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Sun looking to grab a title before their championship window closes

Connecticut’s Alyssa Thomas and the Sun open the season Tuesday night by hosting the Indiana Fever.

Last fall, the Connecticut Sun saw their season end in the WNBA semifinals with a loss to the New York Liberty, who eventually lost in the WNBA championship series to the Las Vegas Aces.

It was the fifth straight year that the Sun had advanced to at least the semifinals in the playoffs. In 2022, the Aces beat the Sun in the WNBA finals, 3-1. In 2019, the Sun lost to the Washington Mystics in the fifth and final game of the championship series.

Can the Sun contend again? Yes, they believe they can. They solidified around their core of All-Stars Alysaa Thomas, five-time WNBA All-Star DeWanna Bonner and two-time WNBA All-Star Brionna Jones with five veterans that Connecticut hopes can lift the Sun past the Liberty and Aces.

The season begins Tuesday night when the Sun host rookie Caitlin Clark and the Indiana Fever before a national television audience on ESPN2. The game is sold out, the first sellout for an opening day contest at the Mohegan Sun Arena since the Sun came to Connecticut in 2003 and hosted the Los Angeles Sparks in their first game here.

“We have to keep it in perspective,” Connecticut’s second-year coach Stephanie White said. “This is one game in a long season. And our goal is to win a championship. So, this is the first step for us in our goal.

“Yes, it’s gonna be awesome to play in front of a sold-out crowd,” she said with a grin.

Thomas, Bonner and Jones are the core that the team will revolve around and they are truly elite. Bonner, 36, averaged a team-high 17.4 points a game a year ago, pulling down 5.6 rebounds a game. Jones had career-best 15.9 points and 8.2 rebounds a game before she got hurt.

Thomas had a MVP-caliber season. She had the most votes for league MVP but finished second behind New York’s Brianna Stewart.

Guard-forward DiJonai Carrington is back for her fourth season in Connecticut, along with guard Tyasha Harris and center Olivia Nelson-Ododa who will suit up for their second seasons with the Sun.

Connecticut also welcomes key roster pieces by way of off-season trades and free agency including eight-year veteran guard Rachel Banham, who spent her first four seasons in the WNBA with the Sun (2016-19) along with former UConn guards Moriah Jefferson and Tiffany Mitchell and forwards Astou Ndour-Fall and Queen Egbo, also join the Sun for the first time.

“What I feel really confident and good about is the fact that we brought in veteran free agents who are understand the league, who understand the game, who understand the players on this team, and who help us accelerate our growth process because we’re not starting from scratch every single day,” White said.

“So, you know, we want to win now, and we know that (Bonner) especially, is towards the end of her career, and we want to win for her and put the pieces together that give us the chance to do that.”

The Sun signed Banham as a free agent after she spent the last four years with the Minnesota Lynx and hope to get additional production from three-point range. Connecticut also signed 6-foot-5 Astou Ndour-Fall, who won a WNBA title with Chicago in 2021, for some additional help rebounding the basketball.

The Sun acquired Jefferson, a veteran guard, in a sign-and-trade with Phoenix in exchange for Rebecca Allen and got Mitchell, a eight-year veteran, from Minnesota for guard Natisha Hiedeman.

The Sun maxed out last year in White’s first season. They had Jones for just 13 games before she tore her achilles tendon and was gone for the year. Still, they finished 27-13 and with the third-best record in the league.

Thomas carried the team with the most triple doubles (10 or more points, rebounds and assists in a single game), a new WNBA single-season record for assists (316) and became the first WNBA player to score more than 600 points, pull down at least 300 rebounds and dish out more than 300 assists in a single season. Few players have played as well as Bonner did at her age.

The Sun have seven of their first 10 games at home at the Mohegan Sun Arena. They host the Washington Mystics on Friday night and there are plenty of tickets available.

A 40-game schedule ends in September. There is a three-week break from July 21 through August 14 for the Olympic Games in Paris. The Sun will also play one game in Boston in the TD Garden on August 20 against Los Angeles.

While there is always talk of championships for a franchise that has made four trips to the WNBA finals and has come up short, it is a long season.

“It’s hard to win a championship. It’s hard,” White said. “I know that some teams make it look easy sometimes, but it’s not. It takes a lot. It takes being elite and consistent. It takes staying injury free, being injury free at the right time. Sometimes it’s about the draw. Beating teams in a series is very difficult.

“And so, you know, we have been very close. This organization has been very close. And sometimes it’s a little bit of luck that gets you over the hump. Sometimes it’s one or two pieces. And we’ve added some really veteran pieces. They have the ability to hopefully get get us over the hump.”

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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