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7/20/07 at Connecticut

Final score: Storm 58 – Sun 76 (L) (11-11)

Attendance | 9003

Submitted by Norwester

So I managed to find a computer here in Marlton, New Jersey on which to try and bang out a quick game report/travelogue. As I typed the final score I looked back to see our half-time score. 17 points, in the 2nd half, really? It's a good thing that I didn't have any expectations coming on this road trip. This allowed me to remain calm when I got stuck in Atlanta for several hours due to a string of issues. I took planes, buses, taxis. The game wasn't much fun, but the Mohegan Sun Arena was fairly nice. It has that intimate feel like the Key Arena has...it's not one of those wide, shallow bowls. It does have more of a "gym" feel than the Key, though, with no ArenaVision, but rather big screens mounted in the corners and scoreboards at the ends. And the Casino is pretty nice too; and locals I talked to after the game say it's worth it to pay for a room in the hotel for a night or two...so perhaps on a future road trip. I checked my bags as soon as I got there (every place should have this convenience), and wandered around most of the early afternoon, browsing the stores and taking in the sites. It was odd to go someplace where people are smoking indoors (I clearly don't spend much time in casinos), but the ceilings were high, the ventilation good, and there was no smoking in the shopping/eating areas, so I only kind of smelled at the end of the day. . Probably the coolest thing was the automatic toilet seat covers! I have a picture. Trust me, they were groovy...who thinks of this stuff?

I chose not to wear my '04 Champs shirt, thinking that would be rubbing it in too much. I wore a more demure green shirt with "Storm" on it. As I wandered I ran into some other Storm fans who were local, and we had a nice chat in which they informed me that NBA-TV said that Sue Bird was definitely playing. That brightened my afternoon, though I wasn't too surprised. The current rumors plaguing the Sun are all about Nykesha retiring and Katie Douglas going to Indiana next year. Oh, and Dydek's back also makes retirement a possibility. I met up with Scullyfu at Geno's for lunch. She had the Diana Taurasi pasta, and says it was delicious. I had an Ashley Battle roast beef panini, and it also hit the spot. Geno's is sort of a food court with a deli, italian, asian and mexican station at which you can choose meals.

There was no problem getting my tickets at will call. But right up until the game was practically ready to start I was nervous that I'd been advised to buy on the wrong side of the Arena. Sue and Lauren were out shooting around on the floor, and then went to chat to Adia. Some young boys came out to shoot around, and Sue walked over and pretended to guard one of them, which was cute. Pretty soon the rest of the team came out for stretching/warm-up. They looked fine, but the Sun looked at little more energized, in my opinion. What can you tell from shoot-around, though, right? Thibault was out there in gym clothes shooting around with his team. I've heard rumblings that the buddy-buddiness is an act, though, and that there are similar "chemistry" rumblings in the Sun org from the perspective of the fans. It's interesting how much our teams' development mirror one another, or at least that's how it seemed after having drinks with some CT fans post-game: both barely making the play-offs in '04, meeting head-to-head in the championship, similar salary cap, losing veterans, struggling to find an identity this season, possible coaching-gm issues--though to hear them talk, Thibault is a better GM than coach, and in my opinion we have the opposite challenge. Anyway, Katie Douglas and Coach T had a shoot-out of some kind to end shoot-around, and Katie won.

There were several things about the Mohegan Sun game production that I found inferior to the Key, and several other things that I was impressed with; but mostly attending a Sun game really made me appreciate the Key. Perhaps because it's home turf, but I never said I'm not biased. The Storm ran out on the court, and if I hadn't been watching for it, I may not have even noticed: no announcement, no crowd reaction, no music. It was odd to one used to at least acknowledging the other team in the Key. During team intros Sue got a pretty good reception, LJ got a respectable amount, but I was surprised at how little Wendy got. They played some music no one could clap to (and no one tried) accompanied by highlights on the screens, then the players were actually introduced and that's when the crowd got into it, but curiously this wasn't accompanied by music or sound effects of any kind. No one was on their feet, nor were there prompts for the crowd to do so, and in fact I nearly had to get in a fist fight at the beginning of the game with fans in my Section and the ushers (I'm only barely exaggerating here, but you do not just order me around), before Izi quickly scored, so I decided during Half Time that there was no shame in bowing to the traditions of an Arena I'm a guest in. It turns out that was a good idea, because it took for freaking ever for us to score in the second half.

