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    CT Sun
    Monday, January 30, 2023

    Defensive Sun host Sky in Game 1 of WNBA semifinal series

    Connecticut Sun forward Jonquel Jones blocks a shot attempt by New York Liberty guard Jazmine Jones (4) during a Sept. 15 game at Mohegan Sun Arena. The top-seeded Sun begin the push for their first WNBA championship on Tuesday when they host the Chicago Sky in Game 1 of their best-of-five WNBA semifinal playoff series. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    Mohegan — Not every basketball player is willing to play defense. Some may say they're willing, but they aren't. It requires a different mindset. It requires something …

    "Off or on (with one's brain)," Connecticut Sun guard Briann January said with a laugh.

    Top-seeded Connecticut hosts the sixth-seeded Chicago Sky in Game 1 of a best-of-five WNBA semifinal series on Tuesday at Mohegan Sun Arena (8 p.m., ESPN2). Everyone who follows the team knows what has gotten it this far — defense, rebounding, and more defense.

    Connecticut has been special defensively this season which allowed them to tie the franchise record for most single-season wins (26) and set single-season records for fewest losses (six) and best winning percentage (.813).

    The Sun also bring a franchise-record 14-game winning streak into the playoffs, the fourth-longest in WNBA history.

    Connecticut also made WNBA history on Sunday, becoming the first team to have four players earn All-Defensive honors in a season. Forward Jonquel Jones and January both made first team and center Brionna Jones and Jasmine Thomas were on the second team. Fellow starter DeWanna Bonner (forward) was second team in 2015.

    It was the seventh time January received All-Defensive honors (including five first-team awards). It was Thomas' fifth, a second for Jonquel Jones and a first for Brionna Jones.

    "You just have to have some grit to you," January said. "(Some) 'I'm not going to give up' in you. It's a dirty job. It's tough and it takes a lot of energy, effort, focus, preparation. You see the good defenders and even when they get fatigued, they're able to be in good position. The mental, the physical, you put them together."

    Connecticut became the first team in 10 seasons to hold opponents under 70 points a game. The Sun and the 2011 Seattle Storm both allowed 69.9 points per game. They held opponents under 70 in 18 of their 32 regular-season games.

    "You have to have some stubbornness," January said about being a good defender. "(There's) no quit in you. You can't have it."

    Chicago (18-16) reached the semifinals by knocking off the seventh-seeded Dallas Wings last Thursday (81-64) and the third-seeded Minnesota Lynx on Sunday (89-76).

    The Sky play at one of the fastest tempos in the league. They're third in pace, an advanced metric that estimates how many possessions a team has per 40 minutes (the Sun have the lowest).

    Chicago had five players average double-figures in scoring — wing Kahleah Copper (14.4 ppg, 4.2 rpg), two-time WNBA MVP forward-center Candace Parker (13.3 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 4 apg, 1.2 bpg), sharpshooting off-guard Allie Quigley (13.2 ppg, 45.4-percent from behind the arc), guard Diamond DeShields (11.3 ppg) and Courtney Vandersloot (10.5 ppg, league-high 8.6 apg, 1.7 spg), Vandersloot is widely regarded as one of the best pure point guards in the world.

    The Sky and Seattle were the only teams to win a season series against Connecticut, the Sky going 2-1. Jonquel Jones missed all three games against Chicago due to overseas commitments while head coach Curt Miller missed two of those games after his mother had a stroke.

    "They're tremendous offensively," Miller said about the Sky. "You can really see how hard they're playing late in the season. That really translates to their tempo and offensive attack."

    Chicago scored 22 points off 20 Lynx turnovers on Sunday.

    "Defensively, it's where they've really increased their effort," Miller said. "They're playing with a lot of disruption at the point-of-attack."

    n.griffen@theday.com

    Connecticut Sun defenders Briann January (20) and Jonquel Jones trap Atlanta Dream guard Courtney Williams on the sideline during a Sept. 19 game at Mohegan Sun Arena. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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