Prior to the start of the 2012 WNBA season, Connecticut Sun Head Coach Mike Thibault was very clear about what his team needed to do in order to break into the elite of the WNBA and challenge for a championship.
"Closing out games, finishing games that you are leading at halftime on the road, that was something we struggled with at times last year and we need to address that," Thibault told WNBA.com just prior to WNBA Draft 2012 in April. "It comes down to those crucial possessions in front of a hostile crowd, where your opponents are making that push and you need to execute."
With the WNBA at an extended midseason break due to the London 2012 Olympic Games, a close look at the Sun's record at the midway point reveals an Eastern Conference-leading 15-4 overall record, including a five-game winning streak rudely interrupted by the Olympic break, but more significantly, a sterling 8-1 record on the road.
"We have exceeded all of those expectations," said Thibault to ConnectictSun.com. "Obviously first place, 15 wins, one loss on the road, one loss in the conference, it�s all been great."
The Sun's start to the 2012 season has indeed been great, as has the contributions of MVP candidate Tina Charles, currently starring for the U.S. Women's National Team in the aforementioned London Games, along with teammate Asjha Jones. Charles has been nothing short of terrific for Connecticut, earning Eastern Conference Player of the Month honors for both June and July.
If Charles and Jones return from London with a renewed hunger for a WNBA title and the solid first-half contributions of veterans Kara Lawson and newly-acquired Mistie Mims continue into the second half, the Sun may indeed rise in the East in 2012.
The veteran guard, like a fine wine, is improving with age, averaging career highs in scoring, minutes played, field goal percentage and rebounds while orchestrating the Connecticut offense. Thibault, and the league, have taken notice.
"Kara�s overall shooting percentage and everything else are approaching career highs if they are not career highs. It just makes a huge difference." said Thibault to ConnectictSun.com. " We assume a lot of nights they�re going to try and take away Tina Charles. But now that Asjha and Kara have had the first half of the season they�ve had, they�re going to get paid more attention to. Particularly Kara. She�s seen more traps and pick-and-rolls. So from a coach�s standpoint, I am trying to stay a step ahead by figuring out who is going to be more effective in a particular game to complement those players."
� Jim Reilly, WNBA.com