— The Connecticut Sun had been in a defensive funk. The choreography hadn't been right; bad on Broadway, especially bad in the WNBA. So it wasn't the best time for a visit from the dynamic Diana Taurasi, the league's leading scorer and former UConn national player of the year.
But now the Sun have their own UConn icon, rookie center Tina Charles.
On Friday, Charles was more magnificent than Taurasi, with 19 points and a franchise-record 23 rebounds to lead the Sun to an 82-79 victory before 9,518 at Mohegan Sun Arena.
"This is what I wanted from myself," Charles said. "And this is the reason I went to UConn because Coach [ Geno] Auriemma produces this type of player. My goal is to try and do this every night."
It was Charles' 10th double-double, two short of Taj McWilliams-Franklin's team mark. The WNBA rookie record is 17 by Candace Parker and Yolanda Griffith.
"Tina was sensational on the boards," Sun coach Mike Thibault said.
Charles' effort was one short of the WNBA record set by Chamique Holdsclaw.
Taurasi scored 26 points and her presence brought fans out in a big way. She was cheered in introductions, then booed as the game moved on.
"Yeah, the fans are cheering Kara Lawson [the former Tennessee star] and booing me?" Taurasi said. "What's going on in Connecticut anyway?"
The arena was sold out for the first time this season and rocking, fueled by nine lead changes and eight players scoring double figures. Sandrine Gruda had 17 points and nine rebounds.
Penny Taylor scored 15 for the Mercury (5-8) and her three-pointer tied the score at 66 with 6:52 to play. A three-point play by Candice Dupree (16 points) provided the lead 24 seconds later. The Sun had led by nine in the second quarter.
It went back and forth from there until two great hustle plays by Tan White and two threes by Anete Jekabsone-Zogota (11 points) in the final three minutes gave the Sun an 82-75 lead.
Taurasi and White battled all night, just like last week in Phoenix.
"You just have to stay aggressive," White said. "When you are playing a scorer like Taurasi, you know that they can score from any place on the floor."
Like with 4.7 seconds to play. But Taurasi's three, which would have tied it, was short.
The Sun fell behind early. With Dupree beating them down the floor to score 11 straight points, the Mercury opened leads of 9-1 and 14-3. At that point, Thibault called a timeout and asked Charles to take a seat next to him on the bench.
It was a timeout well spent. Before the end of the quarter, the Sun cut the lead to 22-19 and with 8:06 to go in the half Asjha Jones' basket gave them their first lead, 26-24. The Sun increased the lead to 33-24 before five straight points by Taurasi. But the last run of the half belonged to the Sun, and not only did they lead 43-37 at the half, but Charles already had her double-double (11 and 11).
U.S. Vs. Australia
An Australian news service, Basketball Australia, is reporting its national women's team will train in Connecticut July 7-13 in preparation for some sort of event against the U.S. team July 11 in Connecticut, the day after the U.S.-WNBA All-Star Game at Mohegan Sun Arena. Neither USA Basketball nor the Sun would comment on the report, but there is a possibility the matchup might be a closed scrimmage.