Nolan leaves with right hamstring injury

Smith’s Heroics Not Enough

Hornbuckle impacts game in more ways than one

Improvement in one area can sometimes mean a decrease in another. In the case of 2008 WNBA steals leader Alexis Hornbuckle, that means fewer thefts, but more rebounds – a lot more.

“I’m just trying to play better one-on-one defense and just help out my team,” said Hornbuckle, who entered Sunday with four steals in seven games – three fewer than she had in her record-setting seven-steal debut. “Not so much gambling, but locking in and locking down on a specific player.”

Hornbuckle’s role also has changed on offense, which has been giving her a lot more to think about than steals. “Right now she’s the starting point guard for our ball club,” said coach Rick Mahorn, who moved her into the starting lineup June 21 at Indiana. Hornbuckle came off the bench in all 34 games last season as a rookie. “She’s got to get everybody into positions to try to score and make sure we execute our game plan.”

While Hornbuckle has not been as prolific a ball thief, her tough defensive presence has manifested itself on the boards. She’s averaging 6.4 rebounds per game – the highest average in the WNBA by a guard, and more than two boards better than her rookie average (4.1 rpg).

For the first time this season, Hornbuckle found a way to come up big in both areas against the Sun. She had two steals – one for a layup in the first quarter and another in the fourth– and grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds. She had three offensive boards, none bigger than the second-chance opportunity that led to a go-ahead Shavonte Zellous jumper in overtime. She later drew a Connecticut offensive foul.

“I just wanted to change the flow of the game and get our momentum (back),” said Hornbuckle, whose effort was not in vain. If anything, it looks like she has indeed gotten her momentum back.

Not even Katie Smith’s most clutch shooting performance since last year’s Finals could put the Shock back in the win column.

Smith scored a season-high 28 points, including five in the final minute of overtime, but it wasn’t enough to prevent the Sun from taking a 95-92 victory at The Palace Sunday. It was Connecticut’s first road victory at Detroit since 2005.

Coming off consecutive seven-point outings, Smith scored nine in the fourth quarter, including a 3-pointer with just under a minute left to give Detroit a two-point lead.

“It was a great effort [by] Katie. That’s what we’ve been looking for,” said Shock coach Rick Mahorn. “She came out and she really carried this team on her shoulders tonight. Like I said, we just needed a couple stops and we’d be talking [about] a win right now.”

A questionable foul call on Shavonte Zellous with 10.7 seconds left gave Lindsay Whalen a pair of free throws to force overtime. After Zellous scored four points early in the extra session - finishing with 20 off the Detroit bench - the Sun edged ahead for good.

Sun guard Erin Phillips appeared to nail the dagger from long range - she was 4-of-7 on 3-pointers - with 53.7 seconds left, making it 90-85. Smith then countered with a triple and a tough 18-footer to make it 92-90 with 10.7 seconds left. “We actually put the ball in the hole tonight, just couldn’t quite get them to miss too often,” said Smith, who made 12 of 20 shots from the floor, including 4-of-6 from beyond the arc.

Deanna Nolan, Smith and Zellous scored 25 straight Shock points for one stretch. The trio accounted for the last eight of the second quarter, helping Detroit take a 45-40 halftime lead, and then the first 17 points of the third quarter. The Shock lead peaked at 10 points midway through the third - the largest advantage for either team - before Nolan left the game with a right hamstring injury.

Nolan, who was in visible discomfort from the opening tip on, did not play in the fourth quarter, finishing with 11 points. Mahorn said Nolan initially suffered the injury four or five games ago. She is listed as day-to-day.

The Sun capitalized in the fourth quarter on the glass - grabbing five offensive rebounds to Detroit’s two - and at the charity stripe, shooting 8-for-8 on free throws. (The Shock were 1-of-4 in the quarter.) “Didn’t get any stops. A couple of possession we needed a stop, but we didn’t get it,” Mahorn said. “I thought we played well enough to win the game. It was an offensive game, but we just need some key stops. One possession could have took us over [the top] and not have to bring us into overtime.”

The loss - which drops Detroit to 2-7, last in the Eastern Conference - spoils an otherwise fine showing. The Shock committed only 14 turnovers, their second-lowest tally of the season, and shot 47.4 percent from the field, well above their season average (39.9). “Obviously the record is disappointing,” Smith said, “but tonight the effort was better for the whole game. [We] just need to make plays when they count.”

Detroit also outrebounded the Sun, 45-37, and had 28 points in the paint, despite Cheryl Ford scoring only three. Ford picked up five fouls in 23 minutes, but still managed to grab seven rebounds. Taj McWilliams had 10 points, five rebounds and five assists.

The Sun countered with second-year center Sandrine Gruda, who scored 23 points on 11-of-18 shooting in her season debut. Phillups scored 19 and All-Star forward Asjha Jones added 18. “Yeah, we’re giving up a lot of points,” Katie Smith conceded. “People are talented, but we got to individually find it within ourselves to stop them when we can.” The Shock will get that chance on Saturday when they play at Connecticut.

AfterShocks: Nolan grabbed her 1,000th career rebound in the first half Sunday. Now with 1,003 rebounds, she’s likely to pass Swin Cash’s total of 1,068 later this season to become No. 2 in Shock history behind Ford. … After missing their first nine shots in the second quarter of Friday’s loss at New York - tying the franchise low with just two field goals - the Shock shot 50 percent (10-of-20) in the second quarter Sunday. Smith, Zellous and Nolan combined for 18 of Detroit’s 24 points.