Two games last night in the WNBA, and they were intriguing in a lot of ways. Two Eastern Conference teams desperate for a win ran into each other, and spent most of the night seemingly trying to find ways to avoid winning. Then a cross-conference matchup saw a team famed for its defense face one historically known for its offense – and the all-attack squad came out on top in a low-scoring, defense-first game. Sometimes everything works out backwards.
The opening game was in Connecticut, where the Sun hosted the Atlanta Dream. The visitors arrived still sitting in second place in the East, but that’s down to their 10-1 start to the season. Since then they’ve gone 1-7, free-falling down towards the chasing pack. Connecticut should’ve been the perfect venue to turn around that slide. The Sun were 6-15 coming in, deservedly rock bottom of the East, and two miserable losses against Chicago and Washington over the weekend had maintained their run of misery.
The Sun were also shorthanded once again, with Allison Hightower out along with Kara Lawson’s long-term absence. Lawson continues to be missing with what’s listed as ‘family issues’ in the box scores, Hightower was out with either a strained knee (according to the box) or a back problem (according to the commentator). The confusion over Hightower’s injury led to a conspiracy theory or two considering it was the day before the trade deadline, but nothing happened today to substantiate any of that guesswork. Tan White replaced Hightower in the starting lineup, and Anne Donovan also made an unforced change (finally), by replacing Kalana Greene with rookie Kelly Faris on the wing. Atlanta have Tiffany Hayes back from injury now, but Sancho Lyttle continues to miss games due to her broken foot. After surviving so well without Lyttle when she was with Spain for EuroBasket Women earlier in the season, Atlanta have really missed her since she got hurt.
It’s that power forward spot that ought to be filled by Lyttle that’s going to dominate much of this discussion of last night’s game, but some other stuff happened first. For one thing, Connecticut had probably their most successful first quarter of the entire season – and they did it essentially without Tina Charles (or despite her, if you want to be a little mean). Charles played the opening 5:28 of the game, and left with her team trailing 16-13. She’d contributed one hook shot and a few free throws, along with some pretty lazy help defense, and being outworked by Erika de Souza in transition. The Sun were most effective offensively when she wasn’t even involved, with Kelsey Griffin, Renee Montgomery and Tan White making plays. When Charles sat down that developed even further, and the Sun took off. With Montgomery hitting threes and White scoring in a variety of ways, plus Mistie Bass doing her job as Charles’s fill-in, Connecticut led 28-24 at the end of the first quarter. 28 points in an entire half has been more typical for the Sun lately.