Arike Ogunbowale had scored in double figures in 65-straight games. But the Connecticut Sun dominated the Dallas Wings on Tuesday night at the College Park Center in Arlington, Texas and the 83-56 winning effort included holding Ogunbowale to eight points on 2-of-17 shooting from the field.
The Wings beat a Seattle Storm team that had its big three back on June 6 and entered Tuesday’s contest against the Sun hungry to make up for a bad loss to the Atlanta Dream that prevented them from taking a commanding seventh-place lead. Maybe it wasn’t crazy to think they could come up with some magic in Arlington and catch Connecticut sleeping on what was a 1.5-game first-place lead. Instead, disaster struck early as the Sun (22-6) ran down Dallas’ throat with a 30-13 first quarter.
Connecticut put points on the board in a hurry and Ogunbowale was unable to make shots she usually makes to keep it close. She was 0-of-4 on jump shots in the opening frame.
The Sun have the best scoring defense in the WNBA. They allow just 70.7 points per game, 7.3 less than the second-best Los Angeles Sparks.
“Bri(ann) January sets the tone on someone like Arike, but it is a team effort, it is a scheme, it’s a lot of attention,” said Sun head coach Curt Miller. “They were down some players, some outstanding players. Satou (Sabally), Izzy (Isabelle) Harrison’s not playing. And so we knew that they were going to have to play through Arike a lot, they were going to have to play through Marina (Mabrey) a lot. So just a lot of attention in our scouting report. That’s five people guarding the ball at times and shrinking the floor and giving attention to players that we know they want to score.”
“I think every night we come out we try to hang our hat on defense,” said Sun power forward Brionna Jones. “And I think we wanted to start this game intense and do everything we can from the jump, defensively, offensively. So I think our mindset going into the game was just trying to be better than our last game and just continuing to improve ourselves, offensively, defensively, as we are making this push into the playoffs.”
The Wings (12-17) never came back to make it close as the Sun went on to lead by as much as 33. B. Jones (three steals) led Connecticut with 18 points and 10 rebounds while MVP frontrunner Jonquel Jones posted 11 points, seven boards, five assists and three blocks. January (three assists, two steals) was 3-of-4 from downtown and the Sun gladly welcomed her 13 points. January averages 7.2 points but has scored in double figures every other game since the Olympic break. Natisha Hiedeman added 13 points off the bench for her first double-digit scoring effort since July 3. Hiedeman averaged 14.3 points over the course of the first four games of the season, but started three of those contests and has since played a limited role behind the monster minutes of Connecticut’s regular starters.
DeWanna Bonner rounded out the Sun’s double-figure scorers with 11 points to go along with her four helpers while Jasmine Thomas’ six assists made her the all-time leader in that category in Connecticut franchise history. In addition, J. Jones moved into second place in franchise history in blocks.
“There was a joy,” Miller said when asked if his team took a moment to celebrate its 10th win in a row. “Sometimes winning is a relief, unfortunately, when you’re in basketball long enough. And we’ve all felt that, such a relief at times. Tonight was pure joy. The bench was happy for the starters, the starters were happy for the bench. They know that it wasn’t one person, I think we had five or six people in double figures, nine out of our ten scored. There was a joy in our locker room tonight and it’s really fun when that happens, because (with) this game too often, at all levels, (it) becomes a relief to win. And it’s nice to have one good joy game, that’s for sure.”
On J. Thomas, Miller offered the following:
“It’s special any time you’re a statistical leader in one of the 12 franchises in the league. It’s longevity. It’s success. It’s unselfish, that stat is a really unselfish stat. This year she has really sacrificed maybe some personal shine on her for the way we want to play and the way we believe we can be a championship contender. She’s not taking as many shots, but she’s shooting the ball tremendously from the arc. She’s our captain and she’s our facilitator. And for her, so unselfish this year to understand that there’s a style that we truly believe in that can ultimately put ourselves in position. It’s just a credit to what a professional she is.”
B. Jones added that “her leadership is everything. I’ve been playing with her for the last five seasons. And just having her on the court out there leading us at the point guard, it’s been great. And she always makes the right reads, whether it’s for her, whether it’s for other players. And going back to training camp this year, she came in late and just missing her voice, I felt that a lot, I felt that a lot. You never know how much she brings until she wasn’t there for a little bit.”
Mabrey managed 16 points and two steals in defeat while her rookie teammate Awak Kuier notched 10 points, eight rebounds and five blocks.
The Sun won points in the paint 46-14 and held Dallas to 26.6 percent shooting from the field as a team.
The Wings are now only a game ahead of the eighth-place New York Liberty and 1.5 games ahead of the Washington Mystics and the Sparks, who are tied for ninth.
Connecticut forward Alyssa Thomas, who was thought to be out for the season with a torn Achilles, warmed up with the team Tuesday night and was listed as “doubtful” instead of “out” on the injury report.
Curt Miller says that the team is excited about Alyssa Thomas’ progress with her rehab and she’s ahead of schedule. What that schedule is is being evaluated day to day.
The plan is for her to do light warmups tonight with the team.
— Alexa Philippou (@alexaphilippou) September 7, 2021
Thomas is a two-time All-Star who was the best player on the Sun when they made their run to Game 5 of the semifinals last year. She would give Connecticut a big four of herself, J. Jones, Bonner and B. Jones.
“Ultimately AT would play, not only when she’s physically ready, but mentally ready,” Miller said. “It is not always easy mentally to come back from a major injury. We need everything to align. And if that’s Nov. 1 in Czech Republic, then that’s great for AT. If it’s somewhere in this season, that’s great also.”
Seattle Storm (20-10) over Washington Mystics (10-18), 105-71
Scary moment for the Storm in this one. Breanna Stewart walked off the court with an injury in the third. There was no need to bring her back in a blowout. No word yet if she will miss any more time.
Breanna Stewart left the game at the 6:05 mark of the 3rd quarter with a left foot injury and will not return.#TakeCover
— Seattle Storm PR (@SeattleStormPR) September 8, 2021
Seattle tied a season-high in points scored and set the season high for points scored on the Mystics. It shot a blistering 59.1 percent from the field and 60.9 percent (14-of-23) from beyond the arc.
“The three ball just has been missing in our games, so good to see it go through,” said Storm head coach Noelle Quinn. “Defensively we were locked in. We honed in on (Tina) Charles, we were aggressive with (Natasha) Cloud. Overall, I think it was a good team effort. Everybody contributed. And it’s good to kind of get back rolling a little bit.”
Jewell Loyd paced the Storm with 20 points to go along with six rebounds, six assists and two steals. Ezi Magbegor (15 points, six rebounds) and Sue Bird (14 points, seven assists) were also solid while Epiphanny Prince was good for nine points and five helpers in extended playing time due to the blowout. Mercedes Russell added 11 points to the winning cause.
Seattle held Charles to just four points and four rebounds. She dropped 34 points, 16 rebounds and five assists on the Storm in a June 22nd Mystics win.
Shavonte Zellous (three assists) led Washington with 17 points.