Courtney Vandersloot initiates Chicago's offense during win over Liberty Friday. (Photo by Ray Floriani/Daly Dose Of Hoops)
By Ray Floriani (@rfloriani)
NEW YORK -- One hour prior to game time, one group went about their business in quiet, stoic fashion. Assistant coaches led the drills. The head coach, even during an interview or two, kept his eyes on the proceedings on the court. The opposition on the other end went about their paces as well. The mood was noticeably different, as laughter, light chatter, and a relaxed attitude permeated.
The pregame warmup can offer a hint about a player or team, but rarely the full story. Friday night may have been the exception, however, as the relaxed and effective Chicago Sky defeated the New York Liberty, 78-68. It was the third straight victory for a Chicago team that started off losing 12 of their first 15 games. By contrast, the Liberty are playing any way but relaxed, dropping four of their last five as head coach Bill Laimbeer is left searching for answers, especially on the offensive end.
Chicago's resurgence, on the other hand, began in late June, when veteran lead guard Cappie Pondexter was lost due to a concussion. The keys to the offense were then handed to Courtney Vandersloot. The turnaround, unexpectedly, soon began.
“In this league, you do not get a lot of days off,” Vandersloot said following the win over the Liberty. “Between the San Antonio game (when Pondexter was injured) and Minnesota, we had a week without a game. That was huge, as it gave me a chance to settle in, get comfortable running the sets, learn the new ones and plays, and just get a lot of practice time in.”
With Vandersloot at the controls, the Sky triumphed over Minnesota, throttling the Lynx by the final of 100-76. The seven-year veteran set a career high in points with 26, while tying her personal best with 13 assists. That performance was followed up with another double-double in a win over Dallas. On the trip to New York, the Gonzaga product sustained her momentum with a solid 13-point, nine-assist evening. Numbers are one thing. More importantly, Vandersloot sees progress in the intangibles.
“I think we are maturing as a team,” she said. “It’s been evident the past three games. We are playing off each other and realize what each player can or cannot do.” The game against the Liberty saw Chicago withstand any challenges or runs by the home five. Poise was vital in securing a big road win.
The Sky are also getting significant contributions from Stefanie Dolson. The UConn product, obtained from Washington in the trade sending Elena Delle Donne to the Mystics, is a good low-post threat with the capability of stepping out and hitting the perimeter shot. Against the Liberty, Dolson tied another former UConn great Tina Charles on the scoreboard, matching the Liberty center with 23 points. Chicago will take a three-point shot if it is there. They do have the ability to hit it as well, as evidenced by shooting 40 percent from long range in the win Friday.
“Even on the fast break, if the three is there, we will shoot it,” Vandersloot said. “That’s just how the game in being played these days,” she added, with a trace of affinity for the Golden State Warriors in her tone.
Sky coach Amber Stocks said her team started the season with two point guards. Recent events point to Vandersloot as the primary option moving forward. As Stocks said, “Cappie is a dynamic guard and she is truly dynamic from the wing. She impacts the game from the wing.” Vandersloot is doing the same from the point with a solid running mate in the person of Allie Quigley.
In the span of just one week, three straight wins have changed the outlook in the Windy City. They will be tested with four more consecutive road contests before returning home. The feeling, though, is one of a positive nature.
“We are playing at a higher level,” Vandersloot said. “I think there’s a lot this team can do.”