UNCASVILLE, Conn., August 14 – The Dallas Wings saw it all from Connecticut’s Jonquel Jones Tuesday night at the Mohegan Sun Arena.
The 6-foot-6 forward beat them from the three-point line, sinking four of six shots from beyond the arc. She beat them in the paint, making 10 of 12 shots from the floor for a game-high and season-high 27 points. She scored off the dribble and she pulled down a team-high 10 rebounds.
Jones helped the Sun earn their sixth win in the last seven games with a 96-76 victory over slumping Dallas as Connecticut looks to finish the season strong and earn a home playoff game. The Wings (14-18) have lost nine straight games.
Five Connecticut players scored in double figures with Chiney Ogwumike scoring 13 points and Morgan Tuck, coming off the bench with Jones, adding 12 points. The Sun bench outscored the Dallas bench by a whopping 57-4 margin.
Connecticut (19-13) is currently ranked No. 4 in the playoff seedings. That would give the Sun a first round bye and a home game in the second round – a single-elimination contest. The Sun can secure the No. 4 seed with victories over defending WNBA champion Minnesota on Friday night in Uncasville and Los Angeles on Sunday at 3 p.m. at home.
Jones is averaging 17.7 points and 6.5 rebounds over the last eight games. She hit from three-point range early and spent much of the later stages of the game playing inside and twice driving the baseline to the basket. She sank six of her first eight shots of the game.
“She is an MVP candidate,” Ogwumike said. “Tonight, she was an MVP. She is fully capable of playing at that level. She has been patient and persistent. We started well and then (Jones) comes in and does her thing. That whole thing can take us to another level. (She) is our X factor.”
Connecticut coach Curt Miller had to like that performance from Jones, a WNBA All-Star a year ago.
“It’s been a work in progress all year to find the right offensive system,” he said. “But when (Jones) plays that well and is that efficient on the boards for two games in a row, we’re really, really dangerous. She is a dynamic inside and outside player.”
She also got the job done on the defensive end with a pair of steals and lengthy battles with Dallas’ Liz Cambage, the 6-foot-8 center and the WNBA’s leading scorer, to just 15 points. It was just the second time in the last 10 games she had fewer than 20 points.
“Everyone that came into the game understood what we were doing on defense,” Jones said. “I think it was a team effort, it was not just one person, whether it was our forwards congesting and getting in the lane to help or other people surrounding her and making her think about the bodies around her.
With Cambage, 6-foot-6 rookie Azura Stevens from UConn and 6-foot-4 center Cayla George, the Wings are one of the tallest teams in the league. The Sun outrebounded the Wings, 34-30 and had 11 steals. Connecticut had a 50-20 advantage scoring in the paint.
Jasmine Thomas had eight points and seven rebounds to round out a balanced Sun attack that racked up 36 made field goals on 21 assists while shooting 52.2 percent. Courtney Williams had 10 points and four rebounds while Rachel Banham came off the bench with 10 points.
Connecticut led 22-18 after the first quarter and had a 50-38 lead at the half as Jones and Banham combined for 16 second-quarter points.
Dallas was still within 10 points, trailing 64-54 with 3:40 left in the third, when Jones hit a three-pointer to start an 11-2 run that made it 75-56 after three quarters. Banham put the Sun up 77-56 to start the fourth quarter and Dallas never got closer than 11 the rest of the way.
Connecticut led by as much as 23 points on the way to completing a 3-0 season sweep of the Wings (14-18), who were led by interim coach and former Sun star Taj McWilliams-Franklin.
On Sunday, Wings head coach Fred Williams was relieved of duties after Sunday’s 93-80 loss to Washington after getting into a post-game altercation with team president and CEO Greg Bibb, according to ESPN.com.
McWilliams-Franklin had a long 14-year WNBA career and won a pair of WNBA championships with the Detroit Shock and Minnesota Lynx. She played four years here in Connecticut (2003-06) helping the Sun to the WNBA finals in 2004 and 2005 and averaging a career-high 13.9 points a game in 2005.
“We fought hard. We played hard and the second quarter has been our nemesis for quite a while and we have to figure out how to overcome that and just play even, if we are even we are good,” McWilliams-Franklin said. “We missed a lot of shots that we typically make and Connecticut took us out of a lot of things that we typically do well.”
“We just have to go out and play and we have to be smarter, we played hard, now we have to play smart all the way through,” she added. “We can’t give up 50 points in the paint when we are 6-8, 6-6, 6-5, 6-5. There is no way that happens and that is something we have to do better.”
Alisha Gray led four Dallas players in double figures with 18 points while Cambage had 15 points and 13 rebounds. Former Notre Dame star Skylar Diggins-Smith had 17 points and eight assists. Stevens had four points for Dallas on 1-of-7 shooting.
NOTES: The top eight teams — regardless of conference — earn playoff berths in the WNBA. The top two seeds earn automatic berths into the best-of-five WNBA semifinals. The first round (single elimination) pits the No. 5 seed against the No. 8 seed and the No. 7 seed against the No. 6 seed. The No. 3 and No. 4 seeded teams host second round contests.