DeWanna Bonner set the tone more than any player on either side on Sunday night and thanks to a stellar effort from an entire starting lineup that saw each player play at least 33 minutes, the Connecticut Sun are now 2-0 with one of the wins coming against a perceived “big six” team in the Phoenix Mercury.
Bonner netted 27 points, eight more than her mentor, Diana Taurasi, who led the Mercury (1-1), and was simply the best player on the floor in the 86-78 Sun win.
“She was unselfish midway through the fourth quarter and (we) wanted her just to take over and eventually the ball went through her and she made big plays for us,” Miller said of Bonner’s performance in her first home game at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. “You just see how talented she is. … Has been a little bit of an overshadowed superstar in this league. And our Sun fans are gonna be really entertained by her.”
“It was special to share it with my teammates for sure,” said Bonner, who played for the Mercury for 10 seasons, of the win. “I’m just so proud of them and how hard we fought. When Phoenix got back in the game we just found a way to win.”
Phoenix had little chance after Brionna Jones (nine points, nine rebounds) collected a Bonner missed layup and put it back on the other side of the basket to give Connecticut an 84-77 lead with 20.1 seconds to go. Briann January (15 points, six assists) had made a key basket on a deep two with 52.4 left to make it 82-77 after Taurasi free throws had cut it to three.
The Mercury took a two-point lead on a short Kia Nurse jumper in the paint at the three-minute mark, but it was followed by a 9-0 Sun run.
It was a hard-fought fourth quarter that saw Connecticut leading by seven at the onset. The Sun had led by as many as 13 in the third after the Mercury had led by as many as eight in the first.
Natisha Hiedeman, who had nine points and eight rebounds in Connecticut’s season-opening win over the Atlanta Dream, scored a career-high 17 points to go along with a game-high four steals. She has filled in for Jasmine Thomas, who is out as a safety protocol, admirably after averaging 6.1 points per game as a second-year player in the bubble.
“She’s just been terrific,” Miller said of Hiedeman. “But she’s been that way all through training camp.”
Jonquel Jones, who led the Sun in scoring against the Dream with 26, had 14 points on Sunday and outrebounded 6-foot-9 Brittney Griner 13 to four.
Skylar Diggins-Smith scored 18 points and dished out four helpers in defeat, while Griner added 16 points and four blocks. Taurasi, Diggins-Smith and Griner form a formidable big three and make the Mercury a perceived contender.
Connecticut came into the season with lesser expectations after one of its big three members in Alyssa Thomas went down with a season-ending Achilles injury overseas.
“Are we going to start the disrespeCT conversation already?” Miller said. “I mean Alyssa Thomas is out, Jasmine Thomas isn’t here. We hardly had a couple veterans at all in training camp. Everybody in the power rankings can have us where we are. It’s a long, long season, we have a long way ahead of us. But I think you see this team can be special defensively. … We’ll have some nights where we struggle offensively, but we can be good defensively. And I’m excited to be 2-0.”