Sun, after four straight losses, better start baring their fangs
Mohegan — A crowd of more than 8,000 showed up Saturday at Mohegan Sun Arena. So did national television. And the home team was there, too, a week removed from a 43-point loss in Washington.
You needn’t have been a founding member of The Optimists’ Club to think that the aforementioned factors alone would have invited the hungry, humbled Connecticut Sun to show their fangs a little bit.
Instead, the team that left here in June with a 9-1 record coughed and wheezed their way to a 74-71 loss to the Team Formerly Known As The Minnesota Lynx, who played without Lindsay Whalen (retired), Maya Moore (taking the year off) and Seimone Augustus (knee injury), among others.
Yes, the Lynx still have the great Sylvia Fowles and added Odyssey Sims. Otherwise, the talent is pedestrian, although well coached by Cheryl Reeve and her four WNBA titles.
Saturday’s result: The fourth straight loss for the daughters of Sun, who are suddenly 9-5.
After the game, Sun coach Curt Miller said the following:
“(The players are) frustrated because they think they’re talented enough to not go through this type of stretch,” Miller said.
But the Sun players really ought to stop thinking such things.
This league is too tough and too competitive for anybody to think they’re not fodder for a losing streak. And the malaise with which the Sun played at times Saturday suggests the loss of Energizer Bunny guard Layshia Clarendon (out for the season with an ankle injury) is a bigger problem than perhaps originally anticipated.
“She’s our toughness. We miss her,” Miller said. “We miss her tempo, being able to get Jasmine (Thomas) quality breaks. That’s not an excuse. The whole league is dealing with injuries.”
This was a troubling loss, not for standings or playoff purposes, but mostly for the five starters’ general level of yuck.
Jasmine Thomas: turned it over seven times. She’s the point guard. If she’s not more trustworthy with the ball, this season won’t end well.
Shekinna Stricklen: Wasn’t on the floor most of the fourth quarter. The Sun scored all of 12 points and needed her 3-point shooting.
Alyssa Thomas: 11 points, nine rebounds, 5-for-13 from the floor. The I’m-going-to-lower-my-head-and-take-it-to-the-basket-at-all-cost stuff isn’t working anymore.
Courtney Williams: 4-for-13 from the floor, 3-for-6 from the line.
Jonquel Jones: five points, 2-for-10 shooting. Guarded by the smaller Naphessa Collier most of the night. Perhaps JJ isn’t as close to the league MVP candidate as some of us (like me) think.
“Our core group of five starters right now, there’s little room for error,” Miller said. “We have to have good nights from them. We have to get Courtney going. We have to get JJ going. You look up and see a few starters low in points late in the game. We have little room for error.”
“Little room for error” and “contend for a championship” aren’t usually sentences that occupy the same paragraph.
Still, half the season hasn’t been played. The record is 9-5, not 5-9. But Clarendon’s absence increases the responsibility of the five starters. We saw their warts on Saturday. Not good. But at least Reeve acknowledged this was a quality win for her group, indicating the Sun aren’t nearly as bad as this.
“When your team is aware of a streak it is a little bit of extra motivation,” she said. “To do it on the road, to do it here, it was a hell of a win for us, a signature win and our best win of the season. These guys, as Curt let us know, had beat us five straight times and let us know that at the press conference at our place, so we ended a couple streaks.”
This won’t get easier. National television is here again Friday for Diana Taurasi and Phoenix. You know. The Phoenix that ended the last two playoff seasons for the Sun.
Maybe the fangs will come out for the Mercury.
They better soon.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro
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