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Connecticut Sun don’t shine, BG wrongfully detained and other women’s basketball happenings

Here’s why the Connecticut Sun dropped their opening game of the 2022 WNBA season to the New York Liberty. Also catch up on other women’s hoops news about Brittney Griner, Diamond DeShields and C. Vivian Stringer.

Connecticut Sun v New York Liberty
Alyssa Thomas prepares to challenge Michaela Onyenwere during the Sun’s season-opening loss to the Liberty.
Photo by Steven Freeman/NBAE via Getty Images

It was not a shining start to the Connecticut Sun’s 2022 season. Due to stretches of sloppy play, Connecticut fell to the New York Liberty, 81-79, in a Commissioner’s Cup contest on Saturday afternoon at Barclays Center.

In the first quarter, the Sun looked like the squad we expected to see, showing off some stifling defense, totaling five blocks and four steals as they limited the Liberty to 12 points and 23.5 percent shooting. They used this defense to generate scoring opportunities, with 12 of their 19 points coming via fast break.

However, Connecticut allowed New York, specifically Sabrina Ionescu, to get loose in the second quarter, surrendering 13 points to Ionescu and 26 to New York. Permitting the Liberty to get buckets prevented the Sun from getting out on the break for easy points.

And easy points proved important for the Sun, as they labored to generate good offense in the half court.

Unsurprisingly, reigning MVP Jonquel Jones received much attention from the Liberty defense, which she, and her teammates, struggled to navigate. Passes to Jones too often tended to be off target and, when she got the ball, she was swarmed by multiple defenders. Jones was inefficient, managing 15 points on 17 shot attempts. She made only two of her seven 3-point attempts and got to the line for only a single free throw.

Without Jones providing the production expected, the Sun’s halfcourt offense mostly stalled, making them dependent on transition offense. This meant the Sun needed their defense to be sharp in order to juice their offense.

In the third quarter, Connecticut unleashed the disruptive defense necessary, with 10 steals and six blocks. Led by Alyssa Thomas, who scored 14 of her 25 points in the period, the Sun had nine points off turnovers and seven fast break buckets, contributing to their 29 points in the quarter.

This total could have—should have—been higher, as the Sun also failed to take care of the ball, allowing the Liberty to turn them over 15 times and score eight points off these give aways.

In the Sun season preview, we suggested ball security could be a bellwether for the Sun. The combination of personnel and prior performance indicated that Connecticut would excel at taking the ball from other teams, but also could be susceptible to too often giving it back. Their opening game exhibited this duality.

Then, in a tightly contested fourth quarter, the Sun lacked the shotmaking necessary to overcome the Liberty. That the Sun did not adequately execute when defending the Liberty’s five-out attack also did not help things.

The eventual returns of Courtney Williams, who was serving the first game of a two-game suspension, and DeWanna Bonner, who is still overseas, certainly will help the Sun. While both players are streaky shooters, they are half court scoring threats whose presences can prevent teams from loading up on Jonquel Jones. On the other end, Bonner’s length, in particular, should bolster Connecticut’s perimeter defense.

Yet, as this opening game made clear, the Sun must be sharper if they want to approach their championship ambitions.

Brittney Griner wrongfully detained

During the opening weekend of the 2022 WNBA season, the WNBA and its players made sure to spotlight the absence of Brittney Griner, as the Phoenix Mercury superstar remains detained in Russia.

Last week, the Biden administration shifted their language when describing Griner’s circumstance, declaring her to be wrongfully detained. Wrongful detainment means the US government will begin to negotiate for her release, instead of allowing her case to proceed through the Russian legal system.

While all WNBA courts will feature a “BG 42” graphic in support of Griner, her Mercury teammates wore “We are BG 42” warm-up shirts. After an opening night victory, members of the Washington Mystics surrounded Natasha Cloud as she read a statement calling for justice for Griner. Breanna Stewart, among other WNBA players, has used her social media platform to likewise call for action by the Biden administration.

Diamond in the rough

From the outside, it appeared Diamond DeShields had a pair of disappointing seasons.

After blossoming into an All-Star in 2019, she seemed fated for superstardom. Instead, her subsequent two seasons featured uneven play and nagging injuries. During the Chicago Sky’s run to the 2021 WNBA championship, DeShields, presumed to be the franchise’s future fulcrum, played a relatively minor role, averaging 5.5 points in approximately 15 minutes per game. This offseason, the Sky did not retain DeShields, as she signed with the Phoenix Mercury.

Yet, there was more to DeShield’s story. Much more.

In an interview with Holly Rowe for ESPN’s Outside the Lines, DeShields disclosed the severe health scare she faced ahead of the 2020 season. In January 2020, she had surgery to remove a tumor on her spinal cord. The surgery, expected to take three hours, lasted nine hours. The tumor eventually was removed, but not without repercussions, as the nerves on her spine were impacted, resulting in her suffering involuntary tremors and spasms.

The rehabilitation process, which began with relearning to walk, was arduous.

In retrospect, it seems nearly miraculous that DeShields would join her teammates in the 2020 wubble. And that she then would start 22 of Chicago’s 32 regular-season games in 2021.

Her story also is a reminder that, as observers and analysts of women’s basketball, we often only see a slice of players’ lives. While criticism is a part of the coverage of the sport, it should be done with a sense of grace and compassion.

C. Vivian Stringer sails into the sunset

After 50 seasons and 1,055 wins, C. Vivian Stringer announced her retirement from coaching. Having led the Rutgers since 1995, she began her head coaching career at Cheyney State in 1971 before leaving to become the head coach at Iowa in 1983.

Over the course of Stringer’s coaching career, the sands of women’s college basketball significantly shifted. Yet, as evidenced by her longevity, Stringer ably adapted.

In the sport’s early days, before the rise of Power Five programs prevented smaller programs from attaining sustainable national success, Stringer turned Cheyney State into a team to be contended with, taking the Wolves to the Final Four in 1982. From there, she began to build Iowa into one of the Big Ten’s, and the nation’s, most elite programs, winning six Big Ten titles and taking the Hawkeyes to the Final Four in 1993. That Stringer, a Black woman, lifted a stereotypically lily-white Iowa to such heights testifies to her adaptability and versatility as a head coach.

In leaving for Rutgers in 1995, Stringer again would exhibit these traits. At Rutgers, she would lead majority-Black teams to the pinnacle of the sport, with Final Four berths in 2000 and 2007. All the while, she gracefully dealt with racist and sexist attacks on her team.

Stringer’s legacy, certainly, will live on. A growing number of Black women, in part due to Stringer’s demonstrated success, are, finally, getting the opportunity to lead top programs.

Stringer’s former players also are some of the most prominent players in the WNBA, with Kahleah Copper, Betnijah Laney, Erica Wheeler, Epiphany Prince and Kia Vaughn representing the current Stringer charges in the W.