The Sky wrapped up their second preseason training camp of sorts Saturday, a day before they host the top-ranked Storm at Wintrust Arena.
Sunday’s game kicks off the second portion of the 2021 WNBA season for the Sky, who are approaching it with a different level of intensity.
“We were locked in before,” coach and general manager James Wade said. “But subconsciously you knew there was going to be a break. Now this is the final turn.”
The Sky’s second-half schedule will not be kind.
Opening against the reigning WNBA champions will test their potential right away. They’ll play the Storm two more times in August, the Aces three times in September and sprinkled in are rematches against the Wings, Lynx and Mercury.
A silver lining in the challenges presented by the remainder of the Sky’s schedule is that all but five games are at home.
Wade was quick to point out that his team’s road record (7-4) is better than at home (3-6).
Defensive consistency will be the biggest key to the Sky’s championship run. Keeping teams off the three-point line, forcing turnovers and limiting their own have been priorities at practice.
“We have to play start to finish until the horn goes off,” Kahleah Copper said. “We had a lot of crazy close games.”
The Sky are third in the league in defensive rating (95.8). Eight of their 10 losses came by fewer than 10 points, five of them by five or fewer points.
Their final loss of the first portion of the schedule came after Tina Charles’ offensive rebound putback at the buzzer sent the game to overtime. Those are the kinds of plays the Sky can’t afford to give up if they want to win their first title in franchise history.
This team’s X-factor is their depth. They don’t have players like A’Ja Wilson or Breanna Stewart who are going to score 20-plus points a night. They do have five players averaging in double figures, plus a dependable bench led by Allie Quigley.
The Sky are one of the most balanced teams on both ends of the court and that will play to their advantage as they close out the regular season.
“It’s going to be our depth in the end,” Diamond DeShields said. “We have a range of scorers, not just one or two players.”
Center Stefanie Dolson, fresh off a gold medal win with USA’s 3x3 team, is bringing an added level of confidence into the final 12 games.
The entire 2021 season has seen a different level of commitment from Dolson. She changed her body, gave up free time for practice time and even broke off a relationship to remove any kind of distraction from her life.
Dolson’s focus is reflected in all of her teammates. As the Olympic break comes to an end, they know there is no more room for error.
“You can’t have any slippage,” Wade said. “We’re not going to have that time to regroup. Everybody is more locked in on what we want to accomplish as a whole.”