UNCASVILLE, Conn. — She used motions like a boxer.
Storm guard Betty Lennox spoke of "fight" and "aggression," but for 37 minutes of the Storm's game against Connecticut on Friday, there was none. Only exasperated glares when the Storm was beat on defense or frustrated stares when the ball went dribbling out of their reach for another turnover.
The Storm finally responded in the fourth quarter. But it was too late to stop an 85-81 loss to the Sun at the Mohegan Sun Arena, Seattle's first stop on a grueling five-game trip.
"That's the problem; we played hard too late," Storm reserve Barbara Turner said. "We play like that from the beginning and it's a game we can win by 10 or 15 points. They [Connecticut] didn't do anything we haven't seen before. It's just a matter of us knowing that we're going to play against good teams on this road trip and we have to come out early with the right focus and right mental toughness, which is what we had in the [final] minutes of the game."
The Storm chopped a 15-point deficit to 72-67 with 3:07 remaining after forward Lauren Jackson hit a three-pointer off an assist from guard Sue Bird. Three reserves — Turner, center Tiffani Johnson and guard Tanisha Wright — played a strong part in getting Seattle back in contention.
But Connecticut had already done its damage. The Sun (6-1) brimmed with confidence while the Storm (4-4) battled to show the crowd of 8,138 it wasn't the most talented Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde team in the WNBA.
The Storm players' efforts were stuffed, like Sun guard Katie Douglas did Bird on a driving layin attempt.
Lennox and center Janell Burse teamed with Turner to provide some offense late in the game. But when the Storm needed to foul in order to stop the clock, Sun guard Lindsay Whalen made seven of her team's nine free throws in the closing 53.6 seconds to preserve the win.
All five Sun starters finished in double figures, led by Douglas' 18.
"We went down really early and that's what killed us, but we knew we could fight back," said Jackson, who scored 13 of her 17 points in the second half. "The positive is that it wasn't [like in] Sacramento, where we just gave up altogether. We fought back and know we can play like that, we've just gotta get over that hump and start winning some basketballs."
The sole bright spot was the impressive play of Burse, the only starter who came out strong. Defended most of the night by 7-foot-2 Margo Dydek, Burse finished with a season-high 23 points and a career-high 14 rebounds.
Burse, who's 6-5, missed the Storm's opening two games due to a shoulder injury.
"My arm is feeling closer and closer to where I want it to be and I'm playing with more confidence now and wanted to be more aggressive," said Burse, who scored seven of her team's 13 first-quarter points as the Storm fell behind by 14.
While Burse was consistent throughout the game and Lennox (12 points) and Turner (13) shined late, Bird's offense barely made an appearance. She scored her only points on a jump shot with 48.5 seconds remaining in the game, finishing with two points and 10 assists. It was Bird's lowest point total since she scored three in Game 2 of the Storm's playoff series with Minnesota in 2004. She left that game with a broken nose.
Still, it's not why Seattle lost.
The team can point to the first quarter for that, when it went 6 for 18 from the field and was outscored 10-4 in the paint.
"We came in at halftime and talked about being more aggressive and stop being so passive, taking charge," said Storm coach Anne Donovan, whose team gave up 21 points on 17 turnovers. "Our bench did that. Second half, our bench is the one that made the run and gave us a lift and really got after it and played really hard. Unfortunately our starters didn't start us that way."
Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or email@example.com