Are Connecticut and Los Angeles trending in opposite directions headed into the playoffs?
More from High Post Hoops
- Bet $5 on Sparks vs. Sky, Win $150 Instantly with Limited-Time DraftKings Promo
- Cash in for Over $2,000 With WNBA Promo Bonuses from FanDuel & Caesars
- FanDuel WNBA Promo Code Gives You $2,500 Bonus for ANY Game Tonight!
- Unlock $200 GUARANTEED With Crazy DraftKings WNBA Promo
- Unlock Over $4,500 Bonus With 3 Best WNBA Sportsbook Promos!
UNCASVILLE, CT—About the only thing the Connecticut Sun and the Los Angeles Sparks had in common in Sunday afternoon was the absence of an Ogumike.
2016 MVP Nneka Ogwumike was scratched from the lineup due to illness, while Chiney Ogwumike rested a nagging knee injury ahead of the playoffs.
Other than that, the two teams appear to be on two different trajectories. Connecticut earned an 89-86 win to improve to 9-1 in their last ten games. Los Angeles finished the regular season 5-5 in its last ten. Curt Miller and the Sun are the only team from the 2017 WNBA Playoffs to return as a top four seed.
Los Angeles Struggles Early
Coming off a dramatic 69-67 loss to the Washington Mystics, the Sparks offense struggled. The team shot 34.1% (14-41) from the floor and 18.2% (2-11) beyond the arc. The Sparks trailed by as many as 19 points int he first half, but bounced back to nearly steal the game away in the waning minutes of the contest.
“They did a really good job of distorting our defense and finding shooters,” Sparks head coach Brian Agler told High Post Hoops following the game. “We had to find some answers to try to eliminate that happening and we did a better job of that as the game went on and gave ourselves a chance to get back in it.”
The Sparks outscored the Sun 45-37 in the final twenty minutes of the game, but could not finish the comeback. While disappointing to need such a drastic turnaround, Agler was not surprised by the fight his team showed.
“We have a motto up on our board a home,” Agler said. “Heart of a Champion. We showed that tonight, our standards are high, our season has been a roller coaster, disappointing at times, but not discouraging. You saw our ability to play at times and our thing is to get healthy and there are many teams us being one of them that can win this championship.”
Staying healthy is a key. Los Angeles has been without both Alana Beard and Nneka Ogwumike for stretches of the condensed 2018 season. Beard battled back from a groin injury, while Ogwumike has been sidelined—including on Sunday—with an undiagnosed illness. “I’m not feeling well,” she told Ari Chambers of High Post Hoops on Sunday. “It’ll be a day-to-day thing.”
Nneka and the Sparks don’t have much time to rest and recover, as they will host the defending champion Minnesota Lynx tomorrow. The two teams have dominated the league over the past three seasons, but only one will even be in contention to make a fourth consecutive appearance in the WNBA Finals.
You can throw records out the window right now,” said Agler. “We have played them enough, over 20 times in three years, so we know each other pretty well.”
Connecticut starts strong, outlasts Sparks attack
While the Sparks struggled to find a shooting rhythm, the Sun broke into stride early. Jasmine Thomas led all scorers with 17 points at the half. She added another 10 points in the second half and reached 20 or more points for the fourth time this season.
Head coach Curt Miller was generous with praise for the Duke aluma. “We got up 19 with about five minutes to go in the third quarter … and then the fourth quarter was just play after play. But there was a determination by our leader. Jasmine Thomas was literally everything we could ask for it just willed us.”
Like the Sparks, Connecticut has also had to overcome injuries and other challenges. Alyssa Thomas is a top-five scorer for the Sun, despite missing 10 games with a shoulder injury. During some of her absence, Courtney Williams (third in minutes, points, and assists per game) was not with the team after a spat with Alex Bentley, originally reported by WNBA Insidr.
Despite it all, the team posted back-to-back 20 win seasons and again secured the fourth seed in the WNBA Playoffs. “We were excited that AT (Alyssa Thomas) was healthy again. We’re excited that our chemistry had a reboot and and we got Courtney back,” Miller said. “Not often [do] you get second chances and we’ll have a second chance at this very same thing as when we got eliminated last year.”
The Sun will rest today and continue on their quest to become the next viable contender. With the first round bye comes the possibility that Chiney can reenter the lineup ahead of Thursday’s playoff game.
“She could have gone that night and then maybe we would lost her for [the playoffs]. So, we decided to listen to her. We can absolutely trust that she knows her body and decided that she’d sit,” said Miller of Ogwumike, honored pregame for reaching her 1,000 career point earler in the season. “Now we have the ability for Chiney to get three more full days off of that knee and and keep progressing to hopefully be back.”
With Ogwumike or not, Jasmine Thomas and company will be ready to take another step in ushering in a new era of Connecticut Sun basketball. All eyes are on a win Thursday to advance to the semifinals and the chance to win a playoff series, and maybe, en route to a title.