STORM LOSES: Is Ralph Tresvant playing at Mohegan Sun anytime soon? All I could hear was his hit “Sensitivity” while I got an earful from Abrosimova after the game. Although in journalistic terms you can’t classify her and the rest that don’t start anything but “bench” and “reserves,” I understand her sensitivity to my fractioning the team after a 88-68 loss to Connecticut on Friday. Aside from possibly setting the WNBA record for wins, the Storm (25-5) concluded its goals with a win on Tuesday and thus Agler is resting the “starters.” But Abrosimova is right in complaining that she and the players getting minutes shouldn’t be seen as lesser-than during the final games of the season. “I don’t like this separation of saying ‘bench players’ and ‘starters,’ we’re still the team,” she said. “We’re doing it for the good cause of the team, you can’t separate us. I feel like the last couple of games, that’s what media does and that’s what people do. They say, ‘Oh, the starters are going to rest and just the bench is going to play.’ No, we’re still the same team and we’re working for the same goals and you can’t forget about that, too. So, I’m proud of the girls.” I have to say that the Storm isn’t going to win a championship without the season’s “starters” playing, but the bench is equally important in the postseason. That’s why while the loss was uglier than the Atlanta game, where Seattle rallied to win, it was still a “win” in the sense that rookies played valuable minutes. Willingham (13) and Wright (11) were the only “starters” to play considerable minutes. The fourth quarter was the Storm’s best. Against the Sun’s reserves, they outscored the home team 24-17, were even in rebounding (seven apiece), cut the turnovers down to five, and had six assists on eight made FGs. Bishop (seven) and Abrosimova (eight) led in scoring in the quarter. Abrosimova had 19 points lead overall while Robinson had seven boards in the game. “The main thing is we didn’t give up,” Bishop said. “That’s why everybody isn’t feeling as bad as we probably should be with the loss.” Agler said he would have put the first unit in if the game was a little closer, but since the Storm has this luxury of not needing wins, he took advantage. It can only help Seattle for Robinson to get game-action shooting her jumper on the elbow, which dropped Friday and for Vesela to play continuous minutes instead of the jerky style she’s used to. Come playoff time, they’ve felt recent pressure from a good team instead of trying to simulate everything in practice – which doesn’t really work. “We saw some people get a chance to get comfortable,” said Bird, who only played six minutes along with Cash and Little. “Svetty did a great job and Abby did a great job. Jana even looked more aggressive. Collectively they never gave up. I know it wasn’t the prettiest sometimes, but that’s a tough situation when you go from playing five minutes to 25-minutes. I’m sure wind was an issue and it can be tiring out there.” More is probably to come for the second unit, too. Especially Willingham starting. Jackson said after the game that she did suffer from back spasms earlier in the day and she wasn’t certain she’d play again prior to the postseason. “It’s not a reoccurring thing of her injury,” Agler said of Jackson discovering two stress fractures in her lower back last year, missing the postseason. “It’s been a long season. We’ve been traveling and there’s a lot of factors that play into that (back spasms) – fatigue is one.” Jones led the Sun with 19 points.
MINI RUN: Robinson and Bishop have helped the Storm go on a mini 6-0 run with 3:43 remaining in the game. The bench has grabbed rebounds and forced turnovers to get a little rhythm going. Connecticut still leads 82-58, however.
SCOREBOARD WATCH: Washington beat Minnesota 61-58, but Atlanta lost to New York, so Connecticut will gain a game in its pursuit of the fourth and final seed in the East, if it can hang on to the 77-48 lead with 7:14 remaining in the game (smile).
NO RECORD: Well, Thibault has called off his team, too, putting in his reserves for the remainder of the game. That means Charles won’t break Natalie Williams’ record tonight. She’s resting on the bench with 14 points and five rebounds in 18 minutes of play.
STARTERS SIT: Reserves Abrosimova, Ashley Robinson, Vesela, Alison Lacey, and Abby Bishop started the second half and remain in the game as Seattle is down 67-39 with 3:12 remaining in the third. Fans briefly chanted, “We want Sue,” but it doesn’t look like she’ll play. Abrosimova is running the point with Lacey as a shooting guard. The group still isn’t rebounding well, but Bishop had picked up two steals in the quarter.
RECORD BREAKER: The entire Sun is putting a whoppin’ on the Storm and it’s hard to watch when you know you’re better than the 52-33 halftime score. But the bench really needs this experience. Meanwhile Charles is close to breaking the WNBA single-season record for double-doubles. She has 10 points and four rebounds at the half and should reach the double igit mark in boards by the third quarter. The Storm is shooting 37.8 percent at the break while allowing the Sun to shoot 60 percent. Jones has 15 points. Abrosimova leads Seattle with nine and three assists.