So Izi made the first basket, a 3. I hoped this boded well. We played a bit sloppy early. Nykesha and Sue were going at it pretty well all night, and everyone in the Arena was incensed when Sales dramatically hit the floor on what I saw as just good defense by Sue. Sue was given a lot more rest this game, and T had some good minutes initially. Sue sat with 5+ minutes to go in the quarter, and 30 seconds or so later we were up 6-10. Betty quickly picked up her second foul, though (she had some defensive travails this game) and Sue came back in for her. Lauren finally hit a jump shot, which was something. It was really funny in a disorienting way to hear the fans around me yelling at the refs when I'm sitting there in the decided minority. And some of the calls I did just chuckle at. The bad calls seemed to be pretty evenly spread across both teams, though. As far as the crowd, they seemed overall less loud than the Key, despite averaging around the same attendance, and there were no visible cheer cues that I saw, but plenty of audible cues that they seemed to follow all right. There was spotty participation, but then there wasn't much to get het up about in the 1st half. Mostly is was the refs they freaked out about. At one point Rasmussen totally flopped on LJ, and got called for the foul herself (sweet justice ) leading to a bunch of booing. LJ was visibly intimidating the Sun players with her interior defense, but she was being stymied a bit on offense. Izi took up some of the slack with timely shots. Sue was taking a good number of shots; they just weren't falling early, and I hoped that that wouldn't discourage her. 1Q: 16-20

T started the second. Whalen was shooting a free throw at our end and I yelled BRICK! I was a touch early, and the shot bounced around before going in. I received a lot of looks for that one. The 2nd went pretty smoothly early with our scoring coming easy off of a couple of offensive rebounds. For some reason the Lazy Pass made a reappearance, for instance Izi was extremely lackadaisical about meeting a pass, and the Sun picked it up to score the other direction on a fast break off the turnover. Do we not remember how they beat us in Seattle? I was remembering how scrappy they were in that game, totally putting us back on our heels, and it worried me that they had been fairly flat so far in the game (by comparison) and were still really hanging in there. Betty completely missed a defensive assignment on a Sun fast break, covering Whalen with Sue, even though Sue had been pointing for her to cover the wing, so Sue tried to switch and Whalen got a lay-up basically uncontested. That was frustrating, but it happens, and Betty made up for it by hitting a 3 next possession. That just seems like something that will fire Betty up. But she got yanked by Anne right after that. Fortunately LJ started to get touches and Sue's shot began falling, including a really nice lay-up that I wish she'd attempt more often, as least to mix it up. I felt like we should be ahead by a lot more at the half, yet was still (foolishly, as it turns out) optimistic because despite recent history we've had some really good third quarters this season, and I keep expecting that. HT: 37-41

Half time was performance by Odaiko New England, playing those big Asian drums. I have a picture. Kind of cool. The blimp came out, to silent standing and waving of arms by a decided minority of fans. Weird. They showed half time highlights on the screens. The old people behind me reminisced about some story involving Sue and Geno in which he totally balled her out after a crappy first half, she owned up to it, agreeing with him, then torched the second half. I think they were worried about a possible repeat. It started me thinking about Sue's development as a player and how she gets motivated. Are there lowered expectations about the roles players play on the Storm? I'm just spit-balling here.

Sadly (for the Storm) the Sun came out with a lot of energy, and we weren't quite meeting it. But even though our shots weren't falling initially, I felt like we were passing around and taking the proper shots. The real problem was that we weren't controlling the boards, and the Sun repeatedly got the ball and threw it up ahead for a virtually uncontested fast break. Repeatedly. I was reduced to laughing helplessly while the fans all went crazy around me. We got frustrated and stopped getting any good offensive possessions, while they really clamped down on defense and used that to energize their offense. I wish we could do that more. JB and Nykesha bumped heads. The yell heard most in the stands was "3 seconds!" whether a player was even in the key or not. We were really cold at this point, but rather than buckling down on defense we began to crumble. We got LJ the ball a couple of times, the shots missed, and we seemed to stop trying that. I kept thinking that our shots would start falling, and that we weren't really behind by that much, but we had to get some back bone. Meanwhile Katie Douglas has really stepped into Sales' shoes as a prolific scorer, and Whalen was having a great game, hitting some jaw-dropping lay ups right around LJ. She has an odd form, but it works for her. Of course what also helps is our often soft defense that leaves lanes wide open and allows her to just waltz in there. 3Q: 56-49

The Dunking Duo performed...remarkably like our Dunking Ushers. It's a fun act. Too bad I was so sad. Well, actually, I was only a little bummed. I actually had no expectations for the game beyond seeing how sound Sue seemed, and seeing the Mohegan Sun facility, so mission accomplished. I just wish we'd have had a better showing, but we never seem to in Connecticut. They're on an upswing lately, and we're trying to tread water and prevent a marked downswing. I think we're both 11-11. We'd have to really fall on our faces not to make the play-offs, but I'd like us to not back in.

