Sun would like to keep their momentum following Olympic break

Time off is a precious and rare commodity for WNBA players. They’re paid nowhere close to their NBA peers, so the only way they can maximize their short careers is to play year-round here and overseas.

The Connecticut Sun, then, were overjoyed to get 10 days off to start the Olympic break.

Sun head coach Curt Miller, on the other hand, is already itching to get back to work.

“I’m really excited about how we played the last eight games,” Miller said. “We were playing our best basketball, so a little bit of me wishes we could keep going. My wish is not to lose momentum over this break. I’m ready to get back and have almost a second training camp. Get back to fundamentals that you don’t get to work on every day because you’re always prepping, always getting ready for the next game.”

Connecticut (8-16) struggled most of this season given its youth and limitations. It had a franchise-worst 1-7 start.

The Sun began to show life during the second half of the season and won five of their last eight games. They found offensive success by playing inside-out, either by passing the ball inside to second-year post Chiney Ogwumike, or having third-year wing Alyssa Thomas drive the lane.

“I think the biggest challenge here is that we have to win the points in the paint battle to be successful,” Miller said. “We’re a very average 3-point shooting team, and we don’t have guards who are going to get to the foul line often. So we have to have good nights in the paint.

“The hard part is that you have to go two (points) by two (points) by two (points). You’re not going to get a lot of 3s, so you have to grind and get those twos.”

To use a football analogy, it’s the equivalent of a team having to gradually gain yards running due to a lack of passing game.

“It’s like having to get four yards or five yards (with the run) on first down in order to have success,” Miller said. “We’re just going to have to keep grinding it out and pounding it up the middle and throw the occasional 20-yard out.”

Rookie Jonquel Jones was a big part of that approach when the Sun rallied to win at the Chicago Sky last Friday, 94-89, in their final game before the break. The 6-foot-6 post had a game-high 21 points and 10 rebounds for her first career double-double.

“We all see (Jones’) potential on a daily basis (at practice),” Miller said. “She just hasn’t always been able to put it all together (in games). … She’s been consistently productive with her minutes. That doesn’t mean that she always makes the right reads defensively from the scouting report, but she’s been productive while making mistakes that only the team knows of. She got to play through those mistakes (last Friday) while producing.”

Jones scored five straight points with less than five minutes left to put Connecticut ahead for good. Rookie Morgan Tuck also added two layups during the Sun’s game-winning 13-6 run.

“We had Jonquel Jones and Morgan Tuck,” Miller said, “playing (late in the game) against an Olympian (reigning WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne) and Cappie (Pondexter), one of the all-time greatest players, and Courtney Vandersloot, who most people put on a very short list as the heir apparent of great points guards when Lindsay Whalen and Sue Bird move on.

“So I look at the quality of talent playing out there and I have two rookies who are producing in crunch time.”

After all of their troubles, the Sun have put themselves in position to be one of the eight playoff teams. They’re two games behind both the Seattle Storm and Washington Mystics, who are tied for eighth place.

“Even though we're not talking playoffs, when you look at the standings, seventh and eighth are not tremendously far away,” Miller said.

“While we’ll continue not to talk about it, and talk about taking it game-by-game, the nice thing is that we’re not completely out of it yet.”

n.griffen@theday.com

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