Energized Chicago too quick for tired Sun

Sun rookie Brionna Jones, shown in last week’s game against New York, had a career-high nine points in Friday’s loss to Chicago.

The Connecticut Sun ran out of gas in their final regular season home game of the season Friday night against the Chicago Sky. Playing their fifth game in 11 days, the Sun couldn’t keep up with Chicago in a 96-83 loss before 7,761 fans at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville.

Fortunately, Sun fans will have another opportunity to see Connecticut (20-11) play again at home when the Sun make their first WNBA playoff appearance since 2012 in September.

Chicago (12-18) is in a battle for the eighth and final playoff spot in the WNBA playoffs. They had played once in the last eight days and were quicker than Connecticut on this evening.

“We almost got through it, but it (fatigue) caught up to us tonight and we looked like the tired team,” Sun head coach Curt Miller said. “(Chicago) did a really good job of moving, and attacking us. They looked and played how we want to play. Really up-tempo, really moving people. Their guards are so talented and such good passers. They can really make you look silly when you’re a little bit slow on rotations, a little bit slow (reacting) to all of the actions. We were hurt with foul trouble to (Jonquel Jones) early and just could never get in a rhythm.”

Jones picked up two early fouls in the first quarter while Chicago had 25 assists with 12 from the WNBA’s leader in assists Courtney Vandersloot.

Alyssa Thomas led the Sun with 14 points while Courtney Williams, Jasmine Thomas and Alex Bentley each had 11 points.

For Chicago, Jessica Breland led the way with 15 points, Adut Bulgak had a career-high 14 points off the bench and Allie Quigley chipped in with 13 points. Former UConn star Stefanie Dolson had 12 points for the Sky with a team-high nine rebounds.

Chicago led by as many as 20 points in the third quarter. The Sun cut the lead to 10 early in the fourth quarter only to see Chicago respond with a 12-2 surge to put the game away.

“We have won games tired before. So, it’s hard to say that’s the reason that we lost,” Connecticut’s Jasmine Thomas said. “We did feel slow, we did have a good run in the third quarter with our second group so there was still a chance to come back and be in the game. Somewhere along the line we just don’t make the plays we need to make, we don’t get the rest when we need it to kind of make that last push.”

“We had some people off the bench do a lot of really good things for us tonight and going into the post season that’s definitely a positive,” she added.

Bentley had 11 points off the bench — her ninth game of the season in double digits — while Brionna Jones, the rookie forward from Maryland, had a career-high nine points and six rebounds. Morgan Tuck scored eight points.

“The second unit was playing with more energy,” Miller said. “They were actually doing a good job. You wondered if they could get it in single digits early enough that our starters could make a difference, but they (Chicago) just kept scoring. We couldn’t get enough consecutive stops.”

Chicago coach Amber Stocks was pleased how her team rebounded from a 103-66 loss to Seattle Sunday at home.

“Our players, our team played very hard, played intense and played together,” she said. “We had great synchronization with our offensive strategies as well as our defense. We were moving and talking. Cappie (Pondexter) once again had a clutch performance in key moments (12 points) and when Sloot (Courtney Vandersloot) is distributing the ball the way she does good things happen for us. I thought our inside game was impressive especially with Adut Bulgak coming in and making such a solid impact not only in scoring, but in rebounding and she was able to secure some big rebounds for us.”

The Sky thought they might be able to wear down the Sun.

“Connecticut plays at a very high tempo, the lead the league in scoring and point production, so we know that matching their pace was important,” Stocks said. “Likewise, we play fast that is part of our style of play too, both of us are in the top of the league in field goal attempts per game. So yes, we wanted to play our style and not only would it be a strength of ours, but it might be able to take advantage of a potential weakness in Connecticut.”

Connecticut was 3-2 in this recent five-game stretch, dropping a game to New York last Friday night and beating Dallas on Sunday.

The Sun close out the season with three consecutive road games beginning with a game at Washington on Tuesday. Then, it is a two-game road trip out West to Phoenix (Sept. 1) and to Los Angeles (Sept. 3).

Connecticut, which leads the Eastern Conference, is currently the No. 3 seed in the playoffs, one game ahead of New York (19-12), who have won seven straight games. The top four teams get first round byes. The second round on Sunday, Sept. 10 is a single-elimination contest with winners advancing to the WNBA semifinals – a best-of-five series.

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