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Better balance, more help enable Sun to snap Sparks’ six-game winning streak

Connecticut’s Olivia Nelson-Ododa goes to block Los Angeles’ Layshia Clarendon (25)  in Sunday’s WNBA game in Uncasville. More game photos

UNCASVILLE, Conn., August 27, 2023 – Last Thursday, Connecticut’s two All-Stars – Alyssa Thomas and DeWanna Bonner – played like warriors in an overtime loss to the New York Liberty combining to score 52 of Connecticut’s 90 points.

Bonner, 36, was exhausted afterward and so was Thomas, who played all 45 minutes. Did fatigue and carrying the team on their backs contribute to a loss?

Sunday’s loss to the Liberty showed that Thomas and Bonner’s brilliance won’t be enough if the Sun want to get past the New York in the playoffs and contend for the franchise’s first championship.

On Sunday, the Sun got the type of balanced approach they will need if they want to be successful in this year’s WNBA playoffs. Connecticut had six players in double figures as the Sun wore down visiting Los Angeles in an 83-68 victory before 6,783 at the Mohegan Sun Arena.

The win snapped Los Angeles’ six-game winning streak – its longest of the season.

It was also the first visit of former Sun head coach and general manager Curt Miller with the Sparks (15-19). Miller, who led the Sun to a pair of WNBA finals appearances in seven seasons in Uncasville, left the team last fall to join the Sparks.

Thomas continued with her MVP-caliber play this season with 17 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists with Rebecca Allen adding 14 points and Bonner and Natisha Hiedeman adding 12 points each.

Olivia Nelson-Ododa, who didn’t play a minute in the Sun’s 95-90 overtime loss to the Liberty, scored 11 points and pulled down a career-high 11 rebounds in 26 minutes of action. Tiffany Hayes also scored 11 points and had seven assists.

“Our balance offensively was huge for us,” Sun coach Stephanie White said. “That is what we’re going to have to do. Have multiple players in double figures. Take care of the basketball.”

Los Angeles’ Layshia Clarendon (25) drives to the basket in Sunday’s WNBA game in Uncasville. More game photos

Those were big points from Nelson-Ododa considering that DiJonai Carrington was on the bench for the second straight game with a left foot injury. And the Sun are unsure when she will return, White said in post-game comments.

“That was huge, especially for (Olivia),” White said. “We need her to be productive at both ends of the floor. Being productive doesn’t always mean a double-double. It means being a presence inside defensively. Being a presence offensive and giving us a different look. That was big for us.”

Added Hiedeman, “We’ve said since day one. It will take everyone to win games and win a championship.”

The Sparks led by one after one quarter open took advantage of four turnovers in a span of two minutes to extend their lead to seven, 28-21 with 7:52 left in the first half. The Sun went on an 11-4 run to tie the game at 35-35.

Nelson-Ododa blocked Nneka Ogwumike’s attempt at a layup and the Sun turned that into a three-point shot from Bonner to take a 35-32 lead.

Leading by three, Nelson-Ododa got the rebound after a miss from Los Angeles’ Layshia Clarendon. A few seconds later, Nelson-Ododa sank a jumper from the top of the key to extend the lead to five, 39-34. Another jumper with 1:32 left in the half extended the Sun’s lead to seven.

With Bonner scoring four of the Sun’s first 10 points of the third quarter, Connecticut extended their lead to nine, 53-44. Sparked by a pair of three-point shots from Karlie Samuelson, Los Angeles cut the lead to two points on an Ogwumike basket with 4:35 left in the half.

But the Sun outscored the Sparks, 12-2 to close out the quarter with a 12-point lead. Allen and Tyasha Harris each drained three-point shots in the rally.

“Connecticut, through (Alyssa Thomas) facilitation and DeWanna (Bonner’s) play did what they had to do to get separation on us and secure the victory,” Sparks coach Curt Miller said. “We just couldn’t find a way to be consistent offensively.”

It was an emotional return for Miller, who helped build the Sun team that is one win away from securing the No. 3 seed in the upcoming WNBA playoffs.

“I want to thank this incredible franchise, ownership and fans,” he said. “It has been an emotional visit back. So many fond memories. So many unbelievable moments in the seven years I was here. Truly thank the fans the warm welcome back. It’s been very special to come back here for the first time since taking over in LA.”

Azura Stevens led the Sparks with 17 points with Layshia Clarenton adding 13 points. Nneka Ogwumike had 11 points.

NOTES: The Sun play four of the final five games at the Mohegan Sun Arena beginning with Thursday’s game against Phoenix at 7 p.m. … The Sun didn’t score a point off a turnover in the first half. They scored 17 off nine Sparks turnovers in the second half.

With 12 points in the win, Bonner moved in 6th all-time in scoring in WNBA history, passing Cappie Pondexter. She now has 6,815 points in her career.

All five Sun starters finished in double-figures. The Sun are now 5-0 when all starters score more than 10 points.

With eight assists in the win, Alyssa Thomas now has 282 assists this season. She is 18 assists away from the WNBA’s single season assist record held by Courtney Vandersloot (300 assists in 2019 with Chicago).

The Sun tied a season-high with 19 turnovers on the day. After turning the ball over 13 times in the first, Connecticut was able to take better care of the ball with only six turnovers after the break.

Connecticut 83, Los Angeles 68
At Uncasville, Conn.
Los Angeles (68)
Karlie Samuelson 3-8 0-0 9, N Ogwumike 4-10 3-3 11, Stevens 5-13 5-5 17, Clarendon 6-9 0-0 13, Canada 3-7 2-5 8, Hamby 2-7 0-2 4, Cooke 2-6 0-0 4, Thomas 0-1 0-0 0, Westbrook 0-0 0-0 0, Burrell 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 26-62 10-15 68
Connecticut (83) Allen 5-10 1-2 14, Bonner 5-10 1-2 12, Thomas 6-11 5-6 17, Hayes 4-7 3-3 11, Hiedeman 5-12 0-1 12, Harris 2-6 0-0 6, Nelson Ododa 5-7 1-2 11, Brown 0-1 0-0 0, Hatar 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 32-65 11-16 83
Los Angeles (15-19)        20  18  19  11  — 68
Connecticut (24-11)        19  24  26  14  — 86
Three-point goals: Los Angeles 6-21 (Samuelson 3-7, Stevens 2-6 Clarendon 1-3, Canada 0-1, Hamby 0-1, Cooke 0-2, Thomas 0-1); Connecticut 8-26 (Allen 3-7, Bonner 1-5, Thomas 0-1, Hayes 0-1, Hiedeman 2-7, Harris 2-5). Att. 6783

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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