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Installment #4 – the conclusion of Eric’s West Coast Blog
Woo hoo! After eight long days (plus today's cross-country trip), the WNBA powerhouse known as the Connecticut Sun appears to be back on track. All it took was seven different plane flights, 20+ bus rides, four cities, four games, and three overtimes. Sometimes, it just seems so easy.
We have returned to the Nutmeg State after the West Coast swing a much-improved basketball team, both on paper (translation: better record) and in terms of visible quality of play. Team chemistry and morale is the best it has been all season, and rivals anything I have seen during the past five years.
For all intents and purposes, last night's 82-78 victory over the Sacramento Monarchs was the icing on the cake for what was already a solid road trip. To be able to win in dramatic fashion, in an overtime game, on the second night of a back-to-back made it that much more satisfying. Seeing as this is coming from somebody who played a whopping zero minutes on the trip, I can imagine it felt even better for the players and coaches.
No, we didn't go 4-0. Nor are we back to playing .500 basketball. Nor have we clinched any sort of playoff birth. But things are looking up.
The crushing double-OT loss in Phoenix provided enough motivation to last for the remaining three games against L.A., Seattle, and Sacto, and there don't seem to be any signs of slowing down. This weekend's All-Star break gives everybody an opportunity to charge their batteries and prepare for a slew of home games. The notable exceptions are Katie Douglas and Asjha Jones, who will be representing the Sun and the Eastern Conference at Sunday's All-Star Game (3:30, ABC!). Starting Tuesday, the Sun play five straight at home, hosting Minnesota, Seattle, Houston, Detroit, and New York. Not only can we improve upon our dismal 2-6 home record, but we can catapult ourselves up the conference standings. As of now, the Sun sit in 4th place, one game ahead of Chicago and one-and-a-half games behind New York. If the season ended today, we would own the last playoff spot. With 14 games to play, there will be plenty of chances to move up or down, and current indications hint that it could be the former.
Back to last night's game, for those that had to work this morning and didn't stay up 'til the wee hours of the morning to watch.
First and foremost, I consumed a Subway sandwich at approximately 4:03 p.m Pacific time. Mission A was completed.
Then, the ladies jumped out to a 10-2 lead over a rusty-looking Monarchs team (they had a few days off prior to last night). Unfortunately, the offense stalled severely and we found ourselves on the wrong end of a 26-15 margin, with just over 4 minutes to play in the first half. Suddenly, everything started to click. Margo made a jumper. Katie Douglas got a fast break layup and hit a 3-pointer. Nykesha Sales banked one in. By halftime, the Sun led 34-30.
The second half was a roller-coaster ride, with the lead changing hands countless times. It felt like a playoff game. If you managed to block out the blaring fake-noise techno music in Arco Arena, you could hear the true passion of the Sacramento fans. With under a minute to play, it looked like we might let the game slip away. Nykesha missed a 3 with the Sun trailing 66-63. However, Margo managed to grab the rebound and put it back in, and the deficit was cut to 1. After Sacto went 1-4 from the free throw line in the final minute, Lindsay Whalen drove baseline and tied the game with 4 seconds remaining. Nicole Powell missed a half-court heave, and we headed to overtime, our 4th such game of the year.
In the OT, Lindsay took over. She scored the first 8 Sun points, and her fade-away jumper gave the team a 75-72 lead over halfway through the extra period. Le'Coe Willingham (who played great all night), Douglas, and Sales all made free throws at the end, and we held on for a clutch win.
All in all, the past 9 days appear to have righted the ship. With any luck, the Sun can keep the momentum going and roll off some wins for the home fans, who have been supportive even during the rough start to the year.
This will probably be my last blog until playoff time, as you'll be able to see most of the action with your own two eyes from here on out.
Until next time,
Installment #3 of the West Coast Blog comes on the heels of another high note for the Connecticut Sun.
We have arrived in Sacramento on the same night of an earlier day game against the Seattle Storm. Today's noon tip-off allowed us to fly back to California before tomorrow's (Thursday) game against the Monarchs.
Things looked a little bit shaky coming out of the gates against the Storm, until Nykesha Sales got us on the board with a fadeaway bank shot as the shot clock wound down. From there, the floodgates seemed to open up a little bit. A nice run at the end of the first quarter put us ahead 20-14, and the lead grew to 42-32 at the half. Seattle's Lauren Jackson was a beast, but Asjha Jones and Kristin Rasmussen did a nice job of making her earn her points.
In the 3rd quarter, it began to get a little dicey. Former Sun forward Wendy Palmer hit a jumper to cut the lead to 3, but Nykesha answered with a huge 3-pointer to push it back to 52-46. From there, the ladies never looked back. Sales ended up scoring 7 of her 15 points in the quarter, and wing players Katie Douglas and Evina Maltsi hit big shots from the perimeter. Everybody contributed to the effort, as the Sun bench outscored the Seattle bench 20-2.
