Connecticut's defense continues to see them outclass the competition as Jonquel Jones and Co. proceed to put up strong numbers and lead the Sun to wins.
The phrase “defense wins championships” has become so trite that it’s hard not to roll your eyes when you hear it. Don’t tell that to the Sun, however, whose defense has been downright suffocating so far and has helped Connecticut to a 4-1 start to the season, including a redeeming 89-77 win Thursday over the Sparks.
The departure of Chiney Ogwumike, to Los Angeles no less, hasn’t seen the Sun miss a beat, as Jonquel Jones has taken on a larger role in the offense to great effect. She’s a legit 6’6” center who can dominate inside and out on the perimeter, but her impact can really be felt on the defensive end.
Getting five blocks against a team with a frontcourt as fearsome as the Sparks’ is no small feat. Like what are you even supposed to do against this?
That’s center on center violence of the highest order. Add Jones’s influence in the middle to Jasmine Thomas’s quick hands in the passing lanes—see her five steals on Thursday—and a team that averages 6.6 blocks per game, which is good for second in the league, and you have the makings of a great defense.
There’s a reason Connecticut sits third in the league behind the Aces and Lynx in defensive rating. In fact, the Sun sit in the top three of nearly every defensive category in the WNBA.
Not bad for a team that, for many, wasn’t among the main title contenders but has managed to get out to a great start. And when the defense is rolling, it allows fans to truly appreciate what Courtney Williams and Jones can bring to this team.
Williams is a wildly fun player to watch when she’s going, using her athleticism and ability to nail tough shots to rack up the points. That plus Jones being able to spread the floor is going to make this Connecticut team a tough opponent for the remainder of the season. When your center is in her bag like this, you might as well hang it up and look to the next game on the schedule.
Give some credit to the Sparks for keeping it competitive until the end, however, with a surprisingly good game from Marina Mabrey. She was the only L.A. player without the name “Ogwumike” on the back of her jersey to score double-digit points and her range is going to be invaluable to L.A. going forward. She’s quickly proven herself a reliable player for first-year coach Derek Fisher to hand minutes to at guard, with Tierra Ruffin-Pratt only logging 13 minutes Thursday to Mabrey’s 28.
If Mabrey can keep up her hot 3-point shooting—she was 3 of 7 on Thursday and is shooting 46% for the season—she’ll prove that she was a steal at No. 19 in the draft.
Speaking of hot shooting, raise your hand if you had Nneka Ogwumike going 4-for-4 from deep and the Sparks not winning. Contemplating Nneka’s ability as a deep shooter should be interesting as L.A. prepares to reintegrate Candace Parker into the lineup. Having players like Parker and Nneka ready and willing to bomb away from deep while Chiney patrols the paint and you can count on this Sparks team only getting more dangerous as we get deeper into the season.