Uncasville, CT -- What a difference a season makes. This time last season, the Connecticut Sun were rattling off wins left and right, winning seven of their first eight contests to open the 2015 season atop the Eastern Conference standings.
This season's Eastern Conference leader through seven games, the Atlanta Dream, were in the exact opposite position in the standings when the 2015 season came to a close. The Dream continued their stellar play early in the 2016 campaign by bouncing back from a slow start to knock off the young Sun, 83-77.
Atlanta entered the fourth quarter leading by 11, and it became apparent it was Angel McCoughtry's time to go to work on offense. McCoughtry scored eight of her 21 points in the final period, but that did not keep Connecticut from keeping the game close.
"Basically, we just didn't want to give up," McCoughtry said. "They were coming back a lot, and we just had to try to maintain the lead in that game."
The Sun were able to get the lead down to four with less than a minute remaining, thanks to an Alex Bentley baseline drive and layup, but were never able to fully come all the way back. Bentley finished with a season-high 18 points.
"I just shared with the team that I loved the effort when we could have quit and let the game get away from us," Sun coach Curt Miller said. "I was really proud that we got it back to a one-possession game and gave us a chance to grind, but we had too many stretches (that hurt us). We have to sure those stretches where we just play poor basketball to get where we want to be."
The Dream never trailed in the second half. McCoughtry did it all for her team throughout the game, and especially down the stretch. Tiffany Hayes came to play as well, adding a game-high 23 points of her own.
"We just want to continue what we have been doing," Dream coach Michael Cooper said. "Consistency is what championships are made of and our goal is to win a championship. It starts with games like this. Connecticut has always been a very tough team for us to play against, and we are fortunate to get this game today."
Connecticut was down by four at halftime, and that deficit would expand quickly in the first minute and a half of the third, as the Dream scored the first six points of the second half. Atlanta's lead would get to as many as 12 points, before Jasmine Thomas once again contributed a much-needed basket for the Sun. Thomas finished with 10 points, five assists, and four rebounds, her fifth double-digit scoring game of the season.
The Sun lead by seven after the first 10 minutes, and the second quarter is where the game flipped in favor of the Dream. Atlanta's defensive intensity picked up, forcing Connecticut to go four and a half minutes without scoring. This drought allowed the Dream to run off 13 unanswered points and regain a lead that they would never relinquish.
"That is what we're facing: how to stop runs, and go on our own runs, instead of going up, losing the lead and it taking so long to get the lead back," Jasmine Thomas said.
"In the first half, I did the same thing (took shots to stop the opponent's run), and they went in. In the second half, not so much. When the offense gets stagnate, and we go so long without scoring, you see a good look, and you think, ‘I could make this one.'"
Atlanta has now won five straight games, as well as six of their first seven this season. In this tale of opposites, Connecticut, with the loss, has now dropped five straight contests. The Sun started as season 1-6 one other time in franchise history - back in 2001 as the Orlando Miracle.