UNCASVILLE, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut wasn’t supposed to be this good.
The Sun lost 2021 league MVP Jonquel Jones to New York and coach Curt Miller to Los Angeles in the offseason. however, they are 6-1 and lead the Eastern Conference. Next, two games this week against the defending champions and reigning Western Conference leaders, the Las Vegas Aces (6-0).
Games on Tuesday and Thursday at Mohegan Sun Arena will be the first between the teams since last year’s WNBA Finals.
Las Vegas was expected to continue its dominance after adding two-time MVP Candace Parker to an already loaded list.
Connecticut’s strong start under new coach Stephanie White has been more surprising, though perhaps not for her.
“You know, this group has had one of the best records in the league in the last, I don’t know how many years,” White said. “And yes, we lost a great piece, but we gained a lot of other pieces that complement our core group very well. And this core group has played together and they understand how to win and they understand that, you know, every day is going to be a battle, and they accept that.”
The Sun’s returning core includes DeWanna Bonner, who is averaging 16 ppg, Brionna Jones (14.9 ppg) and, perhaps most importantly, Alyssa Thomas (14.4 ppg). Thomas has six double-doubles in seven games and is averaging a league-high 11.6 rebounds along with a career-high 6.9 assists per game.
“She’s relentless,” White said. “She never stops. She has a high IQ. She demands excellence from those around her. And, you know, I think for me it’s a blessing and an advantage to be able to have someone with her toughness, energy and mentality on the court.”
The Sun are also at or near the top of the league in most defensive categories, giving up just 76.1 points per game and just 31.7 in the paint.
“I think we have a really smart group,” said Bonner, now in her 14th WNBA season. “I think we had a very good group last year defensively, but this year I think we have a lot of people, a lot of brave people who want to play defense.
“We know we have a lot of offensive power, but if we focus on defense, I really think this team is pretty unstoppable,” he added.
But the team still has a lot to prove. Each of their victories has been by fewer than 10 points, with the only loss being a 16-point blowout by the New York Liberty, who along with the Aces were picked preseason favorites to reach the Finals.
“I think every day we’re getting better,” Jones said. “We are closing out tight games and ending close games that we could have let slip away. But we are definitely working our way to these wins at the end.”
White said she’s excited for this week’s challenge, but her team doesn’t see the games against Las Vegas as a Finals rematch — her team is too different from the one that lost to the Aces last year.
“Although the season is a sprint and a marathon, we are still at the beginning of the season,” he said. “I think having the opportunity to go to Vegas a couple of times right now is really good for us to figure out where we’re pairing up with a team that won a championship and is favored to win a championship and where are some areas where the ones we must continue to grow and improve”.
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