Sun rise to elite status in WNBA
The following things went wrong for the Connecticut Sun on Friday night at Chicago:
• They missed 11 of their first 12 shots.
• They trailed by 13 points heading into the fourth quarter.
• Kara Lawson had a rare bad shooting night.
And yet Connecticut - which also played without Olympian Asjha Jones (she got the night to rest some nagging injuries) - found a way to win, 80-78 in overtime, a perfect illustration of how much this team has evolved.
"It was one of our best wins of the season because we kept saying every timeout, 'let's hang in there,'" Sun coach Mike Thibault said. "'We'll make shots at some point, so make defensive stops. We'll figure out a way to get back into this thing.' It was our mantra the whole night."
"This game and the one we won at Atlanta a couple of weeks ago (75-73 on June 17) were similar games with bad starts, but hanging in to win right at the end."
Connecticut didn't take a lead against Chicago until overtime. It led for all of two minutes and 4.9 seconds.
"Kara had a good line . ... 'We had the nerve to stick around all night,'" Thibault chuckled. "When we won in Atlanta, we won (in the afternoon) and got out of there."
As the WNBA begins its Olympic break, the Sun are tied with defending champion Minnesota for the best record (15-4). They also have a four-game lead over second place Indiana in the Eastern Conference.
A year ago, Connecticut would have lost a road game in which so many things went wrong. It was 6-11 on the road last season, costing the Sun the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. They have the league's best road record this season (8-1).
"We had a long road game stretch, playing five games in eight days," Mistie Mims said. "It was insane. So the way that we closed this out, and to have five games and win them all, is very important because when we come back, all of these teams are going to reload with their Olympians that they're are missing right now. So, it is really important to have started this way."
Connecticut knew what it would get out of its big three of Tina Charles, Jones and Lawson, the latter who's played perhaps the best ball of her 10-year career.
Mims, along with guard Allison Hightower, are two prime examples of the Sun's improvement. Mims, a free agent acquisition, started in place of Jones Friday and scored a career-high 19 points with 10 rebounds.
Hightower, a 2010 second-round pick (15th overall), has played her way into the starting lineup.
"We have two players, Allison and Mistie, who are both candidates for Most Improved Player in the league by a lot," Thibault said. "(Allison) is still a work in progress as far as the offensive end, but she's become a very good defensive player in this league. Her progress is much like Katie Douglas when she was here defensively. Katie obviously had more of a polished offensive game, but Ali relishes the challenge of taking on the other team's good perimeter player, and it's been huge.
"(Mistie has) worked hard to become a reliable player ... She just brings energy to our team, and that's hard to quantify. But it's there, and she makes Asjha and Tina better every day at practice because she doesn't give them a minute off."
Connecticut still has room for growth. The top things Thibault is looking for are more consistent rebounding, and a better offensive flow to avoid prolonged scoring droughts.
"I have a list of probably 50 things I think we should be better at," Thibault said. "You're always trying to seek perfection. That's the job. You're going to have days that you're not, but you hope you only have moments instead of long lapses."
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