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‘They got a lot better’: Aces face rejuvenated Sun in Finals rematch

Updated June 6, 2023 - 7:46 pm

The Aces’ most recent trip to Uncasville, Connecticut, ended in confetti and a championship celebration.

A decent amount has changed since the Aces completed a 3-1 victory over the Connecticut Sun in the WNBA Finals last season.

Former MVP Jonquel Jones and coach Curt Miller left the Sun for the New York Liberty and Los Angeles Sparks, respectively. Two-time MVP Candace Parker now suits up for the Aces.

One thing hasn’t changed. The Aces and the Sun still represent the best the WNBA has to offer.

“I think they got a lot better,” Aces guard Kelsey Plum said. “I think they’re playing with a lot of pace. They have great individual players, but also systemwise, they’ve all stepped up their game.”

The Aces (6-0) and Sun (6-1) reignite their rivalry at 4 p.m. Tuesday, when they play the first of two consecutive games at Mohegan Sun Arena. They play again at 4 p.m. Thursday.

Both teams sit atop their respective conference standings.

“We know it’s a tough test, going in there and playing a back-to-back,” Plum said.

The Aces enter Tuesday’s game with less momentum than their record might suggest. Coach Becky Hammon’s team struggled in the second half against the Atlanta Dream on Friday, almost blowing a 19-point lead.

Then, a poor first half almost cost the Aces against the Indiana Fever on Sunday, as Hammon’s squad fought back from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter to escape with an 84-80 win. It was the Aces’ lowest-scoring outing of the season.

The Aces are going through a rough shooting stretch. They’re 10 of 42 — 23.8 percent — on 3-pointers in the past two games. But Hammon put the blame on the team’s defense after both games, and she said she still hasn’t seen her team put together a full 40 minutes of focus and energy on defense.

“If we walk into Connecticut and we give up a 28-point first quarter,” Hammon said, “we’re probably not going to walk out of there with a win.”

The Sun have picked up right where they left off in 2022. Alyssa Thomas, a second-team All-WNBA selection last season, and four-time All-Star DeWanna Bonner remain from the core of Connecticut’s Finals team. Brionna Jones, the 2022 WNBA sixth player of the year, has slid into the starting center spot to replace Jonquel Jones.

Connecticut’s two new additions have also helped with the transition. Free agent Tiffany Hayes, a veteran guard who spent 10 seasons with the Dream, has settled in quickly, while new coach Stephanie White’s new system, which emphasizes space and speed, has accommodated her team well.

The Sun’s lone loss was an 81-65 blowout on the road against the New York Liberty on May 27.

“They’re a good team,” Aces guard Jackie Young said. “They’ve always been a good team, so we just have to go in there and try to handle business.”

Contact reporter Andy Yamashita at ayamashita@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ANYamashita on Twitter.

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