June 4, 2022
Recapping the last 48 hours for the Connecticut Sun
The Sun played a rare back-to-back, coming away with wins over the Las Vegas Aces and Phoenix Mercury in the midst of quick travel turnarounds
After starting their west coast road trip with a disappointing loss to the Las Vegas Aces, the Connecticut Sun showed their resilience and won back-to-back games in two different cities — beating Las Vegas in a rematch Thursday, and overcoming a rough travel schedule to come from behind and beat the Phoenix Mercury on Friday.
Facing their toughest test yet without captain and point guard Jasmine Thomas, the Sun proved themselves Thursday by holding off runs from a red-hot Las Vegas Aces team in a gritty and physical rematch with the top team in the league.
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The Sun looked primed to run away with an impressive bounce-back game after jumping to a 19-point lead early in the second quarter, fueled by a season-high 37 points in the first quarter.
But the Aces pushed bac came within one point multiple times in the second half. The Sun had to make runs of their own to keep Vegas from pulling ahead, and they gave Vegas their first loss at home this season.
Miller said that was one of the most high-level basketball games in the seven years he coached in the league. His team carried themselves with an edge and we’re confident in their ability to respond. Miller said it was their attitude that really helped carry them through the end.
“It’s comforting as a coach to have such a competitive group. They hate to lose and they knew they had some self-inflicted wounds from Tuesday that contributed to the loss … they had an answer for every run and basically led from start to finish, so really proud of the high-level game against two incredibly talented teams,” Miller said. “That’s a huge road win for us and we proved ourselves. This is the first huge win that we’ve had since Jas (Thomas’) injury. I think we really proved to ourselves that we can play against anyone still.”
Britney Griner’s absence looms large
Heading to Phoenix for the first time this season, the fact that Mercury center Brittney Griner would not be there weighed heavily on Sun players like DeWanna Bonner, who played with Griner in Phoenix for six years, and Jonquel Jones, who has been teammates with Griner on UMMC Ekaterinburg in Russia since 2018.
It has been 107 days since Griner was wrongfully detained in a Russian prison, according to the U.S. State Department. It was recently reported that Griner has been able to make contact with people through email, but her detention in prison was extended until June 18.
“It’s already been touching me really hard, with her being my teammate overseas and being a close friend, and having to leave her as we were getting out of Russia,” Jones said after playing the Mercury on Friday. “It’s really been fucking up my head, if I’m being honest with you.”
“It feels really weird, and I just really miss my friend, and I wish that we’ll get her out of there soon, but it doesn’t feel the same. It doesn’t even feel right honestly,” Jones said. “I feel for me, the last few days have been like, how does the world just move on, and how do things just kind of go on when something tragic is happening.”
“For me, it’s a sad mood because my friend is still over there. She’s still stuck over there,” Jones said. “It’s not even about basketball. It’s about getting her back.”
Back-to-back games make WNBA travel even tougher
The team had only a few hours to sleep after the physical game — which saw Aces guards Jackie Young and Chelsea Gray leave with injuries, and Brionna Jones sit on the bench to recover after colliding head-first with Kiah Stokes. They left their hotel at 4:15 a.m. to board a flight to Phoenix, where they had a few hours to sleep and eat before meeting to go over the game plan in the afternoon.
After that it was time to just “lace them up and go,” Miller said.
Friday night’s game against the Phoenix Mercury was the Sun’s eighth game in 15 days. Miller said it wasn’t the first time he’s coached games on back-to-back days in the WNBA, but it is the most difficult back-to-back he’s experienced in terms of scheduling and travel.
Miller said he understood the jigsaw puzzle that scheduling games must be for the league, and most teams have at least one back-to-back figured into their schedule, but he said it’s something the league should look to avoid in the future since it puts the players in a tough situation.
“We can feel sorry for ourselves or we’re in it, and we’ve got to do it,” Miller said before Friday night’s game. “If we can eliminate them it would be helpful, but we’re not the only team that will play a back to back. We’re not the only team that has these crazy stretches of games this year. It’s just that we’re playing our back to back at the tail end of our nine games in 17 days.”
Five teams are playing back-to-back games with travel in between, and three of those teams go from an away game to an away game. Only Atlanta, Phoenix, Las Vegas, and Dallas do not have any back-to-back games scheduled this regular season. Chicago has to travel for back-to-backs twice.
“That’s our job. We got to do what we got to do. It don’t matter how I really feel. We can’t change it,” Williams said after the Las Vegas game before traveling to Phoenix.
“I don’t mind doing it if it’s something that they need to do to kind of make the schedule work and fit, but if we’re one of the only teams doing it then that’s not fair. Traveling and back playing a back-to-back where we’re not even home? I don’t agree with it,” Brionna Jones said.
“We’re pressure though. We’re going to be alright,” Williams said.
“No, we’re going to be fine. Just don’t do this to us next year, please,” Jones said.
Sun come back against Mercury, set to close out road trip in Seattle
Despite the fatigue and lack of preparation, the Sun pulled out a “gutty” win against a Mercury team that looked determined to end a six-game losing streak, even without Tina Charles available because of a shoulder injury.
The Sun struggled to contain Phoenix’s guards, who Miller said posed a challenge just like the Aces’ dominant backcourt did earlier in the week. Diana Taurasi and Skylar Diggins-Smith combined for 54 points, including six free throws each and six three-pointers from Taurasi.
Connecticut trailed by five at the half, but the Sun traded runs with the Mercury and tied the game at the end of the third quarter, with two free throws from DiJonai Carrington after a foul from Shey Peddy with 0.7 seconds on the clock.
The Mercury jumped back out to a 13-0 run to open the fourth quarter thanks to Sun fouls and turnovers. But Jonquel Jones took over, hitting threes and finding her way to the rim to score 11 of her season-high 24 points in the last 6:30, as the rest of the team backed her up with crucial jumpers.
Since Jones scored eight points on only four field goal attempts in the loss to the Aces on Wednesday, she has scored more than 20 points while shooting more than 75 percent in both games – looking more like the MVP.
Jones said there was concern at the beginning of the season about how much she was going to be double-teamed, and it distracted from letting her play the game the way she plays it. There was a focus from both Jones and the coaches to get her more touches in both games, and she said she was looking to be more aggressive and get her shots rather than pass.
“I’ve just gotta get to my shots and understand that a lot of the shots that I’m taking are shots that people can’t block – so I just have to make my shots,” Jones said.
The Sun will hope to keep up the momentum as they close out their road trip against the Seattle Storm on Sunday. The Storm will be looking to bounce back from a 68-51 loss against the Dallas Wings on Friday.
It will be a challenge for the Sun to limit their turnovers against a strong Seattle defense, including former Sun guard Briann January.
It was important for Miller to make sure that the team had a day off from practice on Saturday, so they’ll sacrifice preparation for more rest after making the trip from Phoenix to Seattle.
“We’re going to try to get them as much rest as possible and then cram as much prep as we can. That just crushes me because preparation is my number one pillar, Miller said “But these guys have to have a day off to go compete in our ninth game in 17 days.”
“We don’t travel and then have a day off. We travel on our day off. There’s a big difference,” Jones added. “We’re going to take full advantage of it. We’re happy it’s not a back-to-back while traveling, so we’re going to try and rehab and get our bodies ready for Seattle.”