Sun rout Wings 102-72 and clinch double-bye into WNBA semifinals

Mohegan — Connecticut Sun post Jonquel Jones hasn’t heard from her parents back home in her native Bahamas since Hurricane Dorian ripped through the country.

Jones parents were safe the last time she talked to them, but still.

“I had spoken to my sister (on the phone) before (Wednesday’s) game,” Jones said. “Some of my people had to be evacuated. … My sister, who has a six-month old, had to walk through water with her baby with my niece.”

Jones was happy — and relieved — to take refuge on the Mohegan Sun Arena floor and play nearly the entire first three quarters of what was perhaps the Sun’s best game of the season.

Jones scored 18 of her 22 points in the first half as Connecticut rolled the Dallas Wings, 102-72, before 6,284 and secured themselves an invaluable double-bye to the WNBA’s best-of-five semifinal series.

“Obviously, I’m stressed out thinking about (my family), but I used basketball as my little outlet and try not to think about that stuff when I’m on the court,” Jones said. “It’s been helping out a lot, honestly.”

Jones made 7 of 10 shots in the first half and finished with seven rebounds. She didn’t leave the game until there were 12 seconds left in the third quarter when she finally let head coach Curt Miller know that she needed a rest.

“We wanted that (top) two seed, so that was the only thing that was on my mind,” Jones said. “I felt great out there. I didn’t want to come out.

"History has shown that it’s (the earlier rounds) not been too good to us, so we’re happy to be in the situation where we feel like we can really put our best foot forward and show the type of level we play at. We’re excited to be the two seed right now. Hopefully we can bump it up. But it’s a blessing and I think we’ve worked really hard, so it just shows that it’s a combination of everybody’s effort.”

Connecticut (23-9) is second in the overall standings and has a shot at the No. 1 seed. It trails the Washington Mystics (24-8) by a game and holds the head-to-head tiebreaker. Both teams have two games left in the regular season.

The double-bye to the WNBA semifinals is coveted because it allows the top two seeds to avoid the single elimination, one-and-done first and second rounds.

The Sun really wanted that double bye after being eliminated in the second round on their home court the last two years. They were the fourth seed and were taken down by the Phoenix Mercury both times.

The first round of the playoffs is next Wednesday. The second-round games are Saturday and Sunday.

The semifinals start on Tuesday, Sept. 17.

Jones played 30 straight minutes Wednesday as Miller saw the benefit in doing so.

“(The game was) a little bit of a safe haven for her,” Miller said. “Get her out there and forget some of the troubles and worries and be able to have fun and play basketball. Then, when you saw that she had a laser focus and our players were really dialed-in to get her touches, we don’t always do that, and we got her touches and she was efficient. So we started to extend those minutes early.

“I also knew once we sat her down for a while that it would be hard to get her back in (to her flow). We were going to push her until she needed out. Right about the time she looked at me, I was going to (reserve post) Bri (Brianna Jones).

“I’m really happy and proud for JJ. It’s not been an easy few days.”

The Sun announced after the game that all cash sales from Game 1 of their home semifinal will go towards Bahamas’ hurricane relief.

Alyssa Thomas had 13 points, five rebounds and five assists for Connecticut and Courtney Williams had nine points, eight rebounds and seven assists. Also, Morgan Tuck scored 17, Shekinna Stricklen and Brionna Jones both had 11 points, and Jasmine Thomas scored 10.

It was the most points the Sun scored in a game this season. They shot a better percentage from the 3-point line (47.8) than Dallas did from the field (42.1).

Arike Ogunbowale kept her strangle-hold on the 2019 Rookie of the Year award for Dallas (10-21). She made 10 of 21 shots and scored a game-high 32 with five assists.

Connecticut looked motivated early to secure the double bye. It began an 18-4 run late in the first quarter and extended it into the early part of the second to take a 30-16 lead. It never led by less than double digits.

“We might as well just get it done sooner (securing the double bye) than waiting around and putting it in other people’s hands,” Jasmine Thomas said. “We knew we would come out with energy.”

The Sun led 33-22 with 5 minutes, 2 seconds left in the half when they really took off.

Jones started the run with a putback off Jasmine Thomas’ missed free throw. Williams followed with a 3-pointer, Tuck drove for a layup, and Jones tipped in a missed running layup by Williams to push Connecticut ahead 42-22.

Jones ended the half with a three-point play to give the Sun a 49-26 lead.

Jones opened the second half with two free throws. Her layup pushed Connecticut’s lead to 71-43 with 1:02 remaining in the quarter when Miller began to pull the starters.

Tuck’s 3-pointer put the Sun over the century mark and gave them their largest lead, 102-67, with 1:06 left in the game.

“We know what that (double bye) does for us,” Miller said. “We wanted to take the next step, and I give them credit. They grinded the entire year to give themselves that opportunity.”

Jasmine Thomas honored

Jasmine Thomas received August’s WNBA Cares Community Assist Award for her work with the league’s Breast Health Awareness initiative. She visited two survivors at Yale New Haven Health’s Smilow Cancer Hospital and had the attend the Sun’s Rock the Pink game. Thomas also hosted a postgame dinner on Aug. 18 with more than 80 guests that raised nearly $6,000 for the Kay Yow Cancer Fund.

Sharon Thomas, Jasmine’s mother, is a breast cancer survivor.

“I am extremely passionate about Breast Health Awareness because of my connection to it,” Thomas said. “Aligning myself with the Kay Yow Fund and what they stand for with their mission to raise money for cancer research and serve the underserved is so important to me. I have committed myself to being someone who can bring the Kay Yow Fund to the WNBA and make the connection. Cancer affects our entire community.”

Playoff tickets on sale Thursday

Tickets for Game 1 and 2 of Connecticut’s semifinals series go on sale Thursday at noon. Tickets start at $23 and may be purchased at ConnecticutSun.com.

Game 2 off the semifinals is Thursday, Sept. 19. Games 3 and 4 will be hosted by the lower seed on Sept. 22 and 24, respectively. If necessary, Game 5 will be played at Mohegan Sun Arena on Thursday, Sept. 26.

n.griffen@theday.com

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