The former Riverdale Baptist All-Met and George Washington star scored 21 points in the opening 20 minutes and finished with 31 points and 14 rebounds as the Sun remained the hottest team in the league with an 85-75 victory over the Mystics at Entertainment and Sports Arena.
The victory was the seventh in a row for the first-place Sun (21-6); the Mystics (10-16) have dropped six of eight. Washington, however, remains very much in playoff contention, sitting in the No. 9 slot with six games remaining. The top eight teams make the postseason.
The Mystics’ issues Tuesday had nothing to do with energy and desire. Without two-time MVP Elena Delle Donne (back) and Tina Charles (hip), another former MVP, they were simply overmatched. In addition to Jonquel Jones, teammate Brionna Jones also gave the hosts fits, scoring 22 points to go with 10 rebounds. The pair combined for 11 offensive rebounds, helping the Sun to 19 second-chance points compared with none for the Mystics. Connecticut shot 49.3 percent from the field and 40.3 percent from three-point range.
“We just don’t have matchups right now,” Mystics Coach and General Manager Mike Thibault said. “We’re undersized. There’s no Tina, there’s no Elena, and it’s just hard. They’re big and strong, and we’re guarding 6-7 with 6-1. And we try to double them some, we tried to help, but if you do that too much, you’re giving up wide open threes. … We did a good job, for the most part, on their guards. But those two, they just carved out space and we didn’t have much we could do about it.”
Shatori Walker-Kimbrough had a season-high 17 points and Myisha Hines-Allen and Ariel Atkins both added 16, while Natasha Cloud finished with five points and 12 assists.
“I felt like last game, I was very passive offensively,” Walker-Kimbrough said. “I was aggressive on defense, but I felt I was passive on offense. So I knew that I couldn’t come to this game with that same mind-set. I came in trying to be aggressive. And my teammates told me they need me to be aggressive.”
A 12-2 stretch early in the second quarter gave the Mystics a 33-32 lead with 4:37 remaining before halftime. It also marked their last lead. The Sun pulled away behind a 12-4 run early in the third quarter powered by the Joneses and DeWanna Bonner, the sister of Mystics forward Erica McCall. That burst put Connecticut up 57-43, and the Mystics never seriously threatened the rest of the way.
“We have a lot that we have to deal with,” Atkins said, “as far as just kind of overcoming what we’re doing to ourselves here right now. And it’s tough, and they’re good players. They’re very strong. They’re big. Jonquel’s long. She’s the type of player that you have to have a big body against her. You’ve got to have bodies around her, and she took advantage of that tonight.
“We’ve just got some stuff that we got to figure out. And that’s tough to be saying with the amount of games that we have left in the season. But it’s the reality of where we are.”
Delle Donne was a game-time decision after tweaking her back in the third game of her return from two back surgeries that sidelined her for the better part of two years. Thibault said she didn’t feel good early Tuesday and they held her out of the pregame shoot-around before deciding to sit her for the game. Her availability for the upcoming trip to Minnesota and Seattle is uncertain.
The Mystics have to make the same decision on whether to travel with Charles, who remains in New York working with her personal doctors who have previously treated the injury. Thibault thought the earliest she could return is against Seattle on Sept. 7, but that would mean a long flight there and back for one game.
Every game, however, is crucial as the Mystics try to avoid missing the playoffs for just the second time since Thibault took the reins in 2013.
“It’s tough, but at the end of the day, yes, we’re shorthanded, but no one feels bad for us,” Walker-Kimbrough said. “So we can’t feel bad for ourselves. We have to figure it out. Every team is facing adversity. We’re facing adversity. So we just got to figure it out just like everyone else.”