High-flying Sun crush the Dream, 98-69
Mohegan — Run like hell. It best describes the Connecticut Sun’s game plan Friday night.
Connecticut wants to run as much as any team in the WNBA, and did it ever run down — and over — the Atlanta Dream.
The Sun ravaged one of the league’s best defenses with one of their best offensive nights of the season. They crushed the Dream 98-69 and moved into first place in the overall standings before 6,733 at Mohegan Sun Arena.
“We feel better, we play with more energy, when we play with tempo,” Connecticut’s Jasmine Thomas said. “That starts with our defense and we talked about that before this game.
“The better we can play defense and get out and get going, the better the team responds, the better we play.”
It was a season high in points for the Sun (12-6). Ten of their 11 players both played 14 or more minutes and scored. They shot 38 of 78 (48.7 percent). That included making 11 of 26 3-pointers.
Atlanta (5-13) began the night second in defensive field goal percentage (.407).
"We stayed in attack mode," Sun head coach Curt Miller said. "We ran like the Connecticut Sun has run in past years. The tempo was higher tonight. There was an emphasis to get out and run and those guys wanted to play fast. It's how we like to play. You just haven't seen that all year consistently."
The Sun set season highs in field goals (38), field goal attempts (78) and assists (24). They also had a season-low eight turnovers.
Connecticut took a half-game lead over the Las Vegas Aces for first place in the overall standings early Saturday morning after the Seattle Storm ground out an improbable and bewildering 69-66 home win over the latter.
Seattle missed its final 11 field goals, went over six minutes without a point, were called for three shot-clock violations in the final four minutes, and were outshot 41.9-27.8 percent.
Thomas had 14 points, five rebounds and four assists for Connecticut against the Dream while reserve Bria Holmes continued to impress by scoring 17.
Holmes has played her best basketball of late and been a huge boost after sixth-woman Layshia Clarendon suffered a season-ending ankle injury on June 19. The Sun traded for Holmes in April 2018 even though she’d miss that season to pregnancy.
“This is what we knew that she was capable of and she’s still going to continue to get even better,” Thomas said. “I’m pretty sure it’s difficult coming back from a baby. You need to get your confidence back, get your rhythm back, and that’s what we see from her right now.
“We don’t have a wing like her on this team. We love what she’s doing.”
Jonquel Jones had 12 points, nine rebounds, three steals and two blocks, Alyssa Thomas 11 points and eight rebounds and reserve Morgan Tuck scored 10 for Connecticut.
“If you allow Atlanta’s defense to get set and you don’t get out in transition, they have such great rim protection with (Jess) Breland and (Elizabeth) Willliams,” Miller said. “So we wanted to play fast.
“They’re a man down tonight without (Tiffany) Hayes with her (hamstring) injury (Wednesday), so we wanted to increase the possessions. But it wasn’t anything we changed. We always want to play that way.”
Hayes, the Dream’s leading scorer, is day-to-day according to head coach Nicki Collen.
Olympian Angel McCoughtry, the biggest tormenter in Sun history, has been out all season for Atlanta after a knee injury last year, too.
The rest of Atlanta shot a combined 10 of 36.
“As good as Brittney Sykes was tonight, and she was fantastic and hard to contain, we did some things that felt like we disrupted them and got them out of rhythm,” Miller said.
Connecticut led 49-40 at halftime and kept attacking to start the second half. Jones had a steal on Atlanta’s first possession that led to a Shekinna Stricklen 3-pointer.
Williams scored on a cutting layup 20 seconds later for the Dream before Stricklen came back with a 21-foot jumper. Another Jones steal led to a Courtney Williams layup for the Sun.
Alyssa Thomas later grabbed an offensive rebound off a missed Jones 3-pointer that led to Jasmine Thomas’ layup and a 60-44 Sun lead with 6:45 left in the third quarter.
Atlanta never got closer than 10 points the rest of the quarter (61-51, 2:28).
“There have been times this season where I have not been frustrated after a loss because we competed at a really high level,” Collen said. “I thought tonight we had stretches where we didn’t compete, when the game got a little away from us and we got sloppy and we didn’t execute. I thought over the last six or seven games we have been really dialed into game plans, taking certain things away, and I thought we didn’t do that."
The Sun’s starting lineup got to take the fourth quarter off as the bench piled it on.
Brionna Jones (eight points) and Holmes made back-to-back layups, and Natisha Hiedeman knocked down a 3-pointer to give Connecticut its largest lead, 84-52 with 4:48 remaining.
“Everyone was amazing,” Stricklen said. “(The bench) came in and closed the game out for sure. They had great energy and man, they can always do that. We say it every day.
“Bria was just aggressive today. T (Hiedeman) came in and made some good plays, good assists, (and) took great shots. Bri (Jones) was being aggressive and finishing. Man, we’ve been needing that and missing that. That second half, we had energy and were able to break free.”
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Alyssa Thomas' 2021 WNBA season may be in jeopardy after she underwent successful surgery on Tuesday afternoon to repair a torn Achilles tendon. The Connecticut Sun mainstay is an unrestricted free agent.