UNCASVILLE, Conn. – Anne Donovan was happy with the way the Connecticut Sun played through three weeks of training camp leading up to the start of the 2014 season. Friday's season opener, however, was the opposite of what she had seen during camp.
"I just think we came out and laid an egg, there's no question about it," Donovan said after the Sun's 75-54 loss to the New York Liberty at Mohegan Sun Arena. "We just did not have a good showing, and I know they're disappointed about it."
Connecticut played better defensively than the scoreline would suggest, especially against old friend Tina Charles. Charles, making her debut for the Liberty after a blockbuster trade from the Sun on April 15, was held to nine points in a hostile environment. A mix of cheers and boos in her pre-game introduction became a loud echo of boos by the end of the first quarter.
"It was just the process running its course," Charles said. "They're going to love you, hate you and love you again. That's all it is. They have a right to how they feel, and I'm still going to go out there and play my hardest."
Up against Charles was a player making her professional basketball debut.
Chiney Ogwumike was drafted first overall by the Sun on the night Charles was traded to New York. Originally, Connecticut, which had planned on taking Ogwumike long before the trade went down, had hoped that they would be able to play her and Charles together.
Ogwumike struggled early on but eventually fell into a rhythm. The former Stanford Cardinal finished with 13 points and five rebounds and played a team-high 32:02 Friday night.
"She did good," Charles said. "You know, she's playing hard. She's relentless on the boards, and that's exactly how every rookie is when you come in the league. You're very anxious. She didn't seem like she was nervous at all, so I'm just really happy for her. I know she's going to progress throughout her career."
The biggest issue for the Sun was on the offensive side of the ball, where Connecticut shot 30 percent (21 of 70) from the field. Connecticut was able to grab 12 offensive rebounds for 14 points, but a weak shooting effort overall cost the Sun.
In her return to the Sun, Katie Douglas played nearly 32 minutes, but a 1-for-7 showing from the field and five total points put a damper on a night that started with a thunderous ovation from the 6,039 fans in attendance.
"It's definitely not the way we wanted to come out," Douglas said. "I feel like the two preseason games with New York, we came out with a lot more energy. Obviously it was a way different New York team that we saw tonight, and we knew that, we expected that. And give New York credit. They came in and executed their game plan, where I feel like we didn't execute ours."
Connecticut started well, taking a 21-20 lead into the second quarter, but things fell apart from there. The Liberty opened the quarter with a 7-0 run to take a lead they would never surrender.
New York led 37-31 at halftime, and after Anna Cruz hit a 3-pointer to make it a 12-point lead early in the third quarter, the Sun would never get closer than 10.
"Based on our preseason, based on our training camp, I don't think tonight was representative of what Connecticut Sun basketball is," Ogwumike said. "It was just sad that it was on this night. But hopefully, we'll be able to review what we've been working on and make better plays and make each other look good. I think that's why right now we're not beating ourselves up, because we know we can play better than that and we will be more aggressive."
Donovan admitted after the game that part of the blame for the loss is on her, as she is still trying to "figure it out" in terms of player rotations. After a difficult first season, she is working with almost an entirely new team that includes three starters who did not play for Connecticut last season.
With that in mind, the Sun were not beating themselves up after the game, nor do they have time to do so. After a 21-point loss that can be summed up by poor offensive execution and difficulty moving on from a missed shot, Connecticut must board a plane to Minnesota, where the Sun will play Maya Moore and the defending champion Lynx on Sunday.
"It wasn't our best night," Douglas said, "but we have a young team, so we've got to learn from this. And like coach said, the beauty of the WNBA is that you can't hang your head too low because we have to be ready to go in about 48 hours at Minnesota on Sunday."
Douglas will play a key role in this young Connecticut team learning to overcome difficult losses. Donovan said at the WNBA Draft that she did not bring Douglas, one of the WNBA's all-time greats, back to Connecticut to help a rebuilding process, she brought her back to win.
"No question, Katie Douglas is that leader, there's no question, Donovan said. "And she is the best leader a coach can have, on the court and off the court."