Three Takeaways: The Sun have their sights set beyond playoff berth

UNCASVILLE, CONNECTICUT- August 8: Alex Bentley /

With Connecticut’s 96-88 win over Dallas and San Antonio’s win over Atlanta, the Sun officially clinched a 2017 playoff spot. Connecticut began the first month of the season with a 1-5 record, dropping the first four games of the season.  The Sun are 5-1 in their last six games and have definitively turned the corner.

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“I’m really proud of the way we played,” said Sun head coach and general manager, Curt Miller post-game. However, the Sun are far from finished meeting their 2017 season goals. Here are three takeaways from tonight’s win in the context of Connecticut’s impressive season.

It’s how you finish

Early in the season, it would have been easy to count Connecticut out for 2017 after the team dropped four straight games.  Instead, the Sun won the first five games of June to improve to 8-7 by July 1. The team learned how to finish out games.  “To win over 80% of our games from our 1-5 start is a credit to their belief, and how hard they work, and how much they are a family,” shared Miller.

By the All-Star break, Connecticut was jockeying for first place in the Eastern Conference with the Washington Mystics.  After tonight’s win, Connecticut sits third overall in the standings with a 17-9 record.On the other side of tonight’s loss, a strong finish is precisely what has evaded Dallas, especially in the last two games.  The Wings lost 101-100 in a nail-biter with Phoenix Thursday night.

Tonight the Wings battled through eight ties and five lead changes before falling 96-88.  “It’s really tough,” said Glory Johnson after Saturday’s road loss, “what probably lost us [those] games was when other teams made runs, and we [didn’t] answer.”  The Wings are a quick and aggressive team known for pushing the pace. However, defensive stops evade them too often. Johnson continued. “We’re keeping the game within two, three points, and then all of a sudden, they’re making runs, and we’re not picking up off of that.”

The Wings are a quick and aggressive team that pushes the pace. However, defensive stops evade them too often. Johnson continued. “We’re keeping the game within two, three points, and then all of a sudden, they’re making runs, and we’re not picking up off of that.”  Dallas currently sits in 7th place in the league but will need to tighten up defensively if they hope to claim of the of the five playoff spots remaining.

Next player up

According to Miller, a huge part of the Sun’s success, this season has been the ability for the entire roster to contribute.  Tonight, all five Sun starters hit double digits in points. Alyssa Thomas led the Sun with 21 points and 13 rebounds – all defensive boards. The bench added ten points, led by Jasmine Thomas, who returned from injury tonight. Thomas was limited to one-minute stretches of play, and players like Morgan Tuck and Rachel Banham are still getting back their feel after nagging injuries.  Despite the bumps, the players have found a way to positively contribute. “It’s next man up,” said Miller about his revolving door of injured players. “They’re just playing through the aches and pains of the point of the season that we’re at.”

One of the players given more responsibility since the injury to Jasmine Thomas is Alex Bentley. In her fifth WNBA season, Bentley is averaging 8.4 points and 2.8 assists in 23.8 minutes per game.  Bentley has started the last two games and posted double-digit points in the last five games.  “She’s been really good, since being inserted into the starting lineup … about getting herself to the basket.” She went 5 of 15 from the floor en route to 12 points and five assists. “Now if we can just get her three-point [shot] going, confidence back at the arc, what a weapon to have,” shared Miller.

The best is yet to come

“There’s no easy games, everyone fighting for playoff spots,” said Miller of the road ahead.  Connecticut has eight remaining regular season games.  Of their remaining opponents, only the Atlanta Dream currently sit out of the top eight teams in the league.  After Tuesday, all of the Sun’s opponents are clawing for a top four seed and a first round bye.

While Miller is proud of clinching, there is still more to accomplish, “The locker room certainly has bigger goals so now we’ll fight for position and a very, very important potential bye.” After her first game back, Jasmine Thomas added, “I don’t even think we’ve completely shown the extent of our depth. True to the next man up theme of this Connecticut season, Thomas is convinced there is talent ready to fully bloom leading into the final stretch. “There are still people who aren’t getting minutes who can probably contribute to this team. They’ll be ready when it’s their time and that’s what makes us so good.”