to be expected after her extended layoff. She missed seven of 10 shots en route to eight points and many of those misses are shots we’re used to seeing her make. Nonetheless, I believe coach Mike Thibault made the right decision to play Sales, who is still in search of regaining the rhythm that makes her such a dominant player.

Say what you will about Erin Phillips playing fast at times, but I’m a big fan of her game. She finished with 12 points and three assists, showing her ability to hit outside shots and also get into the lane and cause trouble. My guess is she’ll return to the bench for the playoffs and Sales will again become a starter, but Phillips is a better player than she was a month ago and the Sun now have one of the league’s better backup point guards.

As for Katie Douglas and Lindsay Whalen, the jury is still out regarding how much the rest helped them. Douglas couldn’t play due to her calf and the time off was well-deserved after being an offensive and defensive focal point basically the entire season. Whalen has been banged up as of late, although that’s not unusual based on her aggressive play. I thought she was the best Connecticut player in the previous game against Indiana and felt keeping her in the lineup might have allowed her to retain that success. But you can’t argue with a better-safe-than-sorry approach from any coach when nothing is at stake.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Whalen Feeling OK

The play looked worse than it was. At least that was the reasoning once Lindsay Whalen got off the Mohegan Sun Arena court.
Whalen took the better half of a collision Friday night with Indiana’s Tan White, and the Sun’s point guard remained on the floor, showing signs of pain after the encounter near the low block.
“That’s not a place you usually see screens so I wasn’t ready for it and it just completely knocked the wind out of me for like 10 seconds,” Whalen said. “And I had an instant bruise on my (right) knee.”
The brief scare prompted coach Mike Thibault to sub out Whalen with 5 minutes, 57 seconds left in the game and she never re-entered. Considering Katie Douglas was already out nursing her sore right calf and Nykesha Sales is just a week removed from a 12-game absence, there was no need to take any chances.
“Once Lindsay got knocked to the floor a couple of times, that was it,” Thibault said. “I couldn’t watch that anymore.”

Friday, August 11, 2006

Injury Watch

While the Sun are dealing with a slight injury problem of their own in Katie Douglas battling a strained right calf, the team they could very well see in the Eastern Conference finals is in a similar situation.
Detroit Shock leading scorer and rebounder Cheryl Ford left her team’s blowout win Thursday night against Chicago with 3:59 remaining in the first quarter due to a sprained left hand. Ford, 14.4 points and 11.7 rebounds, told the Detroit News she’ll play tonight against Washington, but it’s something to keep an eye on.
In other news around the league, how about Diana Taurasi? She set a single-game WNBA record with 47 points in Phoenix’s triple-overtime win at Houston. The Mercury can still make the playoffs by winning their final two games coupled with a Houston loss in its season finale.
It would be a great perk for the league to get Phoenix into the postseason because the team is probably the WNBA’s most exciting team. And if the Mercury manage to sneak in, don’t be surprised if they go on a little run behind Taurasi and her high-scoring teammate Cappie Pondexter.
Earlier this year, Sun coach Mike Thibault said Phoenix was capable of making it to the finals. After long stretches in which that looked impossible — despite all the talent on the roster — Western Conference teams may have to prove Thibault wrong depending on how the weekend shakes out, and knocking off the Mercury won’t be an easy task.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Tougher Than Ever

Although Nykesha Sales may return to the starting lineup in both or either of the regular season’s final two games, she could very well return to the bench once the playoffs begin. If it happens, Sales’ brief stay in the starting five will likely be the result of Katie Douglas, or perhaps another player, being rested before the postseason begins a week from Friday.
Sales as a reserve would be quite the luxury for Sun coach Mike Thibault, who already has the services of Asjha Jones as a sixth man.
The silver lining to Sales’ left Achilles trouble was Erin Phillips emerging as a very capable starter. Now someone comfortable playing both guard positions, Phillips, along with the return of Sales, gives the Sun seven legitimate starters. Add to that as good a third-string point guard leaguewide in Jamie Carey and solid role players in Le’Coe Willingham, Laura Summerton and Megan Mahoney, and the Sun have to be considered the favorite to win the WNBA title.
Already assured of home-court advantage throughout, the Sun are a better team than they were a week ago — and will probably be stronger a week from today. Although injuries might have prevented this team from winning it all a year ago, having some players miss part of this season makes Connecticut as deep as it’s ever been.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Sales ... Continued

Sorry for getting back so late; it was a long night at the office.
So the final stats read eight points, one rebounds, three assists and two steals in 19 minutes for Nykesha Sales in her debut. It's a good start as she was able to contribute without being heavily relied upon.
Sales may play Wednesday night in Indiana, depending on how her body feels 24 hours after the return. The Sun then have one day off followed by two games over three days to end the regular season.
Connecticut and Sales caught a break with the playoff schedule, which was released Tuesday. The Sun start a week from Friday, but it could have been a a day earlier.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Sales Returns

Nykesha Sales is back from the Connecticut Sun, already with four pints in five-plus minutes through a little more than a quarter, according to the WNBA Web site box score.
This is obviously a big boost to a team already playing the best basketball leaguewide. It’ll be interesting to see how many minutes she goes tonight and if she plays at all against Indiana on Wednesday.
More to follow if there's more to report tonight.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Sun Won't Shine on U.S.

