Pre-Game 1 Quotes
On Tuesday, before Game 1 in Connecticut, players and coaches practiced at Mohegan Sun Arena and spoke with the media:
Q: Do you expect Lindsay Whalen to play tomorrow night in Game 1?
Thibault: Tomorrow, I doubt it. Maybe Thursday. Weíll see how it goes. Iím not prognosticated on that one. Iíll worry about that situation when she they tell me she can play.
Q: What are your thoughts about tomorrow?
Thibault: Go play the game. Both teams have done their work. They got a couple of hours to get their stuff finished up. Everyone gets a shootaround, maybe clean up a few things. Once you get to Game 39 of the season, or however many this is, you should know what youíre doing for the most part. Not a lot of secrets. Donít have a lot of time to make big adjustments, and there probably arenít many reasons to. Now you just go play the game.
Q: What do you take from the two games you played in the regular season?
Thibault: Most of it I wonít say to the media. You learn individual tendencies of players. I think your players learn how to play against certain individuals on the other team.
Q: Before the season, did you expect Sacramento to be one of the best teams in the league?
Thibault: I really didnít know before the season, because you didnít know how the trade was going to work out. The consensus in the West was that Los Angeles had the most talent; Seattle had the most experience; and Sacramento and Houston were question marks, based on how fast they matured. Sacramento obviously matured pretty fast. Their young players did a good job of blending in quickly. When we saw them early in the season, you could tell that they had bought in to what was going on. It was no accident they were winning games the way they were.
Q: What are your thoughts on Nicole Powell?
Thibault: For one thing, sheís given them something theyíve never had, that wing player. Theyíve always had one good wing, but theyíve never had a pair that could stretch the defense with three-point shooting, ball handling. She can probably play three of four positions. She can play point-forward. She can play inside. She shoots the three. Sheís given them a dimension they just never had.
Jennifer Derevjanik, Connecticut Sun
Q: Have you been waiting all of your life for this moment?
Derevjanik: I think itís my time to step up, but not only is it my time to step up; a lot of other people have to step up too. Lindsay Whalen is a big part of this team. When sheís not able to play I do think, like, if I do good this could create more opportunities for me also, but this is more about the Championship. My team has been number one all through the year and I try to do what I can to help us win.
Q: How has your mentality changed?
Derevjanik: To be a relief and come in for Lindsay off the bench for a couple minutes, and now I have to go and contribute big time minutes.
Q: How hard will it be to go against Sacramentoís pressure?
Derevjanik: They are probably the best team at pressuring and making you do things you donít normally want to do with the ballÖkeeping it to the sideline and over-playing all the passing lane. Itís not easy.
Q: Are they comparable to Indiana in that sense?
Derevjanik: Yes. They are probably the two best defensive teams. Weíve had a little bit of practice with Indiana in the last few games.
Q: Has Lindsay given you any advice?
Derevjanik: We havenít really talked too much. Iím still hoping she comes back. Sheís started all year and sheís what got us here. I just ask how sheís doing. I donít want to push anything.
Katie Douglas, Connecticut Sun
Q: Has there been any talk about switching you over to point guard for a minute or two at a time, if Lindsay (Whalen) canít play?
Douglas: I donít think there has been that kind of talk at all. I think weíre confident in Jen (Derevjanik) and Jamie (Carey) coming in. You know in the games when Lindsay was playing Iíd help as much as I could, if Lindsay got a run out Iíd bring up the ball. Iíll help them as much as I can. Everyone is just going to have to step up a little bit more. Itís not just going to be me. Itís going to be Nykesha (Sales), Taj (McWilliams-Franklin). The leaders of this team have to be more vocal and more assertive and try to lead the team as best as we can.
Q: Will Lindsayís absence mess up their scouting?
Douglas: I donít know how it could mess up their scouting report when our starting point guard is out (laughter). I think each team prepares their own way. Weíre preparing as if we donít have Lindsay. Weíre still confident that we can do some good things in the Finals. Weíre confident in Jen and Jamie running this team, and everybody is going to rally around Lindsay and rally around each other, and through this adversity and try to find a way to win.
Q: Do you know much about Sacramento?
Douglas: We did well against them in the regular season, but obviously this is the Finals and the intensity and the concentration are so high. We know they are playing at a very high pace right now; they are playing our style of basketball, so itís going to be a track meet out there. Both teams like to be very physical and get up and down the court, so it should be an exciting Finals to watch.
Margo Dydek, Connecticut Sun
Q: Talk about how your first year here in Connecticut has been.
Dydek: Great. Everybody wishes if you change teams you will be in the Finals. Our goal is not finished yet. We are going to play for the Championship and hopefully we can get the ring.
