May 15, 2024 

Five things we learned about the Connecticut Sun on opening night

The Sun, led by Dijonai Carrington, Alyssa Thomas, and DeWanna Bonner spoiled Caitlin Clark’s WNBA debut

UNCASVILLE, Conn. — In Tuesday night’s season opener against the Fever, the Connecticut Sun reminded the league and the basketball community at large that they’re not to be overlooked. Sure, Indiana has the last two top overall picks on the roster, but it’s the Sun who have an elite veteran core and one of the league’s top defenses.

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Connecticut’s opening night domination, a 92-71 win, reinforced Alyssa Thomas’s status as one of the best basketball players in the world, if not the best, and also signaled that players like DiJonai Carrington are on the ascent.

Here are five things we learned about the Sun on Monday night.

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The Sun’s new-look starting backcourt is likely to be a strength — not a weakness 

Connecticut’s new-look starting lineup – composed of DiJonai Carrington, Tyasha Harris, DeWanna Bonner, Alyssa Thomas, and Brionna Jones — looked to be clicking across the board in a debut game demolition over the Fever. 

Bonner, Thomas, and Jones make up the Big 3, but it was Harris’s and Carrington’s high ceilings as the starting guards that stood out most in Tuesday night’s game highly-anticipated match-up. 

Tyasha Harris, who is in her fifth WNBA season, scored 16 points on 6 of 11 shooting and was a +19 on the night. Harris is stepping into a starting role for the first time after averaging 5.4 points in 16.8 minutes in four seasons. The opportunity to enter the starting lineup is a chance for Harris to showcase her elite three-point shooting. Harris shot 46.4% from downtown last season, her first in Connecticut, and picked up right where she left off on opening night, hitting 4 of 6 threes.

“Ty knocked down some big shots,” head coach Stephanie White said postgame. “She struggled from the floor in the exhibition game, so I was really proud of how she bounced back.”

DiJonai Carrington is in a similar position. In three years with the Sun, she’s averaged 6.3 points in 17.2 minutes per game. This year, thrust into the starting lineup for the first time in her professional career, she has the opportunity to get more touches than ever before, and she capitalized on opening night, exploding for 16 points. 14 of those came in the second quarter, helping to propel the Sun to a double-digit lead. 

Both Harris and Carrington aren’t yet proven WNBA starters, but Tuesday night showed flashes of their potential that the Sun will hope carries over. 

DiJonai Carrington is a defensive menace

Carrington had the highly anticipated Caitlin Clark assignment on defense, and from the jump, she made sure to make Clark’s life difficult. Clark scored 20 points, but she did so on 5 of 15 shooting, while racking up a franchise-record 10 turnovers. 

“Nai’s huge – we knew what she was capable of,” Alyssa Thomas said postgame. “This is what we expect of her. To take on that job, and do this at a high level, we’re proud of her.”

Several of Clark’s buckets came with Carrington sidelined for a stretch of the second half with cramps in both calves. Carrington said postgame that matching up against the opposing players’ best guard is a key aspect of her role. 

“This is what they expect from me every night, whether it’s Caitlin, or whoever else we’re playing,” Carrington said. “This is the expectation. This is the standard.” 

Connecticut Sun guard-forward DiJonai Carrington (21) defends the inbound pass from Indiana Fever guard Caitlin Clark (22) during the WNBA game between the Indiana Fever and the Connecticut Sun at Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville, Connecticut, USA on May 14, 2024. Photo Credit: Chris Poss

White said the key for Carrington is sticking to the game plan and staying disciplined – that there’s no question her defensive abilities are elite. Tonight, she did that. 

“She stayed incredibly disciplined on her [Clark] on defense,” White said. 

At Media Day on Monday, DiJonai Carrington previewed her plan to keep Clark in check. 

“She’s going to score,” Carrington said. “She’s a really good player, she’s going to get into her spots a couple of times, but we have to limit her. The first shot that she gets can’t be a wide open three.” 

Safe to say she succeeded in spoiling Clark’s debut. Given Connecticut’s historic emphasis on defense, that’s particularly noteworthy.

“Defense has been and always will be our identity,” White said.

