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6/20/08 vs Indiana

Final score: Storm 78 – Fever 70 (W) (8-6)

Submitted by Norwester

I don't know that I'm very inspired to write about this disheatening game. Sometimes losses are cathartic to write about, but I don't think this one will be. It's like we're coming back down to earth after a heady start to the season. And that's almost more painful, because we've seen the potential of this team, and now we get to watch that potential go unfulfilled, and it's rather maddening. And too reminiscent of seasons past. No more so to me than the players, I expect. As they lined up for the final Sun free throws before our first home loss Sue was biting her lip and shaking her head; Lauren was standing with her head down, hands on her knees. Others had stoic or blank expressions. I don't know if that's the energy we want, but we seemed drained. This is a three-game skid, all games we could have won if we'd been the team that executed down the stretch. Instead it was Connecticut with the beautiful offensive possession to put them up at the end, and our offense that hesitated, ran the clock down, and took a poor shot. And we haven't been shooting the ball well lately. At least we're executing early and not digging a huge hole, but we also aren't finding that extra gear, that increase in intensity that used to dig us out of the hole, and would allow us to put the clamps on now. I know we've had a lot of games, but it's kind of early in the season to be this flat and tired. Right now we're playing ourselves into a fourth-place play-off berth, if we're lucky, particularly with the 5 Lauren-less games coming up at the end of July. Time to find that next gear again and dig ourselves out of this hole we're in, staring at 0.500.

With Yo out I've been worried about our post depth. I saw Santos all suited up, Brazil having successfully qualified for the Olympics despite the Izi-drama, but she did not play. I feel really badly for Ashley and the timing of her Achilles injury, because this would be the ideal time for her to step up her game, but instead her minutes are limited. Anyway, Coach Agler went with a small starting line-up, shifting LJ to the 5, Swin to the 4, Swoopes to the 3, and bringing in Tanisha at the 2. Of course Sue started at 1. Oh, and Connecticut made us flip the baskets to start the game. "4 minutes to save the world" played as the team emerged for shoot-around.

It was AARP night, so pre-game we were entertained by the Senior Center Sliders, who did a rfun routine. They also joined the Dance Troupe later in the game for a performance. Some AARP members were presented a plaque at mid-court, honoring their efforts defending the rights of senior citizens.

The anthem was performed by the Sandra Brown Trio (though the PA Guy pronounced it "Bowen" so I don't know if he or the AV--Arenavision--was right). It was a touch uneven at times, but at others the harmonization was brilliant, particularly as they entered the final stanzas with "o say can you see...?" I got some chills. Yo was looking snazzy in her street clothes, but it's a shame to see her on the Pacific Medical Center Injury Report (left knee). She's reportedly day-to-day. That left a big question in my mind: who would the refs pick on without Yo in there to draw their ire (the answer, surprisingly, was Sue ).

Intros started with the visiting team, per usual. Swanier got some applause more than the rest, but Barbara Turner really cleaned up. We kept clapping and cheering until she waved in acknowledgement. But then there was a huge pause. Nothing else was going on, and everyone (including the refs, huddled at the scorer's table) looked confused. There were some scattered cheers from the below-average-in-size crowd. Then "Let's Go Storm" started spontaneously and reverberated for a couple minutes. That was fun. Finally, after several minutes of this, they flashed "technical difficulties please stand by" up on the AV. The Sun starters ran down their line, slapping hands with no intro. And the Storm poked their heads out of the locker room, and then emerged to much cheering from the crowd, in the absence of any accompanying music or light effects. It was weird. Big cheers from the crowd as the starters took center court.

The refs were #39, 52, and 49. Not great. Often clueless. A lot of very late whistles. But it was really equal-opportunity. Well, apart from their picking on Sue for fouls. They did call a couple of truly awful fouls from out of position, where on the replay our player didn't even touch by several inches the Sun she was supposed to have fouled. Frustrating, but not abnormally so.

We started with a quick turnover, but the crowd was pretty good with starting up a home-grown de-fense chant. It would have been interesting (and kind of fun) to see how this might have played out, but part way through the next CT possession the prompts were up and running again. It took a bit of time for us to score, but Sue made a beautiful lay-in from T as she streaked through the lane on the break to make it 2-2. We went on quite the little run, buckling down on defense and out-hustling the Sun. Swin got involved early, and though Sue's shot was still a little off, things were going really well. Frustrated with his starters Thibault made a mass-substitution with about 5 minutes to go, down 11-2. And the Sun benchies showed a lot of energy. I was worried that we'd see a let-up on energy because we were up. I haven't seen much killer instinct yet this season from this team.

