In two weeks, the Connecticut Sun hope to be playing in the WNBA semifinals – a best-of-five series. The Sun got a little taste of playing in a series with back-to-back games with the Chicago Sky.
The Sun started slow and were soundly beaten on Friday night in a nine-point loss to Chicago as Sky point guard Courtney Vandersloot had 20 points and a career-high 15 assists.
On Sunday, Chicago had a three-point lead at halftime but the Sun came to play in the third quarter with a stifling defensive effort that helped Connecticut win for the sixth time in the last seven games with an 82-75 victory at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville before 7,687 fans.
It was the first of four home games to close out the 2018 campaign for Connecticut, which has already clinched a playoff berth. The Sun secured a second consecutive winning season with the victory.
“(The third quarter) really propelled us to an important win as we continue to fight for the best (playoff) seed we can get,” Connecticut coach Curt Miller said. “Really, really proud of them coming out of the locker room with the defensive intensity that they had and they (we) withstood a shaky start in the fourth quarter (a 14-2 run by Chicago).”
Courtney Williams led five Sun players in double figures with 22 points as Connecticut eliminated Chicago (11-20) from playoff contention.
The Sun’s Jonquel Jones came off the bench and scored 17 points and pulled down a team-high 15 rebounds. Chiney Ogwumike had 15 points and 14 rebounds while Alyssa Thomas chipped in with 14 points and eight rebounds. Jasmine Thomas had 11 points, eight assists and four steals.
With the win and the Los Angeles Sparks losing to Phoenix on Sunday, the Sun (18-13) moved into fourth place in the playoff seedings. The Sparks are also 18-13 but the Sun hold the first tiebreaker with Los Angeles having won two of three games in the season series.
Connecticut is two games behind Washington (20-11) with three games left to play for the third seed.
The top two seeds go straight to the semifinals while the teams seeded No. 3 through No. 8 play two rounds of single elimination play. Earning the No. 3 or No. 4 seed gets a team a first round bye and a home game in the second round.
The first round is tentatively set for Tuesday, August 21 with the second round on Thursday, August 23 and the semifinals set to begin in two weeks on August 26.
Connecticut not only played good defense in the third quarter – limiting Chicago to just eight points and not giving up a field goal in the final 4:26 of the period – but they were outstanding pulling down rebounds throughout the contest.
Jones had nine offensive rebounds – one short of the team record she shares with Taj McWilliams-Franklin. Ogwumike had six offensive rebounds as the Sun ripped down a season-high 21 offensive rebounds, the third highest total in team history.
“We have to do a better job of boxing out and securing the rebounds,” Chicago coach Amber Stocks said. The Sun outrebounded Chicago, 51-33. “Connecticut is very aggressive and they lead the league in offensive rebounds for a reason.”
Jasmine Thomas helped spark the Connecticut attack in the second half with nine points, six assists and four steals.
“Even though my shots weren’t falling, I was still able to penetrate, get inside and still create for others,” she said. “When teams are still respecting me offensively, I still have to take advantage of that and not keep settling for open jumpers, I can still put pressure on defense. Since I was a kid I have heard ‘if you aren’t scoring do something defensively’ so if the shots aren’t falling I have to impact the game in another way.”
Chicago made just two shots on their first 11 possessions of the third quarter and couched up the ball five times, including twice to Jasmine Thomas.
The Sun had a two-point lead when Ogwumike made a nice move on the baseline to get past a Sky defender to increase the lead to four points, 48-44 with 4:12 left in the third quarter. Chicago cut the lead to two on a pair of foul shots with 4:01 left but the Sun scored the final 14 points of the quarter to take a 16-point lead, 62-46.
A Jasmine Thomas steal and a dish to Courtney Williams started the run. Jones scored nine straight points in the run, including a nice feed from Jasmine Thomas on the lane.
Chicago opened the fourth quarter with a 14-2 run and cut the lead to four points, 64-60, with 6:58 left in the game. After a Connecticut timeout, Jasmine Thomas stifled the Sky rally with a three-point play, and then scored on a reverse layup to make it 69-60. Chicago could not get closer than seven points the rest of the way.
“(Jasmine Thomas) definitely has a competitiveness that we need, and a fire and you can see she was upset and disappointed that we let them back in the game,” Miller said. “We had them on the hook, we were up 16, (Chicago’s Courtney) Vandersloot and (Allie) Quigley were tired and were on the bench. Instead, they got rest and the lead evaporated in a hurry.
“Just proud that Jas (Jasmine Thomas) really competed there at the end, stayed aggressive, and you can see that determination,” Miller said. “When she gets that determination, not all her shots go in but good things happen usually because she’s going to be aggressive during that determination.”
Vandersloot, who had 20 points for the Sky in Friday’s 97-86 victory, was held to just 10 points. Former UConn star Stefanie Dolson led Chicago with a season-high 20 points while grabbing eight rebounds. It was her 14th game of the season scoring in double figures. Kahleah Cooper came off the bench and scored 16 for Chicago including a season-high three 3-point goals.
The Sun host Dallas on Tuesday night at 7 p.m. at the Mohegan Sun Arena, Minnesota on Friday night at 7 p.m., and close out the regular season by hosting Los Angeles on Sunday at 3 p.m.
NOTES: It’s the first back-to-back winning seasons for the Sun since 2011 and 2012. … Connecticut had a season-high 51 rebounds, breaking the mark set with 49 rebounds against Chicago on June 1. … Williams scored more than 20 points for the fourth time this season. … Jasmine Thomas recorded her 900th career assist.