May 18, 2021 

How Natisha Hiedeman powered the Sun to 2-0

Connecticut's fast start buoyed by third-year guard

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Sun head coach Curt Miller says there’s something about watching players go into their third year in the league.

That’s when the game slows down and everything begins to settle, he said. He saw that in his own third-year guard, Natisha Hiedeman, in the season debut at Atlanta on Friday. After the Sun’s home opener on Sunday, a 86-78 win against Phoenix, Miller said she had her “swag back,” after helping lead the Sun to a 2-0 start.

Hiedeman finished Sunday’s game with 17 points and four steals, including a timely interception of a Diana Taurasi pass in the final three minutes when the game was tied that helped the Sun take the lead the for good. She also matched DeWanna Bonner’s production behind the arc, making 3-of-5 from deep.

Hiedeman played just shy of 35 minutes before she fouled out with eight seconds left — leaving the game to a roar of applause from the home crowd of 2,042 people. 

She has taken on a leadership role since the first day of training camp, and it’s continued through the first two games of the WNBA season as she has started in place of Jasmine Thomas, who was temporarily suspended as she cleared protocols after arriving in Connecticut just last week. 

“Natisha has had to be the leader from the point guard position in training camp and I think it gave her confidence going to this to show she belongs. Year three the game slowed down for her, and she’s just real quality. We have so much faith and trust in Natisha,” Miller said after Friday’s win.

Hiedeman has made the most out of the opportunity — setting a career high in rebounds on Friday with eight against Atlanta, and then career marks in scoring and steals on Sunday against Phoenix. 

“She’s just been terrific. She’s been that way all through training camp,” Miller said. “There’s always these unintended consequences. Who’s going to step up with AT out for the year?” Miller said Sunday night. “It highlights JJ, it highlights DB more. Briann January not in camp and Jasmine Thomas in camp, it really gives Natisha Hiedeman a great opportunity. She has that swag back.”

With Briann January getting only one day of training camp, and Jasmine Thomas missing camp entirely because of overseas commitments, Hiedeman has been the leading point guard throughout the entirety of the season thus far. She was the most-seasoned “veteran” through the first few days in camp until Bri Jones, DeWanna Bonner, and Alyssa Thomas arrived later in the week.

Hiedeman said in training camp that she has benefited from what Jasmine Thomas and January have taught her during her first two seasons. This camp, she found herself in their shoes, trying to pass on those lessons to newcomers like rookie Aleah Goodman, who played in her first WNBA game on Friday as a hardship player.

“I just need to step up and be a leader,” Hiedeman said. “It’s important for the point guards to lead the team. Since day one of camp there’s been a lot of growth with everybody, but there’s still more growth to come.”

In just three weeks, Hiedeman has grown into a vocal leader, and her confidence has blossomed because of the opportunity. Miller said during the last week of training camp that he expected that growth to translate into the season, and so far it has.

Hiedeman didn’t get the benefit of a training camp last season after arriving to the bubble late after recovering from COVID. Miller said she had moments last year, but didn’t quite show the swag or confidence that she had back in 2019. This weekend was different, and Hiedeman agreed.

“Being able to be a part of a training camp this year, I just feel more confident going into games. Just having that time to practice and really get better. I think that is helping me a lot,” Hiedeman said on Sunday night.

It’s a small sample size so far, but on Sunday, Hiedeman’s energy was unmatched and she kept up with two of the best guards in the league all night — plucking Taurasi twice and Skylar Diggins-Smith once.

She’s shooting well behind the arc — hitting 5-of-11 attempts for a 45.5% clip through two games. The Sun struggled from the perimeter last year, but having Jonquel Jones back on the court has made an immediate impact on the team’s spacing. Hiedeman is helping capitalize on the extra open opportunities, either shooting them herself or finding Bonner when she’s open behind the line.

On Friday she was tasked with keeping up with Atlanta’s speedy and dangerous backcourt, and had a near double-double with nine points and eight rebounds, while also chipping in three assists. Her eight rebounds matched Jonquel Jones’ effort and contributed to the Sun’s 42-26 domination on the glass.

On Sunday, she had an even taller task, guarding Taurasi and Diggins-Smith. Hiedeman and January combined for 32 points, seven assists, five steals, and only three turnovers. Miller said Phoenix threw some things at them that they weren’t expecting, and there were some mistakes guarding one-on-one, but overall he was really impressed with his starting backcourt.

“Those guys were not only impactful in scoring in the box score, they chased around two really good guards all night long and competed with Diana and Skylar. That’s a tough ask for those two, and they competed,” Miller said.

Jasmine Thomas is expected to make her season debut on Wednesday at home against the Indiana Fever, so Hiedeman won’t likely have as big of a role that she had for the first few games, but her production will be a welcome boost to the Connecticut bench, which struggled on offense and didn’t get much playing time during the first two games. 

She’s also eager to continue learning from the Sun’s veteran backcourt, as well as Alyssa Thomas on the sidelines. She knows she wants to become a more solid contributor on defense, an area that Jasmine Thomas, a three-time All Defensive First Team selection, should be able to help with, while continuing to be a steady hand on offense.

And she doesn’t mind filling whatever role her team needs her to do, whether that’s rebounding, scoring, leading the second unit, or bringing the classic energy and swagger on the sidelines that she’s been known for the last few seasons.

“Whenever my number gets called up, I’ll be ready,” Hiedeman said. “It’s gonna be a good season.”

Written by Jacqueline LeBlanc

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