Sun have their MVP back in Alyssa Thomas
Mohegan — The following is a list of WNBA players who rank in the top 10 in both rebounding and assists this season:
• Alyssa Thomas, Connecticut Sun.
That is all.
Is it any wonder, then, why Connecticut struggled when Thomas missed 10 straight games to a shoulder injury prior to last week?
Sure, Thomas’ absence wasn’t the sole reason why the Sun skidded out in mid-June, but it sure was a really big reason. They've very glad, then, that she's back, as they’ve passed the halfway mark of the season and are trying to get their playoff drive back on track.
Connecticut plays at the defending world champion Minnesota Lynx on Sunday at Target Center (WCCT-20, 7 p.m.)
“I knew once we had our pieces back that we would be something to reckon with,” Sun Courtney Williams said.
Thomas (6-foot-2) is one of the WNBA’s most unique players because she’s built like an undersized power forward but can run the point with ease. She's Connecticut's engine. Its at its best offensively when it's running, in particular when Thomas gets the rebound and leads the break.
Thomas is second in the league in rebounds (9.7) and tied for fifth in assists (4.7) with Diana Taurasi (Phoenix Mercury) and Brittany Boyd (New York Liberty).
Connecticut (11-10) was 7-1 and in first place prior to Thomas' injury during the third quarter of a June 13 game against the Washington Mystics.
The Sun lost eight of 10 games without Thomas. Three of those losses also happened when Williams, the starting off-guard, missed four games due to a personal matter. Starting post Chiney Ogwumike missed another of those losses due to a knee issue (at Phoenix, 89-72 on June 16).
“It was hard sitting out, watching my team,” Thomas said. “I wanted to be out there with them. Now that I’m back, it’s just about grinding out these wins … and getting back on track.”
Thomas once again showed the impact she has on Connecticut during Friday's 91-87 win over second-place Phoenix, her second game back from injury. She had 11 points, a career-high 10 assists and eight rebounds, narrowly missing the seventh triple-double in WNBA history. She also had two steals.
“If anyone didn’t realize that she’s our MVP and that she’s our best player to play through, all you have to do is watch that game and everything she brought to the table,” Sun coach Curt Miller said.
Thomas was also a key piece to Friday night’s lineup change. The Sun opted to go small against the Mercury with the lineup they started the season with — Ogwumike (center), Shekinna Stricklen and Thomas (forwards) and Jasmine Thomas and Williams (guard).
“It felt like our old selves (Friday),” Alyssa Thomas said. “I think we’re definitely headed in the right direction.”
It was a gutsy move by Connecticut. It gave it the speed advantage, but it put them at a serious disadvantage in size. It had to move Thomas to power forward in order to have Stricklen at small forward. Ogwumike, who had been playing power forward, was moved to center with Jonquel Jones (6-6), the Sun's tallest player, coming off the bench.
Ogwumike (6-4) was the only Connecticut starter taller than 6-2 against a Phoenix starting lineup that featured Brittney Griner (6-9), DeWanna Bonner (6-4) and Camille Little (6-2) with Angel Robinson (6-6) coming off the bench.
“My assistant coaches, Chris Koclanes in particular, put together a great game plan,” Miller said. “We were going to double (Griner) with the athletic, mobile power forward in Alyssa Thomas.”
Griner had 19 points and six rebounds, however she scored nine at the free throw line. She attempted nine shots, five under her average.
“It’s all about disruption and trying to get them to mess up,” Thomas said. “BG is so great around the rim, so any opportunity we had to get the ball out of her hands is a win for us.”
Minnesota (12-9) has won seven of its last 10. It has one of the league’s best inside-outside combinations in 2017 WNBA MVP Sylvia Fowles (16.9 ppg, league-high 12 rpg) and Maya Moore (18.6 ppg, 5.3 rpg), the 2014 WNBA MVP.