Sun

Sun Find Themselves In Familiar Territory

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We are just over a third of the way through the WNBA season, and the Connecticut Sun are in a familiar position: towards the top of the standings. They are 10-4 and rank second, behind the Las Vegas Aces. Thus far, there’s been some highs and lows for the Sun. While they’ve pulled off some great wins, they’ve suffered some tough losses. They also lost starting point guard, Jasmine Thomas to an ACL injury, for the remainder of the season. This has forced the Sun to make some changes to the rotation, which they’re also all too familiar with.

Let’s recap the ups and downs of the season to this point.

Losing Their Leader

After dropping the season opener to a then, less than impressive, New York Liberty team, the Sun kicked it up a notch and won their next four games in row, against Los Angeles, New York, and Indiana twice. It should be noted that the Sun were without Courtney Williams (suspension) and DeWanna Bonner (overseas commitments) for the first two games of the season. They both returned for the rematch against the Liberty, a game in which the Sun pummeled the Liberty, 92-56. The Sun forced a record 29 turnovers. To put that into perspective, the Liberty only recorded 22 field goals in the game.

However, in the second game against the Indiana Fever, team captain, Jasmine Thomas went down with an ACL injury. While head coach Curt Miller was frustrated for his team, he knew they had the personnel to make it work and overcome it. He spoke about Natisha Hiedeman, fiancé of Thomas, and how he believes she’s ready.

“I think she’s been led by some outstanding guards. I don’t think the moment will be too big for her. And the big message for her is ‘Be yourself.’ Don’t be more than you need to be.”

Hiedeman has been exactly that. While she doesn’t light up the scoreboard, she has played her role very well and done her job. She’s averaging 8.3 points and 3.1 assists per game.

The Jumbo Lineup

With Thomas going down, it’s caused the Sun to do something a bit unconventional. Coming into the season, if you were told that Alyssa Thomas was going to be playing point guard, you’d think something would have had to have gone wrong. Well, Miller actually said this “big” lineup consisting of AT, Williams, Bonner, Jonquel Jones, and Brionna Jones, is a lineup that the coaching staff had been mulling over in the offseason. Jasmine Thomas getting hurt just forced them to rip the band aid off.

They did it for the first time against the Las Vegas Aces. However, at the helm for the Sun this game was Assistant Coach Chris Koclanes. Miller and Assistant Coach Brandi Poole were in health and safety protocols. The Aces immediately countered with a 2-3 zone, which was to be expected.

It looked a bit clunky the first time they ran it out there. But there has been clear improvements with it the more they get used to it. It’s a very small sample size, but in 48 minutes, this lineup has a Net Rating of 32.03, according to PBP Stats. It’ll be interesting to see how that number changes once they get more and more comfortable with the lineup.

Successful West Coast Swing

Following back-to-back wins against two playoff caliber teams, the Mystics and Wings, the Sun headed out for a west coast road trip. They’d have a four game stretch consisting of the Aces back-to-back, the Mercury, and the Storm. Nothing needs to be said about how dangerous the Aces and Storm are.

We know the Mercury are down this year, but the talent is still there. They can beat any team on any given day. Even though it’s early in the season, this had the potential to be a season defining road trip. Going 0-4, or even 1-3, would have been a setback for a team looking to go the distance this season. Instead, they went 3-1. If the Sun go on to win it all, this road trip could be a reason why.

After dropping the first game against Las Vegas, the Sun got their head coach back from health and safety protocols and secured a huge win in the rematch, 97-90. There was a lot of talk about the lack of shot attempts for reigning MVP, Jonquel Jones. In the previous three games, she took a combined 12 shot attempts. In the second game against the Aces, she took nine shots and scored 20 points, leading the way for the Sun.

