Sun just aren't ready to be good right now
There was some anger in the stands Sunday at Mohegan Sun Arena. This was a good thing. It shows people care. That the true, blue fans of the Connecticut Sun could see through the lovey dovey Ogwumike reunion narrative and identify 1) there was actually a game and 2) it was a disaster.
Hence, the problem: We have high standards in Connecticut for women's basketball. State U is the Yankees of the college sport. The Sun's first 10 years featured the head coach who has the most wins in WNBA history. This is Connecticut. We win here. "Rebuild" isn't even a four-letter word. It's completely alien.
Expectations are necessary in any successful market. Yet so is a basis in reality. This is reality: The Sun aren't ready to be good yet. Not that it excuses a pathetic, 90-64 loss on your home floor. But total home makeovers are fine in an hour of reality television. Total team makeovers don't happen so quickly.
They're younger, better and more together than during last summer's 10-24 barf-athon. There's a young core. And the first lesson they need to learn is that stuff happens. Manure occureth. And instead of pouting, you play through it.
It wasn't the first time Sun coach Anne Donovan told the media after the game that her team's lack of offense contributed to its lack of defense. Lesson not yet learned, apparently.
"It wasn't just that we missed layups. We bobbled passes at the rim. It took our momentum and it looked like we were defeated," Donovan said. "It's going to happen. There are going to be times you don't make layups and miss easy passes around the rim. It's the ability to play through that and get after it defensively that's important."
It didn't help that Sunday's opponent was Los Angeles, whose overall talent, despite the 9-11 record, is in the league's top three. A frontline of Candace Parker, Nneka Ogwumike and Jantel Lavender is long and strong. They create matchup nightmares: Katie Douglas on Parker. Alyssa Thomas on Lavender. Good luck with that.
So this was a day the Sun would need to convert offensively. Figure that Los Angeles would get its points. But the Sun in the third period were noncompetitive (outscored 30-10). Inexcusable, young team or not.
"This game is so mental," Douglas said. "I was talking to Chiney in the game when we were on the bench and she was saying she's got to learn how to play through mistakes and not let it affect her in other areas of the game.
"I feel like that's where we are as a team. When things are going well, we can play with anybody. When things are going bad, we can't find a way to regroup on the fly and turn things around. The good news is that we've shown glimpses of greatness. … The roster is what it is. We've got to find a way to get everyone firing on all cylinders. When we were winning, we had five or six in double figures. That's what we need."
Douglas is spot on. Especially about the "roster is what it is" part. There are players here who can't be part of a successful future. Kayla Pedersen tries. But is limited. Kelly Faris, for all the fans pining for her to play more, is afraid to shoot. And isn't very good at it. And how did Kelley Cain ever make this roster?
Hence, the pressure, especially with Allie Hightower and Danielle McCray hurting, is on the few, the proud. Against a team Sunday with a dominant frontline, for instance, Kelsey Bone was brutal. And had to be good. Her inability to function forced Donovan to play Pedersen and Kelsey Griffin in, shall we say, more unfavorable matchups.
"We will talk as a staff and try to figure out if maybe mixing things up from a personnel standpoint will help," Donovan said. … "We're going to talk through any scenario, any option that will help us. It's not foreboding, it's coaching. As a staff, we have to recognize whether changes may or may not help us. Nobody needs to read anything into it."
The Sun play two tough games on the road (at Seattle and Phoenix) before the all-star break. They're going to have a chance at the postseason. They'll have late-season home games with Chicago and Washington in August that might be critical.
Again: They're not ready to be good yet. But it's not asking too much to be better than Sunday.
"This was a nightmare. We've got to put it behind us and move on," Donovan said. "We're a young team that puts our heads down. In this league, that's the kiss of death if you do it for a minute, let alone a quarter.
"We've had some slow growth and some tremendous growth," Donovan said. "There are going to be bumps in the road. But in the east, we still believe we're going to be there at the end."
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.