June 2, 2022
How the Connecticut Sun can win the rematch against the Las Vegas Aces
More Jones required
The Las Vegas Aces exposed some of the Connecticut Sun’s weaknesses on Tuesday night in Connecticut’s third loss of the season, but the Sun have an opportunity to bounce right back against the best team in the league on Thursday night.
In the first meeting of the year, the Aces forced the Sun to play to Vegas’ game and excelled in the fast break, but also in transition defense. Las Vegas outscored Connecticut 26-14 in the paint and 17-0 on the fast break in the first half alone. The Aces took advantage of unforced turnovers and careless passes from the Sun, and the team couldn’t stop Las Vegas’ starting guards.
It was the Sun’s first loss to the Aces since Game 5 of the 2020 semifinals. The last time A’ja Wilson faced the Sun, she was held to 2-for-15 shooting for just 4 points – her worst game in years. On Tuesday, the paint belonged to Wilson, as she had her best game of the season with 24 points and 14 rebounds.
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“I’m not gonna take away from (the Aces), but at the same time not gonna take away from us either,” Courtney Williams told reporters after the 81-89 loss on Tuesday. “I think we got to shoot the ball better. And I think we have to take care of the ball. And this game is completely different.”
The Sun will have head coach Curt Miller and assistant coach Brandi Poole back, as the two were removed from the injury report. Forward Joyner Holmes, who has also missed the last two games, is still in health and safety protocols, so Steph Jones remains with the team on a hardship contract.
Acting head coach Chris Koclanes, who went 1-1 in Miller’s absence, said the locker room was still very confident and excited for the opportunity to prepare and adjust. It’s what they love to do, he said.
The Sun have had success in revenge games this year, following up an opening night loss to the New York Liberty with a 92-65 win shortly after, and rolling over the Dallas Wings 99-68 to follow a close loss in a two-game home series.
The Aces are playing like the best team in the league now, so how the Sun respond will be a major test.
“We got them again in two days. It ain’t no pressure,” Williams said.
Three key adjustments for the Aces rematch
The Sun’s 14 turnovers on Tuesday was actually one of their lower totals this season, but the Sun turned it over 10 times in the first half, leading to 16 quick points that helped Vegas take an eight-point lead at halftime.
“We just threw it away and they had lots of live ball,” Koclanes said. “You can’t guard it when you just throw it to them … so we just dug ourselves into a hole heading into that second half.”
Koclanes said that the Sun saw more zone defense against the Aces than they have all season. The team let it stagnate their offense, which allowed the Aces to deflect more passes. Guards Jackie Young and Chelsea Gray combined for six of nine total steals.
“We were just a little loose. We got to tighten up, and that just comes with awareness and intention to do so,” Koclanes said. “We’re fouling too much and we’re turning it over. As long as we continue to have that intention and demand of each other, we’ll get better.”
More Jonquel Jones and Bri Jones
Bri Jones got three early fouls in the first half, which ultimately limited her to just 19 minutes. But she still scored 12 points on 5 of 8 attempts. Jonquel Jones’ had a good night on the defensive end, with 13 rebounds and three blocks, but finished with just eight points on 3 of 4 attempts.
Hammon’s zone defense played a part in disrupting the Sun frontcourt out of the gate and made it difficult to adjust actions on the floor. But ultimately Koclanes said the team needs to adjust to keep Bri Jones out of foul trouble and on the floor, and Jonquel Jones more touches.
“We’ve got to help (Jonquel) and continue to get her to spots where she could have success, and at the same time, she has to continue to play with great energy and find her tempo,” Koclanes said. “She’s got to continue to work hard and demand the ball … get to spots on the floor and demand the ball and go catch the ball and play tough that way.”
The Aces outscored the Sun 38-30 in the paint and won the rebounding battle. A’ja Wilson had one of her best games of the season with 24 points and 14 rebounds. Her five offensive rebounds led to nine extra points.
Disrupt the Aces backcourt
It’ll be tough to stop an MVP presence like A’ja Wilson, especially with Las Vegas’ momentum with a seven game win streak. But the Sun have to find a way to slow down the Aces’ dangerous backcourt of Chelsea Gray, Kelsey Plum, and Jackie Young, who all combined for 52 points on Tuesday.
Kochlanes said before Tuesday’s game that he wanted the Sun to disrupt the Aces backcourt, which has started the season on a tear, thriving in new coach Becky Hammon’s pace-and-space system.
“They’re just playing fast and early, and they are letting it fly,” Kochlanes said. “And they’re really confident.”
The Sun didn’t succeed in disrupting the guards on Tuesday, but they’ll have to on Thursday to be able to split the two-game stand with Las Vegas. They’ll look to make passes more difficult and force more turnovers, and try to get the Aces into foul trouble to force them to play their bench — which allowed the Sun bench to cut a 20-point lead down to seven with a minute to go, forcing Hammon to put her starters back in to close out the win.