Atlanta, GA -- If Connecticut (12-15) has an Achilles heel in the form of an arena; it's the home of the Dream (11-16). As the Sun, 3-13 overall in Atlanta, fight desperately to remain in the playoff chase, Phillips Arena is not the most ideal of game locations.
The Sun found a way to sidestep that heel on June 7, beating the Dream 75-70. But as the saying goes, "That was then, and this is now..."
Fighting for air amid a rash of injuries to key starters in guard Alex Bentley (ankle), forward Alyssa Thomas (shoulder), and center Elizabeth Williams (knee), the Sun are a different-look squad as they face the Dream in August.
Connecticut had the advantage of full health earlier in the season but this week, face an Atlanta team that has found its rhythm behind the outstanding play of guard Angel McCoughtry, second in the league in steals with 2 per game and third in points, logging 20.3 per contest.
After falling to the Dream 102-92 on Sunday, the Sun struggled not only early but often in Tuesday's matinee. The visiting team fell behind 10-0 after the opening tip, and failed to drop a shot until 6:15 into the first quarter. Connecticut was unable to defeat McCoughtry, as the 6'1" powerhouse player blew through screens and welcomed the double team, consistently finding the open man.
The play of Atlanta guard Shoni Schimmel drew roars from the crowd with less than one second to the final buzzer of the first, as she fought through multiple defenders to drain a three.
The Sun's first half collapse culminated through a combination mistakes and stout Dream defense, as Atlanta held Connecticut to a franchise-record 18 points. The previous record was also set against the Sun on June 24, 2013, as Atlanta gave up only 20 points in the first.
"That's defense. We didn't let (Forward Jennifer) Lacy go off for 30 points and we just definitely contained (Center Kelsey) Bone and played well," said Atlanta's McCoughtry.
As the Sun struggled to capitalize on possessions, they also had a tough time handling the ball, committing nine turnovers in the first half, to Atlanta's two. The Sun finished the half shooting a lowly 18.5% from the field, as Atlanta, 39.7% from the field, danced to the locker room with a 33-18 lead.
Connecticut head coach Anne Donovan said the team's primary concern is the shooting, rather than the giveaways.
"We've had a lot higher turnovers against these guys. Not putting the ball in the hole was our issue."
Sun guard Shekinna Stricklen worked from beyond the arc, banking a three in the third quarter for her 16th straight game with a trey ball. However, her play from the perimeter wasn't nearly enough to lift her squad from the fourteen-point deficit that stared them in the face.
The Sun found their stride in the third, finishing the period with 23 points as Chelsea Gray logged her first double-figure game since a June 26 contest against the LA Sparks.
But Atlanta didn't let off their own gas, spreading the ball around for a 24-point third quarter effort of their own to enter the final period with a 16-point cushion.
Schimmel shimmied downtown yet again in the final minutes, knocking in her fourth three-pointer of the day, in her 15-point effort.
"I like those types of shots...those last second shots. For me to put those threes down, it felt good for me to be able to get shots like that up," Schimmel said.
While the Sun defensive effort wasn't necessarily outstanding, it was one of their best showings against the Dream this year.
"It was a whole lot better than the last two games. They scored 102 on us last time and 90 before that so defense today was one of the things that we were a little bit better at than we were the last two times," said Connecticut coach Anne Donovan.
However, better doesn't necessarily equate to enough. A third win over the Sun in ten days adds a lot to the gusto of an Atlanta team scraping up all the momentum it can gather at this point in the season.
"We've played them three times in a row so for us to go out there and take care of business that third game and go out there and win every single game against them these last three times. It was important for us to do that, especially at home," Schimmel explained.
With the 71-57 victory, Atlanta improves to 7-6 at home. As the Dream head to Indiana for an August 28 head-to-head with the Fever, the Sun head home to Uncasville for a meeting with the Phoenix Mercury.