Insider Preview - Storm vs. Connecticut
Sunday, July 16, 6:00 p.m.
Radio: KJR AM 950
Promotion: Storm Summer Sunday
Kevin Pelton, storm.wnba.com
The Connecticut Sun has shown its versatility in 2006. Eastern Conference Champions the last two seasons, the Sun lost Brooke Wyckoff in the Expansion Draft and saw Lindsay Whalen miss most of training camp following off-season ankle surgery. Whalen's yet to get to full strength and is shooting just 34.8% from the field and 11.4% from 3-point range, meaning Connecticut's offense isn't as potent as in 2005, when the Sun led the league in Offensive Rating.
So what has been the Sun's response? Oh, Connecticut merely has posted the WNBA's best Defensive Rating, surrendering just 93.1 points per 100 possessions. The Sun defense is led by one of the league's best perimeter defenders and its best shot-blocker. The former is Katie Douglas, who shut down Sue Bird during the 2004 WNBA Finals and has used her long arms to control many of the league's best perimeter players. In the paint, 7-2 Margo Dydek averages a league-high 2.4 blocks per game (4.3 per 40 minutes). When opposing teams miss, veteran Taj McWilliams-Franklin has been there to clean it up, averaging a career-high 9.7 rebounds per game to lead the WNBA.
But the Sun's best defense actually might come from the team's group of active reserves. Energetic Australian rookie Erin Phillips leads the group, with assistance from defensive-minded forwards Megan Mahoney and Laura Summerton and backup post Asjha Jones, who is capable of stepping in for Dydek when other teams exploit her difficulty defending the pick-and-roll.
Mahoney and Summerton have moved into the starting lineup recently with All-Star Nykesha Sales sitting out the last two games because of hip and Achilles injuries. Sales did not travel to the West Coast with Connecticut, which then saw another All-Star Douglas, miss much of the first half of yesterday's loss to Sacramento with three fouls. The Sun was in the game throughout, but was done in down the stretch by turnovers, finishing with 26 turnovers (Douglas and Whalen had six apiece)
The Seattle Storm comes off a blowout win over the New York Liberty, but the schedule stiffens considerably with the defending champions of both conferences coming to KeyArena over the next three days as the Storm winds up a five-game homestand. The Storm got bad news in Friday's game when reserve wing Shaunzinski Gortman tore her right ACL late in the game on a fast break. Gortman's absence takes away Anne Donovan's best perimeter defender, though Iziane Castro Marques and Tanisha Wright are capable of stepping up.
|G U A R D S|
|Whalen had perhaps her best game of the season against the Storm in Connecticut last month, finishing with 17 points (aided by 11-for-12 free-throw shooting, mostly in the final minute), nine assists and seven rebounds. The All-Star starter seemed on track after three straight double-figure scoring games to start July, but she was limited to six points and two assists by Sacramento's aggressive defense. Bird had 10 points and five assists against the Liberty, controlling the game from the point.|
|In her first All-Star appearance, Douglas won MVP honors, scoring a team-high 16 points with four 3-pointers as the East won for the first time ever. Douglas, averaging a career-high 16.0 points per game and shooting 43.8% from 3-point range, has emerged as an outside MVP candidate and has been the best shooting guard in the league this season. 2004 Finals MVP Betty Lennox has taken advantage of Douglas matching up with Bird to post 79 points in the Storm's last three games against the Sun at KeyArena.||F O R W A R D S|
|One of a pair of Aussies on the Sun's roster, Summerton mostly watched as a rookie but has contributed this season, moving out to small forward. At 6-2, Summerton has good size for the position. She's hit 47.9% of her shots (3-for-3 in her first career start yesterday against the Monarchs for six points) and been strong defensively. UConn grad Barbara Turner, then a reserve, had 13 points on 5-for-8 shooting in Connecticut earlier this season.|
|McWilliams-Franklin enjoyed possibly her best season in 2005 at age 34, scoring a career-high 13.9 points per game. McWilliams-Franklin hasn't been quite as effective as a scorer this season, but she has made up for it on the glass. McWilliams-Franklin was picked for the All-Star Game as an injury replacement, her fifth career appearance. Lauren Jackson has been on a roll during the month of July. In three games, Jackson has totaled 70 points on 23-for-37 (62.2%) shooting.||C E N T E R|
|An All-Star for the second time in her career and a starter for the first time, Dydek is averaging 9.9 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game. Dydek's 55.7% shooting is the best of her career and good for third in the WNBA. Storm center Janell Burse struggled with Dydek's size in the past, but the addition of a reliable midrange jumper helped her dominate Dydek in Connecticut this season. Burse scored 23 points on 10-for-16 shooting and added 14 rebounds - a career high she matched Friday.||B E N C H|
|The WNBA's top reserve, Jones (right) averages 11.0 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. McWilliams-Franklin's successor whenever she retires, Jones struggled early in her career when Washington tried to make her a small forward but has thrived since returning to where she played college ball. Though Mahoney and Summerton have started, Jamie Carey has actually picked up much of Sales' playing time in three-guard lineups. The sharpshooter has struggled this season, hitting just 23.1% of her 3s. Rookie Mahoney, who missed all last season with a torn Achilles, has provided versatility off the bench. Phillips has not shot the ball well as a rookie (31.5%), but has made up for it with her energy. Wright (left) was solid against the Liberty, scoring seven points and grabbing five rebounds. Edwige Lawson-Wade added a season-high five points. Tiffani Johnson, like Burse capable of scoring on Dydek from the perimeter, had eight points in Connecticut.|
Connecticut - Forward Nykesha Sales (sore hip and left Achilles tendon) is out.