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    Saturday, October 01, 2022

    Sun get off to flying start with easy win over Wings in Game 1

    Connecticut Sun forward Jonquel Jones (35) beats Dallas Wings center Awak Kuier (28) to a rebound during Game 1 of their WNBA first-round playoff series on Thursday night at Mohegan Sun Arena. The Sun rolled to a 93-68 victory. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    Connecticut Sun forward Alyssa Thomas (25) drives to the basket as Dallas Wings guard Allisha Gray (15) defends in WNBA first round playoff action Thursday at Mohegan Sun Arena. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    Connecticut Sun forward DiJonai Carrington (21) scores and is fouled by Dallas Wings forward Kayla Thornton (6) in WNBA first round playoff action Thursday at Mohegan Sun Arena. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    Mohegan — Connecticut Sun forward Alyssa Thomas grabbed a defensive rebound late in the third quarter of Thursday night’s WNBA playoff game and looked towards the other end of the floor.

    Thomas saw teammate Natisha Hiedeman sprinting downcourt in a 1-on-1 situation and, like a good quarterback, fired a deep pass to Hiedeman as she was cutting towards the rim for a layup, then broke out into a smile.

    “I saw her wide open, thought she had the advantage and let it go,” Thomas said.

    It was one of many highlight plays for third-seeded Connecticut that quarter. It used a 13-0 run to break away from the No. 6 Dallas Wings for a 93-68 win in Game 1 of a best-of-three first round series before 4,797 at Mohegan Sun Arena.

    “The game is certainly going to have runs and (the Wings) started off the third quarter and (cut our lead) to single digits,” Sun head coach Curt Miller said. “You wondered where the game was teetering. When we lost to them in the regular season (May 24) we had a disappointing third quarter.”

    Dallas outscored Connecticut in the third quarter of that game, 31-20, en route to an 85-77 win.

    “We talked about how good they’ve been coming out of the locker room” Miller continued, “and we answered their initial run in that third quarter with a big one of our own and it put the game out of reach, gave us some comfort and allowed us to get starters out of the game. With the exception of Alyssa, no one played 30 minutes.”

    Game 2 is Sunday afternoon at the same site (noon, Ch. 8).

    Game 3, if necessary, will be played on Wednesday, Aug. 24, at College Park Center in Arlington, Texas.

    Thomas had 15 points, 10 rebounds and 7 assists for the Sun and Jonquel Jones scored 19. DiJonai Carrington added 13 points, 6 rebounds and 2 steals, DeWanna Bonner scored 12 points and Courtney Williams had 10 points with 6 rebounds.

    Allisha Gray had 17 points and 5 rebounds for Dallas and Tyasha Harris had 13 points and 5 rebounds. Marina Mabrey also scored 11.

    The Wings were fourth in the league in scoring (82.9 ppg) during the regular season. They played some of their best basketball late and won six of their last eight games.

    “First thing I told my team was I didn’t recognize our team tonight,” Wings head coach Vickie Johnson said. “We went back to our old habits. Complaining, not taking accountability.”

    Connecticut put an emphasis on defending Teaira McCowan, the Wings’ 6-foot-7 center. She made just 2 of 6 field goals for 7 points and added 5 rebounds.

    McCowan averaged 17.4 points and 11.6 months in seven games this month prior to Thursday.

    “I think it was real obvious from the tip (that) JJ was really involved and engaged; playing hard and playing with a bunch of energy,” Miller said. “For Teaira to play nearly 30 minutes and get only six shots is a credit to JJ, Breezy (Brionna Jones). Everybody contributes (against) dominant low post players. You have to have good ball pressure. You have to try to disrupt them so the timing of (their) passes are off target.”

    Johnson said, “We’ve got to make sure that we understand what has gotten us to where we are today and that’s playing inside-out. There’s no way we can win with Tiera only taking six shots, right? We’ve got to pound the ball on the inside.”

    The Wings were without leading scorer Arike Ogunbowale (abdominal). She averaged 19.7 points during the regular season, tying her for third overall in the league. She had surgery on Aug. 9 and the team said at the time that she’d miss the first round.

    Dallas was just one of three teams to win a season series against the Sun. The other two were the top-seeded Las Vegas Aces and the No. 2 and defending champion Chicago Sky.

    The Wings cut a 10-point halftime deficit to 51-45 after two free throws by McCowan just 2 minutes, 24 seconds into the third quarter Thursday.

    Connecticut responded with a 13-0 run. Thomas made a reverse layup despite the presence of McCowan and Bonner turned a steal into an open layup on the other end.

    Williams followed with a pull-up jumper to put the Sun ahead, 57-45, with 5:23 left in the third.

    Jonquel Jones and Thomas made consecutive layups after a Dallas timeout and Hiedeman added a three to extend the Sun’s lead to 64-45 with 4:11 remaining in the third.

    “We just wanted to come out with the same intensity that we started the game with,” Jones said. “Third quarters for the regular season for us have been kind of an area where we didn’t come out as strong as we would’ve wanted to, so we kind of wanted to make sure that we put an emphasis on that and that we (have). … that playoff intensity.”

    Notes

    Thomas landed hard during the second half and came up grabbing her left hand. A few of her fingers were taped up after the game and she declined to say what happened. … Sun guard Odyssey Sims left the game with 1:30 remaining and ran back to the locker room. Miller said that she was feeling sick. … Dallas’ two assistant coaches are familiar faces to Connecticut basketball fans — Kelly Raimon (nee Schumacher) and Le’Coe Willingham. Willingham went undrafted in 2004 and was one of over a dozen free agents the Sun invited to training camp that spring. She battled her way onto the roster and played four seasons with Connecticut to become a fan favorite. She started for the Phoenix Mercury’s 2009 world championship team and won a second ring the following season with the Seattle Storm. Raimon played at UConn and had nine blocks in the Huskies’ 2000 national championship win.

    n.griffen@theday.com

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