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6/07/06 vs Chicago

Final score: Storm 86 – Sky 73 (W) (4-3)

Attendance | 5741 (ouch — I know it's a weeknight and against an expansion team, but come on people).

Anthem Watch | Another kids' choir group — not so "avant garde" as the last one.

Fan Psyche | This doesn't look much like an expansion team, at least not what we were used to.

Game Highlight | B-Money getting back in the saddle.

Halftime | Halfcourt shoot out.

SF.O Keyword of the Game | 2 out of 4 is better.

Game Photos | Rick | Stalker 23 | Scott E | Scott L

In the game against the Silver Stars, the Storm put together one really solid defensive quarter — the first — and then had things slide the rest of the way. Tonight, they brought two solid defensive quarters — the first and fourth — and walked away with a win. Hopefully, this trend will continue on their upcoming road trip and we'll see (or hear anyway) a full four quarter defensive game very soon. More about this later.

The Chicago Sky is not the same kind of expansion team that we all experienced seven long years ago. The only thing they are lacking compared to other current teams is time together as a unit. From top to bottom, the Sky are stacked with talent, especially compared to the 6-26 year one Storm. Take the Sky back to the 2000 season and they would definitely do better than 6-26. No doubt about it. Unfortunately for them, not only are they better than the expansion teams of 2000, all the other teams are that much better as well. At their current pace, the Sky may only be able to eke out a single digit win season, but they will still be much better than we were at the start.

As with all the other teams we've seen so far this season, the most impressive players on the Sky may have been their rookie and 2-year vets (rookies who are still a little wet behind the ears). Candice Dupree, Jia Perkins and Bernadette Ngoyisa led the way for the Sky — on a team filled with league vets known for their scoring and defense. Each of these three held their own against their Storm counterparts, LJ, JB and Sue. It was the Sky vets who were stinking up the place on offense. The Sky veterans were 10-35 while Dupree, Perkins and Ngoyisa went 20-35. I'm thinking the nucleus for the Sky's future isn't Dales, McCray or Powell (who didn't play, BTW).

For the Storm, the big news on offense was that LJ fairly easily scored her 3000th point (plus a few for good measure) — the youngest to reach that number and the fastest to do so — and that Betty seems to be coming out of her scoring slump. The visible tipping point came in the first half when Betty got fouled and went to the line for two free throws. After each one went in, she held up her fists. Normally, a player wouldn't be that relieved that free throws went in. She was and it was like someone hit the Betty Ball Switch — she was driving, challenging the defense and hitting her shots. She didn't shoot the lights out or anything, but you could tell she felt much more comfortable with the ball in her hands.

LJ is honestly getting better with each game. She was hitting from just about any distance again, and usually with at least 2 defenders mugging her. She looks stronger than ever, painful shins notwithstanding, and her shot looks effortless even though she's expending a ton of effort with the amount of attention she gets any time the ball comes near her.

Coming in right behind her is Janell. This season compared to last is amazing in terms of how she is playing. After one particularly violent rebound scuffle in which JB tore the ball out of the air and refused to give up on it even with Sky players grabbing and slapping at the ball, I turned to Angie and said "She's got some mean in her this year." Maybe she's finally playing (mostly) pain free and this is what we've been missing the last couple seasons. Maybe she's pushing herself harder because there is greater competition for her spot on the roster. Maybe she's tired of getting pushed around and isn't going to take it any more. Who knows? All I know is that I like it. A lot.

Offense is great and all, but we're here to talk defense.

Actually, one other offensive note to make — Barb Turner. If you're going to try and foul BT when she's powering up for a layup, you better bring it hard because you're just going to be facing an "and one" if you don't. She got a little more playing time tonight (Tiffani Johnson was out — in uniform, but not moving very well at all) and showed us all why Coach Donovan was gushing about her during the preseason. Barb was very impressive tonight and a huge lift off the bench.

Okay, the defense.