The win gets the record to 8-11. Not great, but we have managed to pull into a tie with Chicago for the last playoff spot in the East. A win in Sacramento would further the momentum that is building heading into this weekend's All-Star break. When the Sun returns to the court after the break, a bunch of home games will give the Connecticut crowd a chance to see this new-look group. It will also allow for improvement on the current 2-6 home record, which, if bumped up over .500, almost assures qualification for the playoffs.
As for the rest of the time in Seattle...
It truly is one of my favorite cities. Our hotel, which was shaped like a big tennis ball can, offered great views of the city in every room. We could see Puget Sound, the Space Needle, and the heart of downtown Seattle. The weather was perfect, and we had some time to walk around the city and enjoy the various piers, attractions, shopping areas, and restaurants. If I liked seafood, it would have been absolutely perfect.
The only concerns remain the fates of the professional basketball teams. Both the Storm and the Sonics play in Key Arena, whose lease is running out. The new ownership group (based out of Oklahoma City) may decide to buy out the lease and move the teams. Memo to the people of Seattle: get a new lease signed! I don't think a new arena should be needed (the Key is one of the loudest in the country), but if that's what it takes, make it happen. The WNBA and NBA would be worse off without the Emerald City on the schedule.
So for now, it's on to face the Monarchs, a team with whom the Sun has quite a history. Coach T once compared playing Sacramento to "going to the dentist," which means that although we can come out on top, it's not exactly something to look forward to. Their tough defense and rebounding will test the Sun front line, and our guards have to break down the D and make shots. The 2005 Finals between the two teams showed how evenly matched they were (and probably still are), and provided the Sun with the team's most significant moment (Brooke Wyckoff's 3-ball to send Game 2 into overtime, an eventual Sun victory). Who knows what's in the cards for tomorrow night?
I'm going to sign off for tonight, but will check back in after the conclusion of the trip. Tune in to watch the Sun on CW20 at 10p.m., as we try to finish 3-1 on this West Coast swing. Also, make sure to look for Katie Douglas and Asjha Jones in Sunday's All-Star Game from Washington, D.C. The game is at 3:30 on ABC.
Good-bye for now, and root hard for a win in Sacto!
Until next time,
This is turning out to be quite the road trip...
West Coast Blog: Entry 2
On Friday night, the Sun lost a double-overtime heartbreaker at the hands of the Phoenix Mercury. It was probably the most excruciating loss of the season, only because we had chances to win and played very well offensively.
Things didn't get any easier Saturday morning, when a 5:30 a.m. trip to the airport called our names before a short flight to Los Angeles. I'm sure Phoenix is nice from October to May, but it's definitely not pleasant in July. I was ready to leave and make my presence known in the City of Angels.
After arriving in Manhattan Beach in West L.A., a team breakfast/film session began the preparation for that night's game against the Sparks. Considering the anguish from the night before, everybody seemed to be in good spirits and glad to be out of the desert.
Another key component of Saturday's pre-game prep came in my afternoon meal choice. In Phoenix, I had settled for some no-name sandwiches from the hotel. Not acceptable. In L.A., I managed to find myself a Subway, and sure enough, I was full of energy by the time we got to the arena.
Spurned on by my delicious chicken and ranch sandwich, the team came bursting out of the gates despite playing a marathon less than 24 hours earlier. We set records for points in a quarter (35 in the 1st) and most points in back to back games (109 Friday, 110 Saturday), including a franchise-high for points in a game. The 110-89 win got us back on track for the trip, and might just give us the momentum we need to put a winning streak together. The mood around the team immediately improved, with players and staff talking and laughing in the hotel lobby for the remainder of the night.
Everybody was given the day off Sunday, which meant plenty of time to explore our country's second-largest city. I joined Sun radio personality Bob Heussler, P.R manager Bill Tavares, and athletic trainer Jeremy Norman for a trip to Dodger Stadium to see the Dodgers take on the Marlins. None of us cared all that much about the two teams involved, but the weather was great and the setting is one of the best in all of baseball. We were able to move around the 55,000-seat stadium and watch the game from different angles, and my dark Irish skin tanned into a nice shade of red.
While the game was a blowout, the highlight of the affair came late in the 9th inning. With one strike to go in the contest, a rather large, shirtless gentlemen decided to jog onto the field from the seats down the first base line. The man, who we will call "Papi," seemed to enjoy strolling in the outfield and didn't appear to be much of a threat. Nonetheless, four security guards converged on him quickly and applied a pile driver-like maneuver. As this was happening, a smaller guy ran onto the warning track and tried to elude the remainder of the security staff. He put a couple of video-game like moves on a small female security guard who probably wasn't the best person to bring him down. His 30 seconds of glory came to an abrupt end when he was tackled from behind, but he had managed to put the moves on 3 or 4 guards (and buckled the woman's knees once again). Sure, they'll both spend the night in jail, but the two field-rushers brought a level of excitement to the game's finale.