Q: How will you attack the vaunted Sacramento defense?
Dydek: We were watching video yesterday of our game, and Sacramentoís series against Houston and Los Angeles. It looks like they play very strong and tough on the strong side, but we can use the cross passes, swing the ball because the weak side is open. We just have to move, get spacing and play our basketball.
Q: Do you feel as if the team has gotten stronger as the Playoffs progress?
Dydek: Weíve been playing pretty good the whole season long. We have great players. In the middle of the season we had a couple of losses where we were not playing our basketball game, but right now I think we are back in the rhythm and share the ball, looking for the open player.
Taj McWilliams-Franklin, Connecticut Sun
Q: Use one word to describe this season.
McWilliams-Franklin: Miraculous. Just has been. There have been some times when we could have just let it go and it has been a miraculous time. Nobody believed. We hit some big shots to get us in and weíre here now.
Q: Was there a signature game for you guys when you said we can make this trip again?
McWilliams-Franklin: The Detroit win in Detroit in the first game of the playoffs. We lost the first game last year in the first round of the Playoffs. Last year we lost to Washington in Washington and this year we go to Detroit and we play Detroit tough. We have a lead, they come back, we hold our composure and I think that was our signature game and showed we could do whatever we want.
Nykesha Sales, Connecticut Sun
Q: Is this an opportunity for you to really put your stamp on this league?
Sales: Iím not approaching it that way. Iím just going to go out there and continue to play the way Iíve been playing all year round. If Iím thinking that way and maybe trying to do too much, Iíll sort of get out of my game a little bit. But, this is definitely an opportunity not only for me but for everybody to step. Everybody has to do a lot of things. I definitely realize that I have to do a little and have that mindset. Iím not going to play out of my game. Lindsay (Whalen) is definitely a huge part of our team, but we have some other players that are going to have to come in a fill some really big shoes.
Q: How would you describe the road to get to this point?
Sales: Harder than last year. I think this is the hardest itís been. Just playing sort of knowing what needs to be done. I think last year when we were in this position, we just sort of went out there, did some good things and surprised some people. This year, weíre out there knowing that everyone things were a pretty good team now. Thereís a little added pressure along the way.
Q: What was the defining moment this season, wherein you really got a sense of how good this team could be?
Sales: I think the way we sort of handled the Western Conference was a sign. Usually, the West is the better conference, and I think we handled those teams pretty well. We went out there and took care of 12 of 13 games. That told us that we could really compete with the best.
Q: Are you happy that itís a five-game series this year?
Sales: Not really. I wish it was best-of-three this year, knowing that we have homecourt advantage. We could go to Sacramento, come home, play two and get it out of the way. Now, we have to really focus on taking care of the first two at home and putting ourselves in a position to win this thing.
Lindsay Whalen, Connecticut Sun
Q: How will you know if you are ready to play?
Whalen: Itís tough to say. Iíll see what I feel like when I wake up tomorrow. And then Iím not going to, you know, say I can or canít or promise anything because I just donít know at this point. Iíll just see how I feel tomorrow and continue to do some things tonight for it.
Q: Do you feel like youíre healthy enough to play right now?
Whalen: I felt good today shooting and, you know, itís a whole different level of playing once you get out there, but Iíll get with the trainers. Georgia and the doctors are doing everything they can and they have really helped me, so itís been good.
Q: How frustrating has this been when you guys have had such a great year and youíve been on fire lately?
Whalen: Well itís not what you wish for, not what you hope for, but things like this do happen and thatís the way it bounces sometimes. Sometimes you catch a break and sometimes you donít and itís the way it happened. Nothing I can do about it now but get healthy and move on from there.
Q: How is the team going to play without you?
Whalen: Well the team has played together for six months now and the core of the team has been together for a few years now so I think that I wouldnít expect anything but a great effort and the team playing well. I think that is what our teamís mentality is when weíre on the floor. You know, itís like youíve got other people whoíve got game like Ashja (Jones) and Katie (Douglas) and teams go through this sometimes and other people have to step up.
Q: But youíre the point guardÖ
Whalen: Yeah, obviously thatís why we have other people, and three point guards and other people who can run the show and people that are able to hit the shots because the point guard position is obviously an important position.
Q: How is the leg feeling?
Whalen: Itís feeling pretty good. I was out there knocking shots down and tried to get into a little rhythm and getting a little flow with the shot.
Q: Are you more hopeful than 24 hours ago?
Whalen: You know each day goes by, you know, and you get a little more optimistic and a little more hopeful because you just see how itís reacting to everything. Itís just day-to-day kinds of things. So I feel good about it.
Q: How is Ticha Penicheiroís ankle feeling today?
