Professional Basketball

Sun improve intensity, defense but still fall to undefeated Sparks

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Uncasville – The Connecticut Sun (1-3) showed energy and team unity Thursday but still suffered a 77-72 loss at the hands of the undefeated Los Angeles Sparks, arguably the best team in the league right now.

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LA Sparks Essence Carson works the ball against CT Sun Alyssa Thomas in the first quarter of Thursday’s game at Mohegan Sun Arena.  Photo by  James C. Garman

“I really think we grew up tonight and we really battled,” said Sun first-year head coach Curt Miller of his team’s effort, which found them in the lead until the fourth quarter when the Sparks (5-0) defensive pressure and some missed key shots and free throws down the stretch cost them the game after they had pulled within three points with 24 seconds remaining.

Miller said the team was “hurt” after the game but that’s a good thing because the concern is there and they felt they had played hard and as a unit.

The Sun started off strong, led the entire first quarter by as many as 11 points behind starting guards Jasmine Thomas and Alex Bentley, who combined for 11 of Connecticut’s 20 points. Thomas finished with a team high 17 points and Bentley 14.

The Sparks started off slowly – Thursday’s game was their fourth road contest in seven games. For the game, they had an uncharacteristic 17 turnovers (they average 10), which gave the Sun 24 fast break points.

After trailing most of the game, the Sparks best player, 6-4 center Candace Parker, who was held to 4 points in the first quarter, got rolling and scored 12 points in the second quarter. She picked up three quick fouls in the third quarter but the team rallied, took its first lead a minute into the period, and never gave it up. Parker came back strong in the fourth quarter and finished with a game high 22 points.

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CT Sun Kelsey Bone drives through LA Sparks Nneka Ogwumike during Thursday’s game at Mohegan Sun Arena.  Photo by James C. Garman

 “It was evident that we had a sluggish start because we had so many turnovers in the first five minutes, said Parker. “When you turn the ball over it’s hard to get back in transition and we gave up 16 points in transition in the first half. They came out and they were hungry and we got lucky.”

Fatigue may also have accounted for the Sparks’ 65 percent free throw shooting, 14 percent below their season average.

The Sparks got a huge effort from Evgenila Belyakova who had 7 of the bench’s 8 points. Led by Shekinna Stricklen’s 8 points, the Sun got 24 points from its backups.

Sun players were disappointed with the loss, after coming close to what would have been an upset even at home, but said they played hard and it’s clear they are growing as a team.

“I think everybody is tired of losing. We knew that we had to come fighting from the tip because a lot of games we’ve started slow,” said Bentley.

“We improved on our turnovers and how we ran our offense, said Thomas.  “We were moving the ball and taking care of it, but also getting the shots we wanted.”

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LA Sparks Candace Parker controls the Fourth Quarter against CT Sun in Thursday’s game  at Mohegan Sun Arena.  Photo by James C. Garman

“We talk about the way we want to play and expect to play, said Miller. “And you can tell by their reaction after the game, that they really played hard for each other.  At times early, we were a little individual, but tonight felt like more of a unit.

Miller said the team could indulge in self pity and say it is a few possessions away from being 3-1 instead of 1-3 “but we are what we are and we’re going to keep grinding.”

Perhaps the most meaningful observations about the Sun’s growth came from Sparks Coach Brian Agler.

“Connecticut played hard and were very competitive; they battled and from what I have seen on film they are getting better,” he said.

The Sun will hope to continue the growth on the road at Seattle Saturday, where they will encounter the top 2016 draft pick, UConn super star Breanna Stewart, and   Tuesday at Phoenix.

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1 Comment

  1. Team Sports

    June 2, 2016 at 5:25 am

    That was a great game Sun made until the end game. It wasn’t that bad and also gives the thrill to the audience. The undefeated Sparks still leads to achieve their goals of being undefeated.