Professional Basketball

Sun suffer sixth straight loss but bench growth eases the pain

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UNCASVILLE – Every so often one hears a heart-warming story of how the long suffering understudy steps in and becomes a star.

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Alyssa Thomas #25 was the high scorer for the Sun with 20 points. Photo by James C. Garman – Sports Page Magazine

That’s not exactly what’s going on with the Connecticut Sun because despite the recent efforts of the bench players, the team still lost its sixth straight game Sunday, an 88-77 defeat at the hands of the Indiana Fever (4-4). The Sun’s 1-7 start is the worst in the franchise’s 13-year history.

The Sun bench had 31 points and 14 rebounds in only a total of 20 fewer minutes than the starters who totaled 46 points and 17 boards.

Although the Fever led the entire game, midway through the third quarter by as many as 20 points, in the fourth quarter, the bench cut it to six points and although Head Coach Curt Miller was tempted to leave them in the for the duration of the game, he said a few were exhausted and asked to come out.

Former UConn defensive star, 5-11 guard Kelly Faris, in her third year with the team, played so hard, she brought Miller to tears.

Faris had two steals and played hard-nosed defense for 21 minutes Sunday; Friday in the Sun’s loss to Atlanta she had two steals and was 2 for 2 from the line in 13 minutes.

Among the last players to make the team, a chocked up Miller said Faris’ last two games are the reasons “I kept her. She’s not the most talented but she plays hard … and she cares. I just love to coach kids who are going to overachieve and she’s a kid who has exceeded expectations,” he added. Faris also pays attention to scouting reports which Miller felt some veteran players did not respond to as well.

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Rachel Barham #1 chipped in with 12 points. – Photo by James C. Garman – Sports Page Magazine

Faris said getting added minutes has helped her get into the flow and a feel for being on the floor and playing with certain players.

The second unit comes to practice every day and competes with the first group, she said. “We take it personally in practice. We are there and we want to get better and we want to make our team better,” Faris said.

 “At times, we didn’t execute with that starting group in things that we prepared for, Miller said, referring to the extensive scouting which goes on before any game. “You can almost forgive your rookies in the flow of the game, but your veterans know this is what we prepared for.”

Miller also had praise for 5-9 rookie guard Rachel Banham, among the nation’s scoring leaders at Minnesota, who Miller said was more relaxed in this game (12 points in 17:42 minutes off the bench – 2 of 4 from long range). He said her senior year numbers (her 3,093 career points set a new Big 10 record) masked some of the problems she would face as a pro.

“We knew she could score, we knew she is smart but we knew the speed and athleticism of the game was something she had to get used to,” the coach said.

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Jasmine Thomas #5 dribbling down the court. Photo by James C. Garman – Sports Page Magazine

Miller said Banham didn’t get rushed and let the game come to her against one of the league’s toughest defender in Briann January.

“I got really good screens (and) letting the game come to us,” made the difference said Banham. She said she is more comfortable on the floor. “We work in practice and Jazz pushing me every day is really helping me get comfortable out there,” referring to starting guard Jasmine Thomas.

“Coach is always saying just utilize your minutes, just come in and give it your all. We don’t know if we’re going to play two minutes, five minutes, or 10 minutes so we come in and do what we can. I think we’re definitely clicking,” she said of the bench players.

The game began on a troubling note for the Sun when the Fever defense forced six first quarter turnovers that helped Indiana to a 27-19 lead; it grew to a 12-point lead at the half. The Fever scored 26 third quarter points but a five-point scoring run by Banham pulled the Sun within 14 points entering the final period.

Miller said the short 24-second shot clock necessitates that the point of attack starts with the screens, which Indiana sets well and follows with executing a solid passing game. “We struggled with rotations from what could have set a disadvantage at the point of attack,” he said.

6-2 forward Alyssa Thomas, in her second year, had a team high 20 points and 6-6 first year center Jonquel Jones led the Sun with 9 rebounds.

But players are restless for a win.

“’I’m not discouraged with the growth but winning cures lots of evils and that locker room definitely needs a win, Miller said. “I keep telling them we have to do the little things that will get us a win.”

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