With 3 minutes to go there was an altercation under our basket involving Barbara Turner and LJ. I didn't see precisely what happened. LJ was fouled hard putting the ball back up on a rebound. All seemed normal until she suddenly laid into BT, who wasn't backing down. Sue jumped in the middle, and the whole team moved LJ back, though she was still screaming at BT over their heads. Some Sun players gathered around BT. The refs seemed confused and clueless as usual, and that was that. LJ hit both of her free throws, but while she had a solid game, I don't know that she went crazy like she sometimes does when all riled up, so she must have let it go, though there was no real eye-contact between LJ and BT the rest of the game.

Gruda looked really smooth for the Sun off the bench. She's got a really nice touch on her shot. Fortunately for us Sue's shot really started to fall towards the end of the quarter too. At the end we got the defensive stop as LJ blocked BT and tossed the ball ahead to Sue (we were really getting after the ball); Sue had taken off running ahead of the pack hoping for a lay-up without realizing that the buzzer was about to sound. She just smiled and shook her head as the quarter sounded before she could make it to the hoop. 1Q: 24-15

We looked confident all quarter, but half of it was our starters against their benchies, so we ought to have been. But there were too many instances where we'd play really good defense, then allow them to get the offensive rebound, requiring us to play even more defense. We maintained pretty well, but we have got to crash the boards better than that. Fundamentals!

The Sun starters were back in to start the 2nd. LJ went to the line almost immediately and put us up by double figures for the first time. But we started to rotate really poorly on defense. I particularly noticed it when Lauren would switch on someone else's player, no one would rotate in behind her, and she was left more than once having to scramble back and try to cover two players at once. Naturally, Coach called a time out. Katie was looking a bit lost, and I really wondered at the decision not to put Beck in without Sue on the floor. Particularly as she's shown a knack for getting after it on D as much as Tanisha. Sue subbed back in, and put on a master class about how you switch on a player by smothering Whitmore, but the rest of the defense broke down after that. Our defense in the paint would collapse, and more than once we let CT get a wide open shot from the perimeter (which would often be BT from 3 ). This quickly got CT back into the game, and also kept the smallish crowd relatively quiet. 4 minutes gone and they'd narrowed the gap to 28-25, as LJ limped to the bench and went down to see the trainer, who worked on some part of one of her legs (clearly I didn't have an angle).

Not much later Whalen totally flopped on Sue and drew a foul that got the first real concerted boos from the crowd. Later in the game Whalen would go flying across the court...except she was hit by her own player! Get a clue, refs. You've scouted Yo, but she's not the only culprit out there. It was a slick move, though. But I was probably more impressed with how little Sue complained to the refs during the game. And she had cause. I'd heard that she got a little bit whiny in Houston. And if Sue loses focus, the team really seems to suffer, so good adjustment, Sue. After a long dry spell we finally got another field goal from Swoopes with just under 4 minutes to go. Beck came in with Sue at the 2, and I thought that our offense showed some exciting possibilities, with quick movements and unpredictability. If only it would all come together (I thought this as Sue picked up her 3rd foul courtesy of #39 who seems to have some sort of vendetta). Then BT was bailed out with a ridiculous call on Shyra as the shot clock ran out. 3 free throws, 2 of which she missed, but we let them get the offensive rebound! Shyra turned the ball over. And with 00.5 seconds to go a totally BS call on Sue (her fourth ) on Whalen when she didn't even touch her (something the replay confirmed)! We were no more frustrated than the team, though, as Sheryl chucked the ball at our basket on the inbounds, giving the shot clock a pretty good hit. HT: 36-37, Sun

There wasn't much applause as the team entered the locker room. The fans were rather dissatisfied with the team effort. And I don't know where the break-down is coming from. I thought that Shyra and Katie both provided some good energy from the bench, though Katie was still hesitating too much on her shot. It was frustrating to have the refs calling what they were. LJ seemed a bit frustrated by the amount of contact they were letting go on her. But meanwhile Sue and T had 4 and 3 fouls, respectively. And I thought we were shallow in the paint! It took forever for the team to come out for warm-ups. Venting or getting vented at in the locker room. Not probably a good sign.

