With 22 games in a little over seven weeks, the 2020 WNBA campaign with be a grind – especially with a short-handed team. The Connecticut Sun entered the second game of the COVID-19 pandemic campaign against the defending WNBA champion Washington Mystics with just 10 players in uniform.
And it was the second game of four in seven days for the Sun. So, did the Sun ration minutes to help their squad get through a challenging first week of the season? Nope.
Three-time All-Star DeWanna Bonner played all 40 minutes and All-Star Alyssa Thomas played 38 minutes. Bonner scored a game-high 29 points and pulled down nine rebounds while Thomas scored 28 and ripped down 11 rebounds.
It wasn’t enough. The Sun dropped to 0-2 in the 22-game schedule with a 94-89 loss Tuesday night to the Mystics at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., where the entire league is living, training and playing their games due to the pandemic.
Miller asked both of them if they needed rest. Neither one took up his offer.
“This league is full of competitors but I challenge you to find a more competitive player as Alyssa Thomas with the motor she plays with. She is playing like an All-WNBA player and one of the top 10 players in the world.”
Bonner said, “I just felt we had a chance to win and wanted to leave everything out there. The adrenaline was flowing and we wanted to win the game. We were right there. We didn’t give up. We were down 15 (points). If we stick with it, the wins will come.”
Washington’s Aerial Powers led the Mystics (2-0) with a career-high 27 points and hit 4-of-6 shots from three-point range. Ariel Atkins and Myisha Hines-Allen each had 16 points while Emma Messerman added 12 for the Mystics. Powers sank 10 of her 14 shots.
It was the first game between the two teams since decisive Game 5 of last October’s WNBA finals when the Mystics beat the Sun for their first WNBA championship.
The Sun led by six early in the third quarter only to see the Mystics take off on a 17-2 run to take command of the contest, 65-58. Powers had a pair of three-point shots in the rally while Atkins had one.
Connecticut cut the lead to three points, 74-71 but Washington scored the next 14 points of the game to build up a 15-point lead with 5:57 left in the game, 88-71.
Washington still led by 11 with 3:13 remaining after Powers drained another three-point shot. But Connecticut, which lost the WNBA championship series to the Mystics last September, rallied with a 9-0 run to cut the lead to two with 1:40 remaining in the game.
”I’m super proud of our fight,” Bonner said. “When we got down late, we kept coming back.”
But Washington didn’t give up another field goal. With 26 seconds left, Bonner got the ball in the low post from Thomas but the shot was deflected away. With 15.4 seconds remaining, Thomas drove to the basket but the ball rolled off the rim.
Miller said that Bonner and Thomas need help. No other Sun player scored more than eight points from Natisha Hiedeman off the bench. Jasmine Thomas had seven points while Brionna Jones had five points. Bria Holmes didn’t take a shot and had just one point. Kaleena Mosqueda Lewis was just 1-for-5 with five points.
“You really can’t ask much more from (Bonner and Alyssa Thomas),” Miller said. “They a little more help. We need to hit some open shots. I don’t know where it will come from. They don’t have to do anything outside of themselves. They just have to make shots they are capable of making.”
Looking for a spark, veteran Jacki Gemelos made her season debut for the Sun with 3:13 remaining in the game and the Sun trailing by 11. It was her first WNBA appearance since 2015 when she was with the Chicago Sky.
Gemelos, who has been battling knee injuries throughout her basketball career, his her first two three-point shots of the game. Her second three-point shot with 2:55 remaining cut the Mystic lead to seven, 91-84.
The Sun made the stop defensively and Hiedeman drove into the lane for a layup to trim the lead to five with 2:14 remaining. After another Sun stop and rebound, it was Bonner with a three-point shot with 1:40 left to cut the lead to two.
“I think it was bittersweet,” Gemelos said. “It would have been nice to get the win. But personally, I was excited to be out there and I was glad to get back on the court.” Gemelos has had eight knee surgeries and torn her ACL five times – three times in her collegiate career at Southern California.
Her six point effort was a career high for Gemelos in the WNBA.
The Sun return to action on Thursday night when battle the Los Angeles Sparks in a game that begins at 10 p.m. on ESPN. Connecticut closes out the week with a game on Saturday against Minnesota beginning at 4 p.m. on NESN.
NOTES: Bonner also had two steals to become one of six active WNBA players with at least 400 career steals (401). … Alyssa Thomas’ 28 point ties her career-high that she set against Dallas last June. She also had a team-leading 11 rebounds. … Gemelos last WNBA appearance came on Sept. 15, 2015 with Chicago against the Sun. She has been playing overseas in Greece.