No Kara Lawson. No Renee Montgomery. No Tan White.
Missing such a talented and experienced trifecta of players can be a daunting task for any team to overcome, and at first that seemed to be the case for the Connecticut Sun. But as they near the end of the first full month of the WNBA season, the Sun, who have been forced to make several roster changes to cope with their injuries, seem to finally be hitting their stride, although it took them until late in the second half of Sunday's game to do so.
Connecticut trailed by as many as 15 in the second half and overcame a 71-57 deficit with 7:04 to play to take a 77-76 lead with 58 seconds remaining. But Angel McCoughtry capped off a memorable performance with a drive to hoop that resulted in her 33rd and 34th points of the game, as the Atlanta Dream improved to 7-1 with a 78-77 win over the Sun.
McCoughtry, who played her college basketball at Louisville and competed against the University of Connecticut in several big games, has become a Connecticut Sun killer. In just five seasons, she now has five 30-point performances against the Sun. Her 34 on Sunday afternoon marked a season best, topping her previous high of 29 against Indiana on May 31. McCoughtry also broke the Dream's single-game record for attempted field goals, as she shot the ball 33 times.
"She's just a great, confident 1-on-1 player," Connecticut coach Anne Donovan said. "Unless you double team her, she's very capable of scoring over anybody. She can go to the basket, she can shoot it from the three-point line, so it makes for a very difficult match."
At several points throughout the game, it looked like Atlanta was on the verge of running rampant over the Sun, but Connecticut found productivity from players who needed to step up in the aftermath of the injury crisis. Kelsey Griffin scored a career-high 16 points and Kalana Greene added a season-high 14. The Sun also got productive minutes from newcomers Iziane Castro Marques and Sydney Carter, who was making her Sun debut on Sunday after sitting out the first three games she was with the team. Kayla Pedersen, who was acquired in a trade with Tulsa last week, played seven minutes as well.
"I can't say anything but good things about the effort and how well we played together and how hard we played," Donovan said. "Considering where we are with our numbers, I'm pretty proud of that effort."
When three experienced players like Lawson, Montgomery and White are out injured, it can be catastrophic for a team, but Donovan believes it has brought the team closer together, and has them in good shape going forward.
"I feel good about where we are from a chemistry standpoint, even changing things out recently, Sydney and Izzy finding her way back and now Kayla thrown in the mix," Donovan said. "We're still in flux, obviously, but I like where our chemistry is right now. I like how hard we fought in that game. We could have let another game slip past, and we just refused to do that today."
Despite Donovan's praise, the players took the loss extra hard, especially Greene, who believes that the injury crisis should be an excuse for having to make a big comeback and eventually losing.
"We like fighting hard and I thought we did," Greene said, "but we have to turn it into winning, because that's what we do. That's what we're supposed to do. We hold ourselves responsible. Everybody has to chip in. We have our backs against the wall, but we all are stepping up to the challenge. Hopefully next game we step up and get the win.
"At the end of the day, we're all professionals and we're here for a reason, so if people are hurt, everyone has to step up and do their part. Everyone from 1-11, if you're suited up, you should be ready to play at all times. It is unfortunate that some of our key players are injured, but we're not the only team that's ever dealt with it, we're not the only team dealing with it now, so we just have to keep fighting to overcome it."
For more on the Connecticut Sun's season, check out our 2013 storystream.