Star-crossed Sky fails to make playoffs for seventh straight season
BY SARAH TROTTO For Sun-Times Media September 22, 2012 1:26AM
Sylvia Fowles is one of two WNBA players averaging a double-double (16.2 points and 10.4 rebounds). | Getty Images
On the outside Looking in
The Sky is still seeking its first WNBA postseason berth.
Year Record out of 4th
2012 14-20 1
2011 14-20 5
2010 14-20 5
2009 16-18 —**
2008 12-22 5
2007 14-20 2
2006 5-29 13
** lost tiebreaker
Updated: October 24, 2012 6:44AM
Epiphanny Prince spoke in a whisper.
Courtney Vandersloot’s voice was barely audible.
Players sat in front of their lockers in silence.
The Sky was eliminated from playoff contention when it lost to the Atlanta Dream on Thursday in its second-to-last game of the season. The Sky needed to win its final two games — and the fourth-place New York Liberty had to lose its final two games — to clinch a playoff berth for the first time in its seven-year history.
Reaching the playoffs was the Sky’s No. 1 goal, Vandersloot said.
“It’s really disappointing,” she said. “We had a very good opportunity, and we didn’t capitalize.”
The Sky finished its season Saturday with a 77-58 victory against the Washington Mystics at Allstate Arena. Courtney Vandersloot scored a team-high 20 points.
Though the Sky had the same record as it did last season, coach and general manager Pokey Chatman believes her squad made strides. However, injuries to star players hurt the Sky’s chances of producing its first winning season.
A calf injury forced Olympian Sylvia Fowles to miss the last seven games, and she sat out two earlier for personal reasons. After the Sky had its best start in team history, Prince broke her foot and missed eight games. The Sky went 1-7 in that span.
What if those two had been healthy all season? The question was irrelevant to Chatman.
“We put ourselves in a position to win despite everything,” she said. “Injuries, you adjust and move on.”
The Sky missed Fowles’ presence “greatly,” Vandersloot said.
The second pick of the 2008 draft and the 2011 WNBA Defensive Player of the Year, Fowles is one of two players in the league averaging a double-double (16.2 points and 10.4 rebounds).
“She’s one of the best post players in the world, so it’s hard to fill her shoes,” said Prince, the Sky’s leading scorer at 18.4 points per game.
“Sylvia is an incredible player, and she’s more to the team than a scorer, rebounder,” Vandersloot said. “She plays defense. She attracts a lot of attention. It’s been tough without her, but we had a lot of people step up in that spot.”
The Sky had a roller-coaster season. The team won seven of its first eight games before dropping 13 of its next 14, including a nine-game losing streak.
After winning two of 12 games in July and August, the Sky won four of its first seven in September. Significant victories included an 85-74 defeat of the playoff-bound Los Angeles Sparks, an 83-70 win over the defending-champion Minnesota Lynx and an 86-55 rout of the Phoenix Mercury that set the franchise record for largest margin of victory (31).
Chatman credited the team’s veterans, including Olympian Swin Cash and all-time WNBA assists leader Ticha Penicheiro, for helping guide the younger players through adversity.
Unlike last season, the Sky remained in the playoff hunt until late. Each conference’s top four teams make the playoffs. Last season, the Sky finished five games behind fourth place.
Vandersloot said the team needed to be better at executing down the stretch. The Sky lost 12 games by single digits.
“A lot of games we were right in, we kind of let slip out of our hands,” Vandersloot said. “There are a lot of times we play good basketball, but not for long enough.”
The Sky came close but remains unsatisfied.
“Maybe a month from now I’ll find some positives and feel better about that, but right now it’s not enough,” Chatman said after the loss Thursday. “I’m sick to my stomach.”