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Desperate to make playoffs, Chicago wears down tired Sun

Playing their fifth game in 11 days, a fatigued Connecticut Sun team didn’t have enough in the tank to overcome a red-hot Chicago offense.

Chris Marion/Getty Images

Uncasville, CT—With the crescendo of the WNBA season approaching when the playoffs begin in two weeks, it marks a time of year particularly ripe for fatigue to wreak havoc on teams. The Connecticut Sun learned that lesson the hard way tonight.

Seeking to gut out their fourth win in the last 11 days, it all caught up to the Sun in a 96-83 loss to a Chicago Sky team fighting to keep their playoff hopes alive.

Remarkably, the Sky pulled off a feat that only one other team has been able to accomplish in Connecticut’s last 11 home games —stealing a win at the Mohegan Sun Arena. Fatigue on the part of Connecticut aside, the main factor to which Chicago owes its success was a dominant offensive performance from tip-off to the final buzzer.

“We almost got through it, but it caught up to us tonight,” said Sun head coach Curt Miller. “We looked like the tired team. They did a really good job of moving, and attacking us...Really up-tempo, really moving people. Their guards are so talented and such good passers.”

A Sun team playing a “step slow,” as Jasmine Thomas referenced during the halftime interview, combined with a Chicago offense that loves to play fast and gouge teams in transition, allowed the Sky to create separation in the second quarter. In fact, pace was a huge point of emphasis in Chicago’s preparation for the Sun.

“We play fast and that is part of our style of play too,” said Sky head coach Amber Stocks. “Both of us are in the top of the league in field goal attempts per game. So yes, we wanted to play our style—in hopes that not only would it be a strength of ours, but it might be able to take advantage of a potential weakness in Connecticut.”

A 12-4 Sky run in the waning minutes of the second frame led to a 47-37 Chicago lead at intermission.

The Sky’s continued offensive prowess stifled any hopes of a Connecticut comeback. Chicago shot 50% from the floor and made 7-of-18 three-pointers. In addition to Allie Quigley’s brilliance in the fast-break and midrange jumpers, her teammate Jordan Hooper did the damage from beyond the arc — hitting a career-high four three-pointers.

Nothing tells the story of elite ball movement better than assist totals, and Chicago dished 25 to Connecticut’s 12. Courtney Vandersloot earned the premier facilitator award tonight as she accounted for 12 of those assists.

“We had great synchronization with our offensive strategies as well as our defense,” said Coach Stocks. “Cappie (Pondexter) once again had a clutch performance in key moments and when Sloot (Courtney Vandersloot) is distributing the ball the way she does, good things happen for us. I thought our inside game was impressive—especially with Adut Bulgak coming in and making such a solid impact not only in scoring, but in rebounding.”

In total, six Chicago players touched double figure scoring. The usual suspects of Jessica Breland, Stefanie Dolson, Cappie Pondexter, and Quigley created shots for themselves, but two huge scoring contributions came from the supporting cast. Hooper and Adut Bulgak, who made her debut with the Sky tonight, had 12 and 14 points, respectively.

While Chicago’s offensive firepower was simply too much to overcome, the pride of a Sun team that reckons to be a force in the playoffs shined through. Alyssa Thomas crashed the paint and ended the night with 14 while a small in frame, but large on heart, Courtney Williams, contributed 11. Jonquel Jones had a quiet night offensively with six points but went to work on the glass with 11 rebounds.

“Somewhere along the line we just didn’t make the plays we needed to make and we didn’t get the rest when we needed it to kind of make that last push,” said Sun guard Jasmine Thomas. “But we had some people off the bench and do a lot of really good things for us tonight. Going into the post-season that’s definitely a positive.”

From the start, it was evident Connecticut was going to have to contend with weary legs. Yet, the Sun didn’t surrender victory without resistance. The Sky earned it through supreme pacing and balanced scoring for 40 minutes. Their ability to stretch the floor with Dolson and Breland forced an already compromised Connecticut defense to make choices. Chicago’s backcourt stepped up and executed the shots that their bigs created for them.

“We were going to have to score a lot of points against a high-scoring Connecticut team,” said Sky guard Vandersloot. “We had a lot of people step up off the bench, making big shots and big plays. Stefanie (Dolson) was great defensively to take J.J. (Jonquel Jones) pretty much out of the game.”

The Sky face a brutal back-to-back stretch in which they head to Madison Square Garden to take on the New York Liberty, Sunday at 3 pm ET. The Sun also hit the road for a three-game swing that will be punctuated by a regular season finale against the Los Angeles Sparks next Sunday.

Chicago sits just outside of the rankings to make the playoffs, however, with tonight’s win, the door remains open for the Sky to sneak in.