- M.A. Voepel covers the WNBA, women’s college basketball, and other college sports for espnW. Voepel began covering women’s basketball in 1984, and has been with ESPN since 1996.
The Connecticut Sun knew almost as soon as forward Brionna Jones fell to the floor last Tuesday in Seattle. It was an injury too many have seen or experienced, and it had all the telltale signs. Her outstanding season was over with a ruptured Achilles tendon, and the Sun once again will have to dig deep to overcome a key injury. They’ve had a lot of practice doing that.
But as long as the Sun have veterans such as DeWanna Bonner and Alyssa Thomas, there is also a lot of hope. Despite the devastating injury to Jones — a player whose upbeat personality adds so much to the Sun, along with her skills — Connecticut went 3-0 last week and stays right where it has been most of this season in ESPN’s WNBA Power Rankings: in second place behind the defending champion Las Vegas Aces.
The Sun were fourth in the preseason rankings, and let’s repeat what we said then: If we’ve learned anything about this franchise, it’s to not sell it short. Connecticut moved to the No. 2 spot after the opening weekend of games and has stayed there. This week, the Sun take on the teams right behind (New York Liberty) and right ahead of them in the standings.
Jones was hurt with just over a minute left in Tuesday’s 84-79 win against the Storm. She pushed off on her right foot and fell to the court, her teammates appearing distraught as she reached for the back of her leg.
Jones, 27, averaged 15.9 points and 8.2 rebounds in 13 games this season. The two-time WNBA All-Star was named the Sixth Player of the Year in 2022 and was the league’s Most Improved Player in 2021. Her loss is a major blow.
“This core group has been through this dang near every year for the last few years,” Sun coach Stephanie White said. “So the resilience is really built in.”
After coming within one win of a WNBA title in 2019, the Sun didn’t have forward Jonquel Jones for the 2020 season as she opted out of playing in the COVID-19 bubble in Bradenton, Florida. In 2021, the Sun didn’t have Thomas for most of the regular season because of an Achilles injury she suffered overseas, although she played in all four playoff games.
Last year, they lost guard Jasmine Thomas to an ACL injury after just five games, yet still made the WNBA Finals again. During the offseason, Connecticut got a new coach in White and a new general manager in Darius Taylor. The Sun traded Jones, who pushed for a move, to New York, and Thomas to Los Angeles, where she rejoined longtime Sun coach Curt Miller.
Still, with a core trio of Alyssa Thomas, Bonner and Jones, there was no reason to think anything but another playoff run for the Sun. Things get harder without Jones, but the Sun aren’t changing their goals.
“We took some time after [Tuesday’s] game to really feel all our feelings,” White said. “We had to regroup in the moment and make sure we finished the game for Breezy. Postgame, it was an emotional locker room. [Thomas] stepped up and just said, ‘Listen, we can be sad, but she’s not going to want us to wallow around in this. We need to play for her.’
“Everybody’s got to give us a little bit more of what we do best. We’ve challenged our guards to be better rebounders, and they’ve responded. We’ve challenged our team to play differently with pace and space now, and we’ve been able to do that. To use our versatility in ways that are positive for our team. We might be smaller [without Jones] but we’re a little more versatile.”
Thomas got two triple-doubles in the past week and now has a WNBA-record four in the regular season in her career. Who knows how many more she will get this year. Thomas wasn’t voted an All-Star starter, the biggest snub as she is playing at an MVP level.
The ageless Bonner keeps piling up the points; she passed Hall of Famer Katie Smith on Sunday and moves into ninth place (6,454 points) on the all-time WNBA scoring list.
Bonner has won two WNBA titles, in 2009 and 2014 when she was with the Phoenix Mercury. Thomas, who has spent her 10-season career in Connecticut, is still looking to give the Sun their first title. They are used to obstacles. Heartbreaking as Jones’ injury is, the Sun will keep on going, as usual.
1. Las Vegas Aces
Previous ranking: 1
This week: vs. Indiana (Monday), vs. New York (Thursday), vs. Connecticut (Saturday)
The Aces continued to pile up the points, beating Phoenix 99-79 and Indiana 101-88. A’ja Wilson has big performances regularly, but her two games against the Fever (and fellow South Carolina alum Aliyah Boston) were especially impressive. Wilson had 28 points and 10 rebounds Saturday, and 27 and 10 on June 4 at Indiana. The Aces face the Fever for a third time this week, and then go against the two teams most closely chasing them in the standings.
2. Connecticut Sun
Previous ranking: 2
This week: vs. New York (Tuesday), at Las Vegas (Saturday)
The loss of any player as good as Jones hurts a lot, but it provides others opportunities to step into the void. The Sun will look for even more production from Tiffany Hayes, Natisha Hiedeman, DiJonai Carrington, Rebecca Allen, Ty Harris and Olivia Nelson-Ododa. Hayes had 21 points in Thursday’s win at Minnesota, and Carrington a season-best 17 in both that game and Sunday’s victory over Chicago.
3. New York Liberty
Previous ranking: 3
This week: at Connecticut (Tuesday), at Las Vegas (Thursday), at Seattle (Sunday)
The Liberty had a season-high point total in their 110-80 victory Friday at Atlanta, and then pulled a rabbit out of a hat for an 89-88 overtime victory Sunday at home against Washington. Breanna Stewart was a combined 8 of 28 from the field in those games. But the Liberty still won, led by 19 points from Betnijah Laney against the Dream and 31 from Sabrina Ionescu vs. the Mystics. The Liberty’s depth took a hit, though, with reserve center Stefanie Dolson suffering an ankle injury that could keep her out for weeks.
