Published June 02. 2012 4:00AM
Mohegan - Contrary to conventional wisdom, seasons begin before the playoffs. They evolve with highlights, high-fives, rivalries, resilience, and obstacles. And sometimes, such as Friday night, you get the defending champs in your gym for what Sun coach Mike Thibault called a "measuring stick game."
"It's important win or lose that we play well for our fans to understand how good we've become, to say, 'OK, they're for real,'" Thibault said before the game. "Every team trying to become a championship team wants to measure themselves against the ones that have been there."
What became evident: The Sun cannot measure themselves against a championship team just yet.
They watched the Minnesota Lynx blitz them with a 13-2 run in the fourth period and eventually run away with an 85-72 victory before 7,249 fans. And even though Connecticut held Maya Moore to four points - Moore barely played in the fourth period - the rest of the Lynx showed far more poise and polish.
Minnesota (6-0) forced five Connecticut turnovers in the final period, outscoring the Sun 30-16.
"Thirty to 16 in the fourth quarter kind of says it all," Thibault said. "We had a chance to take control of the game (leading 63-58 with 8:13 left) and instead we had a little bit of a meltdown. Turnovers, missed block outs and shot the ball poorly. I told them in the locker room we can go around the room and we all take responsibility for it."
Tina Charles led the Sun with 20 points. Charles, however, was held without a shot in the fourth period.
"We threw everything at her. The kitchen sink, a couple of refs and a few fans," Minnesota forward and former Sun great Taj McWilliams-Franklin said. "They just didn't get her the ball. It was totally them. They tried to pass it to her and I think there were three turnovers. She even told them 'don't force it,' and they still threw it to her and threw it away.
"The game plan was to make sure their main people, Tina and Asjha (Jones) don't see easy touches," McWilliams-Franklin said. "Tina is so strong. It's about them being able to get her the ball. She's an unstoppable player."
Jones finished with eight points on 4-for-12 shooting. It got worse, too. Wings Kalana Greene, Allison Hightower and Danielle McCray shot a combined 1-for-19. Renee Montgomery (16 points) was 4-for-15 and committed two turnovers in the fourth period. Connecticut shot 35-for-80 from the field (33 percent).
Kara Lawson had 14 points and four assists for the Sun, while Mistie Mims had eight points and six rebounds off the bench.
"We've got to be better in those fourth-quarter situations. It's an area of growth for us," Lawson said. "I'd like to think we're better than last year. A lot of times, people look at one play and say 'that team really executed' because, say, Kevin Durant makes the shot.
"But," Lawson said, "execution is a tie game with five minutes left. Do you get the stop and a bucket? It's those crucial two-to-three minute stretches when the game is in the balance. They were better than we were when the game was in the balance."
Seimone Augustus led Minnesota with 23 points. Rebekkah Brunson had 14 points and 13 rebounds, while Monica Wright had 13. Former Sun guard Lindsay Whalen had 10 points, eight assists and six rebounds.
The Sun (3-1) are home against Washington Sunday at 3 p.m.