In an effort to respond to your comments— although, I’ll be honest, I’d like to see some more — let’s talk about the USA Basketball selection for the women’s World Championships.
One reader commented with some disappointment in not seeing any Sun players on the current roster. There is still one spot left to fill on the Senior National Team.
While on the surface I would agree that Connecticut players should get consideration, a closer look doesn’t indicate many surprises.
Nykesha Sales has never been a big part of national team talks — perhaps because she likes her time away from the game — and the Achilles injury obviously ruled out of any conversations.
Although having a career year, Taj McWilliams-Franklin is an older player, which the U.S. already has a few of. Except those other elder stateswoman are already much more entrenched in the national team than Taj, who is more than deserving by the numbers.
Lindsay Whalen’s talent makes her one to be mentioned. But her continued recovery from offseason ankle surgery has slowed her at times and she’s probably not playing up to her normal level as she works toward regaining full stamina.
The only one I could maybe getting that final spot is Katie Douglas. You can make a case for her to win the league MVP and her great defense would make a great national team addition.
Lastly, Asjha Jones is someone to keep an eye on for future years. As time goes on she will develop into a starter and that might be when the U.S. brass sets their sets on the UConn product.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

It Looks Like The Nation's Capitol

It’s official. Well kind of.
The Washington Mystics are now assured of the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. They will likely be the first-round opponent of the Sun, who are closing in on the WNBA’s best record.
Washington was locked into its spot after Indiana’s Saturday win at San Antonio and the Mystics’ double-overtime loss to Sacramento later in the night. Connecticut took two of three in the season series against Washington, with both wins coming at Mohegan Sun Arena.
In other playoff news, behind another 30-plus point effort from Diana Taurasi, Phoenix maintained its slim playoff hopes by beating Los Angeles. But Seattle knocking off Charlotte means the Mercury are no better off than when they started Saturday and now have one fewer game remaining to make up ground.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Nykesha Still In Limbo

Word out of Houston is Nykesha Sales was on the court a little during today’s practice, but she did not participate in any extensive drills.
This was likely to be the Sun’s only practice during this three-game road trip over four days, so don’t bet on Sales playing during the stretch. I guess there’s an outside chance of her suiting up for the home finale or final regular-season game a week from tomorrow in Detroit, but I’m still holding to the belief that she’s done until the playoffs.
But here’s something to consider. Let’s say Connecticut manages to run the table down the stretch, or even just clinch home-court advantage throughout, is there a risk as to how Sales is reintroduced into the lineup? The team has been working well with its current system, and that balance cannot be tinkered with too much.
My bold prediction? If Sales is to start at all from now until the end of the playoffs, don’t expect it until the WNBA Finals.
And even still, she might be only coming off the bench should the Sun make it that far, which wouldn’t be so bad. Sales and Asjha Jones make for a pretty good combination against an opposition’s tired and slightly worn down starting five.
But that’s just an opinion. One of many I’m sure circulating out there.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Cream Of The Crop

Sparks coach Joe Bryant couldn’t sit still much of Thursday night. He even had to be restrained once by a Los Angeles player during the fourth quarter, since the coach was teetering toward a possible second technical foul and subsequent ejection after being whistled for arguing a non-call in the third.
The meeting of the league’s two best teams didn’t go the way of the Sparks, who will need help to catch Connecticut for home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. The likelihood of getting assistance isn’t very good considering the Sun look as if they’ll never lose again, riding a franchise-record and WNBA season-high winning streak of nine games.
Regardless, Bryant still feels a repeat matchup in the championship series would make for a crowd-pleasing scenario.
“I think this would be a super finals with these two teams,” Bryant said. “I think the league would really appreciate it if Connecticut and L.A. get into the finals. We have great fan bases and special players.”
The win improved Connecticut to 10-3 against the Western Conference with one game remaining Sunday against Houston. The Sun lost just once in 14 tries against the West last regular season.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

A Showcase Event

As far as I know, tickets were still available for Thursday’s showdown at Mohegan Sun Arena between the East-leading Sun and Los Angeles, the Western Conference’s top team. If I was a fan, I think it’d be worth shelling out a few bucks to these teams because there’s a good chance they’ll play again in a few weeks, although tickets will likely be a bit more expensive then.
Games like this make the schedule maker look smart, considering this pair could very well meet in the WNBA Finals. And what a series it would be.
Between the aging superstar Lisa Leslie, whose game indicates nothing has dropped off, and the Sun’s Katie Douglas, you’ve two of the league’s best MVP candidates. If there was a sixth man (person, if you prefer that title) award, the only real candidates would be Connecticut’s Asjha Jones and L.A.’s Chamique Holdsclaw. The list goes on and on.
It’s a shame the game isn’t being televised because this would be a great opportunity for the league to showcase itself.