August 6, 2023 

Alyssa Thomas dominance, bench impact, and growing chemistry lead Connecticut Sun to 20 wins

After Alyssa Thomas’ historic performance on Tuesday, White said her name should be firmly in the MVP conversation

The Connecticut Sun are starting to hit their stride as everyone settles into the new system and their new roles. The process has taken longer than they expected before the season after adjusting to the loss of Brionna Jones in mid-June, but they’re clicking at the right time for a playoff run.

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After handily beating the Indiana Fever 88-72 on the road on Friday, the Sun sit at third in the standings at 20-7 behind New York Liberty (21-6) and the Las Vegas Aces (24-2), who have already clinched a playoff spot.  

Even throughout the process of revamping the team’s identity around small ball, the Sun really haven’t missed a beat outside a handful of close losses, going 10-4 since Jones went down. 

Alyssa Thomas and DeWanna Bonner have been incredible, as expected — but the team is also starting to find their chemistry as a whole. That’s coming with a new level of dominance from Thomas and boosts from its bench, especially newcomers Olivia Nelson-Ododa and Ty Harris, who have figured out how they fit and how they can contribute more consistently.

More history for Alyssa Thomas

After Alyssa Thomas’ historic performance on Tuesday, White said her name should be firmly in the MVP conversation.

She had 21 points, 20 rebounds, 12 assists, three steals, two blocks and zero turnovers in a 79-69 bounce back win against the Lynx — after a loss to Minnesota on Sunday when Thomas also had a triple-double.

Connecticut Sun forward Alyssa Thomas (25) looks to drive around Minnesota Lynx forward Dorka Juhász (14) during the WNBA game between the Minnesota Lynx and the Connecticut Sun at Mohegan Sun Arena
Connecticut Sun forward Alyssa Thomas (25) looks to drive around Minnesota Lynx forward Dorka Juhász (14) during the WNBA game between the Minnesota Lynx and the Connecticut Sun at Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville, Connecticut, USA, on Aug. 01, 2023. Photo Credit: Chris Poss

Thomas became the first player in WNBA history to record 20 points, 20 rebounds, and 10 assists in a game. After the third set of back-to-back triple-doubles in her career, Thomas is as close as any WNBA player ever has been to averaging one for the season — 14.7 points, 10.0 rebounds, 8.2 assists after 27 games.

Thomas currently leads the league in rebounds and assists and has been fluctuating in the top two of steals all year, with Brittney Sykes at 1.9 steals per game.

“When you think of what an MVP is supposed to mean to your team and to the league, Alyssa Thomas is that,” White said.

Thomas secured her triple-double on Tuesday in the third quarter, the third time she’s done that this season. She put herself in that territory again on Friday night with 9 points, 7 rebounds, and 8 assists after three quarters but ended up sitting for most of the fourth quarter as the Sun won by 16. 

“She’s doing her. There’s nothing more, nothing less to it,” Nelson-Ododa said on Friday night. “She just comes in and produces day in and day out.”

Nelson-Ododa said that even on nights when she’s not making history, Thomas almost always still has a near triple-double, which is a testament to the kind of player she is. 

“She’s really just a dog, to keep it that simple,” Nelson-Ododa said.

Ty Harris and Olivia Nelson-Ododa are getting more comfortable

While Thomas has rightfully grabbed most of the attention for the team’s wins, fourth-year guard Ty Harris and second-year center Olivia Nelson-Ododa have been asked to step up in the second half of the season and have made a quiet impact in big moments. 

First 13 games (with Brionna Jones; May 19 – June 20)

  • Ty Harris: 3.7 points, 37 FG%, 11 minutes per game
  • Olivia Nelson-Ododa: 2.5 points, 1.6 rebounds, 9 minutes per game

Last 14 games (without Brionna Jones; June 22 – Aug. 4)

  • Ty Harris: 6.4 points, 46 FG%, 1 3PM, 18.6 minutes per game
  • Olivia Nelson-Ododa: 5.0 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.0 block, 17.4 minutes per game

White has trusted Harris to run the offense more often, and she’s been ready when called off the bench. After recording zero points in fewer than 8 minutes in the win against Dallas and home loss to Minnesota, Harris stepped up when it was her turn against the Lynx on Tuesday, playing 27 minutes and scoring a season-high 17 points on 66.7% shooting and four assists. She followed with three 3-pointers at Indiana on Friday.

“We always have to have energy and production off the bench. And I felt like Ty came in the game, and not just her scoring but the command that she had of the offense [was impressive],” White said on Tuesday. “Where we wanted to get the ball and what actions we wanted to run. And then what she did on the defensive end of the floor as well, I thought she was terrific.”

Harris is averaging 5.1 points and 1.5 assists in 15 minutes per game and has filled a large void that the Sun felt throughout last year by providing a backup guard who can reliably create plays and be a shooter off the ball. 

Connecticut Sun guard Tyasha Harris (52) drives at the basket as Minnesota Lynx guard Tiffany Mitchell (25) defends during the WNBA game between the Minnesota Lynx and the Connecticut Sun at Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville, Connecticut.
Connecticut Sun guard Tyasha Harris (52) drives at the basket as Minnesota Lynx guard Tiffany Mitchell (25) defends during the WNBA game between the Minnesota Lynx and the Connecticut Sun at Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville, Connecticut, USA on Aug. 01, 2023. Photo Credit: Chris Poss

“We’ve been trying to get her for years and for it to finally happen, we were super excited about it,”  Thomas said after Harris’s performance on Tuesday. “We’re tough on her and we know what she’s capable of. She stays ready and when it’s nights like this and her number is called, she’s always ready.”

