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    CT Sun
    Friday, January 27, 2023

    Charles gives Sun boost in win over Sparks

    Connecticut Sun forward Kaila Charles celebrates a basket against the Los Angeles Sparks in Saturday's WNBA matchup at Mohegan Sun Arena. Charles, who came off the bench to spell starter Jonquel Jones, with Jones in foul trouble, scored all 12 of her points in the second half to give the first-place Sun the lift they needed in a 76-61 victory. It was the eighth straight win for the Sun (20-6). (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    Mohegan — The Connecticut Sun struggled back in June when Jonquel Jones, their WNBA MVP candidate, took a leave of absence to play with the Bosnia and Herzegovina national team at the FIBA Women's EuroBasket tournament.

    The Sun have gradually learned how to succeed without her.

    Reserve Kaila Charles scored 10 of her 12 points in the fourth quarter as Connecticut downed the shorthanded Los Angeles Sparks on Saturday night, 76-61, before 4,434 at Mohegan Sun Arena.

    The Sun (20-6) are in first place in the overall WNBA standings and have won eight straight. It’s their longest winning streak since winning 12 straight in 2006. It was also the second time in three days that they beat the Sparks.

    Connecticut went 2-3 when Jones was away in June. She struggled with fouls Saturday for the second straight game. She picked up three fouls in the first five minutes of the third quarter. The last was her fourth and she went to the bench with 4 minutes, 41 seconds left in the period.

    Charles, a second-year guard, entered the game and gave the Sun's offense the spark they needed. She played over 20 minutes and shot 5 of 7 from the floor, including three layups, scoring all 12 of her points in the second half.

    “Kaila Charles was just fantastic and it was her energy,” Miller said. “We don’t play always with great pace intentionally but when Kaila gets in, when (rookie) DiJonai (Carrington) gets in, we can get behind defenses. We can get an occasional fast break layup behind (defenses) and you saw Kaila do that. ... Her minutes were huge.”

    Brionna Jones had her first double-double of the season (16 points, 15 rebounds) along with three steals and Jonquel Jones added 14 points and seven rebounds in over 23 minutes.

    DeWanna Bonner had 10 points and seven rebounds, Briann January had 10 points and four rebounds and Jasmine Thomas five assists and three steals for Connecticut.

    Erica Wheeler had 15 points and seven assists for the Sparks (10-16) and Te’a Cooper scored 13. Nneka Ogwumike struggled with foul trouble and scored seven points in 24 minutes.

    Los Angeles was once again hampered by injuries, as both starting off-guard Kristi Toliver (left hand) and reserve post Chiney Ogwumike (right knee) were out. The latter returned to action on Aug. 22 having not played since May 28 due to a knee injury. Nneka Ogwumike has played just 12 games due to a knee injury of her own.

    Connecticut is 1.5 games ahead of the second-place Las Vegas Aces (19-7).

    The top two teams in the overall standings receive a double-bye to the best-of-five WNBA semifinals. The third and fourth seeds earn a bye to the single-elimination second round. The fifth-through-eighth seeds play in the single-elimination first round.

    The Sun used a 23-7 run with over five minutes left in the third quarter to finally put some distance between them and the Sparks.

    January started the run with an open 3 and Brionna Jones made a driving layup. Charles followed with a layup of her own when she got behind the defense in transition. Jones added another to push the Sun ahead 56-45 with 1:35 left in the quarter.

    Thomas made a 16-foot runner at the buzzer to give Connecticut a 58-47 lead.

    Charles opened the fourth with an 18-foot jumper as the shot clock was running down. January followed with a 3 and Charles made back-to-back layups, the latter which she turned into a three-point play, to extend the Sun’s lead to 68-50 with 7:05 remaining in the game.

    “(I was) just being aggressive to the rim,” Charles said. “My teammates were putting me in good spots. ... Just being an opportunist and scoring within our system.”

    Beatrice Mompremier ended the run with a driving layup to give Connecticut its largest lead, 70-50, with 6:20 left.

    The Sun struggled in the first quarter and turned it over six times in the first 7:12. They nearly had as many turnovers (10) as they had field goals (13) in the first half.

    The Sun also couldn't take advantage when Nneka Ogwumike went to the bench with her third foul with 8:01 left in the first half. The Sparks made just four field goals the rest of the half ... but they were all 3-pointers. Nia Coffey made two of them, the last with 29 seconds left as the Sun led 40-37 at halftime.

    “If you went in that locker room right now, they want to be better,” Miller said. “They want us to handle the physicality. They want us to execute better. They’re not satisfied. They want to be better and it’s great to have peer accountability.”

    January said: “If we’re really going to be a championship team, we're going to have to hold ourselves to a higher standard. We can’t allow teams to force us to play lower than what we’re capable of. That’s where we need growth. Our expectations are to play at a championship level every time we step on the court.”

    Change Can’t Wait

    Connecticut held its first “Change Can’t Wait” game on Saturday, named after the social justice platform it established last season.

    The platform’s mission “is to create positive change for all marginalized groups with a focus on black and brown communities within Connecticut and New England, through year-round partnerships, advocacy, events, educational initiatives & materials and player appearances that move to eradicate systemic racism and oppression.”

    The pandemic has impacted the players’ outreach this season.

    “That’s been the hard part, just staying safe while trying to continue that work,” January said. “If we could, we’d be out in the community; that’s where we want to be, impacting the people around us and supporting us and educating (people)."


    Connecticut Sun forward Jonquel Jones passes the ball away from pressure from Los Angeles Sparks center Amanda Zahui B (1) and guard Arella Guirantes in WNBA action Saturday at Mohegan Sun Arena. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    Connecticut Sun guard DiJonai Carrington fouls Los Angeles Sparks guard Arella Guirantes in Saturday's game at Mohegan Sun Arena. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    Connecticut Sun guard Jasmine Thomas celebrates a 3-pointer by teammate Briann January in Saturday's game against the Los Angeles Sparks. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    Injured Connecticut Sun forward Alyssa Thomas gives advice to teammates from the sideline against the Los Angeles Sparks on Saturday. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    Connecticut Sun players celebrate a second-half run Saturday, prompting a timeout by the Los Angeles Sparks. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    Sun Sparks Photo Gallery

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