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Sun rebound from early deficit to dominate Sparks, take 2-0 lead in series

Connecticut’s Jonquel Jones, center, had a game-high 27 points and pulled down 13 rebounds as the Connecticut Sun took a 2-0 lead in the WNBA semifinals with a 94-68 win over Los Angeles Thursday night.

UNCASVILLE, September 19 – The Connecticut Sun were stoic and strong in Thursday night’s WNBA semifinal game at the Mohegan Sun Arena. The Los Angeles Sparks began game 2 of the best-of-five series by hitting seven of their first 10 shots from the field and grabbing an early 11-point lead.

But the Sun just kept working and grabbing rebounds. Connecticut pulled down a WNBA record 29 rebounds in the first half and clawed their way back into the game to take a one-point lead at halftime.

In the third quarter, the Sun torched the Sparks to take command and roll to a 94-68 victory to take a 2-0 lead in the series. Connecticut needs just one more victory to secure their first spot in the WNBA finals since 2005. Game 3 is Sunday at 7 p.m. in Los Angeles.

Courtney Williams scored 13 of her 25 points in the third quarter as the Sun held Los Angeles to just 17 points. The Sparks led by three points early in the third quarter, 46-43, but the Sun went on a 15-3 run with Williams draining a pair of three-point shots to take and Jonquel Jones also hitting a three to take a nine-point lead.

“We just brought a different type of energy (to the floor),” Williams said. “[Los Angeles] came out and they hit us in our mouth, you know. And I think we had to come out and withstand that run, stay mentally strong. So we went on our run and put our foot on the gas.”

Jones had a monster game for the Sun. She scored a game-high 27 points and pulled down 13 rebounds. She had multiple baskets in the lane after pulling down rebounds. Alyssa Thomas had 12 points and pulled down 13 rebounds.

Nneka Ogwumike, who sank her first six shots from the field, had a team-high 18 points and seven rebounds to lead the Sparks while Riquna Williams had 14 points. Los Angeles scored just 28 points in the second half and had 13 turnovers.

“Once they made that run they kept pushing and we didn’t respond properly,” Ogwumike said. “We didn’t maintain our composure and you can’t do that against teams like that. They were able to push the ball down the court every time and we were not able to respond because they were disrupting us in a way that we were not getting shots in flow.”

Connecticut Alyssa Thomas, right, had a playoff career-high 13 rebounds along with 12 points in Thursday night’s win over Los Angeles.

Connecticut dominated on the glass, outrebounding Los Angeles, 46-24 in the game.

“I am so proud of the energy and effort,” Sun coach Curt Miller said. “We weren’t perfect at the offensive end. We missed 28 shots in the first half but we got so many second chance opportunities that we had a lead (at halftime) and it was all because of rebounding. It really carried us when we were struggling offensively in the first half.”

The Sparks had a five-point lead in the second quarter when Jones pulled down a rebound, scoring in the lane and was fouled. She hit the foul shot to cut the lead to two. Less than 30 seconds later, she scored in the lane to tie the game for the first time at 31-31 with 4:32 left in the first half.

Down by one with 1:07 left, Jones pulled down a rebound after a Williams miss and put it back into the basket for the Sun’s first lead of the game, 39-38. The Sun led at halftime, 41-40.

“It’s the playoffs. Every point matters,” said Jones, who pulled down seven offensive rebounds. “Any opportunity you have to take a lead or even cut into a run, it matters. So the fact that we were able to do it, I think it elevated our game, elevated our intensity as well and ultimately it gave us more possessions. So you know you always need that.”

Los Angeles had a 46-43 lead early in the third quarter but the Sun went on a 12-1 surge capped off by Jones taking a great pass in the low post from Jasmine Thomas and scoring to give Connecticut a 55-47 lead. Jasmine Thomas hit a pull-up jumper, Williams sank two 3-point shots and Alyssa Thomas got the tip of a jump ball from Jones and drove to the basket for two points in the rally.

The Sparks tried to rally. Chiney Ogwumike, who was booed frequently by the crowd of 8,051 fans at the Mohegan Sun Arena, hit a pair of shots on the baseline to help cut the Sun lead to nine, 66-57 with 54 seconds left in the third period.

But Williams sank a pull-up jumper with 39 seconds left in the period and then stole the ball and drove the length of the court for a layup and a 13-point Sun lead after three quarters, 70-57.

The Sun opened the fourth quarter with a 10-2 surge to put the game away for good.

“We were not able to sustain the energy and effort on the defensive end that made them uncomfortable to start the game,” Los Angeles coach Derek Fisher said. “In the third quarter they over ran us as they got more comfortable and confident. It started in the second quarter. The way that they really imposed their will on the offensive glass helped build their confidence because they were not making shots and it was the second shots that kind of helped them feel better about themselves.”

NOTES: Connecticut set a WNBA record with 29 rebounds in the first half, topping the previous record of 25 set by Phoenix twice in 2017 and in 2006. … The Sun fell two rebounds shy of the franchise playoff record of 48 rebounds against Indiana on August 23, 2007. … Connecticut is 16-0 this season when leading at the half. … The 26-point margin of victory is a new playoff record for the Sun. The previous biggest playoff win was a 20-point win over Washington in 2004. … The 94 points is a new single game playoff record for the Sun, who had 93 in a win over Indiana in 2007. … The Sun limited Los Angeles to just 11 points in the fourth quarter – the worst effort of the season for the Sparks in the final eight minutes. … Sparks guard Chelsea Gray, who had four points in game one, had 10 points in game two. Candace Parker had just three points for the Sparks on 1-of-3 shooting. Parker had 24 points in game one. … Alyssa Thomas played the first 74 minutes of the series before heading to the bench with 5:31 left in the game. She played all 40 minutes in game one. “I am full energy,” she said. “I can play another 40 minutes. I want to win a championship.” … Game three is Sunday at 7 p.m. in Long Beach, California since the Staples Center isn’t available for the game. Game four, if necessary, will be Tuesday. … Top-seeded Washington beat Las Vegas last night, 103-91 to take a 2-0 lead in their WNBA semifinal series.

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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