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Storm Seeking Improved Bench Play Without Gearlds

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Kevin Pelton, stormbasketball.com | August 5, 2009
The Seattle Storm will be without Katie Gearlds for the next 4-6 weeks after the reserve wing tore the posterior cruciate ligament in her left knee during the first quarter of last night's overtime loss to the Phoenix Mercury.

Gearlds landed awkwardly on her left leg while trying to drive the baseline shortly after entering the game. She continued playing briefly before coming out, and did not travel with the Storm for tomorrow's game in Los Angeles (7:30 p.m., 1150-AM KKNW, LiveAccess). Examination revealed that Gearlds had torn the PCL, one of the four major ligaments in the knee.


Storm wing Katie Gearlds will miss the next 4-6 weeks after tearing her left PCL.
Terrence Vaccaro/NBAE/Getty Images
This will be the first time in Gearlds' three-year WNBA career that she has missed a game due to injury, having played all 34 games a year ago and all 20 this season (she did not play in one game due to coach's decision during her rookie campaign).

With Gearlds sidelined, the Storm must attempt to get more production from reserves without its top shooter off the bench. Gearlds had hit a career-best 40.4 percent of her three-point attempts this season.

Already, Storm Head Coach Brian Agler was looking for ways to get his reserves more involved after they combined for just two points and one rebound in last night's game, when it appeared fatigue could have been a factor in overtime for the five Storm starters, who played over 40 minutes and the entire fourth quarter and overtime.

"Could have," said Agler after the game, "but when we made that run to get back, it's hard to substitute when a group plays that hard to get back in the game. We can sit here and say that group played big minutes, which they did, but if we win the game then everybody's happy. We sit back and we lose it, we can second-guess everything. I will say this: We're going to have to get more out of our 6,7,8,9 people."

Gearlds had been one of three reserves who is a regular part of Agler's rotation, along with guard Shannon Johnson and center Janell Burse. All three have seen their playing time fluctuate because of matchups, performance and the fact that the Storm's starters have played so well that Agler has had a tough time taking them off the court.

"It starts with time, and I control that," he said, explaining how the bench can do more for the Storm. "Productivity starts with a combination of everybody working together. Then you have to play against matchups, so you go from there."

While the Storm's reserves have generally been effective when they've gotten the chance, the challenge has been doing enough to keep the Storm's starters off the floor for extended stretches. Sue Bird, Swin Cash and Lauren Jackson were All-Stars, yet no one on the roster has been hotter over the last few weeks than Camille Little and Tanisha Wright, who recorded season and career highs in scoring respectively against the Mercury. That won't stop Agler from trying to find more balance in his rotation.

"In reflection on last night's game," said Agler, "we definitely thought a lot about that."

With Gearlds sidelined, Johnson figures to take on more minutes as the primary backup at all three perimeter positions (with Wright likely sliding to small forward when Cash is off the floor). Little could also slide to small forward at times, opening up more minutes up front. Tomorrow will be a favorable matchup for Burse, whose playing time often depends on whether opposing teams use pure post players off the bench or more versatile ones who require the Storm to match up small. Sparks center Lisa Leslie returned yesterday, giving Los Angeles more size in the middle.

Tuesday's game continued an incredible run of tight finishes for the Storm. Dating back to July 12, the Storm's last eight games have been decided in the fourth quarter. Three have gone to overtime, and four more have had final margins of five points or fewer. Previously, just one Storm game all year had been so close. Such is life in this year's WNBA; last night's game was the 14th overtime affair of the season, as compared to 16 throughout the 2008 schedule.

"Obviously physically, it just logs minutes on your legs," said Agler of playing all the close and especially overtime games. There's no question about that. We've got good athletes, though, and they've got time to recover. It could affect you in back-to-back situations more so.

"Mentally, I think a lot depends upon the outcome of the game. If you win, you're on a high. If you don't, you sit back and analyze everything you went through. I think the best process is to really sit back and evaluate it in reality depending upon what really happened. Every game, no matter if you win or lose, you do some really good things and you do some things you need to improve on. You get to that point and try to make those improvements."

Right now, that means trying to get more production from the bench, a task the Storm will seek to accomplish without Gearlds.