After taking in the view from the hills above downtown L.A., we ventured out on a self-directed tour around some of the city's glitzy parts. A large gallery awaited our arrival outside of the famous Mann's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. The people packing bleachers on the street also seemed mildly intrigued by the Harry Potter movie premier taking place, though we were clearly the stars of the show. After journeying along the Walk of Stars, we came across all sorts of characters on the street. We had Paris Hilton, Darth Vader, and Captain Jack Sparrow look-alikes, and the not-so-convincing Spiderman guy (let's just say he doesn't spend much time in the weight room). We eventually made it back to the car and drove down Santa Monica Boulevard towards Beverly Hills, where we looked for the house formerly owned by Mr. O.J. Simpson. (Upon further review, the house was bulldozed over a decade ago.)
To recap the afternoon: we had baseball, Papi running shirtless, movie premieres, wannabe celebs, criminal athletes, and perfect, perfect weather.
I capped off the evening with a viewing of "Knocked Up," a not-for-the-whole-family comedy that made me laugh for two hours straight. I actually did some work when I got back to the hotel, putting together my personnel report for Wednesday's game against the Seattle Storm.
Currently, I am waiting for our delayed flight at LAX, and will check in from the Pacific Northwest after our arrival. Tune in and listen to the game at 3 p.m. Eastern time on Wednesday, as we look for our second consecutive win!
Until next time,
West Coast Blog: Day 1
Alright, I have officially determined that ten months of recovery time is enough. The Eric Thibault wandering Connecticut Sun Blog is back for the 2007 season, after last being seen in the 2006 Eastern Conference Finals.
I’m back this year with some semblance of credibility. Since you heard from me last, I have been formally upgraded to “Assistant to the Coaching Staff,” as opposed to the previous “Guy who occasionally contributes to the website and offers suggestions.” My personal responsibilities include compiling opponent personnel reports, lending my minimal basketball services to the team in practice, rebounding before games, and operating as the brains behind the overall direction of the team. (Three of those four are indeed correct.) My duties are enough to make me feel that I have a purpose, yet aren’t vital enough to the team’s success that I have developed an enormous ego, depending on who you ask.
I decided that now is the perfect time to dust off the blog, as we begin a 9-day, 4-game West Coast swing before the WNBA All-Star Game. The trip starts in Phoenix, where they have yet to develop thermometers capable of measuring the temperature during the summertime. The last I heard was 116 degrees Fahrenheit, which is approximately 40 degrees above my optimal body functioning level.
We kicked off the day with a rousing 6 a.m. bus ride from the Mohegan Sun to Bradley International Airport (I’m guessing that ‘International’ refers to the occasional flight to Canada). In what I like to call the “B” Terminal, the one with electricity and running water yet without the food court, we boarded our flight to Chicago, where we would then hurry up and wait for two hours before continuing on to the desert. In a rare event, I’m going to say that the trip was one of the finer airline experiences I’ve had recently – no delays, no middle seats, no dysfunctional air conditioning, and even a much-needed stop at a “Chili’s To Go” at O’Hair Airport. Of course, this means we’re headed for disaster during our remaining four travel days.
Upon our arrival in Phoenix (a city to which I’ve never been), I had the opportunity to examine the climate. This was accomplished by moving six inches outside the airport doors, where, had I been blindfolded, I would have assumed I had been ushered to the gates of Hell. Many times I have heard the term “dry heat” used to describe the arid temperatures in Phoenix. I have come to the conclusion that those people misunderstood the word “dry” to mean “extra hot” or “furnace-like.” Yes, I understand there is a lack of humidity. But let’s break it down:
A humid day in Connecticut might push the heat index on an 85-degree day up to about 90. A dry day in Arizona might keep the heat index on a 115-degree day at about 115. I’m no mathematician, but there’s still a large gap between 90 and 115. Thus the fact that I will not be taking many outdoor strolls during my stay.
After the brief 45-minute stay in our hotel room, I headed back out to join the team for a workout at LA Fitness. The running and lifting was a killer, but the 80-foot walk back out to the bus afterwards is what did me in. I also decided that the Phoenix Marathon could consist of competitors trying to complete two laps around an outdoor track in July. I guess I’m a cold-weather person.
I capped off the afternoon with two glorious hours of hotel air conditioning, complete with throbbing heat/airplane-induced headache. Reading on the plane did a number on my neck, but at least Paul Shirley’s “Can I Keep My Jersey?” was worth the $23.95. For those of you not familiar with Shirley’s work, he definitely provides some insight on the ridiculousness of professional basketball.
We capped off the evening with dinner in the hotel restaurant while watching the Fever-Sparks game on NBATV. Despite the combined 33% shooting for the two teams, the game came to an exciting conclusion when Indiana rallied from a late 4-point deficit to win in the last minute. Tamika Catchings led the way with 17 points and 11 rebounds, while Sidney Spencer put up 18 for L.A.
Tomorrow, we will head to morning shootaround before taking on the Mercury in a night game. We could use a little bit of a winning streak on this trip, so everyone around here is focused and confident. Should be a good game between teams that like to put points on the board.
I’ll check back in post-game with a recap.
Until Next Time,