June 11, 2023 

‘Things are coming together’ for the Connecticut Sun

Takeaways from the Connecticut Sun's midweek home series against the Las Vegas Aces

UNCASVILLE, Conn. – After playing their worst half of basketball in the first 20 minutes against the undefeated Las Vegas Aces on Tuesday night, the Connecticut Sun had an opportunity to respond in a rematch against the defending champions on Thursday night.

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In the first game of a two-game home series, the Sun came out flat; they weren’t careful with the ball, they didn’t move well on offense, and the Aces feasted on their mistakes. They eventually cut a 19-point deficit by three with about four minutes left to go, but didn’t have enough in the tank leading to a 90-84 loss.

“There’s no defense for poor offensive execution,” is how White put it after the game.

DeWanna Bonner especially struggled on Tuesday night, scoring a season-low five points on 2-of-9 shooting in just 23 minutes, and sitting during the fourth-quarter comeback. 

Bonner wanted to rebound from what she called one of the worst games of her career. She said she watched the film and wanted to come out on Thursday as aggressively as possible. Her daughter Cali gave her “superpowers” for good measure before leaving the house on Thursday, too.

“Literally, like ‘here you go, mom. Here are your superpowers.’ So yeah, I was ready for this game,” Bonner said.

The 35-year-old wing powered her way to a career-high and franchise-record 41 points, and quickly. Bonner got the offense started with her defense, helping Thomas and Jones stuff A’ja Wilson in the paint, leading to a Jones rebound. 

Connecticut Sun forward DeWanna Bonner (24) during the WNBA game between the Las Vegas Aces and the Connecticut Sun at Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville, Connecticut, USA on June 8, 2023. Photo Credit: Chris Poss

Bonner got out in transition and Thomas found her for an easy layup for the team’s first bucket of the game. Bonner helped the team jump out to a 12-6 start behind six points and then drained back-to-back triples to extend the lead to 10.

At one point in the quarter, Bonner went on a 10-0 run by herself and led all scorers with 14 points after the first 10 minutes. And she kept it up for the rest of the night, scoring 17 points without missing a shot in the fourth quarter to hold off a second-half run by the Aces.

“She holds herself to a high standard,” Thomas said of Bonner after the game. “For her not to hesitate and just let it go. I think everyone in that locker room is super proud of her. We know what she’s all about. We know what she’s capable of. And I think she reminded the league of what type of player she is.”

Bonner and Thomas have now both set single-game Sun franchise records this season. Thomas’ 16 assists in a win at the Minnesota Lynx on June 1 broke Lindsay Whalen’s mark from 2004. And Bonner broke a single-game scoring record that pre-dates the franchise’s move to Uncasville when Shannon Johnson scored 35 points for the Orlando Miracle in 2000.

Connecticut Sun forward DeWanna Bonner (24) and Connecticut Sun forward Alyssa Thomas (25) during the WNBA game between the Las Vegas Aces and the Connecticut Sun at Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville, Connecticut, USA on June 8, 2023. Photo Credit: Chris Poss

Bonner, now playing her fourth season in Connecticut after being traded from the Phoenix Mercury, where she spent the first 10 years of her career, said joining the Sun has changed her life off the court.

“I just love this organization so much. it just changed my life as far as you know, off the court,” Bonner said. “I met Alyssa… [And] that locker room is probably one of the closest teams that I’ve been on in a very long time.”

She said everyone enjoys being around each other, and it helps move on from losses like the first game against Las Vegas, so they could be ready to win the rematch on Thursday. The players didn’t pout or panic, they re-evaluated and re-grouped, she said.

“I love Connecticut. I love the fans. We can be out at the supermarket and somebody notices us,” Bonner said. “So just coming here and really just kind of changed my life. It was just a refreshing place to be.”

Sun respond after loss

The Sun blew the Aces out of the water in the first quarter on Thursday and didn’t let off the gas pedal all game, earning a statement 94-77 win and handing the Aces their first loss of the season.

“Sometimes you just have to get knocked on the mouth before you respond,” White said.

Aces head coach Becky Hammon said before Thursday’s game that she didn’t expect to hold another 19-point lead again, but she probably didn’t imagine finding herself on the opposite end of such a big lead. 

The Sun were focused on setting the tone early, which Alyssa Thomas said relied on team defense. All five Sun starters on the floor were active from the jump, and after allowing 48 paint points on Tuesday, the Sun put an emphasis on clogging the paint.

They held Wilson to 1-for-5 in the first quarter, 0-for-1 in the second quarter, and just one rebound through three quarters. Jackie Young, who had 22 points on 7-of-13 from the field, seven rebounds, six assists, and three steals on Tuesday, was held to just 1-of-2 shooting through the first three quarters. 

