A two-fer was to be had in Tulsa this weekend, as the Shock squared off with the Connecticut Sun on Friday to be followed with a Sunday matinee against the Washington Mystics. And overall, Tulsa won the weekend.
On Friday, it was a first quarter hole that the Tulsa Shock dug into that haunted the team through out their entire contest with the East-leading Connecticut Sun. Falling behind 25-10 after the first quarter was all it took to seal the game, despite the Shock ‘winning’ the other three periods of the night.
“We’ve got to play really well, we can’t have any types of letdowns in any of those quarters.” said Tulsa’s coach, Gary Kloppenburg, said of the first quarter lapse. “I thought we had really good shots tonight and we then missed some really easy shots inside.”
After the dismal first 10 minutes offensively, the Shock took the second quarter 24-21, tied the third 20-20, and finally won the fourth 21-20. It wasn’t lack of effort from Tulsa as their shots just wouldn’t fall in that first quarter, and Tulsa was 4-of-19 from the field. After a 17-2 Shock run in the second led to the only tie of the game at 27 each, Tina Charles swished a pair of free throws to break the deadlock and give the Sun back the lead for good. Charles gave a pre-Olympic effort to torch the Shock, finishing with a 24 and 10 double-double, hitting 10-of-15 from the field. Fellow future USA representative Ashja Jones and Kara Lawson contributed 14 each, with Jones adding 10 rebounds for a double-double of her own to propel Connecticut to the win.
Tulsa’s Ivory Latta shot 6-for-7 from behind the arc and led the Shock with 24, but one woman a team does not make. Kayla Pedersen also put up 10 points and five assists in the loss, the only other Shock player to reach double-digit scoring in the 86-75 loss. Along with the poor start, Tulsa committed 15 turnovers that led to 23 points and lost the rebounding battle 41-33.
“We’re a team that has no margin for error,” Kloppenburg said of his squad after Friday’s loss. He was singing a different tune after Sunday’s step up to a 78-62 win over the Washington Mystics to grab their third win of the season and match 2011’s win output before the midseason break.
“We wanted to come out and sustain energy for 40 minutes and we did that. We felt like the last couple of games we had some lapses,” Kloppenburg said. “Tonight we sustained our pressure defense all the way through. We made them take tough shots. We out-rebounded them and that’s a good rebounding team. We had 12 offensive boards to their six and forced 19 turnovers. That’s the type of effort we need to be able to get to keep ourselves in games and have a chance to win.”
Rather than falling into an early deficit, the Shock had a lead after the first quarter which they were able to expand on, rather than relinquish. Tulsa forced 13 first-half turnovers that led to 12 points on their signature defense. The second half was more of the same as the Shock kept plugging along for 40 minutes, something that Mystics coach Trudi Lacey sees as a missing link in her team.
“Our goal is to play better for longer stretches of time and to put together a 40 minute game,” she said. “There are stretches where we play well and we look good and then we have defensive breakdowns and we turn the ball over. We allow teams to go on runs and that has to stop.”
Perhaps to illustrate her point or perhaps because it was fresh in Lacey’s memory, the Mystics allowed Tulsa to finish the third and start the fourth on a 12-3 run to extend their lead to double-digits in the game. The Shock got a balanced offensive output in the game, with four players reaching at least the 10-point mark. Conversely for the Mystics, only Crystal Langhorne reached that plateau as she finished with 13 points on 6-of-9 shooting.
The Shock have two more games before the Olympic break, a home-and-home of sorts with the Minnesota Lynx. Tulsa hosts the Lynx for Tuesday’s camp day game and then travels to Minnesota to play on Thursday to close out the first half of the season.
When the action picks back up again, it is expected that Liz Cambage will add another wrinkle in the Shock game plan and add some needed rebounding and shot-blocking to complement the defensive intensity that Kloppenburg preaches.
Special thanks to Troy Littledeer for collaborating with me on the weekend wrap up!