By Jared Anderson
Uncasville, CT — With the New York Liberty playing on foreign soil against the Connecticut Sun Wednesday night inside the Mohegan Sun Arena, Center Tina Charles sought out to hastily establish the team’s empire state of mind on the hardwood. However, unfortunately for Charles and the Liberty, the Sun possessed its own notable artillery that included a 6-foot-6 Bahamian center, Jonquel Jones.
In a matchup where Charles returned to the organization that had once drafted her as the first overall pick in the 2010 WNBA draft, the 6-foot-4 UConn Alumna was unable to lead the Liberty to victory, as Jones thrived in front of a home crowd. Instead, Jones furthered her double-double average this season with 19 points and 12 rebounds en route to a 96-76 triumph.
“I think it’s coming out and starting the game really strong,” Jones said. “Just playing smart with Tina Charles and understanding that we want to make other people score.”
Although Connecticut entered the matchup with an underwhelming a 3-5 record, the Sun’s confidence rightfully flourished entering the game on a two-game win streak that included a 33-point victory over the Atlanta Dream.
That confidence allowed Connecticut to manufacture a swift 11-4 run as the first quarter fell underway, sending a clear message to New York that a victory isn’t given inside Mohegan Sun Arena, it’s earned. With the noteworthy efforts of Jones on both ends of the floor as well as Alyssa and Jasmine Thomas’ hot hands early in the first, the Liberty were stunned by the Sun, despite coming off of a four-game win streak.
As Connecticut’s starting lineup performed at an elite level from the get-go, the team furthered its dominant performance, as guard Courtney Williams contributed nine points on 4-of-5 shooting with five minutes remaining in the second.
Though Liberty guard Shavonte Zellous posted 13 points heading into the half, her lone double-figure scoring was overpowered by the Sun’s desire to provide minimal breathing room to its opponent. Connecticut’s tenacious defense in the final moments of the second opened the door for only a poor one-handed perimeter failed shot attempt from Liberty guard Sugar Rodgers, a true representation of the team’s struggles throughout the first half.
To the surprise of many, Connecticut now entered the half with a 13-point lead.
Marching to the floor with aspirations of a brighter performance, the Liberty looked to cut away at the 13-point deficit in the third. However, once again, the Sun had a different outcome in mind after failing to defeat the Liberty in any of their three meetings last season.
Connecticut’s head-turning ball movement and unselfish play prompted quick baskets from Jones and Alyssa Thomas. Though Charles’ three at the end of the third was able to prevent a 20-point deficit entering the fourth, Jones had a rapid answer for every play, pushing the ball up the floor on back-to-back Connecticut possessions. Her determination was rewarded, as her powerful drive-to-the-hoop mentality resulted in a physical basket over Charles and an and-one on the following play.
“In this league, no one goes away, so if your intensity fluctuates, the game can change really quickly,” Jones said. “We did a great job of making sure that we were locked in all the way through.”
After kicking off the fourth quarter down 74-56, New York was faced with overcoming a significant obstacle in order to capture its seventh win this season. However, fueled by the energy of their fans, the Sun refused to let up, as Jones, Alyssa Thomas, and Williams piled on buckets.
Even though the fans were provided with a sense of security with the Sun continuing their double-digit lead throughout the fourth, the intensity within the team failed to decline, as Williams connected on a hard-fought and-one with 2:17 remaining.
Following the basket, Williams flexed to for the fans and let out a chilling yell, exhibiting her undeniable passion for the game. With the night coming to a conclusion, five Sun players notched double figures, including Alyssa Thomas, Jasmine Thomas, Jones, Williams and Rachel Banham.
“A big accomplishment and credit in that locker room to our players who really stayed in attack mode and shared the ball,” Connecticut head coach Curt Miller said. “This is the second straight game we’ve had five players in double figures, so they’re excited.”
“Two teams that we got swept by last year, Atlanta and New York,” Miller continued. “We got two big wins to stop long losing streaks against both teams, so I’m really pleased with how we’ve played these last few games and we want to keep the momentum going.”
Although Connecticut arguably had three starters out including Chiney Ogwumike, the Sun managed to pull-off an eyebrow-raising 20-point win. However, when one star goes away, others must emerge and step up to the plate. That was the case tonight for Connecticut forward Alyssa Thomas.
“We had to move [Thomas] out of necessity to the four and she’s defended tremendously well since we’ve asked her to go there,” Miller said. “Tonight she battled Tina and really, really made it difficult for her. We’ve shown a lot of attention to Tina, but individually, you have to give a lot of credit to Alyssa Thomas.”
Thomas capped off the night with 18 points, six rebounds, and five assists. Williams finished the night with a game-high 22 points.
Connecticut will look to build off of this victory and arrive with a similar persona and team-first mentality as it sets its sights on the undefeated Minnesota Lynx this Saturday. While there is no saying for sure what the future holds for this talented and willful group, there is no denying the potential the Sun possess.