Whisenant: She canít push off of it yet, but by 8:00 tomorrow night, weíll see. It will be a game-time decision of whether weíre better going with Ticha, or whether weíre better off with Kara Lawson and our rookie Chelsea Newton at 100 percent or Ticha at less than 100 percent. Sheís still limping. She practiced for the first time yesterday since hurting the ankle last Tuesday. Typically, Iíd say a sprained ankle become a day-to-day thing after about 10 days, but she probably now day-to-day.
Q: Does your preparation change knowing that on the other side, Lindsay Whalen may not play tomorrow?
Whisenant: Not really. Weíre going to give whoever is handling the ball as much hell as we give her. Weíre going to drive whoever it is nuts, whether itís Lindsay or her replacement. We always try to mentally drive the opposing point guard crazy. Thatís just the nature of our style of play.
Q: What is like mentally to have to sit down and do your planning knowing you might not have a key piece like Ticha?
Whisenant: I look at it like you have to have a different approach. There are a lot of different ways to skin the cat, as they say in Oklahoma. When we lost Ticha, she made us good in one way, her way of leading the team as a quarterback guard, and when we didnít have her, we had to decide what was the best way and there were some plusses and minuses. Kara Lawson is a much better shooter than Ticha, so it made the opposition have to defend a little differently. Therefore, we had some advantages, and you try to take advantage of those and hide your disadvantages. Iím sure Mike Thibault is going to do the same thing without Lindsay Whalen, although she played awfully well in the second half of the game against Indiana, which makes me wonder if she wonít play very well tomorrow night. But if she doesnít play, we have to prepare for what they might do differently.
Yolanda Griffith, Sacramento Monarchs
Q: How much do you think the WNBA product has improved since you entered the League?
Griffith: I think from when I started in 1999 the league has changed because individuals have worked harder on their game. You have players in college coming in, being mentally and physically ready to make the step into the WNBA. And I think the coaches also; they have brought in some great coaches to work in womenís basketball, to get the excitement that was missed in the beginning. The level is so high. There has always been a West that dominated, but now you have teams in the East coming into the Western Conference games and getting wins. You were always guaranteed a win when you were playing the East, but no more. The last two years itís been tough, the competition level is so high, because individuals have worked so hard on their games to make the league better.
Q: Talk more about the technical improvements players have made.
Griffith: Having good footwork wasnít always the most important thing, but now you see a lot of individuals working on tweaking their games and making it better because every year somebody else comes in the league that is just as good as you. So you want to keep making yourself as an individual better. You have a lot of bigs that shoot threes from outside; you have a lot of guards that are strong enough to post up. The game has changed; it is just the individual person working on their game to make themselves better. As you get older that is when you start focusing on that, because when you are young you think itís all about scoring, but itís really not Ė itís about helping your team win the best way possible.
Q: How much of an advantage do you think the Sun has having being in the Finals?
Griffith: They do have the experience, because they were here last year. But weíve had our backs against the wall the whole season, we had some major injuries with some of the individuals on the Monarchs team, but weíve always found a way to win. We are just going to approach the Finals like itís any old other game, and the playoff intensity level even higher because no matter how you finish in the regular season the only thing that counts is what you do in the Finals. Each series, every team starts 0-0. They finished first in the East, we finished first in the West. Itís going to be a dogfight, and itís not going to be easy.
Kara Lawson, Sacramento Monarchs
Q: Four years you have been in the Western Conference Finals and finally you made the WNBA Finals. How does it feel?
Lawson: Feels good to make that next step. For me personally it was my third straight Western Conference Finals. We had a 1-0 lead and we were able come home. That was the biggest difference for us, finally having homecourt advantage in a series. Itís definitely a sense of accomplishment, more so happiness for the players who have been here longer. Ticha (Penicheiro) has been is Sacramento for eight years, Yo (Griffith) has been here seven years, to get to that hump, over that hump and get to this point they have a chance to do something they have been dreaming about doing since they became part of this League. So for our veterans, itís special to be a younger player helping them to try and achieve their goals.
Q: Talk about what you need to do to win the series?
Lawson: They are a great team. It will be by far the toughest challenge we have faced all year. They really donít have any weaknesses as a team. I think they have the best starting five in the league as far as being cohesive and playing together. All five of their positions can score, they are all smart, and they can pass. They defend well; they are underrated defensively. A lot of people talk about us and our defense, but they are very good on the defensive end as well. They have the best sixth man in the game in Ashja Jones. You go on and on. They are going to be tough to beat. They have a great coaching staff and the homecourt advantage, so they are definitely the favorites in the series, but we believe in ourselves and have a great opportunity to do something special.
