Rookie play proves crucial in road loss

The New Sun Rises

For the past two seasons, the Connecticut Sun’s aging veteran corps couldn’t figure out the Detroit Shock, winning once in 10 meetings.

Leave it to a couple of rookies to solve an old problem.

Amber Holt had 19 points and eight rebounds, both career highs, and Kerri Gardin scored 14 points off the bench for the Sun, which knocked off the Shock, 85-68, at Mohegan Sun Arena. It was Connecticut’s first regular-season victory against Detroit since June 18, 2005.

Connecticut (11-3) was unrelenting, erasing the Shock’s eight-point lead in the first quarter with offensive rebounds and timely 3-point shooting, especially from Holt (4-of-5) and Gardin (3-of-3). Overall the Sun were 12-of-27 from downtown, while Detroit was just 5-of-16.

“When we don’t defend, anyone can shoot the basketball and they did today,” Shock head coach Bill Laimbeer said. “They shot very well from the 3-ball and put us back on our heels a little bit, but we’re not there mentally and it was embarrassing for us.”

The Shock had a 16-8 lead in the first quarter when the Sun’s three leading scorers – Asjha Jones, Lindsay Whalen and Tamika Whitmore – went to the bench. Connecticut’s reserves ended the first quarter on a 14-0 run. They were helped by six offensive rebounds.

“It was a loss of focus and intensity. We didn’t have it on the defensive end,” Deanna Nolan said. “We were giving up second, third and sometimes fourth shots and they capitalized on those with easy put backs.”

Five straight points by Katie Smith helped Detroit (10-4) regain the lead temporarily in the second quarter, but Holt responded with back-to-back triples. Her put-back to end the second quarter put the Sun ahead at halftime, 40-33.

The Sun tried to seal the deal in the third quarter with 3-point barrage that included triples from Barbara Turner, Holt, Gardin and Whalen to go up 61-46. When Detroit pulled within single digits in the fourth, Gardin dropped her final 3-pointer to make it 73-62.

Gardin’s 14 points outscored Detroit’s entire bench (13 points), which also got outrebounded by the Sun’s subs, 14-6.

Holt’s final long-distance dagger made 83-66 with less than three minutes to play. Holt’s hot night (she had only four 3s all season entering Tuesday) foiled the usually dependable Shock rookies. Some combination of Tasha Humphrey, Alexis Hornbuckle and Olayinka Sanni has often played a role in Detroit’s success this season, but the trio went ice cold in Connecticut. They combined to shoot 0-for-11 with one assist, four turnovers and three fouls.

Detroit did get some promising play from a couple of veteran forwards, however. Cheryl Ford notched her third consecutive double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds (and five steals). Sheri Sam had her second straight performance of nine points and six rebounds after 12 quiet performances to open the year.

For all the new blood on both sides, it was a couple of familiar faces leading the way. Jones scored 20 to lead the Sun while Nolan had 17 points for Detroit.

A Connecticut squad built around Katie Douglas, Nykesha Sales and Margo Dydek reached the WNBA Finals in 2004 and 2005, but started to slide in recent seasons, relinquishing its “Beast of the East” status to Detroit, which has won the past two conference crowns. All three are no longer with the Sun.

“The franchise has had lots of battles against Detroit, but most of the players here haven’t yet,” said Whalen, who finished with 10 points. “It’s a different look and different players. Those two things are big differences.”

While the current Connecticut players may have removed a mental roadblock by defeating Detroit (and taken first place in the East outright), their confidence quickly will be put to the test. These teams meet again Thursday at The Palace, though Laimbeer didn’t sound sure he wanted a rematch so soon.

“I don’t know, it depends on our players,” he said. “If our players find themselves. They have some internal problems right now that we have to fix, and if we do and come together, we will do better.”

AfterShocks: Eshaya Murphy, acquired Sunday from Minnesota for LaToya Thomas, joined the team for the first time in Connecticut. She did not play.