Nelson-Ododa played the entire fourth quarter of the Sun’s 88-83 come from behind win against Dallas on July 25, when they needed her length to combat the frontcourt of Teaira McCowan, Satou Sabally and Natasha Howard. Her four points, two offensive rebounds, one block and two of three steals all came in the final ten minutes. 

The Wings led by one going into the final frame and then started the quarter on an 11-6 that brought their lead to 75-69 at a timeout at the 5:41 mark. After the time out, Nelson-Ododa scored on a cutting layup, then immediately blocked McCowan at the rim on the other end.

When it was tied 76-76, Nelson-Ododa grabbed an offensive rebound on a missed three from Hayes, then kicked the ball back out to Hayes, who cashed in on her second try. With less than two minutes left, Nelson-Ododa set a screen for a long jumper from Bonner to extend the Sun’s lead to 82-76 and keep it for good.

The Dallas matchup was the Sun’s first game playing the Wings with McCowan and also without Jones. White said she challenged Nelson-Ododa to push McCowan off the block and make her score over her instead of around her so the Sun would at least still be in rebounding position if she missed. 

The Sun’s veterans have been very complimentary of the young center’s effort and activity after being thrown into the fire during what was supposed to be a development year.  

“We should give her the ball a little bit more because a couple of times she has mismatches and she can create a foul or get to the line or score a big bucket,” Bonner said after the Sun’s loss to Minnesota on July 30. “ She’s done a great job of soaking it all in. This is moving so fast for her. She kind of just got thrown in the fire and now she’s been taking responsibility really well.”

Connecticut Sun center Olivia Nelson-Ododa (10) defends Minnesota Lynx guard Aerial Powers (3) during the WNBA game between the Minnesota Lynx and the Connecticut Sun at Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville, Connecticut.
Connecticut Sun center Olivia Nelson-Ododa (10) defends Minnesota Lynx guard Aerial Powers (3) during the WNBA game between the Minnesota Lynx and the Connecticut Sun at Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville, Connecticut, USA on Aug. 01, 2023. Photo Credit: Chris Poss

White said that Nelson-Ododa is going to get more minutes throughout the season, and she expects her to get better but needs to be a more consistent presence inside for the team in the next phase of her development. 

Against Aliyah Boston on Friday night, Nelson-Ododa played a season-high 27 minutes and got her first double-double of the season with 10 points and 10 rebounds and four assists.  

“I just try and come with the mindset of bringing consistency and just try to contribute in any way my team needs and wants me to,” Nelson-Ododa said on Friday. “It’s as simple as that. I just try and keep my mind kind of focused on that and have tunnel vision with it.”


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Team chemistry is up, consistency is the next step 

Chemistry is key in White’s read-and-react system. She said the team’s chemistry was nearly there in late June before having to shuffle the rotations and system without Jones, but the Sun feel like they’re now finding their groove again with the playoffs fast approaching.

“When you look at the first half compared to the second half, I feel like things are clicking better,” Nelson-Ododa said. “People are able to read each other better. There’s a little bit more flow. So I think the chemistry is pretty evident now, it’s just continuing to grow.”

Connecticut Sun forward Alyssa Thomas (25) and Connecticut Sun guard Natisha Hiedeman (2) defend Minnesota Lynx guard Lindsay Allen (2) during the WNBA game between the Minnesota Lynx and the Connecticut Sun at Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville, Connecticut.
Connecticut Sun forward Alyssa Thomas (25) and Connecticut Sun guard Natisha Hiedeman (2) defend Minnesota Lynx guard Lindsay Allen (2) during the WNBA game between the Minnesota Lynx and the Connecticut Sun at Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville, Connecticut, USA, on Aug. 01, 2023. Photo Credit: Chris Poss

In the past, Sun players said Uncasville and southeast Connecticut’s secluded location naturally helps the team bond off the court. Nelson-Ododa agreed that’s been a piece of why she thinks the team’s chemistry has been their biggest point of growth this season. 

“Being more consistent with each other, things [are] clicking better on our offense and defense. [We’re] reading off of each other a lot better than how we first started off this season, so I think there’s just been huge improvements in that,” Nelson-Ododa said. “Continuing to build on defense as one of our staples has been huge. And so I think we’re just trying to continue that and keep it up.”

White said the team has grown a lot on the defensive end of the floor, especially as they’ve reimagined themselves as a small ball team. The Sun are the top defense in the league now, allowing 78.1 points per game, but White said they still aren’t close to the peak yet they envision during the playoffs. 

“There’s going to be runs in the game, but what we want is to make sure that during those runs, our execution is still really at an elite level,” White said. “And as we continue to work towards that, you know, my hope is that we’re peaking at that in September.”

The major new pieces outside of the team’s core – Nelson-Ododa, Harris, Hayes, and Rebecca Allen – have all done a good job settling into their roles, White said. And the next piece is just being more consistent. 

Hayes has excelled at getting to the rim and being an active defender, and Allen’s shot blocking and floor spacing is an added bonus for the Sun, even when her shots aren’t falling. 

“We’ve got different pieces, and we’re playing a little bit differently than we were early on. But the identity of this team is still the same,” White said. “That gritty, tough, resilient bunch that finds ways to position themselves at the end of ball games.”

Written by Jacqueline LeBlanc

Jacqueline LeBlanc is the Connecticut Sun beat reporter for The Next. Prior to The Next, Jacqueline has written for Her Hoop Stats and Sports Illustrated.

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