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Sky, Vandersloot ready for defending champs

Courtney Vandersloot  Seimone Augustus

Courtney Vandersloot, Seimone Augustus

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SKY VS. FEVER (best-of-3)

Game 1: Friday at Sky, 6 p.m., Ch. 26.2, NBA TV

Game 2: Sunday at Indiana,
2 p.m., ESPN2

Game 3: Tuesday at Sky, TBD

Updated: September 19, 2013 11:04PM

Sky point guard Courtney Vandersloot knew from the first drills of training camp that this season would be much different.

“We were really disappointed that we didn’t make the playoffs last year,” Vandersloot said. “We felt as if we should have been in, so the team’s mentality is a little different.”

Vandersloot’s training-camp intuition proved correct. The Sky finished with the best regular-season record in franchise history (24-10) and secured home-court advantage for the team’s first-ever playoff berth.

“We’re not surprised,” Vandersloot said. “This is what we expected.”

Vandersloot, who was the third overall pick in the 2011 WNBA draft, will direct the Sky’s explosive offense Friday in the first round of the playoffs against defending-champion Indiana Fever.

The young guard set career highs in minutes, field-goal and free-throw percentages, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks and points this season and is in the running for the Most Improved Player of the Year award.

Vandersloot has improved play on both sides of the ball; she leads all WNBA guards in total blocks (28) and blocks per game (0.8) and is fourth in the league in assists (5.6).

As a rookie, Vandersloot averaged 22.9 minutes per game and earned a spot on the All-Star team. Vandersloot said her playing opportunities as a rookie gave her the experience she needed to develop her basketball IQ.

“It was such a learning experience because the players who were supposed to be in front of me were getting hurt,” Vandersloot said. “I was playing a lot of minutes, and I think I’ve made big strides on decision-making.

“I’m more comfortable with the ball in my hands than I ever have been.”

Her 28 blocks this season are eight higher than her career total entering the season. Vandersloot said she began to focus more on defense following the signing of high-scoring All-Star rookie Elena Delle Donne.

“I really wanted to contribute to the defense because we have so many threats offensively,” Vandersloot said. “We really strive a lot on defense, and that starts with me.”

The Fever will challenge the Sky, who are 1-3 against Indiana this season. In their lone loss to the Sky this season, the Fever was without their leading scorer, All-Star forward Tamika Catchings.

Indiana’s defense leads the league in fewest points allowed, holding opponents to 70.47 points — more than three points fewer than the Sky’s third-ranked defense.

Sky coach Pokey Chatman, who said her team’s defense has developed throughout the season, knows what to expect from the Fever.

“After you get to 34 games, players have basically seen everything in terms of different defense,” Chatman said. “As the year went on, we became more of a read-and-react team, and that’s what we’re going to need in the playoffs.”

Chatman said the regular-season losses to the Fever provide good film to study, but the playoffs allow for a fresh start to the series.

“Whatever you did in the past is over,” Chatman said. “This is the second season. We’re all 0-0.”


Twitter: @kalynkahler

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