7:30 PM ET, July 7, 2009
After missing the first month of the season playing in Europe, Sandrine Gruda made an immediate impact for the Connecticut Sun in her return to the WNBA.Gruda looks to build on an impressive season debut and help the Sun win for the fifth time in six games when they visit the Atlanta Dream on Tuesday night.While Gruda led France to the European championship, Connecticut coach Mike Thibault left a roster spot open for his 6-foot-4 center. That proved to be a smart decision.Gruda had a career-high 23 points, shot 11 for 18 from the floor, and added six rebounds in 29 minutes off the bench in Sunday's 95-92, overtime victory at Detroit."That was an exceptional performance, considering she had one practice and one shootaround with us," Thibault said. "She was a huge difference in the game."Even Gruda, who averaged 6.2 points and 3.5 rebounds as a rookie for the Sun (5-4) last season, was a little surprised by her stellar debut."Coach gave me some time off, but I wasn't expecting anything today," said Gruda, who averaged 15.5 points and 7.7 rebounds in the European championships. "I just knew it was going to be more physical than what I had been playing, and I had to be ready for that."Asjha Jones, who led Connecticut over the first month of the season, helped take some of the pressure off Gruda with another strong performance.Jones had 18 points, five rebounds and five assists for the Sun, who have won four of five after opening the season 1-3. The 6-foot-3 forward had her best game in Connecticut's 82-68 win over Atlanta (5-7) on June 27, finishing with season highs of 24 points and 12 rebounds.Jones didn't have the same luck in the first meeting of the season with the Dream, scoring a season-low six points on 3-of-14 shooting in a 67-62 loss June 14. Both meetings between these clubs took place in Connecticut.Atlanta has dropped six of its last eight games, including a 78-74 loss Sunday at Eastern Conference-leading Indiana.The Dream led 59-58 after three quarters, but made just 5 of 16 shots and turned the ball over four times in the final period."We had too many turnovers at critical points," said starting center Erika de Souza, who finished with 15 points and eight rebounds. "I think our lack of experience has hurt us, but we are improving with each game."De Souza, who played for the Sun in 2007 before being acquired by Atlanta in the expansion draft, is averaging 11.0 points and 6.0 boards in the two games against her former team this season.Atlanta forward Sancho Lyttle, who had a team-high 18 points against the Fever and is tied with Chamique Holdsclaw for the team lead with 13.8 per game, scored a season-low four points -- shooting 1 for 4 from the floor -- in the most recent loss at Connecticut.