ANETE RETURNS: G Anete Jekabsone-Zogota returned to action with 7:29 remaining in the half, missing the past 15 games due to a knee injury. Sun coach Mike Thibault was concerned about her being cautious on the court, suffering her first major injury in her career, but she looked good in warm-ups. Seattle is down 34-16 with 7:02 on the clock.
BIG CHEER: As the Sun slams the Storm 28-14 in the second quarter, outrebounding the visitors 14-6, the crowd got an extra delight in Washington being down 40-29 to Minnesota at halftime. Seems the Western Conference is doing the East favors all over the place.
ANOTHER TIME: Agler called is stopping the action, again, telling his team to “focus!” True, the Storm is without Jackson, but that’s no excuse for Charles to have open shots under the basket and for known shooter Tan White and Jones to get open looks outside. Of course the Sun is up 23-12, it’s a gimmie from the Storm’s defense — something they are supposedly working on for the final five games.
TIME!: Agler called for Bird to take a timeout with 3:47 remaining in the quarter. He was going to substitute five for five, again, not getting a good start. But Agler waited for the break, talking to the reserves now. Seattle is down 16-10.
BASKETBALL JONES: Jones is getting the Sun off to a nice start with some pretty jumpers that haven’t even touched the nylon add a three-pointer by Montgomery and Connecticut is up 14-5 with 5:04 remaining in the opening quarter.
OFFICIAL VISIT: Czech Republic national team coach Lubor Blazek is at the game, checking in on Storm reserve Jana Vesela. He formally asked her about three hours before the game if and when she wanted to be part of the national team for the World Championships being played in their country beginning in September. “For me, there was no question I want to be on the national team,” she said. There was slight question because Vesela is playing in the WNBA instead of training with the team. And if the Storm were to go to a Game 5 in the Finals, she’d have about a day to practice with her team. “I feel bad that I’m here and can’t participate with the team,” Vesela said.
Storm coach Brian Agler doesn’t want to go on record with anything in regards to his game plan against Connecticut, except that he wants to rest his stars. He’s had small, pre-game huddles with seemingly everyone from co-owner Lisa Brummel to reserve Le’coe Willingham, talking about strategy from what I can tell. It’ll be interesting to see how he approaches Friday’s game.
So far, it means Willingham starting in place of Lauren Jackson, although the latter is dressed for the game. We’ll see if she plays at all because she’s not on the court warming up with the team. The Storm (25-4) defeated the Sun 83-82 at home last week and own the WNBA’s overall top record. The only thing left to achieve would be the league’s all-time best record, which currently is 28 set by Los Angeles in 2001.
For Connecticut, however, it’ll be the same approach to trying to win. The Sun need the victory badly in order to keep their playoff hopes alive, sitting three-games behind Washington for the fourth and final berth in the Eastern Conference. If Connecticut (14-15) fails to advance, it’ll be for the second consecutive season.
As stated numerous times, the Sun is extremely young. Agler made a good point prior to practice on Thursday that while a team’s marketing department and media might get hyped about the arrival of promising stars like Tina Charles or Sue Bird, the inner circle of the team knows it takes a minute to get all the pieces working.
Bird did help the Storm make its inaugural postseason appearance as a rookie in 2002, but it took her three years to win the championship everyone predicted for her and Jackson, the 2001 overall No. 1 draft pick. It took Phoenix G Diana Taurasi four years and as the WNBA gets more competitive, you can just about bet it’ll take Charles just as long.
Outside of playoff talk, the game is a homecoming for a slew of Storm players. Bird, Swin Cash, and Svetlana Abrosimova all played together at the University of Connecticut. Abrosimova and Willingham also played for Connecticut. They’re helping fill up Mohegan Sun Arena with friends and family from across the New England area.
And even though it’s almost been a decade since the trio has graduated, they said the feeling is the same.
“It’s always about Connecticut,” Abrosimova said. “I love coming back. And even though my time with (the Sun) was a short period, I still got a taste of them and the experience was great. They are a special group of people. It was perfect; I just needed rest (not returning to play in 2009).”
Good thing she took the summer off, because Abrosimova probably won’t get any rest in the final five games. The reserve guard played 31 minutes against Atlanta on Tuesday and should see the same tonight, even though Agler won’t say. Let’s get you going with the starting lineups:
F Swin Cash
F Le’coe Willingham
C Camille Little
G Sue Bird
G Tanisha Wright
F Kelsey Griffin
F Asja Jones
C Tina Charles
G Renee Montgomery
G Kara Lawson
Tonight’s officials are Michael Price, Byron Jarrett, and Kevin Sparrock.