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Defense helps Connecticut get past pesky New York – The Collinsville Press
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Defense helps Connecticut get past pesky New York

Connecticut’s Alyssa Thomas (25) drives to the basket during Tuesday night’s WNBA game in Florida against New York. Thomas had 15 points as the Sun beat the Liberty, 70-65. (Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images)

It wasn’t pretty – especially on the offensive end but the Connecticut Sun earned their eighth win of the WNBA season on Tuesday night with a 70-65 win over the New York Liberty on the IMG Academy campus in Bradenton, Florida.

The Sun picked up the win without starting guard Jasmine Thomas, on the bench for just the third time in her WNBA career with an injury. Thomas is suffering from plantar fasciitis, inflammation of the tissue that connects your heel and toes, making it hard to walk – never mind run in a professional basketball game.

Conneticut (8-9) did it with defense. They limited New York to just 34 percent shooting from the floor and didn’t allow a New York starter to score more than seven points. Connecticut pulled down 42 rebounds – three shy of their season-high – which frequently ignited their fast break and DeWanna Bonner.

Bonner led all scorers with 27 points and pulled down a game-high 12 rebounds. She took over the Sun offense in the second half with 10 points in the third quarter and 11 points in the fourth quarter, including a key basket with 16.7 seconds remaining to extend a four-point lead to six.

“Our offense really struggled tonight,” Sun head coach and general manager Curt Miller said. “But DeWanna wanted the ball. It was one of those games when we didn’t have a lot of offense going so we began to go through her at times.”

Bonner made 12 of 13 shots from the free throw line. “I Just wanted to get to the free throw line and create a bit,” she said.

Alyssa Thomas, last week’s Eastern Conference player of the week, was a driving force again. The power forward had 15 points, pulled down six rebounds, dished out four assists and had a team-high five steals. The Sun had 12 steals in the game.

“We had a poor night shooting (32 percent) but you realize quickly that you can win a lot of games when you play the type of defense we are playing,” Miller said. “We’re hanging our hat on defense.”

For the second consecutive game, Connecticut held an opponent to 20 field goals or less. The Liberty (2-14) and Washington each had 19 field goals. It’s the first time this has happened in franchise history since the team was called the Orlando Miracle in July 2002. The last WNBA team to achieve this was Phoenix in September 2015.

New York 6-foot-5 power forward Amanda Zahui B, who had 22 points against Chicago last week, was held to just two points. Kiah Stokes, who had averaged 10 points in her last five games, was held to three. Former Sun guard Layshia Clarendon led the starting five for the Liberty with seven points.

Alyssa Thomas had the assignment to stop Zahui B for most of the game. “We did a good job on their starters,” Miller said. “Huge credit goes to Alyssa Thomas in some aspects but other people ended up on Zahui B due to switches. It was a team effort and I am really, really pleased with our defense.”

Miller, Bonner and Alyssa Thomas each praised Bria Holmes, who made her first appearance since August 20. Holmes didn’t score but had two key steals in the fourth quarter and a block of an attempted three-point shot by New York’s Kia Nurse with 6:01 remaining.

“She has been hurt and she had some key moments for us when we started our fast break in the third quarter,” Bonner said. “She was a key to get us going.”

Nurse led the Liberty with 18 points off the bench while Jasmine Jones added 15 points, including a long-three-point shot from near midcourt at the end of the third quarter.

Connecticut’s Natisha Hiedeman came off the bench and scored 10 points while Brionna Jones, who sat out Sunday night’s win over Washington with a ankle injury, scored six points and pulled down 10 rebounds.

It was a big win for Connecticut, which is currently seeded seventh with an 8-9 record and three full games ahead of Indiana (5-12), who is currently seeded ninth. The top eight teams in the league earn a spot in the playoffs with the top two earning automatic berths into the best-of-five semifinals.

Connecticut had five games remaining in the season that is scheduled to end next Friday, Sept. 11, with a game against Atlanta. The Sun still have a game with Phoenix to make up that was postponed last week.

The Sun face No. 2 Las Vegas on Thursday night at 8 p.m.  before a crucial game against Indiana on Saturday afternoon at 4 p.m.

Gerry deSimas, Jr., is the editor and founder of The Collinsville Press. He is an award-winning writer and has been covering sports in Connecticut and New England for more than 30 years. He was inducted into the New England High School Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2018.

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