Chelsea Newton, Sacramento Monarchs
Q: What has been the toughest part about playing in the WNBA?
Newton: Probably the travel. Travel has been the toughest part, having back-to-back games. We play tomorrow and we play Thursday. It has to be one of the toughest parts about the transformation here, but other than that you can adjust.
Q: Who are some of the toughest players in the WNBA?
Newton: Everybody is tough. One night you might think youíre going to have a breather and somebody is not as tough but then they go and get a career high against you. So everybody has been tough. Of course the big names are tough: Swoops, Diana, everybody. Thereís not much that wasnít tough.
Q: Did you ever imagine being in the Finals your rookie year?
Newton: When I got drafted by Sacramento I knew I was with a great team. Weíve always been close but throughout the year we knew we had something special. I felt that we would be here. We all believed that we would be here. Never look back. Itís my rookie year and Iím starting on a team thatís going to the Finals. Iím amazedÖDream come true! Weíre ready to play.
Ticha Penicheiro, Sacramento Monarchs
Q: How important was Kara Lawson in the last game in terms of getting you here to the Finals?
Penicheiro: She was incredible. You know, I just saw the focus, the leadership and the way she played on both sides of the court. It was tremendous. I mean her numbers speak for themselves. I was talking to her before the game, I could tell she was focusing. She told me, ďDonít worry weíre going to get this one for you. You just get your rest and get ready for the Finals.Ē She played tremendously. I was very, very impressed. Not just Kara, I think the whole team played well, but sometimes it starts with the point guard, and she definitely set the tone.
Q: Howís your health?
Penicheiro: Good. I feel much better. I practiced yesterday for the first time in a week so it just feels good to be back out on the court with my team. I still donít feel 100 percent. I still feel a little bit of limitations in my game, but I still have today and tomorrow and I think that by 8 oíclock I will be ready to go.
Q: Howís your health?
Penicheiro: Good! Cutting and jumping is still not 100 percent, but tomorrow adrenaline I think will flow in my body and you kind of forget about it and go all out and you really donít think about any injuries that you have.
Q: What is the difference between this team and the others that have not made it to the Finals?
Penicheiro: I think weíre hungrier. You get tired of losing and falling short every season so just being committed to your game as an individual and then as a team we have a lot of new faces that go along with the coachís philosophy of playing defense and playing together and sharing the ball and even the rookies are playing like veterans. They are fearless and play with a lot of confidence. It feels good to have 11 players that can go out there and contribute somehow, so I think that is the kind of team we have.
Nicole Powell, Sacramento Monarchs
Q: How do you feel right now?
Powell: Itís a great feeling. Weíre excited to be here. Itís been a long season, so itís nice to get this far.
Q: Talk about your play this year, capturing the Most Improved Player award?
Powell: Itís such a team game and Iím really excited to be a part of such a good team. We have some great leaders in Ticha Penicheirio and Yolanda Griffith, and itís just been a really fun season. I just try and contribute what I can, come out and knock down some shots.
Q: What does this team need to do to win this series?
Powell: Just play every possession like itís our last. Playing at this level, everything counts.
Q: What are the keys to this series?
Powell: I would say defense is huge. Itís the reason weíre here, itís the reason weíve been successful. We just need to stick with that. We also need to keep up our level of intensity. Every possession really does count when you get this far. And we have to keep trusting each other and keep playing the way weíve been playing. This isnít the time to stray from the formula.
Q: Did you think youíd be here at this time last year, when you didnít make the playoffs as a member of Charlotte?
Powell: At that point, no, definitely not. Itís definitely gratifying. Iím real happy to be here. Itís been a real great year for this team.
DeMya Walker, Sacramento Monarchs
Q: Have you ever participated in a five-game series on any level?
Walker: Yes, the European Championships are five games.
Q: How big of a difference is it?
Walker: Itís a huge difference. In a three-game series, that first game becomes ridiculously important. With a five-game season, it takes a little pressure off because you know you still have the chance to go home and get a victory and force a Game 4. It just takes a little bit of the pressure off.
Q: What did this Connecticut team show you during the regular season?
Walker: They are a very cohesive unit. Their defense proved to be a lot better than I would have thought it was. They have unbelievable shooters. All five positions, when theyíre on the floor, can shoot the ball well. That was different compared to other teams we had played this year. They mostly showed us that we didnít show up to play. We know we have to play 40 minutes to compete with this team.
Q: What one word described the Sacramento Monarchs this season?
Walker: Defense. I think everyone has really bought into the defense. We work hard for each other. But then thereís chemistry as well. Our chemistry is really great right now. You take chemistry and defense and everything else sort of falls into place.