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Balanced effort leads Connecticut to a record win on opening day over Aces

Alyssa Thomas, shown in an exhibition game win over Dallas earlier this month, had 13 points and a career-high 17 rebounds as the Sun opened the season with a 36-point win over Las Vegas.

Expectations are going to be higher in the 2018 season for the Connecticut Sun. Most of the team that won 21 games and finished second in the Eastern Conference has returned.

And the Sun added Chiney Ogwumike, the top pick in the 2014 WNBA draft and rookie of the year in that same season. She has recovered from an Achilles injury that kept her out of uniform for the second time in three seasons.

The Sun lived up to those expectations and more on opening day in the WNBA at the Mohegan Sun Arena. Led by four players in double figures, Connecticut whipped the Las Vegas Aces, 101-65 Sunday at the Mohegan Sun Arena. It was the first game for the Aces, who moved from San Antonio last season and were the Stars.

Guard Alex Bentley came off the bench to lead the Sun with 18 points, five assists and three steals while Alyssa Thomas scored 13 points, pulled down a career-high 17 rebounds and dished out six assists. Jasmine Thomas (12 points, six assists) and Shekinna Stricklen (11 points) also scored in double figures for Connecticut.

Every Sun player scored as Connecticut (1-0) had 27 assists on 37 field goals. The Sun sank 11 of 21 shots (52.4 percent) from three-point range.

The 36-point win was the largest margin of victory on opening day in league history.

“Every journey has a starting point and that was our starting point,” Sun head coach Curt Miller said. “We really appreciate the crowd (6,637 fans) tonight, first I want to acknowledge that. Our front office did an unbelievable job getting prepared for the start of the season. The support from around the state for the Orange Invasion to turn a lot of public places orange last night was greatly appreciated. Shout out to the crowd, it really gave us a lot of energy with a lot of fun things here on opening night.”

Las Vegas (0-1) had a quick start, racing out to a 14-4 lead before the Sun settled down. Connecticut closed out the quarter on a 21-7 run and led 25-21 after one quarter.

The Sun continued to roll in the second quarter, building its lead to 44-28 with 2:51 remaining in the half. Las Vegas never got closer than 10 the rest of the day.

“We didn’t face a lot of adversity in the three exhibition games (all victories), so to take that punch early by Las Vegas and stay composed and stay to what we think is important with the way we play,” Miller said. “We just grinded back into the game which was good for us. We didn’t face a lot of deficits in the exhibitions. I’m proud of their composure there early, they took that early punch and did a lot of good things.”

Added Alyssa Thomas, who also had three blocked shots, “We are just trying to pick up from where we left of last season. We have been excited for this first game and have been working hard all preseason. As we saw today, it was a great start to season.”

Ogwumike played her first WNBA game since May 7, 2016. The 6-foot-4 forward finished with nine points on 2-of-3 shooting from the field.

Connecticut’s Jonquel Jones, who arrived here from Bermuda last week and missed all of training camp, had seven points and five rebounds in 19 minutes. Jones had an exceptional sophomore season for the Sun last year, leading the team in scoring, rebounding and was named the league’s most improved player.

“We have a long way to go and we know that,” Las Vegas head coach Bill Laimbeer said. “We are missing a lot of players, four contributors from last year and we have to wait for them to get back. (Connecticut is) a very good basketball team and we knew we were going to be in a hornets nest and we were exposed. We lack shooters.”

Tamera Young led all scorers with 23 points for Las Vegas while rookie A’Ja Wilson had 14 points and 10 rebounds in her WNBA debut.

NOTES: Connecticut’s top draft pick Lexi Brown made her WNBA debut finishing with five points and four assists. The first points of her career came on a three-point shot with 6:58 left in the third quarter. … The 101 points scored by the Sun is the most points scored by the franchise since June 10, 2017 when Connecticut recorded 104 points against the Atlanta Dream. …. The Sun return to the court on Thursday when they host the Los Angeles Sparks at the Mohegan Sun Arena beginning at 7 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 40 years. He was inducted into the New England High School Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2018.

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