Professional Basketball

Sun Down Aces on Bonner’s Historic Performance


Las Vegas Aces forward A’ja Wilson shoots over the outstretched arms of Connecticut Sun forward DeWanna Bonner during Thursday’s game at Mohegan Sun Arena. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

The Connecticut Sun used a career-high 41-point scoring night by forward DeWanna Bonner to down the Las Vegas Aces 94-77 in front of 5,147 at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville on Thursday night. It was the second of two consecutive games between the two teams who battled for the WNBA championship last season.

It was Bonner who got the scoring started early with a layup just under a minute into the contest to give the Sun an early 2-0 lead. However, just 24 seconds later she fouled Aces forward Candace Parker, who tied the score 2-2 with her two free throws. It was already Bonner’s second foul of the game and only 1:16 had elapsed since tipoff.

The Aces started the game out of rhythm as turnovers plagued their early effort. They committed five turnovers in the first quarter, which led to five Connecticut points. Yet no matter what the Aces tried to do, it wasn’t good enough. Bonner scored 14 points in the quarter, the Sun scored 14 points in the paint while the Aces scored only six, and Connecticut scored seven fast break points to zero for Las Vegas. When the first quarter ended, the Sun had a 26-15 lead.

Las Vegas began the second quarter with a 6-0 run on a floating bank shot by forward Alyssa Clark and a three-pointer plus a free throw by guard Kelsey Plum. This was answered by a 10-0 Connecticut run including four points from Bonner that included her tipping back a rebound from her own missed shot. The Sun led 43-28 at halftime.

In the third quarter, after Bonner scored her 23rd point of the game with 6:15 left on the clock, which gave the Sun a 19-point lead, Aces head coach Becky Hammon pulled all of her starters. After resting them for 1:13, she put the starters back in to see if they would play better for the rest of the quarter. They cut the deficit to 12 with six points on two three-pointers by Plum, six points from forward A’ja Wilson, and better team defense. At the end of the third quarter, Connecticut held onto a 64-52 lead.

Wilson scored 10 points in the third quarter alone, which netted her 13 in the game so far. This marked her 32nd consecutive double-digit scoring game, which is the largest active streak in the WNBA.

Connecticut Sun forward DeWanna Bonner shoots a short jump shot as Las Vegas Aces guard Jackie Young defends during Thursday’s game at Mohegan Sun Arena. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

Bonner’s hot hand continued in the beginning of the fourth quarter when she hit a three-pointer a minute into the frame, then a jumper off the glass 43 seconds later, and then connected on a pair of free throws a minute later. With 7:31 remaining in the contest, Bonner had already scored seven points in the quarter and 31 in the game.

Then Sun forward Rebecca Allen, who scored 22 bench points to lead the come-from-behind effort on Tuesday, began to get hot again. She scored her first basket, a layup with 6:34 on the clock, and then hit a three-pointer with 4:48 remaining to push the Connecticut lead back to 19. With the score 83-64, Hammon called a timeout and put her subs back in.

Bonner still scored on a layup in transition and then another three-pointer, for her 41st point in the game. Connecticut head coach Stephanie White then called a timeout to put her subs in for the rest of the game since the Sun held a 23 point lead.

The score was 94-77 when the final buzzer sounded and there were no more unbeaten teams in the WNBA for the 2023 season. Las Vegas dropped to 7-1 on the season while Connecticut improved to 7-2.

The Sun was led by Bonner’s 41 points with center Brionna Jones adding 12 and guard Tiffany Hayes pitching in with 11. Jones led all rebounders with nine, and forward Alyssa Thomas pitched a game-high 12 assists. Connecticut went 37-for-70 from the field for 52.9 percent and connected on eight three-point shots. They made 12 of 16 free throw attempts and committed 12 turnovers resulting in 16 Aces points.

Las Vegas was led by 16 points from Plum, 13 points from Wilson, 12 points from guard Chelsea Gray, and 10 points from guard Jackie Young. The Aces went 28-for-60 in field goal shooting for 46.7 percent. They made nine three-pointers and converted 12-of-17 free throw attempts. They also turned the ball over 18 times giving Connecticut 21 points off of turnovers.

“In the year and a half that I’ve been here, that was the worst half of basketball I’ve seen us play. Scoring 28 points in a half? That was as bad as we’ve played, and it was really on both ends,” said Aces head coach Becky Hammon. “They just kicked our asses. No Xs and Os in the world tonight. It didn’t matter. Give them credit. We weren’t just going to show up and win the game tonight. There’s zero chance of that. We had to go out there and earn it and we just didn’t tonight. They just had us on our heels the whole night.”

Connecticut head coach Stephanie White said, “We wanted to make sure that we executed defensively at a high level on every possession. Not just some possessions, but every possession.”

“I felt like our intensity was really good. Our communication was elite tonight, which covers up for a lot of things, and we finished plays,” she added.

Connecticut Sun forward DeWanna Bonner waves to the crowd after scoring her career-high 41st point during Thursday’s game against the Las Vegas Aces at Mohegan Sun Arena. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

The real story tonight was Bonner’s historic performance. During the 2022 WNBA Finals series, she had only scored 35 points combined in all four games. Her previous career high was 38 points set in 2016 when she was with the Phoenix Mercury. Bonner’s 41-point performance is also a franchise record, surpassing the 35 points set by Shannon “Pee Wee” Johnson in 2000 when the team was the Orlando Miracle. Bonner’s record is also the first time that a player has scored more than 40 points against an undefeated team.

“That was an amazing game all around. As far as my shooting, I just wanted to be aggressive since it felt like I just came off the worst game of my career [on Tuesday when she scored only five points],” said Bonner. “I don’t know what happened today but I hope it happens again during the rest of the season. I’m always going to be at the top of my game. I prepare really hard. I’m going to believe in all the work that I’ve put in for 14 years until it is time for me to retire.”

“She had a hot hand and everybody had an eye on where she was and tried to find her. That was good,” said White. “I’m really proud of her.”

For the Aces, this was the opposite of Tuesday’s game.

“They were in transition and got a lot of O-boards,” said Plum. “We were playing against their set defense. They were getting transition points and running. I feel like we were more physical in the first game, but credit to them. Bonner played great. Brionna Jones was efficient as well.”

When asked about why she pulled her starters in the third quarter, Hammon said, “I just told them I’m not going to watch that kind of basketball. They had five or six minutes to get it right. We didn’t have it tonight. We just didn’t have it.”

“I was going to sit them out the rest of the game, actually. They came back and bugged me to put them back in, so I did. We made a little run there, a little push, but at the end of the day, we didn’t have anyone to guard Bonner. For someone to get 23 field goals when they aren’t supposed to be getting attempts off is a real disappointment for our defense. She was certainly a focal point, I mean, right out of the gate,” Hammon added.

The Aces (7-1) host the Chicago Sky (5-4) at Michelob Ultra Arena in Las Vegas on Sunday. Connecticut (7-2) travels to the Atlanta Dream (2-4) for a matchup at Gateway Center Arena at College Park also on Sunday.

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