Sports

Sun Ready For Playoffs

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Tina Charles (Jessica Hill/AP Photo)

Tina Charles (Jessica Hill/AP Photo)

By PAT EATON-ROBB, Associated Press

UNCASVILLE, Conn. (AP) _ Connecticut coach Mike Thibault
believes his team’s best years are ahead of it, and center Tina
Charles says the Sun’s season already can be considered a success.

But that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t like to win the WNBA
championship.

After missing the playoffs each of the last two seasons, the Sun
finished the regular season this year at 21-13, tied for the best
record in the conference, despite having seven players with fewer
than three years of WNBA experience.

Connecticut, the second seed in the East, will host defending
conference champion Atlanta in the first game of Round 1 on Friday
night.

“In some ways we are, I won’t say a year ahead of schedule, but
we’re making progress at a pretty good rate right now, yet we’re
still the first or second youngest team in the league,” Thibault
said. “We’ll probably add another really good player next year, so
we have a lot in front of us. But the opportunity is still right
there now, so let’s seize as much of it as we can.”

The Sun has the same core as in 2010, when the team went 17-17
after trading away veteran Lindsay Whalen to Minnesota for the top
pick in the draft (Charles) and another former University of
Connecticut star, Renee Montgomery.

“We were a whole new team and young,” said forward Asjha
Jones, who is in her 10th WNBA season and one of the Sun’s few
veterans. “New and young doesn’t really go well together. This
year everybody’s been overseas, they are more mature. And once
everyone is more comfortable in their roles, basketball comes a
little bit easier.”

Charles has solidified her role as team’s top option, dominating
the post. She averaged 17.6 points per game, led the league in
rebounding at 11 per game and broke her own WNBA record by putting
up double figures in both categories 23 times this season.

“I just see myself as somebody to be there on the offensive and
defensive end,” she said. “Just somebody to keep working and do
the little things my team needs me to do.”

The playoff series with Atlanta will provide the league with the
marquee matchup of Charles and Angel McCoughtry, the first pick in
the 2009 draft.

The Dream’s star, who faced Charles and Montgomery often while
playing in college at Louisville, said she’s not surprised by the
Sun’s success, because the team features five former Huskies.

“That’s why they are in the playoffs now,” she said. “They
know what it takes. They’ve been there multiple times. They’ve been
coached by the best, so they know what it takes to be there.
They’re hungry.”

Thibault said it has also helped to have Jones and another
veteran, Kara Lawson, healthy all season, after both missed
significant time a year ago.

Lawson is the only player on the roster to have won a WNBA
championship, having been part of Sacramento’s championship team in
2005. She said if the Sun wants to win this season, players need to
put the regular-season success behind them and lock in on preparing
for the Dream and McCoughtry, who is averaging over 21 points per
game.

“We feel like we have as good a shot as anyone in the East,”
she said. “It’s such an emotional roller-coaster that you can’t
get caught looking at anything else.”

     (Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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