Sun Show Growth After Opening Week


The Connecticut Sun are two games into their season. Those two games could not have been any more night and day. They went from struggling mightily to get good shots off in one game, to dictating everything that happened exactly the way they wanted in the next game. Despite still missing two starters, Courtney Williams and DeWanna Bonner, the Sun were able to bounce back and avoid an 0-2 start to the season with a win against the Los Angeles Sparks on Saturday night.

Opening Weekend in Brooklyn

In their season opener, the Sun had a matchup against a somewhat rejuvenated New York Liberty team. Sabrina Ionescu and Natasha Howard are finally healthy. They also brought in free agent, Stefanie Dolson. The Liberty’s leading scorer from last season, Betnijah Laney, was ruled out due to a knee injury. Still, the Liberty were too much for the Sun to handle. A three pointer from Jonquel Jones as time ran out made it a two point loss for the Sun, 81-79. The Liberty shot the ball well from three (10-25), while the Sun did not. The Sun struggled from three, shooting just 4-17.

They aren’t known to be a lights out shooting team as it is, so when you factor in that two good shooters, Williams and Bonner, were missing, it was going to have to be a night for the Sun front court to shine. Howard, the former Defensive Player of the Year, had other plans. She made the reigning MVP’s life miserable. Not a single thing came easy for Jones whenever Howard was on the court. Sun fans aren’t used to seeing Jones get flustered and fumble the ball away. But against the Liberty, that’s exactly what happened. She finished the game with six turnovers. If you remove that open three pointer as time expired, Jones managed just 12 points. Ionescu might have hit the big shots in crunch time to lead her team to the win, but Howard won the game for the Liberty on the defensive end.

AT Is All the Way Back

A bright spot for the Sun was the play of Alyssa Thomas. She notched 25 points, seven rebounds, two assists, and four steals. On a night that ended with a loss, it was encouraging to see “The Engine” back out there fully healthy after she missed most of last season due to an Achilles injury. Head coach Curt Miller has spoke at length about how Thomas is an essential part of the offense, and she showed that against New York. The Sun scored 24 fast break points, and that was largely due to Thomas getting out in transition.

Avoiding an 0-2 Start

Unlike every other team in the league, the Sun had a whole week off in between their first and second games. They were back home on Saturday against the Sparks. The Sparks are known for being a great defensive team. Last year, they were the second best defensive team in the league, per Her Hoops Stats, after the Sun. Miller spoke pregame about how he was anticipating the Sparks to frustrate his team. “They’re really hard to score against when you’re at full strength, and we don’t have some of our offensive weapons. So we know that this game can be a grind. We know it may be ugly at times. We’ve got to try to manufacture points.”

While they might have scored less points in this win, a final score of 77-60, than they did in the loss against the Liberty, the Sun didn’t really have to grind it out. They were able to get whatever they wanted inside and they dictated the way the game was played. Against a great front court in their own right in Nneka Ogwumike and Liz Cambage, Thomas and Jones put on a show. Miller discussed in the preseason that while they intend to play at a faster pace this year, they will still be playing through their All-Star post players. Thomas finished with 23 points, 11 rebounds, five assists, and a steal. Jones, in 26 minutes, recorded 16 points, 12 rebounds, two assists, two steals, and a block. While the scoring output was about the same, Jones looked tremendously more comfortable than she did in the opener.

Dominating the Glass

The best stat from the game against the Sparks has to be the rebounding numbers. The Sun won the battle on the boards 43-18! Thomas and Jones combined for twenty-four. In addition, Brionna Jones recorded six, while DiJonai Carrington and Jasmine Thomas snagged five and four, respectively. Everyone got in on the party. Even in the loss to the Liberty, the Sun had a +7 rebounding margin. The tenacity that the Sun rebound with will allow them to compete in every game they play in.

Offense Leads to Defense

An age old basketball adage is “defense leads to offense.” But against the Sparks, Miller credited his team’s execution on offense as what gave them the edge. “The big thing for us was the offensive execution was going to allow us to play defense. When we had good offensive execution in the first half and they took the ball out of bounds a lot, we were able to get our defense set. When they started stringing together stops (in the third quarter) and we had trouble scoring, you saw them finding more of a flow.”

As Miller mentioned, the Sun struggled in the third quarter. They were outscored 19-8. But still, Miller was happy with how his team responded. Pregame, he mentioned how he was interested to see how they would react when they were going through those inevitable stretches that happen when you play a good defensive team. He credited his team’s “togetherness” in being able to make a run right back at the Sparks.

Return of Williams and Bonner On the Horizon

We know for sure that when the Sun head back to Brooklyn for a rematch with the Liberty, Williams will be suiting up. Miller couldn’t commit to whether or not that will be the case for Bonner. She just returned from Istanbul on Friday and won’t be undergoing her medical testing until Monday. So that means, if she plays on Tuesday, she’d be playing without having a single day of practice under her belt. Miller was adamant that they won’t be pushing her to play that night.

“We need to make sure that she’s in a good place. Her mental health is vitally important and is as important as her physical health. Now, she’s a competitor. I expect her to be raring to go in New York. But again, that means she’s playing without a practice. So we’ll see how that goes.”

Whenever it is that they are both back on the court, it’ll be a welcome sight for the Sun. Through two games, two areas that they can look to improve on are three point shooting and bench contributions. In theory, their return will help in both areas. Right now, the Sun are shooting 9-35 (26%) from three. Williams is a career 36% three point shooter and Bonner a 30% shooter from three. Connecticut played with a four person bench the first two games. They accounted for only twelve points in those two games combined. With Williams and Bonner returning, we can assume that Brionna Jones and Carrington will be coming off the bench, which will be great for the Sun.

Sun Seeking Revenge

The Sun will again travel to Brooklyn for another game against the Liberty on Tuesday, where they’ll try to avenge that opening night loss. It’s hard to imagine that the reigning MVP took that loss lightly. It’s easy to imagine a world in which she reminds everyone why she was named the league’s MVP last season. Consider also that the Liberty are on a three game skid. They’re winless since the win against the Sun. We know the Sun are the better team, at least on paper. On Tuesday night, they’ll be eager to show it.

About Kayla Dos Santos

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