Jonquel Jones scores 27 as Sun rout Wings
Mohegan — In theory it sounds nuts that the Connecticut Sun would want to run and attack the Dallas Wings inside.
Dallas would be among the favorites if the WNBA ever held a 4x100 relay contest.
Factor in, too, that the Wings are as big as any team in the league. Watching Connecticut attack their posts on Tuesday night was like watching Rebel Alliance snowspeeders buzzing around the Imperial’s AT-AT walkers in “The Empire Strikes Back.”
So, yes, in theory it sounds crazy. But it sure worked.
The Sun ran, trapped and drove by Dallas for a 96-76 rout before 6,365 at Mohegan Sun Arena.
Connecticut (19-13) has won seven of its last 10 and stayed in the running for a home playoff game. It has two games left in the regular season.
“(The Wings) play at a tempo that’s high,” Sun head coach Curt Miller said. “They’re second in the league in possessions per game, so you know it’s going to be a little bit of a track meet. But we want to run and try to wear them down.
“They’re huge. Absolutely huge, and so we try to take their legs away from them.”
Liz Cambage, Dallas’ All-Star center, is 6-foot-8 and 216 pounds. The Wings rolled a lineup out late in the third quarter that included UConn’s Azura Stevens (6-6) and Cayla George (6-4).
“Instead of just settling for jump shots, which they want us to do, you have to attack them,” Connecticut’s Morgan Tuck said. “You have to get them in foul trouble. If they block it, oh well. It doesn’t matter. You have to keep attacking.
“It’s always easier to play inside-out. … They’re the biggest team in the league, so if we can attack them, we can attack anybody.”
Dallas (14-18) had three blocks in a little over a minute to start the game.
The Sun kept going at them. They got Cambage to pick up her second foul and have to go to the bench with six minutes, 45 seconds left in the first quarter.
Connecticut also used its bench to keep attacking the Wings. Its bench averaged a league-high 31.6 points prior to Tuesday’s games.
The Sun’s reserves scored 57 against Dallas with Jonquel Jones leading the way. The third-year post was sensational as she made 10 of her 12 shots — including 4 of 6 3-pointers — for a game-high 27 points. She also had 10 rebounds and two steals.
“We understand that everyone brings something unique to this team, and that our team chemistry and our depth are the two things that are important and vital for us,” Jones said.
Tuck scored 12 off the bench and Rachel Banham added 10 points.
“We have the pieces on our bench to sustain our running,” Connecticut’s Chiney Ogwumike said. “It’s about (our starters) starting strong, giving all we have, and then JJ comes in. Tuck comes in. Bri (Brionna Jones). We’ve got Layshia Clarendon (and) other people that can give another o-ooomph and you lose nothing.
“We almost have two starting fives.”
Miller said, “57 points off the bench, what can you say? JJ was fantastic. Morgan sparked us. Rachel, who hadn’t played much recently … could’ve hung her head over the last couple of games, came in and was really effective offensively and was hunting for her shots.”
Connecticut also outscored the Wings inside, 50-20. It also had 11 steals and scored 20 off of Dallas' 13 turnovers.
Ogwumike had 13 points, five rebounds and two steals for the Sun and Courtney Williams had 10 points, four rebounds and two steals.
Jasmine Thomas added eight points and seven assists for Connecticut, and Alyssa Thomas had eight rebounds and two steals.
Cambage had 15 points and 13 rebounds for Dallas. She averaged a league-leading 23 points.
Allisha Gray had 18 points, five rebounds and four steals for the Wings and Skyler Diggins-Smith added 17 points with eight assists.
Dallas has lost nine straight as its lead for the eighth and final playoff berth has shrunk to one game over the Las Vegas Aces (13-18). It does hold the tiebreaker over the Aces, though. The teams play at Dallas on Friday.
The Wings played their first game Tuesday under interim head coach Taj McWilliams-Franklin, a former Sun great.
“We can’t give up 50 points in the paint when we are 6-8, 6-6, 6-5, (and) 6-5,” McWilliams-Franklin said. “There is no way that (should) happen.”
The Sun took the lead with 1:46 left in the first quarter and had a double-digit lead for most of the second quarter.
Connecticut began to pull away late in the third quarter. Jones made a 3-pointer and Williams converted her steal into a layup to give the Sun a 69-54 lead with 3:06 left in the period.
Diggins-Smith made two free throws for the Wings.
Jones rebounded a missed 3-pointer by Jasmine Thomas on Connecticut’s next possession and passed it to Tuck for a layup.
Jones’ layup and Williams’ jumper pushed the Sun’s edge to 75-56 after three quarters.
Banham opened the fourth quarter with a running bank shot.
Betnijah Laney’s layup gave the Sun their largest lead, 95-72, with 1:25 left in the game.
Connecticut is in fourth place in the overall standings and could finish as high as third. The third and fourth seeds get a first-round bye and a home game. The first and second rounds are one-and-done. The top two seeds get a double-bye to the best-of-five semifinals.
The Sun are tied with the Los Angeles Sparks (19-13) but hold the head-to-head tiebreaker. The teams play at Mohegan Sun Arena on the final day of the regular season (Aug. 19).
Connecticut leads the sixth-place Phoenix Mercury (18-14) by a game, but the latter won the head-to-head tiebreaker.
The Sun have a 2½ game lead over the defending champion Minnesota Lynx (17-15) based on the head-to-head tiebreaker. Connecticut hosts the Lynx on Friday.
“We need to continue to grow and continue to get better defensively because I think that our offense is good right now,” Jones said, “and we have so many players that can do different things at that end of the court.
“We need to have that playoff mindset now.”
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