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'A very good team' has weaknesses exposed

New York - With two months left in the regular season, any reference to the standings is pointless. The regular season's function, aside from determining playoff matchups, is to expose teams to various dilemmas, gauge the response and seek improvement. Then you have many frames of reference for when it counts in the playoffs.

The Sun had one of those days Sunday on Broadway. And maybe one day down the road they can refer to this perfectly hideous loss as educational.

There is probably a worse half of basketball in the Sun archives than in the second half Sunday at Madison Square Garden, when they were outscored 44-22. Vegas would have started laying odds early in the third quarter as to whether they'd get the ball across half-court. And even worse odds on the thought of giving the ball to Tina Charles, who only had 10 points and 14 rebounds by halftime.

The Liberty (presented by Foxwoods) attacked the Sun full court. The Sun ball handlers crumbled. The Liberty (presented by Foxwoods) got physical. The Sun crumbled.

Renee Montgomery turned the ball over four times and jacked up some mindless 3-point attempts.

Tan White, so good on Friday, was so bad on Sunday, with five turnovers and one inexplicable offensive foul on the break, using her arm to shove away Kalana Greene in midair.

Kara Lawson was the steadiest of all, although even with her on the floor, the Sun's offense looked like the lobby at Grand Central.

And maybe worst of all, Anete Jekabsone-Zogota missed most of the game after tweaking her knee. More on the injury will be known today.

"Picking teams up full court and making them rush on the offensive end is our thing," Liberty guard Cappie Pondexter said. "In this game, nobody wanted to bring the ball up for them. And they had two point guards on the floor."

Nobody wanted to bring the ball up for them, Cappie said.

The Sun guards should read that.

"We knew they didn't have as many ball handlers with Zogota out," Liberty forward and former Sun great Taj McWilliams-Franklin said.

It sort of makes you wonder how the rest of the league perceives the Sun right now. Nobody wanted to bring up the ball. They didn't have as many ball handlers. Even Diana Taurasi said after Friday's game that the Sun don't have as many "traditional" guards.

Sure sounds like code for "we can pressure them into turning it over."

And opponents might be forced into that, because when the Sun are right, they are lethal.

Liberty coach Anne Donovan called Connecticut "a very good team."

Pondexter called the Sun "a great team with a great coach."

Phoenix coach Corey Gaines called the Sun "the best team in the East" on Friday night.

And with two months left to the regular season, maybe the warts heal.

But it's worth wondering right now: Do you trust the Sun's backcourt?

Road losses happen. But the way this one happened was alarming. The Sun didn't just go through a typical in-game rut. It lasted the entire second half. It also featured defensive lapses and slow reactions to loose balls. This is what is generally known as losing your mind.

Is there a player on this team who can make them un-lose their mind, on the road and in front of 15,293 fans - as there were here Sunday?

Here's the answer: I don't know.

"When New York upped the pressure, we didn't handle it very well," Sun coach Mike Thibault said, winning the day's understatement award. "We just got a little flustered."

Even Thibault said he was off his game, unsure of the right substitution patterns. He was caught between keeping more guards out there to handle the pressure and using a bigger lineup to intensify some mismatches in the half-court.

Thibault said there may have been some physical and mental fatigue. He better be wrong about that. Because the Liberty played Friday night, too. In Tulsa. Flew back Saturday and played quite a bit of full-court defense. Thibault has been very good about limiting his players' minutes, capitalizing on some depth. Fatigue should be less of a factor for the Sun than any other team in the WNBA.

The excitement of a sellout crowd and win over Phoenix on Friday led to a solid first half and a 13-point halftime lead two days later. And then to a disconcerting loss. When the Sun lost their mind, they never got it back. And while the rest of the league sings hosannas about how good they are, I wonder: Will they get good enough?

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.


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