Brionna Jones will get her chance to shine for Sun
Mohegan — Curt Miller has been hyping second-year Connecticut Sun center Brionna Jones a lot during the offseason and preseason.
Like Don King levels of hype.
Jones made 4 of 5 shots for 10 points with six rebounds in 18 minutes of play in Tuesday's 71-67 preseason loss to the Dallas Wings at Mohegan Sun Arena.
The night before, Miller singled out Jones after the Sun routed the New York Liberty 100-66 in their preseason opener.
“She’s going to have a monster year off the bench for us in the post,” Miller said.
That’s a lot of hype for a player who’s averaged 7.8 minutes per-game in her first two seasons.
“I mean, from the first game,” Jones laughed when told what Miller said. “That’s alright. Keep it up.
“Playing overseas the past few seasons definitely built my confidence, and my (Sun) teammates, they do a great job of building me up.”
Connecticut picked Jones, a 6-foot-3 center, eighth overall in the 2017 draft. Her minutes have been limited playing behind the likes of All-Stars Jonquel Jones and Chiney Ogwumike.
There are many post minutes that need to be filled this season after Ogwumike was traded to the Los Angeles Sparks last month. Ogwumike averaged 25.5 minutes in 31 games last year and led the team in both scoring (14.4 ppg) and rebounding (7.3).
Brionna Jones is coming off a terrific international season for Russia’s Nadezhda Orenburg. She averaged 16.1 points and 9.1 rebounds in 25 games in the Russian Premier League, featuring the likes of Brittney Griner and Breanna Stewart. She also had 16 double-doubles in 22 games playing in FIBA EuroLeague and EuroCup games.
Jones averaged a league-best 10.9 rebounds in 16 games playing in the prestigious EuroLeague. She also helped Nadezhda win its first EuroCup in her second year with it.
“I was being more patient, taking my time and making the right reads,” Jones said about her overseas improvements. “I was trying to move too fast before I realized where the defense was.
“I got double-teamed a lot, so that definitely slowed me down. I had to play out of double teams. Now, I think the pace of the game has slowed down and I’m more confident in making decisions.”
Asked how often she’s been double teamed in the WNBA, Jones laughed and said, “never.”
Miller said, “She’s just incredibly Xs-and-Os smart. She’s physical. Such an underrated defender. People have trouble scoring over her length and people think that she’s not as agile as she is in short areas.
“I have so much confidence in Bri Jones.”
There wasn’t much good for Connecticut to find in Tuesday’s game, other than it’s the preseason, only 3,965 witnessed it, and a few of its reserves were feisty.
The starting lineup took a nosedive after shooting 64.1-percent (25-of-39) on Monday.
Jonquel Jones (center), forwards Alyssa Thomas and Shekinna Stricklen, and guards Jasmine Thomas and Courtney Williams combined to shoot 21.6-percent (8-of-37) from the floor (including missing 10 of 11 3-pointers).
The Sun led by as much as 21-11 with 32.7 seconds left in the first quarter, then vanished offensively.
Dallas, like the Atlanta Dream, is also the kind of team that has been Connecticut’s worst kind of matchup — fast, athletic, athletic, athletic, and fast. It slashed to the basket and earned foul calls, making 23 of 27 free throws.
The Sun outrebounded the Wings (45-40), yet the latter still had enough timely offensive rebounds to score 13 second-chance points.
“That the first exhibition loss in four years, so I’m unsure about the exhibition Hall of Fame,” Miller quipped. “Hats off to Dallas. They really bothered us with their defensive scheme tonight.
“We’ll learn from it. We didn’t have a lot of counters in against their (defensive) scheme they were running against us, so we were having to make up things on the fly.”
Notre Dame’s Arike Ogunbowale, the fifth overall pick in April’s draft, scored a game-high 19 for the Wings.
New Haven’s Bria Holmes provided good minutes off the bench for Connecticut. She made 6-of-14 shots for a team-high 14 points. The Sun acquired her in a trade with Atlanta last year, even though she wouldn’t play that season due to pregnancy.
Reserve Morgan Tuck had eight points and six rebounds.
Rookies Bridget Carleton and Natisha Hiedeman played the entire fourth quarter with the Sun starting it down 60-52.
Carleton made 3-of-7 shots, including a 3-pointer with 2 minutes, 21 seconds left that gave Connecticut a brief 65-64 lead. The 6-foot-1 wing also had a game-high three steals. She was the 2019 Big 12 Player of the Year, as chosen by coaches, and drafted 21st overall (second round) by the Sun.
Hiedeman, a 5-8 point guard from Marquette, scored just two but made plays happen with her defense (two steals). She was a unanimous pick for 2018-19 BIG East Player of Year honors. The Minnesota Lynx drafted her 18th overall (second round) at Connecticut’s request and was traded moments later for point guard Lexie Brown, who the Sun drafted ninth overall (first round) last year.
Emma Cannon, rookie Regan Magarity, Carleton and Hiedeman make up the group of players fighting for what may be just one available roster spot on the Sun’s veteran 12-woman roster.
“(Natisha) sparked us in different areas,” Miller said. “Bridget is a gamer. She missed a shot she would probably like back (a missed 3-pointer with over four minutes left), and then stepped up and made a big three.”
Connecticut finishes its preseason Sunday against New York at Albany’s Times Union Center (2:30 p.m.). It opens the regular season at home next Saturday against the Washington Mystics, last season’s WNBA Finals runner-up, at 7:30 p.m.
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