Pump up ‘d’ volume
Off to solid start, Sky want to increase intensity on defense
At the beginning of the week, the Sky were 5-2 and atop the Eastern Conference. Everything was falling into place, even though they were plagued with injuries. They seemed to have an answer for any adversity thrown at them.
Azura Stevens proved to be a good fit in the starting lineup in place of Jantel Lavender,
who is out this season after having foot surgery. Cheyenne Parker has been taking advantage of her extra minutes as a starter with Stefanie Dolson still recovering from an ankle injury.
Then there’s Kahleah Copper, the Sky’s leading scorer, who is easily the biggest breakout star on the team this season. She is starting for Diamond DeShields, who remains limited because of knee inflammation.
During the first two weeks of the abbreviated season, the Sky changed the narrative around them. They went from being pegged as a middle-of-the-pack team to a serious championship contender.
But then the Storm rolled in earlier this week and gave the Sky a reality check.
“I don’t know if we [bought] the Kool Aid that people think we’re good, but we’re just not a good defensive team right now,” a frustrated James Wade said Monday after the 89-71 loss, their biggest defeat of the season. “We’re trying to find some solutions, but it all comes down to effort.”
This week, Wade put an emphasis on being more disruptive on defense and protecting the ball. The Sky are averaging 17.4 turnovers, second-most in the league. And their defensive rating (101.7) is middle of the pack.
“We’ve been working on finding our identity defensively,” said Copper, who feels the team has played “relaxed” on defense at times this season. “We’re going to try to get our defensive energy up, try to get disruptions and try to make it just as hard on them as other teams make it for us.”
The Sky don’t have a lot of time to address their mistakes, as they’re in the midst of playing 10 games in 20 days, with the 77-74 loss to the Sun on Friday being their sixth game of the stretch.
Several players said they’re trying not to focus on the fatigue they might be feeling this season.
“The biggest thing is just getting rid of the whole narrative of sustaining this season, we have to focus one game at a time,” Courtney Vandersloot said. “If I need to be out there for 30-plus minutes for us to get the win, that’s what I’m willing to do . . . . Whatever it is, I’m going to figure out how to be there every single game. The season is too short to focus on minutes, we need to focus on winning games.”
Vandersloot has done her part to help the Sky be successful. In her 10th season, Vandersloot, who was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week on Monday, is averaging a league-leading 8.3 assists this season. She’s also one of five players on the team averaging double-digits in scoring.
But when she’s off the court, there’s a huge drop off in the team’s performance.
“We just have to find an identity, without her when she’s on the bench,” Allie Quigley said. “We have to really figure out how to play good without her and that’s using each other. We have to move the ball. We have to just do what we’re good at, and we have to figure that out as a team.” ✶
Kahleah Copper chases the ball against the Sun’s Alyssa Thomas last Saturday.