Sun’s starters struggle in 74-71 home loss
UNCASVILLE – Walking into Mohegan Sun Arena, you could feel the bass pulsing. As you rounded the corner of the tunnel the Connecticut Sun were reflecting that same energy in their warmups. The players smiled their way through warmups and look refreshed after their week off, rarely missing a shot.
Every player was on the court during warmups, including Layshia Clarendon, who made her way out on her scooter to cheer on her teammates.
The crowd matched that enthusiasm as soon as the starting lineups were announced, showing their excitement that their team was back in town cheering and clapping as every player was announced. The entire arena got on their feet prior to tipoff making so much noise several members of media exchange looks of awe.
The team’s energy was much better through most of the game than it had been on the road trip. However, the energy was not enough and the Sun came up short falling 74-71 to the Minnesota Lynx.
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Too many turnovers
The Sun came into the game averaging 13 turnovers a game and nearly matched that in the second half alone. Despite having just six turnovers in the first half, Connecticut had 11 in the second half, something head coach Curt Miller believed made a significant difference.
“We left a lot of points out there with our double-figure turnovers in the second half,” he said. “What really hurt was holding them to 10 points in the third quarter, and we couldn’t break away because we had so many turnovers in a stretch where I felt like we could extend the lead.”
Turnovers were certainly a factor in this game, one where the largest lead by either team was just seven points.
Limiting turnovers will be key for the Sun going forward, especially against the Atlanta Dream who have challenged the Sun in their previous two matchups this season. An extra couple of turnovers in Wednesday’s game could be the deciding factor in whether Connecticut continues their losing streak or begins to turn their luck around.
The Sun miss Layshia Clarendon
After the game, Miller said, “We’re now 1-4 since we lost Layshia. I mean, she’s our sixth starter. She’s our toughness. You know, we were doubling with small guards on Sylvia Fowles. There’s no one tougher, no one better at doubling than Layshia. So we miss her. We miss her tempo, we miss being able to get Jasmine [Thomas] quality breaks.”
However, he acknowledged that injuries are a part of this game and a part of this league saying, “You know, and that’s not an excuse. This whole league is dealing with injuries and injuries won’t be done. It’s just the nature of what this league is about.”
When Jasmine Thomas was asked if she missed Clarendon’s presence in the game she responded, “Absolutely.”
She added, “Her voice is still there, of course, you know, it’s nice having her around, having her be able to, you know, be like an extra coach for us. But just her, you know, she was strong with the ball, she was great for us. Defensively, offensively leadership, just everything that she brings to the table, we absolutely miss her.”
Connecticut is clearly still figuring out how to play without Clarendon as they continued to look disconnected at times throughout the game, though they have made progress.
Before Natisha Hiedeman, who the team picked up on Thursday, checked in during the second quarter, Miller double checked she had her jersey on before sending her in. Though she appeared to be playing through nerves in the three-and-a-half minutes she played, she finished with an offensive rebound, an assist and a steal.
However, Hiedeman will not be able to take on all of Clarendon’s responsibilities, others will also have to pick up the slack.
“Everybody has to take a little piece of that,” Thomas said. “That’s the leadership standpoint, especially just taking more responsibility, more accountability, and then, you know, just-just figuring out, I feel like for sure, we have the tough-minded people to do it, we just, we just got to make it happen.”
Of course, the big question is when.
“I mean, the goal is always next game, you know, you can’t get stuck in the past, you gotta learn from it, you gotta move on,” Thomas said. “The good thing about this league is it’s up-tempo, the next games are always coming, right up. So we kind of have to be mature enough to advance to get better, you know, the faster we can learn, change these mistakes and gel back together, the better.”
The Sun’s next game is Wednesday against Atlanta and with two practices before the game, there is certainly time to prepare. And if not, just two days later the team will be back at home to take on the Phoenix Mercury.
The starters need to play better
The Sun rely on their starters to produce at a high level, something they did not do last night.
Though Alyssa Thomas and Courtney Williams both scored 11 points, they did so shooting a combined 9-26. Jasmine Thomas led the team with 16 points but also had seven turnovers. Shekinna Stricklen had just six points, while Jonquel Jones was held to a season-low five points.
“In our core group of five starters right now there’s little room for error,” said Miller. “We have to have good nights by that. We’ve got to get Courtney going and get her in the flow. We got to get JJ [Jonquel Jones] going and all of a sudden you looked up and you know a few of your starters are low in points late in the game. And just there’s little room for error. We need all five starters to play well.”
After the game, Jones was clearly disappointed in her production saying, “It’s unacceptable for me to go out there and play and have five points at the end of the game.”
For the Sun, the starters lay the foundation for their success so it is critical that they set up a solid foundation for the rest of the team to build upon.
It is not time to panic about the Sun as every team will go through a rough patch at least once during the season.
Thomas summarized it best saying, “It’s a long season and I believe, wholeheartedly that this team is gonna get it back on track. So you just gotta stick with it, stay together.”
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