Sun

Sun off to a Scorching Start

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This article was dually written by Ethan Arcata and Kayla Dos Santos.

It’s a new season under a new regime and yet, seven games into the season, the Connecticut Sun find themselves in a familiar position: jostling for a top seed.

The 6-1 Sun have been following the lead of “The Engine,” Alyssa Thomas. She’s put up MVP numbers thus far, with the lone loss of the season coming when she was held in check by one of the game’s best defenders, Breanna Stewart. There’s a lot to love about what we’ve seen from this team, as well as a lot of room for improvement.

All individual player statistics are courtesy of Her Hoop Stats.

Opening Night

AT set the tone in the opener against the Indiana Fever, recording 18 points, 11 rebounds, six assists, three steals and two blocks. A rejuvenated Fever team featuring the No. 1 overall pick from the 2023 draft, Aliyah Boston, gave the Sun all they could handle. It was a nine-point win for Connecticut, but it was just a three-point game with under two minutes to go.

Postgame, Head Coach Stephanie White spoke about being hurt by foul trouble.

“We have to do a better job defensively of staying disciplined and executing our schemes so we aren’t late on coverages.”

Both Tiffany Hayes and Brionna Jones struggled with foul trouble, with Jones eventually fouling out mid fourth quarter.

Proving They’re the Real Deal

When some teams get off to a good start, you might stop and think, “Alright well who have they had to play? The weaker teams in the league?” On the contrary, two of Connecticut’s wins have come against the Washington Mystics in a back-to-back, home-and-home series. Most people had the Mystics at number three in the preseason power rankings. If not three, they were no lower than four. So those two wins for the Sun certainly opened some eyes.

Between the two games, AT recorded 36 points and 26 rebounds. DeWanna Bonner also came through with 21 points in game one. In the same game, the Sun survived one of the best games of Shakira Austin’s young career, as Jones struggled to contain her in the paint.

In game two, it was a classic Elena Delle Donne masterpiece. She poured in 27 points, yet the Sun were able to pull out the win. Tiffany Hayes had her first double-digit scoring game in a Sun uniform, with 13 points, while also recording eight assists. Hayes looked to come out aggressive and get back to her modus operandi of attacking the hoop.

Defending the House

Few franchises have ruled over their home court like the Connecticut Sun. With a commanding 30-3 combined home record over the 2019 and 2021 seasons, it’s clear the Sun rarely sets in Uncasville. And while Connecticut has been on the road for much of this young season, they remain a perfect 3-0 in Mohegan Sun Arena. 

One of those victories was a nail-biting 81-78 triumph in a rematch against the Fever. While it appeared the Sun were about to hammer the final nail in Indiana’s coffin  — up seven with nearly two minutes left  the Fever rallied to make it a one-point game with 13.5 seconds on the clock. This comeback was largely fueled by the efforts of 2023 No. 1 draft pick Aliyah Boston, who splashed a crucial three-pointer and had an impressive putback.

Nevertheless, the maturity of a veteran-led Sun squad shined through. Tiffany Hayes, who led the Sun with 22 points, buried two free throws in crunch time to seal the deal. She was aided by the endeavors of Alyssa Thomas and Brionna Jones, who combined for 32 points and 27 rebounds. 

Despite playing a tight game with a team at the bottom of the standings, the story should be that the Sun edged out a young Indiana squad that’s on the up and up. 

Accolades

With an admirable 4-1 start to the season, head coach Stephanie White was named Coach of the Month in May. An especially impressive feat considering it’s her inaugural season at the Sun’s helm. 

While White joined a Sun team with an already-established veteran core in All-Stars Alyssa Thomas, DeWanna Bonner and Brionna Jones, she has certainly enacted her own system. She’s implemented a more free-flowing read-and-react offense that caters to the Sun’s personnel, especially the skill set of Thomas, who finished fifth in the league with 6.1 assists per game last season as a forward. 

When asked in the preseason what her expectations were for this year’s team, White had this to say:

“I think anytime you’ve tasted the WNBA finals and being so close to a championship, your expectation is always ‘we want to win the championship’. You know, I think that’s the mindset that every team comes in with, ‘we want to win a championship.’ And as a new staff, it’s finding, you know, different ways to give yourself an advantage day in and day out.”

Keep on Rollin’

The Sun secured two more wins against the Minnesota Lynx and Dallas Wings, improving to 6-1 on the season. Unsurprising to no one, Thomas recorded double-doubles in both games to pace the Sun. She came one rebound shy of a triple-double in the win over a desperate Lynx team. Despite that shortcoming, she set the Sun’s single-game assist record that night, dishing out 16.

With a lot of the attention on Thomas, Bonner has flown a bit under the radar. It’s crazy to say that about the WNBA’s 11th all-time leading scorer, but it’s true. She’s currently leading the team in scoring, with 16 points per game. Bonner notched 22 points in a six-point win over the Wings on Sunday.

Serious credit needs to be given to Natisha Hiedeman for her defense on Arike Ogunbowale. Ogunbowale scored just eight points, shooting 3-for-16 from the floor. Pregame, White disclosed the game plan was to force the dynamic scorer into tough, contested shots. Hiedeman appeared to get the message loud and clear, as she made Ogunbowale’s life tough for much of the game.

The Good and the Bad

A lot has been working for Connecticut. They remain dominant on the offensive glass thanks to Jones and Thomas, and they’re getting to the free-throw line at an incredible rate. They currently lead the league in free throws attempted. 

Sun starters are still playing the bulk of the minutes, but when the bench has been called upon, they’ve done a solid job. The offseason acquisition of Rebecca Allen appears to be a great fit thus far, and it’ll look even better once she finds her shot. Olivia Nelson-Ododa has held down the center position when Jones has been in foul trouble, which has been the case on numerous occasions.

Despite getting to the line often, the Sun are struggling knocking them down from the charity stripe at 75.9%. This can largely be attributed to Thomas and her unconventional free-throw shooting form. Thanks a lot, labrum!

That’s not the only place they’re struggling to shoot from, however. Connecticut sits at 11th in the league in three-point percentage. Hayes is doing exactly what the Sun hoped she would, shooting 41.4% from deep on just over four attempts per game. Outside of Hayes, the long-range shot hasn’t been there.

An Epic Rematch

No remedy cures the bitter taste of defeat quite like revenge. And if it’s retribution the Sun seeks, you can be sure May 6 is circled in red ink on their calendar. 

The Las Vegas Aces will make their way to Uncasville to face off against the Sun for the first time since handing them a WNBA Finals loss last September. Tensions will be high for this epic showdown, not only due to their history, but because they currently occupy the top-two spots in the standings. A Connecticut win would move the Sun ahead of the Aces.

If the Sun are unable to get the job done on Tuesday, they’ll need to scurry back to the drawing board. The two teams will clash again exactly 48 hours later. Sitting at 6-0, the Aces received their first loss of last season courtesy of the Sun after starting off 10-0.

Will history repeat itself? Tune in Tuesday to find out. 

About The Lead Staff

Articles by The Lead Staff.

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