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."
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