Tuesday Practice Report
Minnesota seemed to finally fix its issues with slow starts this weekend, racing to double-digit leads in its games against Connecticut and New York. But the Lynx struggled to close and saw those leads vanish to take two disappointing road losses and run the team's recent losing streak to six games and nine of the last 10 games.
It was during the weekend as the team continued to struggle when guard Candice Wiggins had a realization. She and many of the members of the Lynx are young players. And there is still a lot to learn about playing and succeeding in the WNBA.
"I was thinking about it, and I was like, 'Wow, I'm a young player in this league,'" Wiggins said. "Charde (Houston), Nicky (Anosike), Renee (Montgomery), we're young. It's like being a sophomore in college. We were great as sophomores, but not anywhere near the player I was as a senior. It's just the same thing with the WNBA. Obviously that's not an excuse now and it's not going to stop us from making the playoffs. But it's still something you have to accept in order to take the next step."
Minnesota knew it would be dealing with a lot of youth entering the season with only four players with more than two years of experience -- Roneeka Hodges, Kelly Miller, Seimone Augstus and Christi Thomas. The task of reaching a playoff berth and being in the midst of frantic four team push for the final two playoff spots was made tougher since only two of those players still receive regular playing time after Augustus went down to an injury and Thomas was released to make room for the acquisition of Tasha Humphrey.
Even while the Lynx have struggled in the last month and seen its footing in the playoff race slip a little, the experience the team has gotten in these situations has been a silver lining.
Coach Jen Gillom said the team has has struggled to win recently, but she is still seeing the team put forth a full effort and improve in some areas. The frustrating part is this should be resulting in wins, but for some reason it is not.
The Lynx though continue to fight and while discouraged, are not giving up even as the losses multiply.
"We are continuing to have close games and we are understanding that it's just a matter of getting one stop, one extra stop made, one focus in a game where we lose our focus," Gillom said. "It's just a matter of one or two plays. When we can overcome those things then things will change. They keep being motivated because they see that the scores are staying close. I think it'd be different if the score were by a huge margin and they were playing hard. They're seeing that they're getting there. It's just a matter of time before it's going to fall for them."
Gillom said she has seen improvement in areas the Lynx had trouble with early in the season. The rebounding numbers and turnover numbers have improved. Minnesota forced 33 turnovers in the two games this weekend and grabbed 19 offensive rebounds while giving up 22. Not seeing the improvements translate into wins have been frustrating for the Lynx.
There are still improvements to be made, but the team's struggles from the field could be pointed out as reasons Minnesota lost leads in both games this weekend. The Lynx struggled to shoot against the Liberty and cooled off considerably after shooting well over 50 percent in the first against the Sun.
Eventually the team will put it all together in a complete game.
"They know it's a growing process," Gillom said. "They know they have to go through that to get better. We are seeing some things that are improving. It's just a matter of when it all comes together. I'm staying positive, they're staying positive and eventually it's got to give."
The difference is a little more tangible for the young players watching veterans play out in any situation.
Wiggins said it is easy to see how veterans handle pressure situations. They have seen it all before and know how to stay in control of their game and nothing surprises them. Wiggins said as a young player, things still surprise her and her teammates. She said the Lynx have had to learn a lot faster than other teams because of the youth on the team.
"People need to realize we are rookies and second year most players," Wiggins said. "There are plays that veteran players in the league know that we just don't know and we haven't seen yet. We're seeing that now and I think that also culminates in losing games and just not having that experience. If people are willing to realize that we're young and we're only going to get better in time and I think you just have to kind of go through to do against it."
It has been difficult for anyone on the team to put their finger on exactly what the team has struggled with in this recent stretch. Recently, Wiggins said, it was just a matter of letting opportunities slip away.
The experience other teams have is something of an advantage, but the team continues to fight through its own inexperience and grow. Gillom said her players simply have never had the experience of playoff battles that other teams like Los Angeles or San Antonio have. She said the team is doing a good job continuing to fight and that they will not quit until all chances of a postseason berth are gone.
But youth is not an excuse.
Even with a six-game losing streak, the Lynx are tied with the Silver Stars for the final spot in the playoffs and now three games back of the Sparks for third. The competition is heating up with Sacramento now falling two and half games back of San Antonio and Minnesota. With seven games left in the season, it will be a fight for the final spot in the playoffs.
Having that fight has allowed the Lynx to learn and grow while still fighting hard and being motivated by a tangible goal.
"I think the thing that gets us out of bed every day is the fact that we're still in this," Wiggins said. "I think that's a great thing for us, is that we still have motivation. It's like my college coach, Tara VanDerveer, says this quote and it's very similar to our situation: 'The hungry lion hunts best.' We're the hungry lion and we're giving ourselves the best opportunity to make the playoffs by being as hungry as we are."
Jen Gillom Audio
Coach Jen Gillom said the silver lining to the team's struggles is the experience they are getting for the future.
Candice Wiggins Audio
Candice Wiggins said the team has had to learn a lot faster than most because of its youth.
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