After some early growing pains, there's no doubting Thomas' talent now

Connecticut's Alyssa Thomas drives past New York's Avery Warley-Talbert during the first half of Sunday's game in Mohegan.
Connecticut's Alyssa Thomas drives past New York's Avery Warley-Talbert during the first half of Sunday's game in Mohegan. Fred Beckham/AP Photo

Mohegan — Katie Douglas was asked to talk about Alyssa Thomas, her rookie Connecticut Sun teammate.

"A-lys-sa," Douglas said with a grin from ear-to-ear. "My girl, A-lys-sa."

The soft-spoken Thomas, seated a few feet away, dropped her head as if she were trying to hide from the attention.

Thomas has made herself tough to ignore of late for Connecticut as her minutes and contributions have gone up. She'll try to help the Sun extend their four-game winning streak when they play host to the Indiana Fever tonight at 7 at Mohegan Sun Arena.

"I think I started off a little slow, but now I'm getting comfortable," Thomas said. "I'm kind of starting to find my rhythm and starting to play my game."

Thomas, a 6-foot-2 forward, was drafted fourth overall by the New York Liberty in April's WNBA draft. She was widely considered one of the top four prospects, just a tier below the top two picks, Connecticut's Chiney Ogwumike and Odyssey Sims of the Tulsa Shock.

New York traded Thomas the night of the draft, along with second-year center Kelsey Bone and next season's first-round pick, in exchange for All-Star center Tina Charles, who wanted to return to her home city.

Thomas was a three-time Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year, a two-time WBCA Coaches' All-American, and Maryland's all-time leader in eight statistical categories, among them games started (135), points (2,356), and rebounds (1,235). She's also just one of three players in NCAA history to have six career triple-doubles and led Maryland to this year's Final Four.

"By far, she's one of the best of the best," Maryland coach Brenda Frese told the Associated Press in March. "From the moment A. T. stepped on campus and was given the nickname Baby Bron Bron by the men's basketball team - a mini LeBron - she's backed it up."

Thomas would have to make an extra adjustment in the WNBA because of her size and skills. She doesn't have the height to be a power forward even though her strength and athleticism allowed her to play around the basket at Maryland. She doesn't have the shooting range of a traditional small forward, either.

"I've been struggling lately," Thomas said of her offense. "My shot is my mid-range. I just have to work on it and try to get it back."

Thomas' unique skills do provide a problem for opponents, however. She can overpower small forwards and guards and defend them. She can scoot past posts and battle them for rebounds. She also handles the ball like a point guard.

"She's relentless out there," Douglas said. "She's one of the strongest players if not the strongest in the league. … I'm proud of her development of this past quarter of the season. The sky is the limit for her going forward."

Thomas has started the last two games because All-Star guard Allison Hightower has a knee sprain. Thomas had her best game during Sunday's 76-72 win over New York as she had 13 points, seven rebounds, and two steals.

"She was just a workhorse down there (in the post) for us," Douglas said. "She was a huge reason why we we're able to get this win."

Thomas had a key basket late in the win, too. She had just been passed the ball with time set to expire when she made a 19-foot jumper to push Connecticut ahead, 72-66, with three minutes, 17 seconds left.

"Oh yeah, I surprised myself there," Thomas laughed. "Just trying to get (the ball) up at the rim."

• Sun guard Alex Bentley was named WNBA Eastern Conference Player of the Week for the first time. Bentley, acquired by the Sun in a three-team deal with Atlanta and Washington on March 12, led Connecticut to a 3-0 week by averaging 19.3 points per game and shoting 61.1 percent from the floor (22-of-36) and 80 percent from 3-point range (4-of-5).

n.griffen@theday.com

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