UNCASVILLE, Connecticut – A switch was flipped Friday night at Mohegan Sun Arena.
The Connecticut Sun, a young team of players with next to no experience playing together, was all over the losing spectrum through the first three games of the season, getting blown out at home by New York before pushing reigning champion Minnesota to overtime, only to struggle again at Chicago.
Friday night, they figured out how to win, defeating the Seattle Storm 71-59, who dropped to 0-3 with the loss.
"It's been coming," Sun coach Anne Donovan said, "and I can't say there won't be ups and downs as we move forward. We're a young team. But that's the team that comes to practice every day, that supports each other, that gets into each other, that works together every day."
Connecticut trailed for the first six minutes before taking its first lead of the game, and the Storm were only able to tie the game once after that. A bank shot from Allison Hightower with 8:31 left in the second quarter put the Sun up for good.
The Sun won the game inside, overwhelming Seattle under the hoop. Connecticut outscored the Storm 46-22 in the paint and won the rebounding battle 36-26. Seattle only got two second-chance opportunities that resulted in three points.
It did not seem likely going in that Kelsey Bone would be the star inside. Recently acquired from the Liberty in the Tina Charles trade, Bone has had a hard time adjusting to life with the Sun, according to Donovan, and Bone herself described the 78-68 loss to the Sky as "the worst game I've ever played since I was 10 years old."
But Bone delivered, scoring 13 points – including a buzzer beater in the third quarter – off the bench while pulling down eight rebounds to compliment center Chiney Ogwumike, who finished with 18 points and seven rebounds.
This is the first time Ogwumike and Bone have both been on the winning side of a basketball game. The two grew up playing against each other in Houston, always playing on separate teams, even through high school, during which they played 12 times. Bone only won one game against Ogwumike's team, only Ogwumike was taking her SATs that day.
Now playing together, the two are becoming more familiar with each other, and if Friday is any indication, they are turning into a dynamic front-court duo.
"(Bone's) just a powerful post, and I think she brought us so much energy," Ogwumike said. "Sometimes you put a lot of pressure on yourself like, 'I have to grab that rebound,' and next thing you know, we're both going after it, and that just shows that we're both really intense. And we just have a good time.
"And she's also a smart post...She plays powerful, and when you do that you can't be stopped. And tonight, Kelsey was pretty unstoppable."
Lost in the hype about Ogwumike and Bone is forward Kelsey Griffin, who grabbed nine rebounds and added six points in the win. Seven of those rebounds came in the first half, while Ogwumike and Bone had combined for four to that point.
"For two games in a row now, she's carried the brunt of the backboard going into halftime, then others pick it up in the second half," Donovan said. "But Kelsey Griffin, as undersized as she is, really knows how to compliment those other post players."
With a win now in the bag for the Sun, the schedule again shows its cruelty. Connecticut will be at Indiana Thursday night and will be back in Chicago on Friday before finally returning home for a four-game home stand at the start of June.
During that time, the Sun expect that they will continue to progress as a team, a prospect that has Donovan excited, who made it clear that Connecticut, after its first win, is still not where she wants it to be.
"I think this team is just, it's going to take us a while to get there," Donovan said. "Look at our schedule, look at who we played. We haven't played slouches, and we're a young team and there's going to be growing pains. So resiliency and staying aggressive and not putting our heads down, those are the signs that we look for...This team has so much heart and so much tenacity that we're going to get better as we go, and that combination's really going to help us as the season progresses."