Even before the first jump ball of the season, Connecticut Sun guard Kara Lawson tried tempering unabated enthusiasm about the upcoming WNBA season with common sense.
Lawson, about to begin her 10th season, heard how good the Sun might be; that they might contend for its first league championship. But Lawson also understood the reality about the construction of the team.
Not only was Lawson the only Sun player to ever win a WNBA championship (in Sacramento), but none of its 11 players had won even one playoff game in a Connecticut uniform. And you need seven wins to take the title.
Not even Lawson knew how this fundamental lack of experience might eventually impact the team.
“Let’s win one before we talk about winning seven,” said Lawson in May.
Soon, the Sun will have its chance to run the table.
Connecticut (25-9) will be the first seed in the Eastern Conference when the postseason begins with Game 1 of the best-of-three Thursday at 8 against the New York Liberty at the Mohegan Sun Arena.
“I think we are ready,” said Tina Charles, who set the Sun’s single-season scoring record (18.0) and led the league in rebounding for the third straight season. “There are still little things we do that drive Coach [Mike Thibault] crazy, like not taking care of every possession we have.”
The Sun won the season series against New York 4-1. But the Liberty have something the Sun doesn’t, something Lawson knew would eventually comes into play.
Kara Braxton (Detroit), Plenette Pierson (Detroit), DeMya Walker (Sacramento), Nicole Powell (Sacramento) and Cappie Pondexter (Phoenix) have all won WNBA Championships.
“That’s a lot of experience,” said Lawson, who won her WNBA title in Sacramento in 2005 with Walker and Powell. “That’s a lot of playoff success. That’s a lot of pride over there.”
Liberty coach John Whisenant coached Sacramento’s title team.
“Our whole mind set [in Sacramento] was to build for the playoffs,” said Lawson. “He never placed too much emphasis on winning or losing in the regular season. It’s not that he didn’t care, but he wanted us to be playing in a certain way that wins for the playoffs – physical, tough and defensive-minded.”
The Sun has its share of championship players, but their titles have been won at the collegiate and international level.
Tina Charles, Renee Montgomery, Asjha Jones, Kalana Greene and Jessica Moore all won NCAA national championships at UConn. Charles and Jones won Olympic gold this summer in London.
Jones doesn’t think there is a correlation between surviving an NCAA postseason (which involves winning six games against six teams in three weeks) and a WNBA title run
“They are two totally different scenarios,” said Jones, who won national championships in 2000 and 2002 with UConn. “In college, you learn how to play hard, you learn how to prepare and how to be aggressive.
“But as a professional, when you are asked to play a series against a team, there is no comparison to what it takes to succeed. It’s different to prepare for one game at a time, then it is to play a team again and again over the short span.”
Charles sees some similarities in the experiences. She was a part of two UConn undefeated national championship teams directed by a very demanding coach, Geno Auriemma.
“It helped me learn how to mentally prepare myself for every [postseason] game we played,” said Charles. “”This is the playoffs. I was nervous last year, when I played in them for the first time [as a pro].
“But now, I have more confidence and I know the team has more confidence in me and I have more in them.”
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