WNBA

Sun Halt Rare Losing Streak

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A couple things the Connecticut Sun of recent years are used to: deep playoff runs and dominating at Mohegan Sun Arena. A couple things the Connecticut Sun of recent years are not used to: losing streaks and getting run off the floor at home.

On Friday night, the Sun dropped its third consecutive game. The Dallas Wings bested Connecticut for the second game in a row, following a loss to the Phoenix Mercury on August 10th. Not only did this mark the first three-game losing streak for Connecticut since 2021, but the 20 point loss to the Wings on Thursday night was the Sun’s worst loss on its home court since June 13, 2021, when the Seattle Storm enjoyed a 23 point win in Connecticut. Dating back to that Seattle game, the Sun hadn’t lost by double digits at home.

What Went Wrong?

Following her team’s third loss in row, head coach Stephanie White spoke about the difficulties of playing against bigger lineups.

“Defensively, it’s tough for us to play their big girls inside. I didn’t feel like we did a good job rebounding the basketball. You know, often times we got them to get the shots that we wanted and were just standing waiting for somebody else to go get the ball.”

Heading into that game, the Wings averaged 11.8 offensive boards per game, per Her Hoops Stats. Dallas pulled down 16 and scored 19 points off those boards on Friday night.

Since losing All-Star center Brionna Jones, the Sun front court has managed to hold their own in the paint with some of the league’s best, despite not having a true center in the starting lineup. With Alyssa Thomas usually guarding the opposing team’s power forward, that leaves the undersized DeWanna Bonner guarding the biggest player on the court. If you factor in who Connecticut played during this three-game losing streak, it shouldn’t come at too much of a surprise that they struggled.

Do the names Teaira McCowan and Kalani Brown ring a bell? How about Brittney Griner? They’re three of the biggest players in the league. Griner, is a member of the Mercury, while McCowan and Brown are a monster tandem for the Wings. During these three games, the Sun were defending a mismatch seemingly every possession when any one of those players was on the court. Griner scored 21 points, while the McCowan-Brown duo combined for 28 points and 13 rebounds in the second Dallas game.

There She Goes Again

What made the Wings so difficult to guard on that particular night wasn’t just the bigs. There was another player the Sun struggled to contain. That player was a freight train named Arike Ogunbowale. Connecticut defenders stuck to her like glue, and yet still she managed to get a number of circus shots to fall. It was one of those nights for Ogunbowale, who finished with a game high, 30 points (7-9 from 3).

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On more than one occasion, DiJonai Carrington, a very good on-ball perimeter defender, had Ogunbowale right where she wanted her. Ogunbowale, known for her off-the-dribble step-back threes, did exactly what she’s known for and drained a number of these. All Carrington could do was shake her head.

Vets Looking for More

Thomas and Bonner both spoke to the media following the second loss to Dallas. As the veterans of the team, they called out their team’s uninspiring play. Thomas was asked by Maggie Vanoni, of Hearst CT, if the team’s troubles are fixable as they head into the postseason.

“It comes down to committing yourself to it. I think we talk about the same things over and over again when we lose and it can’t keep happening. The regular season is coming to an end and you should be playing your best basketball. It’s unacceptable.. how we’re playing defensively. It shows when we’re not playing well defensively, it trickles down to our offense.”

Getting Back on Track

Looking to avoid a four-game losing streak, Connecticut hit the road and took on the Chicago Sky Sunday afternoon. An evenly matched game throughout much of the first half, the Sun started to take control of the game very late in the half and carried that into the second half. It should come as a surprise to no one who’s been paying attention that the Sun players turned to their leaders to re-group and get back in the win column.

Thomas recorded game highs, 22 points and eight assists, while Bonner had a modest scoring night — by her standards this year — and dropped 13. But Bonner had another big night on the glass, securing eight rebounds, following up a 12-rebound performance on Friday night.

In a second-straight bounce-back win, the Sun defeated the Elena Delle Donne-less, Washington Mystics, 68-64. Sun players would probably tell you it shouldn’t have been that close. Connecticut scored just 10 points in the final quarter. But again, it was all Thomas and Bonner. Thomas recorded a game-high 22 points, while Bonner dropped 17 and hit a clutch three with 1:37 left and the game tied.

While they weren’t facing as potent of offenses as the Wings, in the Chicago Sky and Washington Mystics, Connecticut had a much better defensive effort in both games. They were much quicker on rotations to avoid easy layups that were there during the losing streak.

What’s the Fix?

The obvious fix for the Sun’s issues of being overmatched with size is to simply play bigger. But it really isn’t that simple. White loves her teams mobility on offense and ability to space the floor when they play with that smaller lineup. This lineup also allows Rebecca Allen, who’s not a center by any stretch of the imagination, but still averages 1.4 blocks per game, good for eighth best in the league, time on the court. She uses her unassuming length to close out on jump shooters and defend drivers who think have a wide open layup.

Right now, Olivia Nelson-Ododa is the main option to go big. While she’s been a fine back up center, she’s just that. Nelson-Ododa has shown glimmers of promise, but she’s still a young player who struggles against the league’s big and baddest. Still, Nelson-Ododa has to give her team a little more. It would behoove the Sun greatly for White to be in a place where she’s comfortable playing Nelson-Ododa in the spots when she feels they need to go big.

Going Dancing

Another year, another playoff berth. But that’s old news to the Connecticut Sun. They’re not in it for a playoff berth anymore. They’re in it for big prize. There’s seven games left in the regular season. Two of those games will come against the New York Liberty, who the Sun are looking up to in the standings. That’s another team who has a monster tandem of bigs of their own. It’ll be another challenge for Bonner, who will likely have the duty of guarding MVP candidate, Breanna Stewart. Goodluck!

Barring a collapse, Connecticut will likely be the three seed in the playoffs. If Vegas secures the one seed, as everyone expects it to, and chalk holds, that means it’ll be a series against New York in the semi-finals. It’s great for this Connecticut team to have two games late in the season against a top team to prepare for the playoffs. As Thomas said, you have to be playing your best basketball this time of year. Let’s see it.

About Kayla Dos Santos

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