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    CT Sun
    Monday, December 04, 2023

    Sun making Lobo's playoff prediction look smart

    Rebecca Lobo laughs after signing a large golf ball for Isabelle Coulombe, center, at the Travelers Championship on June 21 at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell. (John Woike/Hartford Courant via AP)

    Mohegan — The Connecticut Sun are making Rebecca Lobo look like a genius.

    Few WNBA observers expected anything from Connecticut this season and, quite honestly, for many good reasons. Its previous four seasons were among the worst in franchise history. It was one of the WNBA's youngest teams. Centerpiece Chiney Ogwumike suffered a season-ending injury in November. Key players were either coming off major injuries or were injured.

    Lobo, however, saw positives from the Sun during the preseason and believed they could end their four-year stay in WNBA hell.

    Connecticut celebrated its 15th anniversary on Thursday night and gave its fans more reasons to believe things have changed with a 96-89 win over the star-studded Seattle Storm.

    The Sun will try to continue their upward trajectory Saturday when they play at the Indiana Fever (Bankers Life Fieldhouse, 4 p.m., CSN).

    The Fever (7-7) beat Connecticut on May 20 (81-79). It was without starters Alyssa Thomas (concussion) and Jasmine Thomas (brother's wedding).

    "I tweeted (earlier in the year) that I thought they'd be a playoff team, and that was after I came to a preseason game," said Lobo, an ESPN women's basketball analyst that also does some Sun games. "I just liked the energy. I liked the way they were playing.

    "I was really impressed with Alyssa Thomas. You kind of knew this could be a breakout year for (second-year center) Jonquel (Jones). The (WNBA) GMs voted her the one most likely to have a breakout season. I think Curt (Miller) is a great coach. They have a lot of young talent, and if that meshed, they could be dangerous. ... I thought they'd be in the playoffs. I just felt that this team had a chance."

    It's been startling to watch how quickly Connecticut changed after a 0-4 start. It lost three of its first six games by two points, too.

    What's made the Sun's turnaround more stunning is that it began while being shorthanded. Starting power forward Morgan Tuck has missed the last nine games to a knee bruise. Starting off-guard Alex Bentley was gone for three games playing for Belarus at the FIBA EuroBasket 2017 tournament. Post Lynetta Kizer, one of their top reserves, was out five games with a back injury.

    Connecticut had to move Alyssa Thomas from small forward to power forward. It also added reserves Shekinna Stricklen and Courtney Williams to the starting lineup at small forward and guard, respectively.

    The Sun (7-7) have won six of their last eight with that starting lineup. They're the only team that's beaten the Minnesota Lynx and did so on the road. They've gotten in a groove despite playing eight of their first 12 games on the road, and they should benefit from playing seven of their final 11 at home, including seven in August alone. And they've played the league's toughest schedule, according to National Statistical.

    "Courtney Williams is only going to get better," Lobo said. "Jonquel is only going to get better. Jasmine Thomas and Alyssa Thomas are really finding their peak. (Second-year guard Rachel) Banham is going to get better.

    "When Chiney comes back (next season) and if Morgan can get healthy — just think how different this team would be if they had Chiney right now — I think their trajectory is going in the right direction for sure."

    It's pretty unlikely that Connecticut will contend for the WNBA title this season. The world champion Los Angeles Sparks and Minnesota are the two most talented teams.

    The Washington Mystics have a young, gifted roster that was bolstered by the additions of 2015 WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne and Kristi Toliver.

    The Phoenix Mercury have two of the league's top two scorers (center Brittney Griner and guard Diana Taurasi) and became more dangerous Thursday when they stole wing Monique Currie from the then-winless San Antonio Stars in a trade.

    After that group, the Sun are among six teams that have a realistic shot at the final four playoff berths.

    "They need to be more seasoned to win a championship," Lobo said. "(But) I think if you're a Sun fan right now, you're like, 'not only can we be pretty good — we can be pretty good for a while.'

    "Could they be like Phoenix last year and be hot at the right time and win a playoff game-or-two and end up in the semifinals? I don't see why not."


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