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Sky ‘ready for war’ as they continue to battle for playoff contention

12 months agoKarli Bell

The Chicago Sky (10-15) started the second half of the WNBA season on a rocky note but are showing signs of progress, going 2-3 in the first two weeks after the All-Star break and sitting 8th in the WNBA standings.

While the Sky hit some bumps in the road, they’re finding their momentum at the right time as they enter into a road-heavy August with multiple games against top 5 teams.

In roster news, interim head coach Emre Vatansever announced that both Rebekah Gardner (foot) and Isabelle Harrison (knee)  will be out for the remainder of the season. They also put Sika Koné on a temporary suspension as she participates in Afrobasket until mid-August.

Playing from behind

For the Sky to make a playoff push and stay in the top 8 in standings, they needed to find a way to string a full 40 minutes together, and it showed in the 80-62 loss to the Phoenix Mercury on July 20.

They played from behind the entire game, putting up just 8 points in the opening quarter. They got as close as 2 in the third quarter before being outscored yet again in the final 10 minutes, 22-12. They shot 9.5% from the 3-point line, their lowest of the season.

“It’s just the ups and downs that come with giving up offensive rebounds and not getting 50-50 balls,” Vatansever said. “Those not only affect the score but mentally, it brings you down. On the other end when you miss shots, it just accumulates. We gotta make some shots.”

Battling back through wins and losses

The Sky did just that against Seattle in a resounding 90-75 win against the Storm on July 22. They opened the game on a 22-8 run and never looked back. Kahleah Copper and Marina Mabrey scored a combined 51 points with 29 and 22 points, respectively.

Alanna Smith set a career-high with 17 rebounds, becoming just the the third player in WNBA history to finish a game with 17+ rebounds, 4+ steals and 3+ blocks; she joins Sylvia Fowles (20-4-3) and Candace Parker (18-4-6). The Sky as a team outrebounded the Storm, 44-24 with 18 coming on the offensive end.

“Those are things you don’t practice. You don’t practice blocked shots, being disruptive. [Smith] has a great feel for the game and instincts. She plays like a glue on the defensive end, and it reflects in the numbers. It’s impressive,” Vatansever said.

The Sky carried that momentum from Seattle into a home game against the Las Vegas Aces on July 25. While the Sky did come out with a 107-95 loss to the No. 1 team in the WNBA, they put up a season-high in points and stayed within 10 points until the final 7 minutes of the game.

Copper set a new career-high with 37 points, the most scored by a Sky player this season after Mabrey finished with 36 points on June 15 against the Indiana Fever.

Even in the loss, players saw positives in transitional basketball with 17 points off the Aces’ 5 turnovers, limiting their own turnovers and playing with unity against the best team in the league.

Copper said, ”The way we stayed together throughout the ups and downs of the game, how we shared the ball, how we trusted each other defensively and offensively and we just learned when you’re playing with really good teams, that margin of error is really small. I just loved the way we competed and how we stayed together throughout the entire game.”

It’s the little things

The Sky hosted Seattle and Phoenix to finish out the homestand, wanting to carry that positive momentum into the weekend. However, the Storm dominated the paint with the Sky giving up 26 2nd chance points and being outrebounded 46-26 in the 83-74 loss on July 28.

Seattle took advantage of every little mistake on 50-50 balls, turnovers and positioning inside. The Sky lost the consistency that they just found and knew that they needed to just string a full four quarters together.

“We have to do everything at the same time,” Vatansever said after the game.”It seems like sometimes it’s not just one problem. We need to do a good job on second chance points or boxing people out or better transition, not turning the ball over. We need to just put it together.

“My players work so hard to do that. I believe in them. I have a lot of confidence in them. I think when we put it together, we’re going to be a very good team.”

Vatansever has preached about how the team responds, and the Sky came crashing back on Sunday with a 104-84 victory over the Phoenix Mercury on July 30.

The Sky’s defensive strength came back against the Mercury, capitalizing off their 18 turnovers with 26 points. They tightened their paint presence and had production from the bench with 25 points, 7 assists and 7 rebounds along with 4 blocks.

“This is our character. We want to be aggressive. We want to be disruptive,” Vatansever said. “We want to be in passing lanes to get stops and convert offensively.”

Offensively, they played the selfless basketball that was on display to open up the season with 5 players in double digit scoring with Mabrey and Copper combining for 47 points. With a tough road stretch against the top teams in the league, the Sky want to capitalize on the win as they prepare for the Dallas Wings.

“We just want to continue to get better. We looked at the Seattle game and came out today not wanting to make those same mistakes. It’s about growing every single game. It’s just that 1% every single day. Looking forward, it’s a lot of good teams ahead of us but we’re ready for war for real,” Copper said after the game.

Stats and Notes

  • Alanna Smith reached 50 career steals vs. PHX (7/20)
  • Elizabeth Williams reached 1,500 rebounds, becoming just the ninth player in WNBA history to reach 2,000+ points, 1,500+ rebounds, 400+ blocks, 300+ assists and 200+ steals vs. PHX (7/20)
  • Courtney Williams reached 750 assists vs. SEA (7/22),  300 career offensive rebounds vs. LV, and 200 career steals vs. PHX (7/30)

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