Youth is served ... with fouls
And then …
The game started.
The game. The great revealer of truth. And this one illustrated the Connecticut Sun's perch within the WNBA caste system: Some talented youngins? For sure. But you don't hang around in this league because you like flying commercial. You learn stuff. It's called wisdom for the pain.
Most of the Liberty players have it.
Most of the Sun players don't.
All of which contributed to a 75-54 loss Friday, Opening Night, at Mohegan Sun Arena.
There will be more nights like this, sadly. That's the WNBA. All sports, really. Youth is exuberant. But not much respected.
"There's only one way to get older," Sun coach Anne Donovan said. "And that's to go through it."
Early in the third period Friday, the Sun had been whistled for 15 fouls. The Liberty: five. In Connecticut's gym. Consider that DeLisha Milton-Jones, the Liberty's veteran forward, normally commits five fouls on one trip up the floor.
New York finished with 12 fouls the entire game. It's tied for second for the fewest number of fouls called on an opponent in the history of Mohegan Sun Arena. That's not a criticism of Friday's officiating. Just a fact of life in pro sports. Veterans get calls. Young players don't. Perhaps a better example: Washington, another young team, got called for 24 fouls at home Friday against defending champion and veteran-rich Minnesota. The Lynx: 11.
The Sun play at Minnesota on Sunday. The over-under on whistles against the Lynx opens at 3.5. (We'll take the under).
Donovan on the rhythms of Friday's whistles: "I'm going to try to avoid a fine," she said.
Clearly, she noticed. To be fair: The Sun spent too much time hoisting perimeter shots Friday night and didn't get to the basket enough. You just got the feeling it wouldn't have mattered. And at the other end, two of their posts, Kelsey Bone and Kelsey Griffin, were hit with two quick fouls.
"It's extremely frustrating to be a young player in this league, particularly in the post and have no credit," Donovan said. "You aren't going to get a call. You have veteran players who understand how to be subtle, how they can get away with things. The learning curve is tremendous in particular for post players. But I have such confidence in Chiney (Ogwumike) and our young posts. We're going to get there. It's a process right now."
It might not hurt Donovan to chirp more. Donovan says it's not in her personality. Maybe it should be for the moment. It's not going to be a fair fight at times this season. This isn't to suggest Donovan needs to go Bill Laimbeer and act like his players just got bit by a forest animal at the first perceived injustice. But the well-placed tantrum and a few of George Carlin's seven words you can't say on television wouldn't hurt.
Otherwise, the Sun did what most basketball teams have done since Dr. Naismith hung the peach baskets: They let their offense dictate their defense. Their offense was disjointed, 12 assists on 70 shots, illustrating a team not used to playing with one another. Their defense wasn't, shall we say, as diligent as Donovan demands.
"We're not always going to shoot the ball real well. We're going to have to grind it out defensively," Donovan said. "We need the mentality that if we don't score, they don't score. We didn't demonstrate that like I know we can.
"We tended to be concerned about the shots not falling instead of letting it go and getting back at the other end," she said. "I know that's really not who we've been for three weeks in camp. We wanted it bad and the effort was there. I'll take a big part of this. As rotations are at this point, that's not the best way to find chemistry. I'll get better and they'll get better as we go forward."
The night wasn't a complete dud. Tina Charles' reaction was mixed at best during introductions and then straight boos after. Alyssa Thomas, the Sun's rookie forward, is a keeper. As is Ogwumike. Katie Douglas, Renee Montgomery and Allie Hightower will make a few. Bone had six points and five rebounds in 13 minutes.
And there wasn't one scowl, one whine or one second guess in a far more united locker room.
They'll get better.
Just don't expect too many trips to the free throw line until further notice.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.
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