Hobbled Whalen misses Game 2

Updated: September 17, 2005, 12:16 PM ET
By Nancy Lieberman | Special to ESPN.com

UNCASVILLE, Conn. -- Early Thursday, all indications were that Connecticut Sun point guard Lindsay Whalen would be healthy enough to play in Game 2 of the WNBA Finals on Thursday night.

WHALEN ARRIVES
IN STREET CLOTHES
UNCASVILLE, Conn. -- There is a routine and a rhythm to pregame preparations at any arena.

Certain players casually shoot free throws in a shooting shirt and warm-up pants. Others work up a sweat against a coach or trainer, shooting from certain spots or working on certain moves. Vendors map out their routes, and television technicians uncoil cables. Always the same, always a sense of relaxed focus.

But like a nature special's cameras spotting a lion lurking near a watering hole, the sense of unease and tension grows palpable when something in that routine seems out of place.

So it was at Mohegan Sun Arena more than an hour before the tip of Game 2. It was coach Mike Thibault spending an extra minute chatting with rookie point guard Jamie Carey on the sideline, assistant coach Scott Hawk and Katie Douglas exchanging knowing looks after a warm-up session and whispered rumors about Lindsay Whalen's absence from the court. The atmosphere in an arena can tell as much as any press release, and Thursday, it spoke volumes about the task ahead of the Sun.

And sure enough, when Whalen arrived, she was dressed in street clothes and sat out her first game of the season.
-- ESPN.com's Graham Hays

However, around an hour before tipoff, it was revealed that Whalen, who played 25 minutes on a broken bone in her left knee in a Game 1 loss, would be unable to play as Connecticut attempts to even the best-of-five series.

Already nursing a nondisplaced fracture of the tibia in her left knee (the anterior portion of the knee away from the area that receives most of the stress when running), Whalen also twisted her left ankle while attempting to drive to the basket, stepping on the foot of Sacramento center Yolanda Griffith midway through the second half of Sacramento's 69-65 victory at Mohegan Sun on Wednesday.

Whalen fully participated in the Sun's game-day shootaround Thursday and was intending to play in Game 2, but word surfaced later in the day from team officials that her condition had worsened. Whether the ankle sprain aggravated the already sore knee, or the ankle injury is severe enough itself to bench Whalen was unclear.

With Whalen out, second-year guard Jennifer Derevjanik is expected to start. She averaged 6.5 minutes per game in the Sun's first two playoff series, but played 11 minutes in Game 1, hitting her only field goal to finish with two points, one rebound, no assists and one turnover.

If Derevjanik finds a rhythm early and hits some shots, Sun coach Mike Thibault will likely give her a chance to settle in and play significant minutes. If not, Thibault could also slide shooting guard and defensive specialist Katie Douglas over to the point. Reserve Jamie Carey, who played six minutes Wednesday and briefly subbed in for Whalen when she suffered the ankle sprain, could also get additional playing time.

Whalen's performance Wednesday wasn't perfect -- she finished 3-for-9 from the field for seven points. But it was gutsy and the Sun certainly wouldn't have played as well without her.

Still, Whalen saw areas where she could improve, especially in terms of getting into the lane, her bread and butter.

"I was a little hesitant," she said. "After a five-day rest, it took awhile to adjust back to the intensity."

Still, the Sun need to make a handful of adjustments tonight to prevent falling into an 0-2 deficit. For starters, Connecticut's frontcourt must be more aggressive offensively -- both on the glass and in attempting more shots -- to keep pace with Sacramento's posts, who dominated the paint Wednesday. The Sun's Taj McWilliams-Franklin, Margo Dydek and Asjha Jones combined to attempt just 14 shots, while Sacramento's three main post players, Yolanda Griffith, Rebekkah Brunson and DeMya Walker, took 37, 2½ times as many. And while the Sun matched the Monarchs' 29 rebounds, Sacramento's 10 offensive boards translated into 15 second-chance points.

But the key stat was that Connecticut went to the line just 10 times. In their first four playoff games, the Sun averaged almost 31 free-throw attempts. And Whalen, who went to the line an average of 11 times in the Sun's first two playoff series, attempted just two foul shot Wednesday. Clearly, the Sun lost their aggression to the rim.

To win Game 2, the Sun must limit their turnovers -- they had 11 second-half giveaways Wednesday and 15 total -- and look to utilize the ball reversal, which is one key to beating Sacramento's relentless defense. And down the stretch, when their legs are tired because Sacramento's depth has worn them down, the Sun must dig in and hit their open shots. They weren't able to do that Wednesday and it cost them.

Nancy Lieberman, an ESPN analyst and Hall of Famer, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage. Contact her at www.nancylieberman.com.

Nancy Lieberman

Basketball analyst / Writer
Nancy Lieberman, one of the most recognized individuals in women's basketball, is a men's and women's basketball analyst for ESPN. She works on ESPN and ESPN2's coverage of men's and women's college basketball, plus the WNBA and writes for ESPN.com.

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