The Connecticut Sun have had an eye on the spot in the WNBA semifinals all year. They wanted a little breathing room in the WNBA playoffs and avoid the single-elimination portion of the tournament where the Phoenix Mercury sent them home with second round defeats in the last two years.
With a league-best home record of 15-2 and a versatile scoring effort, the Sun have earned that berth in the semifinals for the first time since 2012. Connecticut will host Los Angeles in game one of the best-of-5 semifinals Tuesday night at the Mohegan Sun Arena beginning at 6:30 p.m.
The Sun (23-11) will also see former No. 1 draft Chiney Ogwumike back on the floor for the Sparks. The Sun traded Ogwumike, a 2018 WNBA All-Star, to Los Angeles (23-12) before the season began. The trade opened up more playing time for Jonquel Jones, who has playing like an MVP candidate this season for the Sun.
Game two is Thursday night in Uncasville, also at 6:30 p.m. The Sparks won two of three games this season, winning both of their games in Los Angeles. The Sparks, who are in the semifinals for the fourth time in five years, have won 15 straight at home.
While Connecticut guard Courtney Williams has surged down the stretch with 25 points against Chicago, 24 against New York and a season-high 28 points against Las Vegas this past month, the Sun have spread the ball around all season long.
Jones leads the team averaging 14.6 points and league-leading 9.7 rebounds a game while Williams is averaging 13.2 points. Alyssa Thomas is averaging 11.6 points and 1.9 steals (team-high 66 steals) while Jasmine Thomas is averaging 11.1 points a game.
Shekinna Stricklen (9.0 ppg) is the team’s leading three-point shooter with 76. Jasmine Thomas has drained 45 three-point shots while Jones has sunk 43.
“Whoever is hot, we play through them. Courtney has proven in her young career that she can take over any game,” Jasmine Thomas said. “She is not afraid to have the ball in her hand at the end of the game and once she gets it, we play through her.”
Nearly every Connecticut starter has had their moment in the sun offensively. Jasmine Thomas had 27 against Las Vegas late in August. Stricklen had 24 points and five three-point shots in a win over Seattle last month. Jonquel Jones had 27 against Chicago in July.
The Sun also played three players on the WNBA’s All-Defensive team. Jones, who led the league in blocks (68), and Jasmine Thomas were named to the first team while Alyssa Thomas was named to the second team.
“I think we’re a team that we play hard every time we step on the court,” Jones said.
The Sun last played in the semifinals in 2012. They won the opener and lost two straight to Indiana and the Eastern Conference finals. A few weeks later, head coach Mike Thibault was fired. Connecticut is now looking for their first appearance in the WNBA finals since 2005.
The Sun will need to stop a Los Angeles team that is similar to the Sun in terms of a versatile lineup who can score.
Candace Parker is averaging 15.4 points in the last five games. Nneka Ogwumike leads the team by averaging 16.1 points and 8.8 rebounds a game. She averaged 18.7 points and 11 rebounds a game in the three games this season with the Sun and was named to the WNBA’s All-Defensive team. Chelsea Gray is averaging 14.5 points a game while Riguna Williams is scoring 12.3 points per contest.
Still, the Sun are playing with a confidence after three straight 20-win seasons.
“We’re a transition team, so we play better when we’re playing fast and up-tempo, getting a lot of possessions,” Jasmine Thomas said. The game will be broadcast on ESPN2.