Sun

Sun Rises In Chicago, Ready to Scorch Sky’s Atmosphere

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As Olivia Rodrigo asked in her smash song, “do you get déjà vu?”

WNBA fans can now say yes, as the Connecticut Sun and Chicago Sky will face off in the semifinals for the second consecutive year. There are some differences this year, though. The roles reversed, and the Sky is now the resounding favorite to win the series, compared to last season, where the Sun was the popular pick.

If you forgot, the Sky didn’t care much about expectations, winning the series and the championship. Also, this year the Sun have their “engine,” Alyssa Thomas, at full strength. A year ago, she was just returning from an Achilles rupture that forced her to miss most of the regular season, and it was clear that she wasn’t fully meshed within the offense.

Both teams are coming off a first-round series in which their underdog opponents took them to a three games series. Both teams got punched in the mouth once, and they were both able to punch back. But now, a new fight begins tonight.

Round One Recap

After Connecticut won its first playoff game, Dallas shockingly eclipsed the Sun in the rematch. It ended up being just a ten-point loss, but the final score was not indicative of the game. The Sun’s bench scored 32 points in the fourth quarter and made it close.

However, the first unit and regular rotation players couldn’t get anything going in game two. They started the game 0-7 from the floor, missing numerous shots that regularly fall. For the rest of the game, it seemed like nothing went right. The ball stuck on offense, even more so than usual, and a team that prides itself on defense mustered just one steal. After the game, it was clear that the players weren’t too worried.

Following the setback, a journalist asked Jonquel Jones how she thought the team would respond to the loss.

“We know what we’re capable of. We’re not in panic mode at all. That’s the beauty of winning Game 1. We have another opportunity to go ahead and close it out…we’re ready to go.”

JJ was right, as the Sun blitzed the Wings in the second half of game three, winning 73-58. After a less-than-impressive first-half performance, Connecticut somehow found the game tied at halftime. In the second half, they turned up the defensive pressure and outscored Dallas 39-24.

DeWanna Bonner came up huge for the Sun with 21 points, and DiJonai Carrington also impressed. Carrington only scored three points but was a spark plug for the team on the defensive end.

Season Series vs. Chicago

If you look at the season series against the Sky, the Sun doesn’t have much to show for it, as Chicago won all three games. However, in the last two games, both within the last few weeks of the season, the Sun lost by a total of six points (a three-point loss in each game). Both could have gone either way. The matchup on July 31st was a game that the Sun had in hand, but they lost in overtime. They struggled with shot selection down the stretch, a vital drawback.

Sun coach Curt Miller often discusses how there is such a fine line between winning and losing in this league, which fans saw in last year’s playoff series. The Sun proved that sentiment yet again during the regular season series.

Getting swept is one of the reasons why not a soul will be picking Connecticut to win this series. It feels like it’s been forever since we’ve seen the Sun beat the Sky, even though the Sun did win one game in the semifinals last year.

Games against Chicago always seem to be “grind it out” games for Connecticut. The Sky was also one win away from being the number one overall seed. Some people might argue they’re the best team in the league this season.

But then again, the Sun was the best team in the league last season, and in the end, that didn’t make a difference.

Keys to the Series

Kahleah Effing Copper.

The Sun needs to contain her. That should be number one on the priority list. One of the most athletic guards in the league, she torched Connecticut in the semifinals last season. She can beat you with backdoor cuts. She can beat you off the dribble. Or she can beat you in transition in the open court.

Bonner has good size to match up with Copper, but she isn’t nearly as quick; not that many players in the league are. Copper is the type of player who can go off in a game and reverse the series momentum instantly.

The Sun was two shots away from possibly sweeping the Sky in the playoffs last year. In Game one, they had the ball with the score tied and the shot clock off. But they couldn’t hit the big shot.

In Game three, they had a chance to take the lead with eight seconds left but missed a wide-open layup. Connecticut can’t let those opportunities pass them by this time.

One of Chicago’s biggest strengths, like last year, is its ability to space the floor. Just about every rotation player can make an open shot from long range.

However, in the first playoff round, against the New York Liberty, the Sky shot an abysmal 21-74 (28%) from deep. Considering many of these were open shots, it was uncharacteristic of them. This series could have much to do with shooting luck if that were to continue.

But, of course, the Sun can’t just sit around and hope the other team misses. Where does Connecticut have the overwhelming advantage? On the glass. They’ll need to take advantage of that. They’re the best rebounding team in the league, and there’s no better time to flex your muscles than right now.

Underdog Mentality

The Sun knows that no one thinks they’re going to win. After what happened last season, they might like it that way. Following the game three win, a reporter asked Miller what he thinks his team learned from the series that will help them against Chicago.

“The big message is we have to be ourselves. We can’t be someone we’re not. We’re not as pretty as some teams play. We have to make it gritty and grind games out and in our own way…we’re back where we want to be, and I’m proud that we’re going to our fourth straight semifinal…this group wants to take another step, and there is not one person that’s going to pick us to beat Chicago. So we’re gonna go with the underdog mentality and give it our best shot.”

It’s a brand new series. The records reset, and the first to win three games moves on. What happened earlier in the season doesn’t matter. What happened in the first round doesn’t matter. What happened last season doesn’t matter, but the Sun hasn’t forgotten, according to Thomas, who was asked about the rematch.

“We still have a bitter taste in our mouth from last season.”

The mission to wash that bitter taste away begins tonight at 8pm ET on ESPN2.

 

About Kayla Dos Santos

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