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Sun show toughness to hold off late Chicago rally and win fifth straight

Connecticut’s Jonquel Jones scored a season-high 27 points and pulled down 11 rebounds as the Sun won their fifth straight game Tuesday night with a win over Chicago.

A month ago, the Connecticut Sun were riding high with victories in nine of their first 10 games of the season when they went to Chicago to face the Sky.

But Chicago dominated in an 18-point victory that snapped a seven-game winning streak for Connecticut and was the first of five straight defeats for the Sun. It was a stinging loss for Connecticut, especially with some Chicago players calling the Sun soft.

“They called us out publicly after the last game,” Connecticut coach Curt Miller said. “From coach to player, calling us soft.” In that loss, the Sun scored just 28 points in the second half and committed 11 turnovers.

On Tuesday night, Connecticut built a 20-point lead with 5:02 remaining and held off a late rally from Chicago to win their fifth straight game with a 100-94 decision at the Mohegan Sun Arena.

The Sun looked like they would easily take this one but Chicago (11-9), despite playing without former UConn star Gabby Williams, who was out sick, scored 13 straight points to cut the lead to four with 1:17 left in the game.

But the Sun were 6-for-6 from the free throw line in the final 57 seconds to secure the win with a season-high 100 points. Connecticut improves to 14-6.

“That’s a big win tonight against [Chicago’s] really, really talented offensive team that was hot coming into the game,” Miller said. “[They] won four in a row and we really set the tone in that first half with 57-points. We executed well at both ends, I thought we got out and ran and got the tempo where we needed it and showed a toughness.”

The Sun were well aware that the Sky called them soft after that big loss in Chicago.

“I think you saw our team respond to that,” Miller said. “There was not a lot of talking about it, it didn’t need to be addressed, but that was there and I think you saw a very spirited group in that first half.”

The Sun led by five points midway through the second quarter before going on a 10-2 run to take control of the contest with a 14-point lead. Jonquel Jones pulled down an offensive rebound and scored in the lane, Jasmine Thomas drained a three-point shot and Bria Holmes scored on a fast break off an assist from Alyssa Thomas in the run.

The Sun had a season-high 29 assists in the game led by Jasmine Thomas with eight assists.

Jones had a season-high 27 points and 11 rebounds to lead the Sun while Jasmine Thomas scored 18 points (7-of-8 from the floor) and dished out eight assists. Alyssa Thomas and Courtney Williams had 12 points each while Holmes came off the bench to score 11 points.

“We’re a transition team, so we play better when we’re playing fast and up-tempo, getting a lot of possessions,” said Jasmine Thomas. “Ultimately that’s just how we play and we’re good at it.”

Chicago was led by Allie Quigley with 24 points and four three-point shots while Courtney Vandersloot added 22 points and 11 assists.

Connecticut had a 14-point lead at halftime but couldn’t pull away from the Sky in the third quarter. They led by 12 points with four minutes left in the half before the Sun finished out the quarter with a 13-6 surge to extend the lead as high as 21 points.

Jasmine Thomas hit a long two-point shot and they drained a three-point shot. Jones added another three-point shot and then Holmes drove through the lane for a basket. Jones scored on the run from Jasmine Thomas with 1:19 remaining before Jones finished out the quarter with her third 3-pointer of the game for a 21-point lead, 82-63.

The Sun played their bench for most of the fourth quarter but they couldn’t finish off the Sky. The Connecticut starters returned with four minutes left and were tough enough to grind out the victory. The Sun didn’t score a field goal in the final five minutes.

“I think we’re a team that we play hard every time we step on the court,” Jones said. “I mean obviously we were the team to beat at the time (June 23) when we played them because we were at the top of the league. [Chicago] played us with a chip on their shoulder and they had a lot to say after the game.

“So we just wanted to come in and make sure we played hard and that we proved a point because we didn’t like the way that they spoke about us,” said Jones, who had her tenth double/double of the season. “We also felt like it (loss on June 23) wasn’t indicative of how we play and, you know, the things that we do on the court.”

“They are a championship caliber team and we wanted to use all 40 minutes to measure ourselves against them,” Chicago coach James Wade said. “I have a lot of respect for Curt (Miller) and for a lot of the players that they have. (We) have playing against them for years. We didn’t want to come out of here with a sour taste in our mouth but we wanted to make it a little nervous for them. Our bench was able to set the tone, our starters came in and put it to a point where it was a back and forth game.”

“Defensively we were just running all over the place,” Quigley said. “They were moving the ball really well, and knocking down shots. They shot the ball really well, some of them were open and they got some offensive rebounds and we turned the ball over eight times in the first half and that plays right into their game and they got easy buckets.”

Connecticut returns to action on Thursday night when they host Diana Taurasi, Britney Griner and the Phoenix Mercury at 7 p.m. at the Mohegan Sun Arena.

NOTES:  The 100 points was a season-high for Connecticut. The Sun have scored over 100 points on just two other occasions. The Sun beat Dallas on the road on August 8, 2018 with a 101-92 win over topped Las Vegas with a 109-88 victory on August 5, 2018. … The Sun’s 29 assists was a season-high, topping 24 in a win over Atlanta on July 19. … Shekinna Stricklen had a career-high six assists. … Jones had 27 points, topping her previous high of 26 points in a win over Indiana on July 14. … It was the 14th time this season that Jasmine Thomas scored in double figures. She has scored more than 10 points in seven straight games.

Gerry deSimas, Jr., is the editor and founder of The Collinsville Press. He is an award-winning writer and has been covering sports in Connecticut and New England for more than 30 years. He was inducted into the New England High School Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2018.

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