Sun trounce Dream, clinch first winning season in five years

Atlanta — Jonquel Jones, the Connecticut Sun’s 6-foot-6 center, dropped a 3-pointer on the Atlanta Dream 16 seconds into Tuesday night’s game. And the Sun never looked back.

Jones had 20 points and a game-high 13 rebounds and three blocks as Connecticut overwhelmed the Dream, 96-75, and secured its first winning season in five years before 4,585 at McCamish Pavilion.

The Sun (18-9) have won six straight and 17 of their last 21 games. Their last winning season was in 2012, followed by the worst four-year stretch in franchise history in which they went 52-84.

Connecticut is third in the overall WNBA standings and are 1 ½ games ahead of the Washington Mystics. The top eight teams qualify for the postseason, regardless of conference.

The Sun shot 47.3-percent (35-of-74) and had a season-high 28 assists. They scored the game's first 10 points and had an assist on their first 10 field goals.

“For the most part, when the ball is moving, when we’re getting stops and rebounds and we’re playing free, we always do well,” Sun point guard Jasmine Thomas said. “That’s how we started the game and took the momentum early.”

The Sun led by as much as 31 points early in the fourth quarter, and no starter had to play more than 27 minutes. That helps as they play four games in eight days (all at home), starting Friday against the New York Liberty.

Jones shot 8-of-12. It was her seventh straight double-double and 17th of the season.

“My teammates, the coaches, everybody here believes in me and that makes it easy to go out there and play hard for this team because we genuinely care about each other,” Jones said about her great improvement in her second season.

Sun coach Curt Miller said, “It’s her putting time into her own game, (her) confidence coming back from a very successful first overseas season. She’s so versatile too. It’s not a lot the coaches are doing. It’s just a great player showing her versatility.”

Jasmine Thomas made 4-of-6 3-pointers for 18 points with four assists for the Sun and Alyssa Thomas had 10 points, six assists and four rebounds.

Courtney Williams had 13 points and reserves Rachel Banham and Lynetta Kizer both scored 10.

It was the eighth straight loss for Atlanta (10-19). It was without UConn’s Tiffany Hayes (rib contusion), its leading scorer, and reserve Bria Holmes (bursitis right ankle) of New Haven.

“That team (Connecticut) is playing extremely good basketball," Dream head coach Michael Cooper said. "Our rotations were thrown off with Tiffany being out. When you’re playing against the most improved player in Jonquel Jones, you’ve got to compete against those forces.”

Rookie Brittney Sykes had 23 points, five rebounds, five assists and two blocks for Atlanta and Tamera Young had 14 points and five rebounds. Layshia Clarendon added 11 assists.

Williams made a 14-foot jumper seconds after Jones’ game-opening 3-pointer. Alyssa Thomas’ layup and Jasmine Thomas’ 3-pointer pushed the Sun ahead, 10-0, one minute, 43 seconds into the game.

Connecticut began the second quarter with an 11-2 run. Jones scored five during that run and reserve Kayla Pedersen added four points to extend the Sun’s lead to 34-15 with 7:43 remaining in the first half.

The Sun led at halftime, 49-22. Atlanta managed to cut its deficit to 51-39 with 6:58 left in the third quarter.

Jasmine Thomas answered with a 3-pointer to kick start a 15-7 run.

Thomas concluded the run with 16-foot jumper as Connecticut went ahead, 66-44, with 3:03 remaining in the third quarter.

The Sun closed the quarter with an 8-0 run. Bentley’s two free throws gave the Sun a 74-46 edge.

Bentley’s floating jumper gave Connecticut its largest lead (81-50) with over seven minutes left in the game.

n.griffen@theday.com

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