Here's the unedited game story on tonight's game. Check online or in the print edition of the Bulletin for more, as well as back here tomorrow morning for more reaction from tonight's 88-80 preseason win over Houston.
By MATT STOUT
MOHEGAN — With roughly four-and-a-half minutes to play Friday and the Connecticut Sun clinging to a two-point lead with four rookies on the floor, coach Mike Thibault looked down his bench for Lindsay Whalen — and no one else.
He had his team. Whalen, the Sun’s floor leader, joined newcomers Barbara Turner, Kerri Gardin, Jolene Anderson and Amber Holt to take on a Houston Comets squad that featured a combined 22 years of pro experience on the floor. Outside of Whalen, the Sun boasted two — both courtesy of Turner.
And you know what? The Sun didn’t blink.
Tied with two minutes to go, Connecticut scored 13 of the game’s final 18 points to take an 88-80 exhibition win over the Comets in front of 4,411 fans at Mohegan Sun Arena.
Whalen led all Sun scorers with 18 in her first preseason game, hitting a tie-breaking 3-pointer to propel the late-game run on her 26th birthday. But just as huge were Anderson and Gardin, netting 16 points apiece, and Turner, who notched 12 against her former team.
The Sun’s final preseason game, the win essentially means nothing. How they did it does.
“I left them out there to see how they would handle it,” Thibault said of his final five. “I thought with Lindsay out there also, some of those young kids would play a little calmer. Obviously Lindsay hit some big shots and some free throws, but overall, they showed good poise. That group was good.”
Fighting for essentially two remaining roster spots, Gardin and Anderson made strong pushes to avoid final cuts before next Saturday’s regular-season opener against Atlanta. Gardin made 7-of-8 shots and grabbed five rebounds, continually attacking the rim in 26 minutes of action, more than any Sun player not named Whalen.
Anderson, meanwhile, hit 4-of-7 3s and led Connecticut with seven boards after grabbing eight against Phoenix on Sunday, showing that her ability to overcome her height (5-foot-8) has translated from college. As a team, the Sun hit 13-of-25 3s after making 8-of-40 through their first two preseason games.
“They’ve been doing that throughout training camp,” Turner said of Gardin and Anderson. “Those guys have been coming along, coming along. Jolene’s confidence has shown the last two or three days. She went through one practice where she didn’t miss a shot. And Kerri is Kerri. She has the same expression, the same look, doesn’t change, no emotion. But she gets a lot of things done.”
It wasn’t all pretty Friday. The Sun struggled early, missing 12-of-17 shots to start, and largely were bailed out by new edition Tamika Whitmore, who scored nine of her 10 points in the opening frame. They also committed 23 turnovers, which Thibault attributed to the new faces and “being careless.”
But they shot 55.2 percent in the second half, outscoring Houston by 14. Gardin (14 points in the second half) and Anderson (13) were the biggest reasons why.
Danielle Page, also vying for a roster spot, tallied seven points and four rebounds, playing well beyond her numbers. Cori Chambers, who started, score three points on 1-of-4 shooting.
“Shoot the ball … that’s what Coach Thibault tells me to do,” Anderson said. “That’s probably one of the things I do best. So I just wanted us to get an opportunity in the second half to let our team win.”
Gardin got similar advice for Whitmore, who arrived in camp on Wednesday.
“Be aggressive,” the 6-foot-1 Gardin said. “I’m undersized in the post, so I just wanted to use my quickness and get around the bigger post players. Going up against her (Whitmore) in practice, I learned.”
“Buckets,” Whitmore said. “That’s her new nickname. There are a lot of big girls in this league so use what you have to your advantage. And that is her quickness and her length.”
The Sun have an off-day today and will travel to Boston Sunday for a three-day “retreat” at Emmanuel College for practice and training.
“It does complicate things and I have no answer for you,” Thibault said of deciding who’ll be cut. “It is complicated. I don’t know ultimately what we’re going to do. We’re going to get away from a couple days, practice, get a chance to work on some things. And try to make a decision somehow.”
Reach Matt Stout at 425-4250 or firstname.lastname@example.org