When the WNBA was developing their pandemic schedule, Connecticut Sun coach and general manager Curt Miller said he was the only GM in the room advocating for a 16-game schedule.
“It is just brutal on these players. It’s a huge ask to have these guys play with this (WNBA) intensity every other night. I am really concerned. Very few teams are playing their ninth and tenth players in double figure minutes. The top seven or eight players are worn out.”
So, Miller was predictably pleased that he could rest his starting lineup for most of the fourth quarter as the Connecticut Sun won for the second time in three games with a 93-82 win over the Atlanta Dream at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida on Monday night.
Connecticut (2-5), who led by as many as 25 points, had a 20-point lead after three quarters.
Alyssa Thomas led all scorers with 21 points on 10-of-12 shooting while pulling down seven rebounds. Guard Jasmine Thomas had 15 points and seven assists while DeWanna Bonner had 12 points and nine rebounds.
Brionna Jones had 11 points while rookie Kalia Charles made her first professional start, scoring seven points, bringing down four rebounds and making two steals. Miller praised her defensive efforts and the energy she brought to the floor.
“You don’t often get a large lead like that to rest some players,” Miller said. “We’re in a 10-game in 19 day stretch to be able to steal some minutes (from the starters is important for us.”
It was the first meeting between many old friends. A year ago, Atlanta’s Shekinna Stricklen and Courtney Williams were starters in the Sun lineup. But Stricklen signed with the Dream as a free agent and Williams was traded.
Stricklen led Atlanta with 18 points while Williams had 12 points. The Dream (2-6) have lost five straight games.
After losing their first five games of the season, the Sun are learning how to succeed. “Today was about tempo and doing what we want to do,” Alyssa Thomas said. “When we scrimmaged them (in the preseason), they made us go faster and create turnovers. Today was about us and playing under control and finding the open man.”
Bonner said, “We’re still learning about each other. The ball is moving (offensively). We have more confidence. We’re playing better help defense. We’re playing good basketball with each other right now.”
Charles earned her first start to help slow down Atlanta’s rookie guard Chennedy Carter, who was averaging 19.4 points a game coming into the game. But Carter got hurt early and played just three minutes. She hurt her ankle.
Charles battles with Bonner in practice and Bonner challenged the rookie from Maryland. “She guards me in practice like there is no tomorrow. I challenged her to be our defensive stopper because she shows that in practice. She did a good job (on Monday). She didn’t force anything (offensively) and she brought that young energy that I don’t have any more.”
Miller will have his team get away from basketball on Tuesday with a trip to the beach planned. It’s a small break into a condensed WNBA calendar caused by the COVID-19 coronavirus and the cancellation of the first few months of the season.
Instead of a 16-game schedule, the WNBA eventually settled on a 22-game slate – a 12-game reduction from the 34 games the league normally plays. Miller said the league went with 22 games because they needed the additional revenue.
Jasmine Thomas admitted the schedule is physically hard on the players. Miller added, “My hope is we can get through it. It will be about survival. Who is healthy will be the favorite going into the playoffs,” he said.
Connecticut is in the midst of a stretch of 10 games in 19 days. The Sun hit the hardwood again on Wednesday when they face the Dallas Wings (3-4) at 7 p.m., on NESN, for the second time in less than a week. The Sun picked up their first win of the season on Thursday with a 91-68 victory over Dallas.
Connecticut will be playing every other day through August 22. On Friday night, the Sun will face Chicago (5-2) to close out this week only to play WNBA-leader Seattle (6-1) on Sunday.
NOTES: The Sun scored a season-high 90 points. … Alyssa Thomas was 10-of-12 from the field. … The bench contributed 27 points, which is the second most received from the bench this season. Bria Holmes led with nine on three made three-point field goals, Natisha Hiedeman and Beatrice Mompremier followed with eight and seven points, respectively.
The team also tallied 22 second chance points and eight on fast breaks. Connecticut outrebounded its opponent 36-31, has 15 steals to Atlanta’s three and posted a season low eight turnovers while the Dream turned the ball over 19 times.