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    Tuesday, June 18, 2024

    Sun not yet at liberty to beat New York

    Mohegan — The din inside Neon Uncasville for much of Saturday afternoon suggested playoffs, not what amounted to the quarter pole of a 40-game regular season. Oh, the sellout crowd of 8,910 wanted this one. Badly.

    That’s because there were plenty of turquoise-touting Liberty lovers sprinkled among the masses. And it was quite a kick in the ascot to the Sun and their fans that by game’s end, the cheers of “Let’s Go Liberty” echoed throughout America’s Most Beloved Arena, a reminder that this is a “rivalry” because of geographic proximity only.

    And yes, the 1972 Miami Dolphins are safe again. Here is another team that won’t go undefeated. The Connecticut Sun lost their first game of the season Saturday 82-75 to their WNBA neighbors from New York. First loss in 10 games? No big thing. But the team to which they lost? That’s the thing.

    The Sun have been largely successful here for a long time, Curt Miller having harkened the Mike Thibault days and now Stephanie White doing wonderful work. But Saturday’s loss leaves them 1-8 in their last nine against the Liberty, a WNBA contender often referred to as a “super team” because of, well, super players.

    They didn’t even have one of them Saturday, Courtney Vandersloot, out for personal reasons. But the rest of them sure showed: Former league MVP Jonquel Jones (22 points, eight rebounds). Former league MVP Breanna Stewart (13 points, seven rebounds, five assists). Sabrina Ionescu (24 points, five assists).

    And so while all the rationalizations are true this time of year — it’s early, they weren’t going undefeated anyway, it’s a really hard league — there is also the matter of the Sun illustrating the ability to beat New York at some point. The 1-8 record since the beginning of last season sticks out like a roadside billboard.

    “They’re really good, first of all,” White said, answering a question about the 1-8 record. “Their length causes us some problems. They've got length in most every position. We typically are able to use our physicality to score. When you have teams that have that extra length, it makes that a little bit tougher. They can change up how they defend, switch everything and when you try to take advantage of the mismatches, they do a pretty good job of recovering.

    “They slow us down. Our pace slows down. We get really, really stagnant. So that's just an area that we've got to continue as a coaching staff to be better at addressing and putting our players in positions to be successful and empowering them to make plays instead of run plays in certain situations.”

    Coaches everywhere ought to commit that one to memory. Empower them to make plays instead of run plays in certain situations. That’s what Jones, Stewart and Ionescu did Saturday. It’s what they’ve done since all roads led them to New York.

    A moment on that: The Liberty have this glut of talent for the same reason some real estate sells for exponential prices: location, location, location. New York City is The Great Attractor. People (especially young professional women) would want to go there more than say, oh, Uncasville, Connecticut. So much for a salary cap creating a level field. Au contraire. Whether fact or perception that New York offers more opportunities than other outposts, well, here we are.

    As White said after the game, talking about New York’s buffet line of offensive options: “You pick your poison.”

    It leaves the Sun very reliant on DeWanna Bonner and Alyssa Thomas to play nearly every minute. This just in: They’re really good. Brionna Jones appears to have regained pre-injury form. DiJonai Carrington is a keeper. So is Ty Harris. But is it enough to beat a super team?

    “Nobody likes to lose,” Carrington said. “We're competitors. But it's not like the end of the world for us as a team. It's a 40-game season. This is a tough league to win every single night. It hurts because we think we're the better team and we wanted to win like we do every night. But there's a lot of things that we need to learn from it. Sometimes you have to take an ‘L’ to really, really go back to the drawing board and figure some things out.”

    It’s great that Carrington thinks the Sun have the better team. Building consensus outside the locker room on that one would be like climbing Everest in stilettos. But then, well, we can dream, can’t we? It’s still early. And the Sun are going to be a really fun watch this summer.

    It’s just that a “yeah, but” (as in: “yeah, but can they beat New York?”) will dump cold water on any such optimism until they beat New York.

    “I'm not worried about this team,” White said. “This is a veteran group and they understand the ebbs and flows of this league. We had some adversity. OK, so we've got to continue to be better and continue to stack days. If we had a three or four minute lull in this game, it's got to be two or three minutes in the next game.”

    This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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