Connecticut Sun earned the top seed in the WNBA playoffs by being consistent

Today, the WNBA announced its major individual awards: Most Improved Player, Coach of the Year, and Most Valuable Player. The Connecticut Sun took home the awards and Brionna Jones, Curt Miller and Jonquel Jones took the honors.

The Sun topped the regular season with a 26-6, including a 14-game winning streak. In addition to three major individual awards, four Connecticut players were selected to the WNBA All-Defensive First and Second Teams.

All signs point to the sun being the best team in the league, right?

Well, not according to head coach Curt Miller.

“I’m not sure we’re the most talented and deepest team. You’ve been the most consistent team by far,” Miller, the 2021 WNBA coach of the year, told me in a phone interview late last week.

However, his team is constant.

Yes, with 14 wins to close this season, as well as since Miller’s first playoff spot as head coach in 2017. Miller attributes the franchise’s consistency to his college basketball roots. In the NCAA, players come and go every season, that’s where Miller learned to build an organization.

But lasting success without a championship is simply not enough in the WNBA. It’s title or bust!

“You have to win a championship to really feel good, regardless of that continued success. Ultimately, you’re judged on championships,” Miller said of the difference in his professional-level philosophy.

That said, continued success is a good benchmark for a championship team. Sun president Jennifer Rizzotti has seen the fruits of that labor pay off over the course of this season.

“I am so impressed with the work Curt has done and how much our team has grown. The trust they play with in each other, in the staff and the trust they play with,” Rizzotti told me during a phone call.

For Rizzotti, a former WNBA player and college coach, the difference was on the defensive side of the ball.

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“If you rely on your defense to win games and you also have very talented attacking players, then you can play with a level of consistency and add up the number of wins this team was able to achieve,” said Rizzotti.

“I recently had the chance to speak to them and I didn’t see that in May, it wasn’t there and now it’s like being a completely different team. It was just nice to see and witness that growth,” she added.

The Sun kept opponents down at 29 points per game, the lowest in the competition. Additionally, Connecticut limits teams to 6.8 quick break points (2nd overall) and 6.3 second chance points per game

Although she no longer coaches, she will travel with the team to help in any way she can. Although she was announced as president in April, this will be her first road trip with the team due to ongoing COVID-19 precautions. But before the team hits the road, Rizzotti and her team hope to persuade fans to cheer on the sun from the Mohegan Sun Arena.

“Since the Olympic break, we’ve been lucky enough to be able to open the building and we’ve been getting more and more fans. Last Sunday against Atlanta was our biggest crowd of the season, so we are very optimistic that we will have our biggest crowd on Tuesday and Thursday,” the former UConn guard told me last week.

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More than four thousand fans (4,724 to be exact) watched the Sun beat the Dream 84-64 on September 19. When the doors of the Mohegan Sun Arena open tonight, fans will try to cheer their team to victory over the sixth overall series, the Chicago Air.

It will take a strong defensive effort to avert the Sky and their swift and more than capable attack. Chicago leads the league with 46.7% of their fouls generated in the paint. Only the Seattle Storm and Las Vegas Aces averaged more than the Sky’s 83.3 points per game.

Furthermore, the Sky defeated Connecticut twice in June to take a 2-1 lead in the regular season head-to-head. The Sun was without WNBA MVP Jonquel Jones for 2021. Jones returned to the grid in the 74-58 win over the Sky on June 27, the biggest margin of victory in the series.

The Sky travels to Uncasville via the single elimination round in the second round of the WNBA playoffs. Miller and his team know better than to underestimate any of the four remaining teams.

“There’s no team that can’t run and win this now, so this should be an absolute war and (I’m) looking forward to the fight! Look forward.”

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