The Sun kept shooting with confidence in the 4th, and we looked lost, but we hadn't given up. The daggers just kept coming, though. It was the timing of their good plays more than anything. We'd start to piece something together, and they'd shred it apart with a timely defensive stop + fast break combination. It was a killer. Wendy hit the deck, and finally got some applause from the crowd when she stood up after some delay. At this point I was also surprised that the Sun actually got a grass roots "Let's Go Sun" chant (I think that was it) going. If you have a loud voice you can really get it to carry in the MSA. I was mildly impressed with the life the crowd showed in the 2nd half (though it's easy when your team is trouncing the opposition).

Our benchies came in. Whalen and Douglas got much (deserved) applause when they checked out. The crowd applauded when "1 minute remaining" was announced, but never got to their feet the entire game, even after being repeatedly exhorted to do so by the PA guy. Huh. Whatever. Post game Anne went straight to the locker room (no mid-court congratulations). Much of the crowd stuck around as the Sun players threw mini basketballs to the fans.

If teams take on the personalities of their coaches, I think we're playing scared. Anne has said publicly that one of her biggest fears is being out-coached, and I think we've all seen that happen, though I don't know that that was the problem this game. We seem very risk averse and tight when things are not going so well. LJ talks about getting a Detroit swagger, but Laimbeer has that personality; Anne does not. I would not necessarily want her to, either, but I think that her attention is very split as GM, Coach, and with additional National Team responsibilities. It's not an enviable position to be in, but it's one we have to deal with. It will be interesting to see how the rest of the road trip goes.

Run-off

There was a give-away of a Sun viewfinder at the door, with pictures of the players inside. I kind of miss cool give-aways. I understand that they don't have priority over solvency, etc., but it's sad to be continuously squeezed as a fan. One of the things I was most impressed about when I initially became a STH was all the fan stuff the Organization did. This has seemed to fall by the wayside, for the most part, and we're now back to being chintzy like most of the other teams in the League.

Pre-game they showed highlights on the screens of the Sun's last game: a win over Minnesota.

The PA guy read off current sports scores around the Nation pre–game, then updated them throughout the game. They rarely had graphics to accompany this, but he had good enthusiasm, I thought.

Pre-game two little kids did a free throw line shoot-out to see whose family got to sit in the rock star seats next to the Storm bench; later during a game break they were interview. This was a fun bit.

I liked the guy walking around on the floor with a balloon hat selling cold bottled drinks.

Pre-game the Contessa blimp also was flying around (I miss the Starbucks blimp...I don't miss the noise it would generate when we were trying to hear an interview or something, but it was a fun filler for other times). The strange thing here, again, was that there was no cheering to try to get its prizes. To get stuff dropped on you apparently all you had to do was sit there and quietly wave your arms intensely.

The coaches looked sharp. LJ had on her green shoes, and a white wrap on her right leg. Wendy had a sleeve on her arm. Sue had no brace.

Mary Beth Murdock sang the anthem. No dimmed lights, which was again different for me, but she did a creditable job, straightforward, though her voice was a touch too pop/country for me. She was accompanied by a color guard.

Sue, LJ and Katie Douglas were the team captains out in center court, but there was no "junior captains" presentation, which is a little thing in the Key that's kind of cool. There was a presentation of the Dish & Assist Hero award pre-game, but I'm not sure what it was for.

Erin Phillips was in the stands, and received a very warm reception when she was introduced.

The Sun have a group they call the Connecticut Sun Munchkins who dance like our Dance Troupe. There was one girl who had a freaky amount of make-up on, though. But most of the time some sort of older dance/cheer squad made up of older girls/women came out. I swear that tons-of-make-up girl was actually on this squad as well. I tried to get a picture, but my camera wasn't good enough to get a non–blurry one. I didn't mind the dance squad. Their moves were tight and more polished and sophisticated. I guess it just depends on what your tolerances are.

One of my favorite things the Sun game production people did was to give a Sun prize pack away to the fan in the stands with the best poster. They provided poster materials on the concourse; it's unclear to me whether a home-made poster would also be eligible, but I thought this was a fun, relatively cheap way to encourage poster making: make it a contest.

A cool thing Blaze had was a t-shirt gun. I have a picture. Perhaps it wouldn't be necessary with just the lower bowl in the Key. And we do have the t-shirt sling-shot. But the gun/cannon was pretty fun.