June 10, 2022
Connecticut Sun face another test at home
The Chicago Sky visit the Connecticut Sun for the first time since 2021 semifinals
There will be some extra juice in tonight’s game at Mohegan Sun Arena.
It’s been about eight months since the Connecticut Sun and Chicago Sky last met on the court, when the sixth-seeded Sky bested the top-seeded Sun in four games to earn a trip to the WNBA Finals, where they won their first championship.
Both teams kept much of their core intact and are again looking for a spot in the finals; both have established themselves quickly among the top teams in the league. After an impressive 3-1 west coast road trip for the Sun, Connecticut sits second in the league at 10-3 while the Sky are right behind them at 7-4.
But both teams have also made changes. Chicago lost Stefanie Dolson and Diamond DeShields this offseason but re-tooled by bringing in Emma Meesseman, who gave the Sun problems in the 2019 Finals when she was with the Washington Mystics.
The Sun came into the season with their all-star frontcourt finally intact for the first time, but don’t have the defensive backcourt that made them a nightmare for opposing teams last year — losing Briann January in free agency and Jasmine Thomas to a season-ending injury.
But the Sun also brought Courtney Williams back to Connecticut to pick up the pace — partly to keep up with dynamic guards like Kahleah Copper, who used her speed to dominate in the open court and run the Sun out of the playoffs last season.
The Sun passed a major test on its road trip, and playing the Sky will give the Sun another chance to see how its adjustments stack up with the top teams in the league.
Backcourt defense has been a struggle
With Briann January leaving the Sun in free agency and Jasmine Thomas tearing her ACL in the fifth game this year, the Sun have struggled to guard the other teams with dominant backcourts like the Las Vegas Aces, Phoenix Mercury and Seattle Storm.
The Sun gave up an average of nearly 44 points per game to the backcourt duos of Jackie Young and Kelsey Plum from Las Vegas, Skylar Diggins-Smith and Diana Taurasi from Phoenix, and Sue Bird and Jewell Loyd from Seattle across the four-game road trip last week – with these guards shooting more than 50 percent overall and 40 percent from three combined.
Chicago may be one of the more difficult tests this season with Courtney Vandersloot, Allie Quigley and Kahleah Copper leading a dynamic backcourt for the Sky. Annie Constible of The Sun Times also reported that Julie Allemand is available for Chicago and will likely play in her first game for the Sky on Friday, giving Chicago another playmaker for the Sun to contend with.
“It always starts in their backcourt,” Miller told The Next. “They’re so dynamic in transition. Kahleah Copper is the most elite end-line-to-end-line guard in the league, and so we’re challenged right off the bat with Kahleah getting behind us.”
The chemistry that Vandersloot and Quigley have and the constant movement on offense is always a challenge, Miller said. Quigley has been unusually off from three to start the season, making just 25 percent of her shots from deep.
Aside from Quigley, the Sky have never been that dangerous of a team from outside the arc. Sky are second to last in the league in three point field goal percentage at 31 percent and have shot more than 40 percent from the 3-pt line just three times in 11 games. But Quigley at least should heat up at some point, and the Sun will have to lock in to make sure it isn’t against them.
In the frontcourt, the addition of Emma Meesseman in free agency gives the Sky another elite passer out of the post, alongside Candace Parker, one of the best playmaking bigs in the game. The Sky are loaded with playmakers.
“What stands out is you already have Sloot, who’s led the league in assists forever. And Parker who is one of the best facilitating bigs,” Miller said. “So their passing has always been tremendous. And now you add another very, very talented passer.”
What the Sky thought they would lose with Dolson going to New York, they gain in the playmaking and offensive versatility of Meesseman, who can score from multiple levels, along with her passing. The Sun have the frontcourt defense to match up, but the ball movement is where they’ll be challenged to stay in front of the Sky on defense.
“It’s still that same core,” Miller said. “You’ve still got Sloot and Quigley and Copper and Parker, and you know, they’re so talented and dangerous at any time.”
Kahleah Copper feasted on the Sun in transition last year and has settled in for the Sky after missing the first two weeks of the season while finishing up an impressive season with Avenida overseas. The Sky have been 5-2 since her return, and nearly pulled off a 17-point comeback on Wednesday against the Mystics.
The Sun were built to play slow last year, and the difference between their pace and the Sky’s pace was clear, especially with Copper running the floor. But the Sun have a different approach this year, and they already look vastly different on offense with a healthy Alyssa Thomas and Courtney Williams — going from last in pace last season to fourth so far this season, and especially picking up the pace off of turnovers.
The scoreboard shows the difference. Sun have scored at least 90 points seven times in 13 games so far this year – that’s more than double the amount of 90 point games the team had last year.
The Sun will need to keep up that pace in order to match up with Chicago, who isn’t as fast as last year, but has the potential to be lethal in transition. The Sun will need to try to speed up the Sky, rather than the other way around, to try to disrupt Chicago’s half-court offense.
“I think the biggest thing is trying to wear them down,” Alyssa Thomas told The Next. “We got to make them defend and really make it up tempo against them.”
DiJonai Carrington has been great for the Sun in the last two games against the Indiana Fever and Seattle Storm, hitting 10 of her last 10 shot attempts. She played an important role off the bench for the team’s win against the Fever on Wednesday, plucking three steals to get the Sun out in transition. The Sun will need her energy on defense to match up with Copper throughout the game as well.
“It’s really been an impressive stretch for our sparkplug off the bench, where she can really spark this at both ends,” Miller said. “And when she plays within herself offensively, you’re seeing the stretch that she’s in now.”
The Sun have also built up chemistry with their frontcourt rotation of Jonquel Jones, Bri Jones, DeWanna Bonner and Thomas — who did not have much time to play together before facing the Sky in the playoffs last year.
Those four have seen more time on the floor all together since Jasmine Thomas was hurt, with Alyssa Thomas picking up a lot of the playmaking responsibilities as a point-forward. Miller has even tried out a rotation with Carrington alongside those four, which has shown the potential to overpower lineups that can’t match the Sun’s size, strength and pace.
“Obviously we’re still pivoting from the injury to Jas, so our lineups are bigger,” Miller said. “But what’s different about us is we had no practice time heading into that semifinals series with AT, Breezy and JJ. Now, even though it’s changed with the injury to Jas, we’ve had a lot more time on the court together.”
The matchup will answer questions for both teams, but one thing is certain — the Sun are excited for the rematch. Jonquel Jones said she wants to earn back her bragging rights over overseas teammates Vandersloot, Quigley and Meesseman.
“I’m definitely looking forward to playing them. When you look at the matchup and you look at their size, obviously we lost them to playoffs, but I just think it’s a good matchup,” Jones said. “When you look at a team like that, it’s hard not to get excited about playing them.”