Pump up ‘d’ vol­ume

Off to solid start, Sky want to in­crease in­ten­sity on de­fense

Chicago Sun-Times - - SKY BEAT - BY MADE­LINE KEN­NEY mken­ney@suntimes.com @mad­ken­ney

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.

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