At 0-5 to start the season, the Connecticut Sun looked fatigued and lost at IMG Academy. Though almost every loss was close, Curt Miller and his team were simply unable to finish match-ups and tally wins.
Standing at the midpoint of this abbreviated season, the Sun are starting to shine in the Bradenton Bubble. They have won four of their last six games to improve their record to a 4-7 mark on the season.
So, what’s changed over the last few games?
Other Players Balancing the Attack
In three of Connecticut’s wins, four starters tallied double-figures. Prior to their first win, only DeWanna Bonner and Alyssa Thomas were averaging over 10 points per match-up. They made up the majority of the Sun’s points and were truly the only contributors to Curt Miller’s system.
In the Sun’s first win of the season against the Dallas Wings, Brionna Jones notched 17 points, AT contributed 15, and Natisha Hiedeman (career-high) and Jasmine Thomas (season-high) added 14. The only starter to not score over 10 points in the Wings game? Bonner (8).
In an 11-point victory over the Dream, AT (21), Thomas (15), Bonner (12), and Jones (11) all contributed double-figures. In addition to the starters, the bench stepped up and added 27 points.
“The first few games we stood around and watched DeWanna and Alyssa Thomas play,” Miller said after the Dream game. “Now, we are finding that balance.”
The Sun were able to capture a huge win against bubble favorites Chicago Sky last week, a game that came down to the final minute. Though it wasn’t necessarily the prettiest win, Connecticut was able to play a full 40-minutes of competitive basketball to get the W. Once again, AT, Thomas, Bonner, and Jones scored in double-digits for the Sun to even the scoring attack.
“We’re learning how to close out games where things are starting to click offensively and defensively,” Thomas said after the Chicago win. “Even though some of those shots aren’t going in, they’re better shots. The ball is moving, we’re playing with more intensity and it feels better.”
The Sun also have Briann January in the bubble after a bout with COVID-19. She saw action for the first time in a Connecticut jersey against the Wings on August 12, tallying three assists and a rebound.
January, one of the most prolific point guards in Fever history, joined the Sun this offseason. A WNBA Champion, January can surely help Curt Miller take the pressure off Bonner and AT once fully adjusted to the bubble.
On Monday, the team announced the signing of 12-year veteran Essence Carson (waived Jacki Gemelos). Carson, a WNBA All-Star, appeared in 10 games this season for the Washington Mystics, averaging 4.3 points and 1.8 rebounds per game. Like January, Carson brings former championship experience to the Sun, winning one in 2016 with the Los Angeles Sparks.
Connecticut has been able to produce wins by taking the load off of All-Star Bonner, distributing the offense, and most importantly: finishing.
A Look Ahead
Eight of Connecticut’s final 11 games are against teams ranked No. 6 or lower in the league standings. The Sun have already battled strong Finals contenders in the Seattle Storm and Minnesota Lynx.
“We know on paper right now our last 11 games are against teams six or lower in the standings,” Miller said. “We control our own destiny. We have the ability to stay and compete for the top eight, playing against similar teams who are also fighting to be in the top 8. We feel OK and I am encouraged.”
Looking ahead, Connecticut has a real shot at making the playoffs if they continue on their current trajectory. They have a huge test in the next couple games, starting with the Indiana Fever on Tuesday night. The Fever currently stand one spot ahead of the Sun in the league standings.
“We made the conscious decision that Tuesday is a huge game for us,” Miller said after Sunday’s game. “We needed to get some rest with some players. We shut it down earlier than normal, but Tuesday’s a big game for us.”
“It is not do-or-die, but the locker room knows. The locker room knows that the Indiana series is going to be a big series when it is all said and done. I promise you our locker room knows that.”
The door hasn’t shut on the 2020 Connecticut Sun season. Miller is “encouraged” on his Sun team, as should the state of Connecticut.
“We’re still going to have some bumpy segments, bumpy games in front of us. But, you can see it building,” Miller said.
There is still a lot of fight in this team and opponents should be cautious of overlooking the Connecticut Sun.
“We just need to worry about ourselves and try to continue to get better every day,” Miller said.