The Connecticut Sun saw a 13-point fourth quarter lead wither away Friday night against the Chicago Sky. The lead was nine points with 4:02 remaining and when Chicago’s Cheyenne Parker hit a pair of free throws with 1:14 remaining, the lead was down to one point.
But the Sun showed some veteran poise – sparked by Alyssa Thomas – and played some strong defense in the final minute to win their third straight game Friday night with a 77-74 win over the Chicago Sky at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. After an 0-5 start to begin the season, Connecticut is now 4-6 with four wins in their last five games.
After Chicago cut the lead to one, Thomas had the ball but collided with a Sky defender on the way to the basket and the ball rolled off the rim to Chicago guard Courtney Vandersloot. Thomas landed hard on the floor and skidded out of bounds on her bottom.
But she didn’t sit there. She didn’t whine at the officials. She didn’t sulk. She leaped up and raced after Vandersloot. Thomas caught up to Vandersloot near midcourt and tapped the ball away from behind for the steal – her fourth of the contest
A few seconds later, it was Thomas lobbing the ball inside to Brionna Jones, who was double-teamed in the post. Jones fought for the ball and laid it in off the glass with 29 seconds left and a three-point lead, 75-72.
“I saw (Vandersloot) on Brionna and knew that was a big mismatch. I knew if I threw it up there, she would get it,” Thomas said. At 6-foot-3, Jones had a distinct advantage over Vandersloot, a 5-8 guard.
“I saw (Alyssa Thomas) the whole time,” Jones said. “I was looking for ball and saw the mismatch (with Vandersloot). She saw me and I just had to go up and get it. Credit to her for making that pass.”
Not only have Jones and Thomas been teammates for four years on the Sun but the two players also played for the USK Praha in Prague, Czech Republic, in the Czech Women’s Basketball League. Thomas earned first team All-Euro honors while Jones was on the second team.
“That was a real difficult catch, probably the toughest of the day (for Jones),” said Sun general manager and head coach Curt Miller. “That was a huge basket. (Alyssa Thomas) is really confidence in Bri(onna) and it showed with that play late in the game.”
Chicago (6-4) cut the lead to one with a basket from Parker with 19.3 seconds left, 75-74, but the Sun defense stood firm in the final 10 seconds as a double team by Jones and DeWanna Bonner helped Bonner get a steal with 7.7 seconds remaining.
Bonner hit a pair of free throws with 6.4 seconds left to extend the lead to three, 77-74, and good defense by Bonner forced another Sky turnover with 0.7 seconds left to seal the win. Connecticut forced three turnovers in the final minute.
Bonner led the way with a game-high 19 points and nine rebounds while Thomas had 15 points, four steals, a team-high 10 rebounds and a team-leading eight assists.
Jones had 15 points along with guard Jasmine Thomas, who had four assists and was 3-for-6 from three-point range. Bria Holmes had another strong game off the bench with nine points, sinking four of six shots.
“Our defense was big against one of the best offensive teams in the league,” Miller said. The Sky came into the game with the best field goal shooting percentage in the league (49.0 percent) and with the second-highest scoring average in the WNBA (86.8). “It was big for us, showing our team that we have the chance to be a really good defensively.”
The Sun won despite shooting just 38.2 percent from the floor.
“With no practices, it is hard to build some offensive continuity and momentum,” Miller said. “We have in stretches and then it disappears again.”
With the COVID-19 pandemic, the WNBA’s 12 teams are playing a 22-game schedule in about seven weeks. The Sun are in a stretch of 10 games in 19 days – virtually playing every other day.
The Sun looked sharp through the first three quarters before their offense stumbled in the fourth quarter. Connecticut led by as many as 16 points and had a 13-point lead with 7:49 left in the game after Jasmine Thomas drained a three-point shot. But Connecticut would only sink four more field goals for the remainder of the game.
Still, it was enough to earn the victory, which gave the Sun a split in the two-game season series with Chicago. “That’s a big win for us,” Miller said with a grin as he left the interview room.
It was Connecticut’s first win of the season over a team with a winning record.
Parker led Chicago with 17 points while Allie Quigley had 16 points. Vandersloot scored 14 points and had seven assists for the Sky.
Connecticut returns to action on Sunday when they face the team with the best record in the WNBA, the Seattle Storm (7-1) at 3 p.m. on ABC and affiliate WTNH Channel 8 here in the Nutmeg State.
Former UConn star Gabby Williams played 14 minutes for Chicago and was scoreless. Former UConn center Stephanie Dolson scored six points and pulled down four rebounds in nearly 16 minutes of action off the bench for the Sky.