Knocking Off the Champs

Tuesday’s home showdown with the WNBA’s reigning champion Minnesota Lynx is sure to provide a benchmark for the Chicago Sky’s recent string of success. Over the past two weeks, Chicago has knocked off league giants Connecticut and Los Angeles, and taking down the team with the league’s best record would solidify the Sky’s bid as a playoff contender and send a message that they can compete with anyone. With just six games left in the season, including a three-game Western swing at L.A., Seattle and Phoenix, the Sky hope to finish the season the way they started it, winning seven of eight.

Nobody, however, got off to a better start this year than Minnesota, which won its first 10 games before hitting a snag in the middle of the season, going 3-4. But a convincing win over the Sparks last Tuesday gave the Lynx its ninth win in a row and signaled the defending champs are back to form. In that game, leading scorer Seimone Augustus hit a career-high six 3-pointers to become Minnesota’s all-time scoring leader, surpassing Katie Smith’s 3,605 points. The No. 1 pick in the 2006 WNBA Draft, Augustus has never scored below double figures against Chicago in six years. Maya Moore, another No. 1 pick in 2011, helped the Lynx out of WNBA irrelevancy by winning a title during her rookie season. She hasn’t shown her best against Chicago, though, averaging 13 points and 5.3 rebounds – below her season averages of 16 and six.

Minnesota point guard Lindsay Whalen, on the other hand, always comes up big against Chicago. She’s scored at least 16 points in each of the past four games against Chicago and averages 18.2 points and 6.6 assists against the Sky since she joined the Lynx in 2010. In the Sky’s only matchup against Minnesota this year, Whalen led the Lynx with 25 points as they handed Chicago a 79-67 setback on June 23. The good news is that the Sky held Augustus and Moore to 10 points apiece.

It has been a season of breaking records for Minnesota. Whalen became the team’s all-time assists leader on Aug. 19. And on Aug. 28, forward Rebekkah Brunson pulled down a single-game franchise-record 20 rebounds and scored 17 against San Antonio. That kicked off a string of four games in which she averaged 19.3 points and 14.5 rebounds. When the 6-foot-2 forward gets it going like that, it’s only a bonus for the already star-studded Lynx.

Chicago hopes its own threesome of stars can counter Minnesota’s firepower. Olympian Sylvia Fowles owns averages of 18 points and eight rebounds against the Lynx, with her best outing coming on Aug. 12 of last year when she scored 28 and grabbed 13 boards. Sky forward Swin Cash had 11 points and five rebounds against Minnesota on June 23, but she’s played much better since the Olympics break, including a four-game stretch averaging 15 and six.

Star guard Epiphanny Prince is due for a breakout game against Minnesota. In four games, she’s never scored more than 12 points, excluding the June game when she sat out because of a broken foot. The Lynx haven’t seen Prince at her full potential and she may be the wild card that makes the difference in Tuesday’s game. With Prince back, the Sky figure to shoot better than 3-of-16 from beyond the arc as they did in June. Off the bench, the Sky will need a repeat performance from rookie Sonja Petrovic, who gave the Sky 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting and four rebounds in Minnesota. Tune into Comcast CN100 for all the action at 7 p.m. CT or watch the game on WNBA LiveAccess via www.chicagosky.net.