Successful Game Plan Leads Dream Past Sun

It took three tries.

Three tries for the Dream to come out on top against a team — the Connecticut Sun — that they may know better than any other team in the league. Playing three times in a month will do that, but the connections don’t stop there.

Dream coach Nicki Collen most recently was an assistant under Sun coach Curt Miller. Guard Alex Bentley was traded to Atlanta from Connecticut in the middle of the 2018 season. Two stops ago, guard Renee Montgomery was with the Sun. And in her first year in the league, center Elizabeth Williams appeared in 21 games for Connecticut after getting drafted by the Sun with the fourth overall pick of the 2015 WNBA Draft.

There’s a lot of history there, and this season, the history hasn’t been kind to the Dream. After defeating the Sun in three close games last season, Connecticut took the first two meetings this year.

But the third time, the script flipped. The Dream got out to a commanding 14-point lead in the first quarter and held on through 10 lead changes and 8 ties for a 78-75 win on Wednesday morning.

“That looked like a Dream game from a year ago,” Collen said. “I thought that we not only got good shots but really stuck them early. You look at Elizabeth’s line and she was 5-for-10. Her first two layups were blocked, so after those first two blocked layups she just put everything in the basket for the most part.”

Bad starts have been a theme for the Dream this year, and their 29 first-quarter points in Wednesday’s are a season high. The strong start set a tone that despite the losses, despite the difficulties, the Dream aren’t going down without a fight.

“We had a really strong start, and that’s something that we’ve struggled with,” Williams said. “I think we all had it in our minds that when we stepped on the floor today, we were gonna get good shots and make good shots. We did a good job of setting the tone early.”

After practice on Tuesday, Collen highlighted containing Sun forward Shekinna Stricklen from beyond the arc and limiting forward Alyssa Thomas in transition as keys for the Dream to be successful.

In the Sun’s wins this year, Stricklen averages four made 3-pointers. In their losses, she makes less than one. Wednesday, Stricklen played just 11 minutes and missed her only attempted 3-pointer.

“I thought we stuck to our game plan,” Collen said. “Up there, Stricklen was 7-of-11 from the arc. We said she wasn’t going to get 7 in this game. We were determined, early, to attack her and put her in actions so that they would have to make a decision about whether to play her to keep her as a spacer on the floor.”

The Dream’s limits on Thomas didn’t remove her from the game — she played almost 33 minutes — but her 7 total points on 3-of-8 shooting reflect what the Dream did to prevent her from getting downhill in transition.

After a close loss at Phoenix on Sunday, where Collen said the Dream checked every box on their game plan except getting a win, the Dream checked the final box on Wednesday.

They stopped Stricklen, limited Thomas and contained Connecticut on the offensive glass — and came away with the win.

“For three games in a row, our game plan — you could just check it off,” Collen said. “That’s why it’s been two of three wins and the other one we had a chance to win. We’ve stayed true to the game plan. We’ve switched where we were supposed to switch. I thought until the very end we did a really good job on the offensive glass. That’s a really good offensive rebounding team.”

The Dream now look to games against Minnesota and Los Angeles on Friday and Sunday with momentum starting to build. They’ve won two of their last three and the only loss was by two points on the road.

Momentum is gathering, and the Dream aren’t backing down.