4. Washington Mystics
Previous ranking: 4
This week: vs. Atlanta (Wednesday), at Atlanta (Friday), at Dallas (Sunday)
The Mystics beat Chicago by 21 Thursday and seemed on the verge of their fourth consecutive victory Sunday, holding an eight-point lead at New York before a chaotic last 2 minutes of regulation unfolded. Washington then fell 89-88 in overtime, one of those losses that can leave a team fuming all the way home. The Mystics next face Atlanta for the first time this season, in back-to-back games, and hope for good news on center Shakira Austin, who had to be carried off the court in the fourth quarter at New York because of a hip strain.
5. Indiana Fever
Previous ranking: 6
This week: at Las Vegas (Monday), at Phoenix (Thursday), vs. Chicago (Sunday)
The Fever get bumped up one spot after a victory at Seattle and a loss at Las Vegas. They made the Aces work for it, outscoring Las Vegas 45-44 in the second half. The 101-88 loss was just the second double-digit defeat this season for Indiana, and NaLyssa Smith’s 26 points and 11 rebounds against the Aces were impressive. Indiana will have rookie Boston as an All-Star starter.
6. Los Angeles Sparks
Previous ranking: 7
This week: at Chicago (Wednesday), at Chicago (Friday), at Atlanta (Sunday)
The Sparks are 3-3 since mid-June — with all three victories against Dallas, including two this past week. Los Angeles’ 76-74 come-from-behind win over the Wings on Friday ended a three-game losing streak. The Sparks followed that with a 93-83 victory. It was a big week for Nneka Ogwumike, who was named an All-Star starter and will make her eighth appearance in the game. In the two wins plus a loss to Minnesota, she totaled 67 points and 28 rebounds. Guard Destanni Henderson, signed to a hardship contract June 16, has averaged 7.8 points with the Sparks, getting 18 on Friday against Dallas.
7. Atlanta Dream
Previous ranking: 5
This week: at Washington (Wednesday), vs. Washington (Friday), vs. Los Angeles (Sunday)
After a big jump in the Power Rankings last week following three wins on a row, the tide turned against the Dream, who lost to Dallas and New York. The matchup with the Wings was Atlanta’s fourth consecutive road game, and some weariness showed. Playing the Liberty for the third time in 15 days, the Dream couldn’t slow down New York’s offense, giving up 17 3-pointers. This week starts a six-game stretch in which Atlanta plays two consecutive games each against Washington, Los Angeles and Chicago.
8. Minnesota Lynx
Previous ranking: 9
This week: vs. Seattle (Tuesday), at Seattle (Thursday), at Phoenix (Saturday)
Minnesota went 1-1 for the second week in a row, beating Los Angeles and falling to Connecticut. The Lynx have the Sparks’ number this season; three of their four wins have come against L.A. Napheesa Collier has led Minnesota in scoring every game in June but one, including totaling 47 points against the Sparks and Sun. This is an important week for Minnesota with two games against Seattle, the team the Lynx are tied with in the standings.
9. Seattle Storm
Previous ranking: 8
This week: at Minnesota (Tuesday), vs. Minnesota (Thursday), vs. New York (Sunday)
The Storm have gone 3-3 after starting the season 1-6, including Saturday’s 97-74 victory over Phoenix that ended up being coach Vanessa Nygaard’s last game with the Mercury. Jewell Loyd will be an All-Star starter, and her numbers from this past week show why: She averaged 25.3 PPG, almost exactly her league-leading season average (25.4). Hopefully, the Storm will get good news on the shoulder injury to promising rookie Jordan Horston.
10. Dallas Wings
Previous ranking: 10
This week: at Phoenix (Tuesday), vs. Washington (Sunday)
The Wings have lost five of their last six, three of those to the Sparks. Two were this weekend in Los Angeles, with Friday’s 76-74 loss being particularly irritating to the Wings because they gave up a 17-point lead. Arike Ogunbowale and Satou Sabally were both selected All-Star starters, so the Wings have talent. They have to be more consistent quarter to quarter; that’s been an issue. So is their road record: They are 1-6, tied for league worst with Phoenix.
11. Chicago Sky
Previous ranking: 11
This week: vs. Los Angeles (Wednesday), vs. Los Angeles (Friday), at Indiana (Sunday)
The Sky are on the league’s current longest losing streak: six in a row. Last week, they fell by 21 to Washington, scoring a season-low 59 points, and by 24 to Connecticut. Kahleah Copper had a season-high 29 points against the Sun, but it wasn’t enough. Chicago’s 5-3 start gave Sky fans some hope, but it has been tough sledding since then.
12. Phoenix Mercury
Previous ranking: 12
This week: vs. Dallas (Tuesday), vs. Indiana (Thursday), vs. Minnesota (Saturday)
The Mercury got Brittney Griner and Diana Taurasi back from injuries Saturday in Seattle, but starter Sophie Cunningham was sidelined with back issues in the loss. It’s been that kind of season for Phoenix, which fired Vanessa Nygaard after a 2-10 start. A lot worked against her during her time in Phoenix, but it was also clear that the Mercury had to go another direction. Interim coach Nikki Blue takes over and will have three home games this week in hopes of ending the Mercury’s five-game losing streak.
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