Thursday, June 12, 2008

Back to Earth

Sacramento came in Thursday night on a second half of a back-to-back and knocked off Minnesota 82-78, a score that isn't indicative of how the hosts played.

The Lynx bust out to a 13-3 lead at the start of the game, but by the end of one quarter, Sacramento had a one-point lead, and eventually stretched it to a 15-point halftime advantage.

"We dug ourselves in a hole," says center Vanessa Hayden-Johnson.

Minnesota came to within 69-68 with six and a half minutes left to play but never came any closer. Three straight possessions later and the Lynx couldn't capitalize, and the visitors never let them get any closer.

"We probably were getting rubbery legs by then," recalls Minnesota Coach Don Zierden, who added that he didn't want to use one of his few remaining timeouts at this point.

Anna DeForge was fouled, attempting a three-pointer with eight seconds left, with a last chance to pull Minnesota to within one. DeForge hit her first two free throws but missed the third, and Sacramento correled the rebound. Ticha Penicheiro got fouled and swished her final two attempts from the line -- she earlier went one of two, and iced the game.

Perhaps for the first time this season, especially in front of the home crowd, the Lynx's youthful and inexperience was clearly evident.

"Things were easy the first few minutes, then (Sacramento) turned up the defensive pressure and the physical game," Minnesota Coach Don Zierden pointed out afterwards. "They know that Minnesota is not supposed to be ahead of them in the standings."

In this season's first weeks, it looked like things were easy for Minnesota, winning their first three home games, and six of their first seven contests.

Now the Lynx (6-3) is back to Earth, losers of their last two games.

"People already are saying, 'Oh, see, told you --they are not that good (because) they lost two in a row," notes Hayden-Johnson afterwards.

Coach Z was asked during his post-game comments by one beat reporter has Minnesota reached hoops reality.

"With this young team, this is a work in progress," he notes. "Just because they came out and got a couple of wins early, and people got excited. As a coaching staff, we understand our weaknesses and what we need to work on."

"It's nothing to hang our heads about," adds forward Charde Houston. "We have to come out from the start of the game with a lot of energy, and be the more aggressive team from start to finish."

"Luckily we got a lot of young girls who are upset about (losing)," says Hayden-Johnson.

More importantly, the Lynx must realized that the 2008 season is after all, only nine games old, with 25 games and over two months remaining. At times like these, this is where locker room leadership is crucial. I don't think it's coming from the veterans such as DeForge and Kristen Rasmussen, who have a combined 14 years experience between them.

Maybe the players should listen to Hayden-Johnson, who after missing a season due to the birth of her first child, has been around since 2004.

"This is the WNBA, an up-and-down league and season," Hayden-Johnson reminds us.

"We played hard in the second half, and we played hard to start the game, but you got to play hard for 40 minutes," says Zierden. "You learn from this."

Improving shooting (the Lynx have shot 33 and 44 percent the last two games), and better ball protection (21 turnovers against Sacramento) also are must's as Minnesota takes to the road for their next two contests, at New York, whom have beaten Minnesota five straight times since 2005, and at Detroit.

"All three of our losses have come down to the last three minutes of the basketball game, and that's when you have to be at your best," explains Coach Z.

Simply put, it's the little things that must be improved, he says. "Making free throws, defensive assignments -- we would keep cutting the lead down, then we lose somebody for a layup. We have to tighten those things up."

Both games, as was Sacramento (5-4) on Thursday, are early challenges to this year's Lynx.

"We got to go out there and kick butt," concludes Hayden-Johnson.


Candice Wiggins recorded her second DQ (fouled out) of the season Thursday. She leads the Lynx in this category. She finished with 17 points, and despite haven't started a game this season, the rookie guard is second on the team in scoring (16 points a game), and got to the free throw line over 10 times (9-for-11) for the third time this summer.

Nicky Anosike leads Minnesota in rebounds -- she pulled down 11 against the Monarchs, her second double-digit effort of the season.

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