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Defense carries Connecticut in series-opening win over Dallas

Connecticut’s Alyssa Thomas scored 15 points, pulled down 10 rebounds and dished out seven assists as the Sun won their WNBA playoff series opener against Dallas Thursday night, 93-68.

Dallas Wings coach Vickie Johnson said she didn’t recognize her team on the floor of the Mohegan Sun Arena for game one of their WNBA first round series with the Connecticut Sun Thursday night.

“We didn’t move the basketball. We didn’t see the defense,” she said. “We didn’t match their energy. We didn’t come out ready to play basketball.”

The Sun might have had something to do with that. Connecticut controlled the glass, pulling down countless rebounds that fueled fast breaks and their defense surrounded Dallas’ Teaira McCowan as the Sun took a 1-0 lead in the best-of-3 series with a 93-68 victory.

Game two is Sunday afternoon beginning at noon at the Mohegan Sun Arena. Game three, if necessary, will be in Dallas on Wednesday, Aug. 24.

McCowan, the 6-foot-7 center who averaged 17.4 points and 11.6 rebounds in her last seven games, took just six shots and scored seven points.

“There is no way we can win with Teaira taking (just) shots,” Johnson said. “I didn’t recognize the team tonight. We went back to our old habits of complaining and not taking accountability. We have to play together, as a team and trust that we are good enough as a team. If we think we do it individually against Connecticut, it’s not going to happen.”

It took a team effort to smother the Wings on Thursday night. “The key was the unit as a whole,” Jones said. “It’s been a while. We came together as a team to lock down the defense. Everyone was locked into what they needed to do.”

And that defensive intensity fueled the Sun offense.

Jonquel Jones led the way for the Sun with a game-high 19 points while Alyssa Thomas added 15 points with 10 rebounds and seven assists. Dewanna Bonner had 12 points while Courtney Williams had 10. DiJonai Carrington came off the bench to score 13 points.

Allisha Gray had 17 points for the Wings while Tysha Harris added 13 points.

“We played with great focus,” Sun coach and general manager Curt Miller said. “We were locked in with our defensive scheme. When we are at our best is when we have great balance. We didn’t get stuck going through one person overall. “

The Sun had 10-point lead at the half but Grey hit a pair of baskets in the lane in the early minutes of the third quarter and that lead was down to six points, 51-45.

But Connecticut scored the next 13 points of the game and outscored the Wings 17-5 to close out the third quarter and grab command of the contest.

It was a variety of plays that thrilled the crowd of 4,797 at the Arena.

Thomas worked the baseline and scored on an underhanded layup. Bonner got a steal and sailed in uncontested for a layup. Williams drained a jumper as the shot clock expired off a nice pass from Bonner while Jonquel Jones ran to the basket, collected a pass from Williams on the way and scored on a layup.

Natisha Hiedeman drained a three-pointer and Thomas scored on an offensive rebound in traffic after a miss from Carrington. The Sun closed out the quarter with a long pass – virtually the length of the court —  lfrom Thomas to Hiedeman with 55 seconds remaining.

“We have a lot of talented players,” Thomas said. “We’re an unselfish team. We know we can get an easy shot when we move the ball. And we’re all willing to do that. It makes it fun out there.”

Dallas is playing without All-Star guard Arike Ogunbowale, who is out for the series with an abdominal injury. She led the team with 19.7 points and 7.0 rebounds.

NOTES: With seven assists, Thomas passed Lindsay Whalen for first all-time in assists in postseason play in Connecticut Sun history, with 107 assists. … Jonquel Jones had 15 of her 19 points in the first half. … The Wings are looking for their first-ever playoff win in Dallas having lost single elimination first round games in 2017, 2018 and 2021. The last playoff victory by the Wings franchise was on Sept. 23, 2009 when the team was known as the Detroit Shock. … Connecticut had 10 steals and forced 17 Dallas turnovers, which led to 20 points for Connecticut. The Sun outrebounded Dallas, 35-28 but had eight offensive rebounds which led to points in nearly each case.

WNBA first round
No. 6 Dallas (18-18) vs. No. 3 Connecticut (25-11)
Thursday, Aug. 18
Connecticut 93, Dallas 68, Connecticut leads series, 1-0
Sunday, Aug. 21
Dallas at Connecticut, noon
Wednesday, Aug. 24
Connecticut at Dallas, 7 p.m.

Game 1 boxscore: Sun 93, Dallas 68

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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