That disrespect card is back and so are the Connecticut Sun.
The Sun played with a chip on their shoulder Thursday night and with an outstanding defensive effort beat the Los Angeles Sparks, 73-59, to earn a spot in the WNBA semifinals for the second consecutive year at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida .
Few analysts were picking the Sun (12-12) to beat the No. 3 seed Sparks but Connecticut held Los Angeles to just eight points in the first half and shut down guard Chelsea Gray, who had 27 points against the Sun during a win in August. Gray finished with just four points and no assists.
Connecticut will begin a best-of-five series against top-seeded Las Vegas Aces on Sunday at 1 p.m. The Sun, seeded seventh in the playoffs, are the lowest seed to make the semifinals since No. 8 Phoenix went to the semifinals in 2016.
“None of us are surprised on what happened,” Connecticut’s Alyssa Thomas said. “They’re still doubting us. We love it when people doubt us but we mean business.”
“We just wanted to go out there and prove people wrong,” Connecticut’s DeWanna Bonner said.
Thomas led the Sun with 19 points, seven rebounds and five assists while Bonner had 17 points, pulled down 13 rebounds and dished out five assists. Brionna Jones had another strong night in the low post with 10 points and eight rebounds.
Along with a stout defense, the Sun benefited from outstanding three-point shooting. Connecticut hit nine 3-point shots – tying a season-high. Briann January was 3-for-3 outside the arc while Bonner and Jasmine Thomas each had a pair of three-point shots.
“We have shooters and we have confidence in our shots,” January said. “We play inside out (pass the ball out of the paint and to an outside shooter), we look really good. We’re at our best when we move the ball.” The Sun had 23 assists on 29 field goals.
The Sun swept the Sparks, 3-0, in last year’s WNBA semifinals only to see Los Angeles sweep both regular season games this year. Too many turnovers and Gray’s 27 points led the Sparks to a four-point win over the Sun on August 28.
Los Angeles, playing without outstanding Nneka Ogwumike who was suffering a migraine headache, had an early 6-2 lead before the Sun rolled off 15 straight points with three-points shots from January (two) and Jasmine Thomas, an offensive rebound and a basket from Bonner, a shot off glass from Alyssa Thomas and two foul shots from Jones.
The Sun closed out the first quarter with a 20-2 run holding Los Angeles to just eight points in the first quarter. Connecticut led, 22-8 and the Sparks never got closer than six points the rest of the way.
“We just didn’t score,” said Los Angeles’ Candace Parker, who had a game-high 22 points, 14 rebounds and five assists. “We just couldn’t stop them. And we scored eight points in the first quarter.”
Seimone Augustus finished with 10 for the Sparks.
Parker led the charge for Los Angeles that used a 15-5 run to cut the Connecticut lead to six, 29-23 with 3:38 left in the second quarter. But Alyssa Thomas scored on consecutive possessions and Bonner scored on a wonderful pass from Alyssa Thomas. With 40.4 seconds left in the half, Bonner drained a wide-open three-point shot to cap off a 10-0 run by the Sun and swell the lead back to 16 points, 39-23.
The Connecticut lead never dipped below 13 points in the second half.
The Sun also took care of the ball, committing just eight turnovers. When the Sun have 13 or fewer turnovers, they are 10-1 on the year. The Sun had 23 turnovers in Los Angeles’ win in August.
“This is what we are built for,” Sun head coach Curt Miller said. “(The moment) isn’t too big for them. We defended. We rebounded and we controlled the ball. That first quarter defense set the tone. It really set it. It is a credit to our effort. Our defense was really locked in.”