It’s tough in the WNBA’s bubble in Bradenton, Florida, on the campus of the IMG Academy where all 12 WNBA teams live, train and play their games. The pandemic-shortened season is 22 games in just about seven weeks leaving little time to recover from playing games and injuries.
“Everyone is tired,” Sun coach Curt Miller said. “You’re going to have some nights when you don’t have your ‘A’ game.”
And some nights when you will be shorthanded. Playing primarily with just seven players, the Sun picked up a key win in their quest for a playoff berth with a 76-63 win over the defending WNBA champion Washington Mystics on Sunday.
Connecticut guard Jasmine Thomas played just 10 minutes before sitting down for good due to a flareup of plantar fasciitis, which is a painful injury to heel. That is usually healed with some rest.
Brionna Jones missed the game with an injured ankle, Bria Holmes is still working her way back from a sore Achilles and sharpshooter Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis didn’t even dress due to a back injury.
“It was all hands on deck tonight,” Connecticut’s Alyssa Thomas said. “People are hurt and people have to step up. We knew we had to come out and play with focus.”
Sun rookie Kalia Charles had a career-high 16 points and was 3-of-5 from three-point range. At Maryland this past winter, she sank just three 3-point shots all season. “I wasn’t needed to take three-point shots,” Charles said. “Everyone thought I couldn’t (shoot 3-point shots) but I knew that I could and that is all that really matters.”
The win helped the Sun (7-9) create space from the teams they are battling for a playoff berth. The top eight teams make the playoffs and the Sun are currently No. 7 with Dallas (6-10) in the No. 8 spot with Indiana (5-10) and the Mystics (4-11) trailing.
Miller was thrilled with the contributions from his bench.
Charles had 16 points. Esscence Carson, a second-year player who was picked up from Washington two weeks ago, started in place of Jones and had eight points, four assists and two steals. In her first start with the Sun, Carson scored eight of Connecticut’s first 11 points.
Rookie Beatrice Mompremier from Miami had a career-high seven points and six rebounds.
“They gave us energy and that is what you expect from rookies,” Miller said. “They brought energy to the floor. Kalia only knows how to play one speed and it’s full throttle.”
Added Charles, “It was important for me to go out and make an impact today.”
It was crucial help for the veterans such as Alyssa Thomas and DeWanna Bonner, who have been carrying the Sun at times throughout this pandemic season.
Bonner had a game-high 20 points with 11 rebounds, four assists and two steals. Alyssa Thomas was outstanding at both ends of the floor. She had 16 points, pulled down 11 rebounds and dished out eight assists.
She also drew tough defensive assignments throughout the contest, frequently drawing the assignment to shut down the Mystics player who was hot. Four Washington players were in double digits but none had more than 14 points (Emma Messerman).
“My job is to disrupt and limit the best players,” Alyssa Thomas said. “My focus is to be me, play as hard as I can and focus (on my opponent’s) tendencies and not let them do what they want to do.”
Connecticut led by 11 points at halftime and opened the third quarter with an 11-2 run to open up a 19-point lead. Alyssa Thomas had six points in the lane in the surge while Charles drained a three-point shot. Bonner had a nice drive to the basket off a long pass from Alyssa Thomas.
The lead was as high as 20 points but Washington was able to rally, cutting the lead to 11 points with 6:09 left in the fourth quarter, 66-55. But over the next four minutes, Connecticut gave up just one field goal and used a 10-3 surge to reassert their control over the contest.
Bonner had seven of the 10 points thanks to a three-point shot and two nice drives to the basket.
“You have to celebrate every win and every win is big,” Miller said. “There is always a sense of relief with as exhausted as we look. We gutted through that (game). We grinded through with (essentially) seven players and at this level, that isn’t easy.”
The Sun return to action on Tuesday when they face New York and will challenge Las Vegas on Thursday.
The Mystics are nearly out of the playoff race having lost 11 of their last 12 games. Head coach Mike Thibault was frustrated afterwards. And his Mystics close out the season with seven games in 12 days.
“Our job is to show up and do the best we can,” he said. “If we play hard and it’s not good enough, then it’s not good enough. If we play hard, focus and try to do the right things and we get beat, then we get beat.
“If you make a mistake, it should be corrected, you can’t make the same mistake four times in the same quarter on the same play. Those things can’t happen,” said Thibault, frustrated that some Sun players were wide open for shots in the first half on multiple occasions.
NOTES: Myisha Hines-Allen had 12 points and a game-high 13 rebounds for Washington while Kiara Lesile added 11 points. … It was Bonner’s fifth 20-point game of the season. … Charles had 12 points in the first half. … Carson made her first-ever start for the Sun.