Returning To MVP Form

The next two games against the Mercury and Storm, it felt like last season all over again. Against the Mercury, she was a total game changer. She was a game high +35 while she was on the floor. JJ scored 24 points on 6-8 shooting, and she went 9-10 from the line. It was the same story against the Storm. She scored a game high 25 points. Both of these games were gritty comeback wins. The type of wins that go a long way for a team’s confidence. To get to where they want to go, the Sun will need west coast road trip JJ night in and night out.

On June 6th, JJ was named the Eastern Conference Player of the Week. She averaged 19.3 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.0 blocks in 29.4 minutes per game during the road trip. It’s the twelfth time in her career that JJ received the honor.

Against the Storm, Alyssa Thomas was two points shy of a triple-double. She notched 11 rebounds and 12 assists, to go with eight points.

Fever Season Sweep

The Sun returned home and took down the Fever for the third time, 88-69. This was a night where they got contributions from just about everybody. It was the second 10+ point output in a row for DiJonai Carrington. With an already short bench, it’s important for Carrington to give solid minutes so that Miller doesn’t feel the need to overtax the starters too much. She’s the only other real rotation player, outside of Brionna Jones.

Sun Drop The Playoff Rematch

Their fifth win in a row would not come easy. After all, it’d have to come against the defending champion Chicago Sky, who sit at third in the standings, just behind the Sun. We all know that the Sky knocked the Sun out of the playoffs last season. But Miller said that’s not something that even needs to be said in the locker room.

“We didn’t talk about it one time. You know it’s there. There’s mutual respect, you know. Both teams realize how talented top to bottom the rosters are.”

The Sun are all too familiar with Emma Meesseman. If you’re a WNBA newcomer, she was named Finals MVP in 2019 when the Washington Mystics took down the Sun in five games. This time around, she scored 26 points to lead the Sky to victory. At one point late in the third quarter, Connecticut led by nine points. Unfortunately, they couldn’t close it out and would ultimately lose 83-79, bringing their record on the season to 10-4.

Make Way For The Sixth Woman Of The Year

Throughout the season, we don’t see as many discussions about the Sixth Woman of the Year race (if that is something you’re interested in, listen to The Sixth Podcast of the Year). Those conversations are usually reserved for the MVP race. But considering Brionna Jones is running away with the Sixth Woman of the Year award, there’s probably not much of a conversation to be had anyways.

Miller has effusively praised Jones for the impact she has off the bench for his team. He knows how valuable it is to have a player, who would be a starter on nearly every other team in the league, be a spark off the bench. Per Her Hoops Stats, Jones is currently averaging 14.6 points on 54.9% shooting, and 5.4 rebounds per game. When she’s on the floor, the Sun score more than 12.5 points per 100 possessions than when she’s off the floor. (PBP Stats)

As of now, something bizarre is going to have to happen for Jones to not take home her second end-of-season award in as many seasons.

Sun Part Ways With Anderson

On June 11th, the Sun announced that they waived rookie point guard, Yvonne Anderson. Through 11 games, she averaged 9.2 minutes and 3.2 points per game. This move might have come as a shock to many people, especially considering the Sun were already down a point guard after Thomas’ injury. This could be a sign that Miller might want to use that “big” lineup more often, or maybe Miller just didn’t love what he was getting from Anderson. Either way, expect a move to follow as the Sun are now down to just nine available players.

Focusing On The Little Things

Prior to the matchup against Chicago, Miller discussed how he wants his team to focus on the little things. He explained that there’s such a fine line between winning and losing, that accomplishing those little things is what makes the difference.

“The small things in the first quarter are just as big as the things in the last minute or fourth quarter.  Most of the time if you do the little things better than your opponent, you’ll come away with a win. The victory will take care of itself.”

The Sun have a four-day layoff before their next game against the Atlanta Dream on June 15th. Miller expects his team to get some much needed rest and relaxation for a couple days following a brutal stretch of games. But once the lights come back on, those little things will be of utmost importance for the Sun to be successful.

About Kayla Dos Santos

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