Reserves provide spark as Suns beat Fever for third straight win
Mohegan — Curt Miller has emphasized over-and-over-and-over-and-over that it's going to take time to figure out how to incorporate all of the Connecticut Sun's talent together.
Miller and the Sun have learned early in this WNBA season that no matter who starts, they have a reliable bench that can come through for them.
Reserves DiJonai Carrington, Brionna Jones and Natisha Hiedeman all gave Connecticut a third-quarter boost to beat the Indiana Fever 94-85 on Friday night before 4,428 at Mohegan Sun Arena.
Jones, Carrington and Hiedeman combined to score 17 of the team's 26 points in the third quarter. That helped the Sun go from leading by two at halftime (37-35) to a 63-51 edge after three.
"I'm really pleased (with the bench)," Miller said. "I think we are deeper this year than we've ever been offensively since I've been here (he was hired on Dec. 17, 2015).
Hiedeman had 10 points, four assists and four steals for Connecticut (3-1), Carrington had 11 points, three offensive rebounds and two steals, and Jones added 11 points and four rebounds.
The Sun drafted Jones, a post, eighth overall (first round) in 2017 and she was a reserve her first three years. She moved into the starting lineup in 2020 when starter Jonquel Jones took the season due to the COVID-19 pandemic and came into her own.
Brionna Jones started again last year after Alyssa Thomas tore her Achilles while playing overseas in Jan. 2021 and missed all but the final two games of the regular season. Jones would go on to earn WNBA Most Improved Player honors. She's moved back to the bench this with Jonquel Jones, DeWanna Bonner and Alyssa Thomas starting in the front court.
Hiedeman, a guard, joined the team in 2019. Connecticut drafted Carrington, a wing, 20th overall (second round) in 2021.
"We have sparks offensively," Miller said. "Moving Brionna Jones to the bench, she's a starter in this league. She's an all-star in this league. Natisha has really come into her own and she's one of our best scoring guards period. .... And then DiJonai's energy is contagious and I just love how hard she plays. She doesn't play scared. She may make mistakes, but she keeps playing through them."
Jonquel Jones (19 points, eight rebounds), Thomas (17 points, seven rebounds, three steals) and Bonner (18 points, four assists) gave the Sun six players who scored in double figures.
Kelsey Mitchell scored a game-high 23 for Indiana (2-5) and Victoria Vivians added 15 points.
The teams play again Sunday afternoon at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis (2 p.m., NESN Plus).
Indiana shot better than the Sun, 54 percent to 43.7 percent.
Connecticut made up for it by having more free throw attempts (29 to 13), second-chance points (23-9) and points off turnovers (28-16).
Neither team could build much of a lead until Connecticut did so with less than five minutes left in the third quarter. Jonquel Jones had a putback and a block moments later that set up a Carrington layup.
Indiana's Destanni Henderson made a floating jumper on the other end, but Alyssa Thomas answered moments later with a layup to put Connecticut ahead, 54-49, with 2 minutes, 53 seconds left in the third.
Carrington was fouled after getting an offensive rebound and made two free throws and Brionna Jones turned a layup into a three-point play as the Sun extended their lead to 61-51 with 49.4 seconds left in the quarter, their first double-digit lead.
Indiana managed to cut its deficit to 73-67 with over four minutes left when Jonquel Jones made two free throws. Hiedeman followed with a steal that led to a three-point play on the other end by Thomas that gave Connecticut a 78-67 advantage with 4:27 remaining.
Another Hiedeman steal resulted in Bonner making a three that gave the Sun an 81-71 edge with 3:16 left.
"We're proud of them," Jones said about Connecticut's bench. "We need that the rest of the season. It's also a focus. We talked to Curt about it. We need that (when) we get later in the season (when) we play so (many) minutes as starters that we kind of get worn down, especially in the playoffs when we're battling against teams night in and night off.
"There is an emphasis on making sure that our bench is prepared because we're going to need it. You're seeing that."
News and notes
Indiana reserve Aliana Coates picked up three fouls in 1:05 of the first half. ... Hall of Famer and WNBA legend Yolanda Griffith was seated courtside for the game. Griffith was a seven-time WNBA All-Star with Sacramento Monarchs, the 1999 MVP and Defensive Player of the Year and was instrumental in helping the franchise beat Connecticut in four games to win the 2005 WNBA title. She was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame last year. ... Amber Cox, the former vice president of Mohegan Sun Sports, also attended the game. She was hired on Oct. 13, 2016, and left the franchise on Feb. 15, 2021, to become the Chief Operating Officer for the Kansas City Current of the National Women's Soccer League.
Sun Fever photo gallery
To see more photos from the Sun Fever game click here.
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