After cutting the lead to five points late in the second quarter, the Connecticut Sun saw the Dallas Stars score two baskets in the final 1:13 of the first half to take a nine-point halftime lead into the locker room.
Connecticut’s Alyssa Thomas quietly came up to DeWanna Bonner. “Come on,” Thomas said. Bonner, who didn’t make a shot in the first half (0-4) and scored just two points, agreed. Bonner scored 16 of her team-high 18 points in the second half including a crucial layup with 10.8 seconds left to lift the Sun to a 70-66 win over the Wings at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.
Thomas didn’t think it was that big a deal. “She is crucial to what we do. We need her.”
The Sun (3-6) earned a win in consecutive games for the first time in this pandemic-condensed WNBA season and won for the third time in four games after beginning the season with five straight losses.
Connecticut trailed by 12 points early in the third quarter but played tough to earn the win. Thomas had seven points, seven rebounds and four assists while Jasmine Thomas had 10 points and three assists.
Veteran guard Briann January saw her first action of the season for the Sun after missing eight games after testing positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus earlier this summer. She didn’t score a point but provided some defensive help on Dallas’ outstanding forward Arike Ogunbowale, who had a game-high 19 points.
Bria Holmes had eight points off the bench including a pair of key three-point shots in the fourth quarter. Rookie Kalia Charles got her second professional start and while she scored just four points, she played some outstanding defense including a block of a shot by Tyasha Harris with 1:27 left in regulation and the Sun leading by four.
“This is a huge step in the right direction for us,” Bonner said. “We showed a lot of fight, a lot of heart. Our bench was huge tonight. Shout out to them. That’s the reason we won the game.”
“Our defense is getting better and better,” Sun head coach and general manager Curt Miller said. “To win shooting (37.5 percent) is a credit to our defense. Our bench really helped us to get to the finish line tonight.”
The Sun trailed by 12 early in the third quarter but used a 19-8 to cut the lead to one with 1:42 left in the third quarter. Dallas led 49-46 after three quarters but Bonner hit a three-point shot from the corner – off an assist from January – to tie the game at 49-49 with 9:25 remaining. Bonner and January were teammates a year ago in Phoenix.
Dallas regained the lead on a three-point lead from Alisha Gray, 52-50 but Holmes gave the Sun the lead for good on a three-point shot from the corner with 7:52 remaining thanks to an assist from Bonner, who kicked it back out of the paint.
Bonner got the next scoring play started with an interception and a quick outlet pass to Alyssa Thomas, who easily sailed in for a layup and a 55-52 lead. Bonner scored on a three-point play of her own and Jasmine Thomas scored off the glass with 5:22 left to complete a 14-5 Sun run that resulted in a six-point advantage, 60-54.
After a three-point shot from Harris, to cut the lead to three, Holmes drained another three-point shot on a nice pass back to the perimeter from Brionna Jones. After hitting just four three-point shots in the first seven games, Holmes has hit five 3-point shots in the last two contests.
Dallas cut the lead to two points twice in the final minute but Connecticut didn’t buckle. Alyssa Thomas was strong to the basket with 38.5 seconds remaining to push the lead to four. After a quick pullup jumper from Ogunbowale to cut the lead to two just seven seconds later, Bonner outfaked her defender and drove easily to the basket with 10.8 seconds left to seal the win.
“In the second half, we came out with an attack mentality,” Bonner said. “And things changed.”
Miller said, “We took it on the chin in the firs half but in the second half we responded. We got veteran leadership. DeWanna (Bonner) and (Alyssa Thomas) physicality. DeWanna’s emotions. Jasmine (Thomas) leadership. There was a veteran presence and toughness (for us) in that second half.”
Dallas coach Brian Angler said, “We showed our youth. We had opportunities to take shots (in the second half) and we passed them up. (Connecticut) picked up their intensity and got more determined.”
Alisha Gray had 15 points and eight rebounds for Dallas (3-6) while Harris had 13 points, including three 3-point shots. Former UConn star Katie Lou Samuelson had two points in 16 minutes of action off the bench for Dallas.
Connecticut (3-6) is just a half-game out of the eighth and final spot for the WNBA playoffs. “We’re a work in progress and you can see it building,” he said. “In this bubble, one or two wins can catapult you to three of four wins.”
All 12 WNBA teams are playing, practicing and living at the IMG Academy to enable them to play a 22-game schedule this season during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Sun, who are in the midst of a stretch of 10 games in 19 days, return to the floor on Friday night when they take on Chicago (5-3) at 7 p.m. in a game that you can watch on the WNBA’s Twitter feed.
On Sunday, the Sun will take on the WNBA-leading Seattle Storm (7-1) at 6 p.m. on ABC and WTNH Channel 8 here in Connecticut.
NOTABLE: January had three assists and three rebounds in her first game with the Sun, who have all 12 players on their roster available for the first time this season. … Bonner passed UConn legend Maya Moore on the WNBA’s all-time career points list. Bonner led the Sun in scoring for the fourth time in nine games. … Jasmine Thomas passed former UConn star Renee Montgomery on the WNBA’s career assist lists.