Sky loses first Commissioners Cup game and secures Championship berth with Connecticut loss


INDIANAPOLIS — Even before Sunday’s game against the Indiana Fever was over, Sky’s ticket to the Commissioner’s Cup championship on July 26 was punched. They needed a Connecticut Sun win or loss and got the latter.

Their 89-87 loss to Fever will only have potential implications for the venue of the league game.

“It was a big deal because we could have gone undefeated,” Courtney Vandersloot said. “Now we’re talking about accommodation, that sort of thing. These are the things we were trying to fight for.

The Aces still have two Commissioners Cup games against the Seattle Storm and the Minnesota Lynx and Sky have one against the Sun. Unless the Aces lose both, they will host the championship game.

General manager/coach James Wade said after the Sky’s overtime win over the Atlanta Dream on Friday his team needed to improve to hold on to leads and pull away from teams. On Sunday, they again gave up a double-digit advantage and found themselves fighting back over time.

Downstairs, the Sky won a jumpball which was knocked down after an official ruled the ball was thrown incorrectly. On the second attempt, Victoria Vivians managed to win possession from Emma Meesseeman who then fouled her. Vivians hit one of her two free throws giving the Fever a two-point lead with seven seconds left.

Similar to their victory over the New York Liberty, the Sky controlled the last possession and Vandersloot managed to shoot with a second left on the clock. This attempt was not good.

She finished with 13 points and seven rebounds. Kahleah Copper had four rebounds and two assists to go along with her career-high 28 points. Meesseman added 12 points, eight rebounds and four assists. All 10 Sky players scored on Sunday afternoon.

The difference on Sunday was the Fever’s explosive third quarter where they had 35 points, led by rookie NaLyssa Smith and Kelsey Mitchell. The Sky held Mitchell, who is third in the league in points (19.2 ppg), to two points in the first half. She finished with 13 and nine assists. Smith finished with a career-high 26 points and added 11 rebounds.

“We’re not good enough to keep [Smith] right now,” Wade said.

Candace Parker missed her second straight game on Sunday.

Wade said she returned to practice on Saturday and will be available against the Las Vegas Aces on Tuesday. Sky’s defensive rating with Parker on the ground this season is 97.2. In his absence for the past two games, it has worsened to 105.7.

His presence was missed on the boards in particular. The Fever edged past Sky 39-27, scoring 14 second-chance points. Parker leads in rebounds per game (7.9) and is eighth in the league.

“Even though Candace is as good as her at rebounding, we still give up a lot of offensive rebounds,” Vandersloot said. “It’s our Achilles heel. We’ve touched on it many times and we need to find a way to do it.

Wade said he has not discussed the Commissioners Cup championship with his team this season. When asked if his team clinched a spot in the second annual league game, he had nothing to say.

In stark contrast, its players eagerly await the opportunity to win a significant additional sum of money. There is a half million dollar prize pool at stake with $30,000 for each player on the winning team. The losing team will win $10,000 per player.

“It’s going to be fun,” Ruthy Hebard said. “But it will be a good opportunity for us to improve again.”

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