Las Vegas Aces center A’ja Wilson (22) shoots as Connecticut Sun forward DeWanna Bonner (24) defends during the WNBA game between the Las Vegas Aces and the Connecticut Sun at Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville, Connecticut, USA on June 08, 2023. Photo Credit: Chris Poss

“Today was really about team defense and not letting people get to where they wanted to be,” Thomas said. “I think we did a great job helping off ball and really clogging up the paint.”

The activity on defense eventually mirrored how Vegas got hot so quickly in the first game – by forcing turnovers and getting out in transition.

“Our intensity was really good. Our communication was elite tonight, which covers up for a lot of things, even if we weren’t in the right position,” White said. “We might have been late on the first rotation, but our second and third rotations were there, and they were there quickly.”

White said the win was about executing on every possession rather than a single possession, which helped keep them in the game while the Sun took time to work through early fouls and find a rhythm of their own on offense.

“This group came out focused and locked in and with a high energy level from the beginning. And that’s what it takes,” White said. “Teams in this league are too good. You can’t come out flat; you’ve got to answer runs … that’s what it has to be if you want to compete for championships.”

“Things are coming together”

The team’s goal for the early part of the season has been to build chemistry and grow together – a little more than a fifth of the way through the regular season, and White feels good about the progress the team is making.

“It’s a great start for us to start to feel like things are coming together,” White said.

The ultimate goal on the Sun’s vision board is to play fast. The Sun currently rank last in pace and know they still have a ways to go, but Thursday showed flashes of what the Sun can ultimately be when they find their groove. 

The team dished out a season-high 28 assists on 37 made field goals and only 12 turnovers throughout the game, along with 21 points off turnovers and 17 points in transition. 

“We want to play fast, and that’s one of the things we didn’t do well in the first game,” Thomas said. “When we play fast, they have to guard a lot of different things. So tonight we really picked up our pace, and when we share the ball we’re dangerous.”

Connecticut Sun guard Tiffany Hayes (15) looks to pass to Connecticut Sun forward DeWanna Bonner (24) during the WNBA game between the Las Vegas Aces and the Connecticut Sun at Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville, Connecticut, USA on June 08, 2023. Photo Credit: Chris Poss

That kind of chemistry on and off the court is what the team thinks will catapult them into the next level. White said the assisted shot rate – 98 assists to 130 made shots in the last four games – is what really shows the unselfish nature of this group. 

“Connected teams are tough to beat and connected teams get over the hump, connected teams give you opportunities to win championships,” White said.

Rebecca Allen tied her career high of 22 points on Tuesday making six of seven attempts from three – all of which fueled a second-half comeback. She scored 14 points in the fourth quarter alone. It was a long-awaited breakthrough for a player who had spent the last nine months coming back from injury and adjusting to a new team.

Thomas said the fact that anyone can go off on a given night is what makes playing with this team so fun. They all want to see each other succeed, she said.

“It doesn’t matter how many points you have, what you do, how many minutes you play,” Thomas said. “At the end of the day, it’s a team win. And we’re all excited for each other.”

Connecticut Sun center Olivia Nelson-Ododa (10) congratulates Connecticut Sun guard Rebecca Allen (9) during the WNBA game between the Las Vegas Aces and the Connecticut Sun at Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville, Connecticut, USA on June 08, 2023. Photo Credit: Chris Poss

The Sun have done a good job of finding balance in scoring throughout the season, and have leaned on Jones, Tiffany Hayes, and Bonner at different times throughout their 7-2 opening stretch.

Thomas has struggled to shoot consistently, averaging 15 points per game, but on 41.4% shooting. But she has had her usual impact in every facet of the game and has approached a triple-double almost every night.

Connecticut as a whole has been shooting the ball better after a few defensive slogs to open up their season. They combined for 18 made triples in their two games against the Aces, and have shot 37.9% from deep in four games in June, after opening the season shooting just 31.6% on threes through five games in May.

The Sun have shot 47.4% overall from the field so far in June, after starting at just 38.2% in May.

“Our spacing is getting better. Our timing is getting better. Now, the next step is for our reads to get better. What are the right reads? When we get mismatches [we’re] making sure that we’re exploiting them quickly,” White said.

“Learning to be on the same page when those things happen because teams are going to play our actions different ways. And now we’ve got to get to that point where we’re reading and making the right play consistently,” she said. “But I feel like we’ve continued to take positive steps toward that.”

Written by Jacqueline LeBlanc

Jacqueline LeBlanc is the Connecticut Sun beat reporter for The Next. Prior to The Next, Jacqueline has written for Her Hoop Stats and Sports Illustrated.

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