We had some good looks early, but the refs were ignoring blatant holding on the rebounds. The refs, typically unable to make a decision, called a double foul on Whitmore and Cash a couple of minutes in, leading to a jump ball which LJ won handily over Jones, but we promptly turned it over. Our shots weren't falling, and it seemed like the Sun would beat us on the scramble to each ball. Tanisha finally went to the line with nearly 4 minutes gone, and the fans still all standing, to score our first points of the half. Then an LJ 3 put us ahead and suddenly the crowd got LOUD! The Sun were called for a weak foul, but Swoopes was going to the line...was going to the line...we're waiting. I don't know who put these Keystone Cops together, but finally the refs signaled that we'd apparently reached the time of a mandatory full time out. Whatever. Swoopes made both free throws to put us back up. But the refs crapped on A-rob next with a late whistle, that seemed to me to be on contact made after the ball had gone through the hoop. Ashley gave us some good minutes and got applause as she checked out, limping, with a minute to go in the 3rd. 3Q: 50-55, Sun

Weak applause for our team heading out of the 3rd. It was sad, because it doesn't take much to set the Key Arena crowd off, as Diana Taurasi alluded to in an earlier game, but it usually takes something. We didn't seem to be getting rebounds, and our offense was stagnant, leading to our repeated jacking up of outside shots and again, no rebounds. Swoopes was visibly hesitating to shoot the ball (the fans behind me were actually wearing on my nerves a touch as they screamed "shoot the ball" any time any player got it, but particularly with Swoopes and Gearlds). Sue and LJ were the only players who seemed willing to shoot when open, and they'd been missing, then the refs would bail the Sun out with questionable calls. All in all, a bad combination leading to a lack of Key Arena energy. It seems like our last pretty game was 10 days ago, and almost sits like a fluke amid a bunch of flat and/or ugly.

Coach Agler took a page from Thibault's book and started our benchies in the fourth (well, technically T isn't a bench player for this game, but she generally is) . Katie, Flo, Shyra, Beck and Tanisha. The crowd got to their feet, cheering on the bench, and they showed good energy all around. If only they didn't keep missing the chippies! The crowd went crazy when Katie finally hit a 3 a couple minutes in, but mostly we just maintained. Some starters came back in 3 minutes in. I could hear multiple fans screaming, "Get a rebound!" Swoppes tied it at 59 with some free throws. LJ tied it at 63 with some free throws, amid some weird calls; everyone, including the refs, seemed jittery out there. Swoopes got one of her steal/lay-in combos to put us up 65-63 and everyone got to their feet! But we couldn't get a stop, and BT hit a 3 at the shot clock buzzer with a minute left to put them up 66-65. Hey, Barbara, Anne Donovan no longer coaches here. Could you take your vendetta somewhere else?

Our last possession really went no where. Swoopes had been really active, and Sue kept passing her the ball, but she passed up the shot repeatedly. Finally Cash was left scrambling for the hot potato with the shot clock expiring. Not quite what we were looking for. The crowd was LOUD most of the final minute until it got away from us. To no avail. We still had life as LJ went to the line (at least we were hitting our free throws; one fundamental at a time, I guess) to put us up 67-66. But CT really executed beautifully on their ensuing possession to give them the lead. Cash was called for a questionable foul on a scramble for a loose ball. And we purposely fouled the rest of the way, but Swoopes missed a running 3 pointer off a screen that could have tied it up (miraculous if it went in, but not surprising that it didn't), and it all slipped away. About half the crowd stuck around to applaud as the dejected players entered the locker room. No t-shirts were tossed.

I keep saying we'll prove our mettle with how we bounce back from losses, but so far we haven't stepped up to the challenge. It's not all doom and gloom, particularly when we really don't execute well and still have a chance to win against one of the best teams in the WNBA (currently the Sun). And clearly, there is still a lot of basketball to be played. But letting these close ones slip away is very disheartening.

Run-off:

Talking to people before the game I heard that upon calling the WNBA front office about the debacle that was the officiating at the end of the Houston game, Coach Agler received acknowledgement that the calls (the 3-pointer after the shot-clock expired and the botched jump ball toss) were terrible mistakes. Well, that's cold comfort. Perhaps they can forgive the fine for his technical at least (since it was clearly warranted)?

Parker and Becca, the Jr. Captains, met Sue, LJ, Whalen and Jones at center court. The High-5 Fans were Patsy and Julie.

Trivia seat upgrade: which current Storm players were #1 and #2 in the 2002 draft? (C) Bird & Cash (a pretty obvious answer, particularly since I think Jackson was listed under A and B).

One-on-One with Swin interviewing Katie: any other sport but basketball = LPGA; Swin had Katie demonstrate her swing, and they showed a hilarous graphic of Katie's head superimposed on some golfing body. Favorite car = (currently) 2009 yellow Ford Mustang convertible hard top. Favorite basketball player of all time = Reggie MIller; "he has my heart and took it with him when he retired." Aww.