Connecticut makes a statement in a win against Washington
UNCASVILLE — Connecticut Sun head coach Curt Miller makes no effort to hide his emotions on the sideline and his opinion on the game could be tracked by how much he paces. If he paces a lot like he did in the first half he is not happy and is looking to make adjustments. If he sits on the bench for longer periods of time, he’s happier with what he’s seeing.
Miller seemed to walk the distance between his chair and the scorer’s table a few extra times Tuesday night as the Sun put together a frustrating first half and strong second-half performance in an 83-75 win over the Washington Mystics to improve to a league-best 6-1.
The first half went pretty much like this; The Sun called for an offensive three-second violation… Miller stands up, walks to the table, walks back. Mystics score… he walks to the table, squats next to Shekinna Sticklen waiting to check in for a moment, walks back. Defensive rebound… he walks to the table, watches the Sun score, walks back and sits down.
His team gave him fewer reasons to pace in the second half, scoring 50 points and holding the Mystics powerful offense to just 38.
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Finding a way to grind out a win is critical and the Sun did just that
The Sun put their foot on the gas early on the gas in the middle of the third quarter and they did not take their foot off until the final buzzer sounded.
A large part of the Sun’s success throughout the game, though especially in the second half, was Courtney Williams. She single-handedly provided a spark in the first quarter as she was the only Sun player to make more than one basket. However, it was really in the second half she shined. Playing all but 47 seconds of the half she scored 14 points, including making all five of her free throw attempts, grabbed three rebounds and had three assists.
After the game she was clear about both the team’s mission this year and how one win should not be taken to mean more than any other.
She simply stated what anyone who has watched the Sun this season could figure out, “People need to look out for us. We’re on a mission this year.”
When asked about what it meant to win a second game against their rivals she responded, “Who’s our rivals? Washington? Oh okay.” She added, “I mean, it feels like any other win honestly, to me, we just want to win games.”
However, Williams was not the only one who had a strong second half. Shekinna Stricklen made three three-pointers that helped to shift the momentum. Jonquel Jones made all four of her shots and four of her five free throws. Layshia Clarendon tied a season-high with nine points.
This was a refreshing sight after a game against the Dream where the Sun saw their lead slowly disappear. The Sun proved they could come back and eventually take the momentum away from their opponent for good, even after a lackluster half. A key component to this is the fact that everyone that steps foot on the court is a scoring threat. This means on nights like Tuesday when Jasmine Thomas and Alyssa Thomas struggled to score, going a combined 3-for-13 for a total of seven points, the team does not have to look far for who will be the next one to step up.
After the game Clarendon touched on this saying, “It’s nice when you get those opportunities and to supplement the starters, that’s what makes this team really good … And you know, when you get deep in the playoffs later in the year when fatigue sets, that’s when you really need that second wave and that second unit to give you that spark.”
Third quarter three-point shooting helped shift the momentum
Once again the third quarter proved to be critical to getting a win for the Sun. Threes by Stricklen, Jones and Williams made the crowd cheer both immediately following the shot, but also reengaged them in the game and encouraged them to continue to make noise, something that died down after a lackluster first half.
The Sun were 5-5 from behind the arc that quarter, which helped them turn an early 10 point deficit into a five-point advantage in less than 10 minutes.
The turning point in the quarter came less than two minutes in when Williams made a three and the arena erupted with noise that would only be matched by the threes that were to come.
Making threes throughout the game, but most importantly when they are needed to change the course of the game, and the Sun did just that against the Mystics. If they can do this, again and again, it will be hard for any team in the league to beat them.
Layshia Clarendon provides a needed spark for the Sun late
Clarendon helped to finish the Sun’s dominance in the third quarter with a three of her own, just her second attempted three this season, and a layup twenty seconds louder. The crowd may not have expected it but they certainly went wild, screaming louder than they had after every other three that quarter.
When asked about the make she said, “I’ve been working, putting in the time before and after practice and during practice to get more comfortable in that, because those are the plays when someone’s gonna help off of you and you’re a liability if you can’t knock that shot down. So I was happy to just let it fly, but I’m not going to come out and to shoot six a game y’all,” she said with a laugh.
She entered the game averaging 6.3 points per game and would finish the game tying a season-high with nine after adding four more in the fourth quarter.
After the game Williams praised her contributions, calling her instant offense. “I think we just all want to see each other do well. Like, say Layshia coming off and come in and give us instant offense.” After a quick pause to let Clarendon respond with a cheer as she walked by she continued, “Like Lay coming in and getting in her bag and giving us instant offense so I think we just get excited for each other.”
However, even when she is sitting on the bench she’s ready to make an impact, sitting on the edge of her seat and almost always the first to jump up and celebrate or meet those coming off the court during a timeout.
Part of sitting on the edge of her seat she admitted was because the coaches stand in her way, however, part of it is it’s how she remains engaged in the game, “I think just like engagement, excited, you know, I’m not like sitting back and enjoying it. I’m ready to jump up with Rachel [Banham] and do all the thousands of cheers we have you know when someone hits a three so just part of being engaged.”
If Clarendon can continue to provide a spark when the Sun need it, she may not only see a more increased role on the team, but the team as a whole will be more successful.
It may not have always been pretty, but the team got the win and as the final seconds ticked away Williams raised her arms and invited the crowd to cheer and cheer louder. They took her up on the offer.
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