Sun open season with easy win over Dream
May is always a frenetic, messy and sometimes ugly month for WNBA teams.
Most players go overseas during the offseason to add to their earning power because no one is making seven figures like other North American professional leagues. That means some regularly arrive late to camp, which is under three weeks long.
Players got to their teams later this usual this spring because they had to go through quarantine first.
The Connecticut Sun, then, were pleased to get out of Georgia on Friday night with an 78-67 win over the Atlanta Dream at Gateway Center Arena at College Park.
"NBA, WNBA, it doesn't matter — you have a sloppy first game, but a win is a win," Connecticut's DeWanna Bonner chuckled,
Teammate Natisha Hiedeman said, "First game, not too shabby."
The Sun started one player who had her first practice on Wednesday (Jonquel Jones), another who had her first practice Thursday (Briann January), and a third-year reserve (Hiedeman) because starter Jasmine Thomas arrived in the United States on Wednesday and is in quarantine.
"That's the luxury of having vets," Bonner said about January and Jones. "They've been here. They've done it before. They just came in (to camp) and jumped right in. ... (Things) actually picked up when they came into practice for that day or those two days. They just fit right in. Thank goodness they are those kind of players."
Jones, who opted out of last season due to the pandemic, scored 16 of her game-high 26 points in the first quarter and added eight rebounds.
"Being out there with my teammates, it felt good to start off well," Jones said, "especially being away from the team for so long.
"Obviously there's a lot of things for us to build on, a lot of things for us to learn from in this game, but excited that we got the W."
DeWanna Bonner had 21 points, seven rebounds, five assists and three blocks for the Sun and Hiedeman added nine points and eight rebounds.
"Big guard," the 5-foot-8 Hiedeman deadpanned as she did a double bicep pose.
Connecticut used its superior size to outrebound Atlanta, 42-26.
The Sun had the edge in height but had to defend — and contend with — a quicker Dream team featuring an array of shooters.
The Dream shot 35.9-percent. They made just three of 18 3-pointers, too.
"We hang our hat on defense," Connecticut head coach Curt Miller said. "I think we led the league in guarding the arc last year. It's important for us to make teams go two (points) by two by two. I thought we were good in the point-of-attack to try to disrupt and get these really, really talented guards out of rhythm. Then, at the rim, we just have to use our length.
"January and JJ are great defenders. Bonner's length really bothers people. And then, when we get Jas back, we can be a good defensive team in stretches."
Odyssey Sims and former Sun standout Courtney Williams both scored 14 for Atlanta.
Two areas that Connecticut did poorly — turnovers and an old problem, free throws. Its 21 turnovers led to 18 points for the Dream. It shot 63.6-percent (14 of 22) from the line.
The Sun led almost the entire game thanks to Jones' hot start. She made her first five shots, and, with 5 minutes, 26 seconds left in the first quarter, had as many points as the Atlanta Dream (13).
"She makes everything a little bit easier," Bonner said. "She kind of got me going tonight. I'm just so happy to have her back."
Hiedeman gave the Sun their first double digit lead after being fouled on a 3-pointer and making two of three free throws to give them a 29-19 lead with 8:07 remaining in the first half.
Connecticut led 43-33 at halftime.
Bonner opened the fourth quarter with a 3-pointer and a jumper, followed by a jumper from reserve Beatrice Mompremier, to push the Sun ahead, 69-51, with 7 minutes, 3 seconds left in the game.
Jones' three-pointer with 5:25 remaining gave Connecticut its largest lead, 73-53.
"A really important road win for us out-of-the gates considering how little practice we had together, so I'm really pleased," Miller said. "We got points in the paint early. We established points in the paint in the first half. We had a good night at the arc making 10 threes.
"It was a really quality road win with not perfect basketball, but this is May WNBA basketball. It's going to be inconsistent and ugly at times (but) that road win feels good for us."
• Miller is hopeful Thomas will be available for their third game next Wednesday at home against the Indiana Fever. She is temporarily suspended because the league doesn't have a reserve list. She arrived late after helping Fenerbahce win Turkey’s Women's Basketball Super League championship on Tuesday.
The Sun signed rookie guard Aleah Goodman to a hardship contract on Friday to give them 10 healthy players (Alyssa Thomas, their 11th player, is out this season after injuring her Achilles in January). Connecticut selected Goodman in the third round of April's draft and waived her Tuesday.
The Sun play host to the Phoenix Mercury on Sunday in their first game at Mohegan Sun Arena since Game 4 of the 2019 WNBA Finals (Oct. 7). Phoenix won at the Minnesota Lynx late Friday night, 77-75.
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DeWanna Bonner and Brionna Jones combined rally the Connecticut Sun back from a 14-point, third quarter deficit and an 80-70 win over the Dallas Wings on Tuesday night, snapping a three-game losing streak.