The first quarter was solid, solid, solid... until there was about a minute and change left on the clock. The score was 19-8 and the Storm had the ball and looked to be headed to at least a 21-8 quarter finish. Up to that point, they were rebounding the ball — they learned that lesson — disrupting passes, forcing turnovers and generally keeping the Sky from getting any kind of rhythm on offense. Then, the Storm had 90 seconds of mental breakdown. With successive turnovers on in-bounds passes or trying to get the ball up the court, the Sky scored 4 quick points to end the quarter. Then with the new quarter-beginning possession rules, they started the second quarter with the ball and immediately scored. Instead of 21-8 or better, it was now 19-14 with an energized Sky defense. The second and third quarters really belonged to the Sky. They started getting the rebounds, steals and defensive stops that the Storm had gotten in the first quarter. The Sky were able to keep the game within a 6 to 3 point spread through that stretch and managed to claw their way up to within one at the end of the third quarter — 62 Storm, 61 Sky.

Before the game, Jezzie and I were talking and agreed that we'd much rather see the Storm hold the Sky to 70 or less (65 would have been great) than run up the score and have another 100ish game. At the beginning of the fourth, I thought to myself, "Okay, keep them to another 8 or 10 point quarter. Right here, right now. Shut them down."

The Storm managed to hold the Sky to 12 while scoring 24 on their way to the win.

The Storm got back on the rebounds, got back to forcing turnovers and challenging shots. They switched on defense and closed out on the open shooters. Everyone who was in the game was a lot more active against their defensive assignments — up in their faces, arms waving and reaching for passes. Being up and aggressive got Izi popped in the mouth as she was guarding Lassiter. It pissed her off because she went down to the other side and hit a three and then came back and got a steal to start a fastbreak. A little anger seems to help.

The bottom line is that instead of reacting and being forced to back up, the Storm were the ones dictating the pace and were the aggressive ones — making the Sky react and backpedal.

We know the Storm can score. If they can start putting together more consistent defense, the hand wringing will cease and the wins will start rolling in.

Other Notes:

Tiffani looks like she may have hurt her back or something. StormFan9 came up and pointed out to me and Angie that TJ sat out the shootaround — she leaned next to the basket support the whole time. Once we started keeping an eye on her, it was pretty clear to Angie and I (and the other fans around us) that Tiffani was moving very gingerly. She wasn't obviously wearing any braces, so until the news reports come out there is only speculation. I was thinking it looked like her back. Whatever it is, it's not good for the Storm.

With Johnson out, Cisti Greenwald got a few minutes in the game. She didn't do much, but she did only get four minutes or so on the court. She moved pretty well and was active. It's too bad that the Storm are heading out on the road and we won't get to see more of her. Hopefully she takes the game time opportunity and really goes after it. We need her.

I was also a little surprised to look up from my camera at some point in the second quarter and see Edwige playing point guard. She wasn't out there very long — about 9 minutes total — but looked more at ease with her role than our other potential back-up point guards. I like Tanisha's game (well, not so much tonight what with all the turnovers), but she's not really a point guard. Edwige looked like a point guard. Again, I would like to see more of her, but we'll have to wait a couple weeks.

Note to the Storm front office: I may have already said this once before, but who ever came up with the idea for the StormVision spots needs a promotion. I like them. They are entertaining and informative and give more of a structure to the sometimes odd bits of video that get played on the big screen.

I also like that you've got a photographer roaming the arena taking shots of fans and posting them on the Storm website. It's a great back-door marketing tool — getting people at the game to go to your website to see themselves and getting people who visit the website to see how much fun people at the games are having. I'm thinking the same genius who came up with StormVision also came up with this. Double that raise.

The one thing that is tripping the annoying meter is the overt product/sponsor lines in the player profile bits. I think we all get why the players are giving their pizza and soda preferences, but it's coming off like a lead balloon. The Mini remote control car is a nice touch and a cool way to get Mini in the spotlight, usually literally, during the game. What the players' favorite frozen pizza flavor is — not so much.

Lauren's mom was sitting at center court with Karen Bryant and Margaret Stender, the President of the Sky. Maree got to "help" LJ with her postgame David Locke interview. It was an "ahhhhhh" moment to be sure.