In analyzing their team's play, Connecticut Sun coach Mike Thibault and his staff often break down the season into quarters. With Sunday's 87-79 win over Washington, the Sun essentially completed that first segment: eight games, seven wins -- and still, there are concerns.
"We get a pretty good grade for a quarter," Thibault said following the game in which the Mystics (2-6) trailed by as many as 24 points but closed the deficit to eight. "I’d say we’re a B-plus. If you gauge it against expectations, we’d be an A. If you gauge against our expectations, we would be a B. So I’m splitting the difference.
"I’m happy with their effort, their camaraderie," he added. "I just want more consistency in finishing games."
Closing games has been a problem for the Sun this season, despite surging to the Eastern conference's best record thus far. New York twice have made late-game runs (once in the third in New York, again during the fourth in Connecticut), Minnesota went on a 16-1 fourth-quarter run before the Sun clawed back Friday, and again, Sunday, the Mystics' comeback was rather inconsequential but emphasized the Sun need what Tamika Whitmore called "that killer instinct."
"I think we all came in at halftime frustrated (Sunday, up 41-38)," Whitmore said. "And I just told them, ‘Look, we just have to channel that into basketball,’ in a few choice words, in a different way. But you have to channel that into basketball. You have to channel that into saying, ‘OK, if you’re not going to give me this call, next time I’m going up to finish the play regardless of what call you’re going to give me. I’m going to make you feel embarrassed because you didn’t make the right call.’
"It’s just the fact that you have to have a will to win," she added. "And once everybody finds that will, and you have that killer instinct, there’s no letting up."
Whitmore was asked that with so many young players on the Sun's roster if it will take time to find that drive to close teams out.
"I think it’s part of it, but I don’t think anybody has ever played a perfect game," she said. "I don’t think you look for anybody to play a perfect game. But everybody can have that killer instinct and that will to win. And that’s all you look for. I think it was a good showing for them (Sunday) so the next time they face (Washington), you can say, ‘This is what you have to do.'"
That said, the Sun looked very good in building their lead over the Mystics. They distributed the ball well, used their defense to create in transition and a game after getting just 14 points from their bench, the reserves accounted for 33 points (15 from Barbara Turner, who turned 24 on Sunday).
"I think we came out with a certain focus for our game plan and we continued to attack offensively," Turner said of building the lead. "Our veterans did a good job of taking the lead in the first quarter and everybody else just fed off of that."
Looking ahead, the Sun now start their longest road trip of the season with ive games in 11 days, all on the West Coast. The Sun leave today, play tomorrow at Minnesota (ESPN2) and then have Los Angeles, Seattle, Phoenix and Sacramento. The Sun return home to host Detroit Tuesday, June 24. Connecticut has historically been good on their West coast jaunts. In 2003, they snapped a three-game losing streak with back-to-back wins over Phoenix and Los Angeles; they were 3-1 on trips in 2005 and 2007, and last season, they became the first team in WNBA history to score more than 100 points in back-to-back games, at Phoenix (July 6) and Los Angeles (July 7).
The Sun are the only unbeaten team on the road this season, though they've only played two games (at New York, at Chicago).