Print and Go Back ESPN.com: WNBA [Print without images]

Tuesday, September 6, 2005
Updated: September 7, 10:41 PM ET
Spotlight on Bevilaqua's defense vs. Whalen

By Nancy Lieberman
Special to ESPN.com

CONFERENCE FINALS: Sacramento-Houston | Schedule

CONNECTICUT (1) VS. INDIANA (2)
Connecticut (2-0), East No. 1
PLAYOFF STATS
PPG OPP FG 3FG FT REB
74.0 64.5 42.6 40.0 74.6 33.0
Indiana (2-0), East No. 2
PLAYOFF STATS
PPG OPP FG 3FG FT REB
60.5 50.5 33.0 45.8 80.8 32.5
X-FACTORS: The Sun backcourt had a dominant first round, contributing to Connecticut's sweep of Detroit in several areas. First, Katie Douglas, Nykesha Sales and Lindsay Whalen (above) combined for 44 of the Sun's 75 points in Game 2. Douglas also played a superb game defensively, containing Detroit star Deanna Nolan for much of the first half. And Sales grabbed a career-high 12 boards as the trio had 22 of Connecticut's 36 rebounds.

The team's rebounding will continue to be particularly important against Indiana, which isn't one of the top shooting teams in the league but is successful because of its sheer volume of shots. The Fever typically average more shots than their opponents, and that can be hard to keep up with. In the regular season, Indiana attempted 160 more field-goal attempts than its opponents. In their two-game first-round series, the Fever got off 11 more shots from the field and attempted 23 more free throws than New York.

So when Indiana puts up a shot, the Sun's guards must continue to stay at home, box out and rebound, which will cut down on Indiana's second-chance points and limit the Fever's possessions.
X-FACTORS: Like Connecticut, Indiana is very defensive-minded. However, the Fever rely on their defense to kick start their offense, and that's how they swept New York in the first round. Indiana limited the Liberty to just 50.5 points in the series and, more important, took away New York's 3-point shot. Indiana will need to do the same against the Sun.

That said, Indiana's accuracy from downtown was up considerably in the first round. After hitting just 32 percent of their 3-pointers in the regular season, the Fever sank 46 percent (11 of 24) of their attempts from beyond the arc against New York. If Indiana continues to shoot like that against Connecticut, and gets to the foul line as often -- 52 times against New York -- its offense will be hard to stop.

Kelly Miller cannot be invisible in this series. She sank just five of 20 shots (25 percent) from the field in the first round. The good news is that four of those five made field goals were 3-pointers. Defensively, Miller must prevent Connecticut's Nykesha Sales from getting to the rim.

Tamika Catchings must continue to post MVP-like numbers, but off the bench, post Kelly Schumacher needs to provide quality minutes to help offset Connecticut's superior inside game.
KEY MATCHUP: Indiana point guard Tully Bevilaqua was named to the All-Defensive First Team last week. In this series, she'll get her biggest assignment of the season: shutting down Whalen.

Tully Bevilaqua
Bevilaqua
Lindsay Whalen
Whalen

The Sun point guard probably put on the most impressive performance of the first round, leading all players with a 20 points-per-game average. Whalen continuously muscled her way inside and created her own shot to the rim, hitting layups with either hand and shots off either foot. If Whalen has her way against Indiana like she did against Detroit, the Sun will keep winning.

Whalen's success depends on her ability to get her shoulder below that of the opponent, which allows her to face up to the basket. So if the key for Bevilaqua is to prevent Whalen from getting to the rim, that means Bevilaqua must trap Whalen off the screen-roll and go under screens to stay in front of Whalen and force her shoulders and hips toward the sideline.

You can't allow Whalen to get squared up toward the basket like a running back on the football field, because that's when she's virtually impossible to stop. When Whalen gets into the paint, the defense is forced to rotate and suck in. Whalen either continues inside for the layup, gets fouled or kicks the ball out to her perimeter shooters for open looks.

Bevilaqua is a smart defender and is going to have to play the percentages. She has got to take away Whalen's layups -- Whalen was 9-of-21 (43 percent) from the field in the first round. But fouling isn't an option, either, as Whalen hit 20 of 24 (83 percent) of her free throws. So Bevilaqua's best bet is to give Whalen -- who hit two of five 3-pointers against Detroit but shot 35 percent from downtown in the regular season -- the outside shot. Right now, it's the lesser of two evils.

Natalie Williams
Williams
Margo Dydek
Dydek

With a three-post rotation of Margo Dydek, Taj McWilliams-Franklin and Asjha Jones, Connecticut clearly has more post depth than Indiana. But the Fever's Natalie Williams (above), who has said she will retire at season's end, is playing dynamite basketball right now and probably was Indiana's X-factor against New York. Only four players have posted double-doubles in the postseason: Catchings (twice), Sheryl Swoopes, Lauren Jackson -- and Williams, who had 13 points and 10 rebounds in her last outing. If Williams -- who had one double-double in the entire regular season -- continues to produce those kinds of numbers, it will not bode well for Connecticut. Of course, Indiana should be concerned that it really has no match for the 7-foot-2 Dydek, either.

SEASON SERIES: The teams split the series 2-2, with each squad winning once at home and on the road, which means both Indiana and Connecticut have experience winning on each other's home court.

The Fever, who averaged 63.3 points in the series, sandwiched their wins (July 13, Aug. 23) around the Sun's victories (July 26 and Aug. 6). Connecticut averaged 64.5 points as guards Whalen, Sales and Douglas combined to average 12.6 points per game in the series.

Catchings didn't shoot particularly well -- 17 of 48 (35 percent) from the field and just 2 of 10 from 3-point range -- but averaged 16.5 points, hitting 83 percent (30 of 36) of her foul shots.
BOTTOM LINE: This series will go three games. But the Sun, who have the home-court advantage, will win.

The Sun's stars, such as Whalen and Sales, will continue to play well. And Indiana's lack of post depth will hurt, especially if any of the Fever's inside players get into foul trouble.

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.