ATLANTA — With less than five minutes to go in the second quarter, the Atlanta Dream’s Erica Wheeler was driving and attempted to pass to one of her teammates, but instead wound up just throwing the ball out of bounds. This play pretty much summed up the night for the Dream, as they were blown off the floor by the Connecticut Sun at home 93-68 Friday night.
Rookie Rhyne Howard’s presence was clearly sorely missed by the team, as she was out with a right shoulder injury. It wasn’t just her, as Nia Coffey was also out with a right knee, further contributing to the Dream’s woes.
With this loss, Atlanta has now lost three games in a row and is 3-7 in its last 10 games. Head coach Tanisha Wright is not passing up the blame and freely admits that the buck stops with her.
“I have to do a better job of preparing them and lighting a fire up under their butts,” coach Wright said. “For some reason, I haven’t been able to get that out of them so far, but that’s on me. That’s not on the players. I have to do a better job of probably preparing them for what they’re going to see when we play these really good teams.”
Connecticut is a really good team indeed, as this win moves the Sun up to 16-8 overall and the No. 3 overall seed in the WNBA while Atlanta dropped down to 10-14 and the No. 8 overall seed. The Sun’s methodical offense just took apart the team with the fourth-highest defensive rating in the league by relentlessly driving to the basket and drawing fouls.
That proved to be the ultimate difference maker in this game, as the Sun shot 32 free throws compared to just 14 for the Dream, making nearly 80 percent of their free throws. Coach Wright wants her team to be disciplined when it comes to fouling.
With the exception of Tiffany Hayes (18 points), AD Durr (12 points) and Naz Hillmon (13 points), the Dream got little to no production offensively from the rest of their team. They also had 18 turnovers as a team and had just five steals in comparison to 13 for the Sun.
“If the playoffs happen, it happens,” coach Wright said. “Is that what we want? Of course. Everybody wants an opportunity to play in the postseason…but before we can be thinking about the games ahead, physically, we have some things that we have to get better…. If we don’t get better in certain areas, that’s not going to happen anyway, period.”
The Dream’s defense, which is usually stout, allowed Jonquel Jones to score 21 points on 56 percent shooting from the field, 67 percent shooting from 3-point range and 90 percent shooting from the free-throw line. Other double-digit scorers for the Sun included Alyssa Thomas (11 points), Natisha Hiedeman (13 points) and Brionna Jones (10 points). Former Dream guard Courtney Williams also chipped in eight points, four rebounds, four assists and three steals.
This game was pretty much over from the beginning, as the Sun led 28-15 at the end of the first quarter. Monique Billings exited the game early with an ankle sprain, requiring Hayes to pretty much carry the team offensively as she had a few and-ones and one beauty of a bucket.
DeWanna Bonner added to the Dream’s problems throughout by hitting a buzzer beater to end the first half with the Sun leading 51-33. Things only got worse in the second half as the Sun at one point led 84-54 in the fourth quarter.
One of the few bright spots for the Dream was guard Kristy Wallace, who even though she only attempted and made one shot and scored four points and had four assists, was incredibly aggressive on the defensive end. She always hustled back on defense, always aggressive no matter who she was defending and even at one point stepped over DiJonai Carrington and gave her a light push on the other end of the court.
Wallace could be one of the players who could help turn this team around and allow the Dream to remain in the playoff picture. She, along with Hillmon and Howard, are just a few of the young players that will be powering this team forward.
“As a rookie, there’s a lot to learn… as you continue to be in this league, you’re going to learn a ton, but really just taking it all in from our vets, even our second and third players, because everyone has so much to offer,” Hillmon said. “Just learning and trying to figure out little ways to get better for myself and for the team.”