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Alyssa Thomas’s MVP-caliber season was not a fluke 

Alyssa Thomas, the league’s all-time triple-double leader, recorded another one on opening night, finishing with 13 points (4-for-8 FG), 13 assists, and 10 rebounds. 

Thomas said postgame that she wanted to show the world her nightly near-triple-doubles last year weren’t a fluke. 

“It’s not a surprise to any of us that she keeps putting up these numbers,” White said. 

White said one of her goals for Monday night was for new fans of the WNBA to get a chance to learn about Alyssa Thomas, who she called one of the best basketball players in the world.  

“I guess I am out of words,” DeWanna Bonner, who made history of her own Tuesday night by passing Candice Dupree for fifth place on the all-time WNBA scoring list, said of Thomas. “She does a lot for this team.”

Bonner didn’t have a shabby night herself, leading the team in scoring with 20 points on 8-of-14 shooting and grabbing 6 rebounds. She also became the WNBA fifth all-time leading scorer on Tuesday.

But postgame, she mostly gushed about Thomas’s impact. 

“We had a practice without her the other day, and it was probably one of the worst practices we had,” Bonner added with a laugh, making a point to highlight Thomas’s leadership. 

Connecticut Sun forward Alyssa Thomas (25) during the WNBA game between the Indiana Fever and the Connecticut Sun at Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville, Connecticut, USA on May 14, 2024. Photo Credit: Chris Poss

Caitlin Clark said what makes Thomas difficult to gameplan for is her well-rounded impact.

“She impacts the game in every single area on both sides of the ball,” Clark said.

Thomas, who was the MVP runner-up last season, said she was motivated by the desire last year wasn’t a one-time thing.

“This is who she is,” White said of Thomas. “She’s one of the most elite competitors I’ve ever been around. The only other competitor that I can compare her to is Tamika Catchings.” 

Rachel Banham, Olivia Nelson-Ododa and Tiffany Mitchell get the bulk of bench minutes

Rachel Banham was the leading scorer off the bench; she finished with 10 points on 3-of-7 shooting in 24 minutes, in a role where White and the staff have told her she always has the green light to shoot the ball. No wonder: she hit 40.2 percent of her threes for Minnesota last season, and is a career 37.1 percent from beyond the arc in her WNBA career.

Connecticut Sun guard Rachel Banham (1) shoots during the WNBA game between the Indiana Fever and the Connecticut Sun at Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville, Connecticut, USA on May 14, 2024. Photo Credit: Chris Poss

“Yeah, it’s really fun,” Banham said following the game. “I mean, I love it. It’s it’s always what I’ve wanted and I’m ready for that moment. I put the time in and I put the work in… I know that staff is super-confident in me and the staff and they put me in great positions to get easy looks and get open looks and I’m always willing to shoot it. So I’m really grateful to be part of a system that lets me play very free.”

Olivia Nelson-Ododa added four rebounds – including three offensive – in 15 minutes, while Tiffany Mitchell scored 4 points in 12 minutes. 

Moriah Jefferson, still recovering from offseason knee surgery, played just four minutes. She did hit her only three-point attempt of the night.

“I thought Mo did well,” White said. “It was hard for us to get her in there in certain periods of time. She’s working her way back, and hasn’t been into a lot of practice flow yet.” 

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Brionna Jones made a promising return from injury 

Jones looked good in her first game back after tearing her achilles last June. She played 19 minutes and scored 8 points on 2-for-4 from the field and 4-for-6 from the line. 

“I thought she was really good,” White said of Jones. “You could tell early, she was rushing a little bit, missed a couple of easy ones. We wanted to be intentional when we brought her back into the game about going to her.”

Defensively, Jones managed to limit Aliyah Boston, last year’s Rookie of the Year; she racked up three steals while holding Boston to 4 points on 2-of-6 shooting and 4 turnovers. 

“We certainly missed her,” White said. “Put a smile on my face to see her out there again.”

Howard Megdal contributed reporting to this piece.

Written by Noa Dalzell

Noa Dalzell covers the Boston Celtics for SB Nation's CelticsBlog, and the Connecticut Sun for The Next Hoops. Her work has also appeared in FanSided and Swish Appeals, as well as CLNS Media. When she's not writing about basketball, she's playing basketball or lobbying for a more sustainable food system.

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