Tina Charles and bench performance lead Sun to comeback win over Sky, 82-77
UNCASVILLE, Conn. – In New England, when the Red Sox are as bad as they have been this baseball season, opening day for the New England Patriots is like Christmas Day to sports fans. Still, 6,658 people managed to find their way to Mohegan Sun arena, and were rewarded with a come-from-behind victory by the Connecticut Sun in a playoff-type atmosphere, 82-77 over a Chicago Sky team fighting for their first playoff berth.
Tina Charles, playing with nagging injuries that will force her to miss the Sun’s game on Wednesday in Phoenix, opened the game with eight straight points. After being held in check by the Sky’s bigger centers, Carolyn Swords and Ruth Riley, Charles exploded for 16 second half points to finish with a game high 24 points.
“As long as my teammates are able to find me on the offensive end I’m going to do something with the ball, I’m going to try my best to score,” said Charles.
Find her they did, as well as the rest of the team, assisting on 22-of-27 field goals. Chicago’s defense kept Kara Lawson from scoring but she had nine assists, tying her career high. Allison Hightower added five more assists.
The Sun trailed by 12 after the first quarter, seven at the half, three after the third quarter, and won by five as they showed the resiliency lacking during most of Friday night’s loss to Phoenix.
“We don’t have that sense of urgency to start games,” Renee Montgomery explained, “and then it kind of kicks in. We start okay, and then it clicks and then we’re a different mentality. You can see it, we can see it on film, we need to do it for 40 minutes so that’s what we’re trying to do and be focused because the little things right now are going to be so key.”
Montgomery, Tan White, Mistie Mims, and Danielle McCray were huge contributors off the bench, on both ends of the court. Offensively, led by Montgomery’s twelve and White’s eleven, the bench contributed 36 points for the Sun, compared to 22 from the starters other than Charles. Defensively, they also made their mark. The Sun frequently “went small” using McCray at the power forward position against Swin Cash, with the guards playing aggressively against the Sky tandem of Epiphanny Prince and Courtney Vandersloot.
In the two games with Connecticut played two weeks ago, Vandersloot had 11 assists in one, and 22 points in the other, while committing only six turnovers combined. While she scored 15 on Sunday, and had five assists, it took her a team high 18 shot attempts to get those points, and she turned the ball over eight times.
“We just got into Vandersloot, pressuring the ball,” said White, “not wanting to let them get it to their first option. I think we did a really good job as guards, making it difficult for Epiphanny and Vandersloot. I know at the beginning Vandersloot got a little hot at first, making some layups, but we adjusted well as a team and tried to contain her and make someone else score.”
Cash made them pay in the first half, scoring 15 of her team high 21 points while only missing one shot. The Sun held her to only six points in the second half, on two-for-six shooting.
“We played Danielle [McCray] at 4 a lot,” according to White, “so it gave us an opportunity to switch in different situations. Basically everybody except for Tina [could switch] with the idea that we’d play aggressive and at the end that slowed Cash done as well, so overall we did a good job making it tough for their perimeter players.”
Sun coach Mike Thibault also was full of praise for the job done by McCray.
“We’re making up plays on the run with Danielle as the power forward because she’s not used to doing that. I thought she did a terrific job not only helping us to spread the court but doing a good job on Swin Cash down the stretch. It’s hard, Swin is very aggressive on the boards but we kind of hung with it and it’s a terrific win right now starting out on the road trip.”
Sky coach Pokey Chatman was very disappointed at the Sky’s second half in particular, noting that the Sky had made a run when Connecticut had gone with a small lineup previously.
“It should have favored us, it favored us last time,” said Chatman. “We didn’t do a good job; we had the looks and we didn’t hit them and then we didn’t stop them so the momentum shifted.”
While Chatman refused to blame the injuries that have cost the Sky Sylvia Fowles and Ticha Penichiero, she did admit that the minutes Vandersloot was forced to play may have hurt her performance.
“I can recall four or five 10-footers that were just short. It’s a good shot, but they were coming up short,” said Chatman. “She turned the ball over a lot, but now we get ready for Minnesota. It’s a by-product of minutes. When you’re running the point, you’re out in transition, it would be nice if her minutes were about 28, she probably played 35 this game.”
The loss hurts the playoff hopes for Chicago, who are now one-half game behind New York in the fight for the final playoff spot. The biggest problem they face however is their remaining schedule features games against playoff teams Minnesota, Los Angeles, Seattle and Atlanta, while New York only has only one game remaining versus a playoff team (San Antonio) and four with Washington and Tulsa, the teams with the worst record in the league.
Connecticut, leading Indiana by a game and one-half in the race for top seed in the East, heads West, where Charles will rest “a lot of physical fatigue” in her words, and hope to perhaps return Asjha Jones to the court by the end of the road trip. This was a great way to end the short home stand however, a win in their pink uniforms for breast cancer awareness.
Looking at her pink uniform, White laughed.
“No matter the color of our uniforms we always try and come out and play aggressive, and tonight, we were behind but we didn’t let up defensively and we found a way to fight back.”