Uncasville, Conn. – Before Sunday’s season opener against the Las Vegas Aces, Connecticut Sun forward Chiney Ogwumike addressed an electric crowd of 6,637, preaching that the team had “one thing on our minds this season: Championship!”
And despite a slow start, the Sun showed a title kind of effort on both ends of the floor, as they routed the visitors, 101-65.
Alex Bentley came off the bench to lead Connecticut with 18 points, while Alyssa Thomas scored 13 and Jasmine Thomas had 12. All 12 on the roster scored in a game that featured the return of All-Star Chiney Ogwumike, who missed last season recovering from a torn Achilles. She had nine points.
All-Star Jonquel Jones, who set a league single-season rebounds record last season, returned form overseas play just in time for the opener, and came off the bench to score seven points and grab five rebounds.
Jasmine Thomas said the team still needs time to gel.
“We are happy to have everyone together, but we are still working on putting all the pieces together,” she said. “She (Jonquel Jones) has only been here a few days and it was her first game so we will have a much better J.J. soon.”
The Sun weathered a double-digit deficit in the first quarter by closing the frame on a 21-7 run. The turning-point happened when they picked up the pressure in the backcourt, forcing three consecutive turnovers at one point during the run.
Heading into the second quarter up 49-37, the Connecticut kept their foot on the pedal, building a double-digit lead of their own at the eight-minute mark after a jumper by Alyssa Thomas. Thomas was critical in the Sun’s first-half success, as she made an impact in every aspect of the game with nine points, 12 rebounds, six assists, and three blocks.
The Sun held a comfortable lead for the duration of the second half, ballooning their lead to as much as 36 points. They played suffocating defense, holding the Aces to 26.5 percent shooting. Connecticut also forced 18 turnovers and had 12 steals, and were clicking on all cylinders, shooting at a 47.4 percent clip from the field and 50 percent from the three-point line.
Las Vegas without their back court, as Kayla McBride and Kelsey Plum are still fulfilling team obligations overseas. Tamera Young, acquired in the offseason, led the team with 23 points, while rookie A’ja Wilson had 14 points and 10 rebounds despite struggling shooting from the field. She was 8-10 from the free throw line.
Miller was pleased with his squad’s composure when they were down, but credited the Aces.
“We gang-rebounded, we scratched, we clawed, we tried to tip the ball when we couldn’t get it to keep it alive and maybe use our speed, but that team is going to be really good real quick when they get their three star guards back,” Miller said.
The Aces lost their season opener Friday. Coach Bill Laimbeer didn’t mince words about his team’s performance against the Sun, who finished fourth in the league last season.
“We have a long way to go and we know that,” he said. “We are missing a lot of players……and we have to wait for them to get back. (Connecticut is) a very good basketball team, and we knew we were going to be in a hornet’s nest and we were exposed. We lack shooters, (and) shooting 26 percent again two games in a row is not going to cut it and we have to find a solution.”
Connecticut will be back at home Thursday to face the Los Angeles Sparks at 7 p.m.