Connecticut Sun close out Dallas Wings, ready ‘to take another step’ in WNBA semifinals against Chicago Sky

ARLINGTON, Texas — Just like the New York Liberty the night before, the Dallas Wings had a chance Wednesday to knock out one of the top four seeds from the WNBA playoffs on their home court. And just like the Chicago Sky against New York, the visiting Connecticut Sun didn’t let that happen.

With the Sun’s 73-58 victory over the Wings in Game 3 of their first-round series, the league’s semifinal matchups are official, and the top four seeds will face off in a best-of-five series starting Sunday. No. 1 Las Vegas is meeting No. 4 Seattle (4 pm ET, ESPN), and the other semifinal will be a repeat of last year, as No. 2 Chicago takes on No. 3 Connecticut (8 p.m. ET, ESPN2).

In 2021, the Sun had the WNBA’s best record, the No. 1 seed and home-court advantage against the No. 6 seed Sky. This year, it’s kind of the reverse: Chicago had the top record (tied with Las Vegas) and will have the home-court edge in the semifinals. But it’s not as if the Sun were far off the lead; they finished at 25-11 to the 26-10 records of the Aces and Sky.

Last year, Chicago rode the underdog vibe all the way to a championship, having gone 16-16 in the regular season. There are no underdogs left in the WNBA playoffs this year, although neither the Aces nor the Sun have ever won a WNBA championship. Chicago broke through for its first last year, and Seattle won four titles.

“Our team is incredibly confident in what they do and who they are,” Connecticut coach Curt Miller said Wednesday. “We’re back to the semis for four straight years. This group wants to take another step, and there’s not one person that’s going to pick us to beat Chicago. So we’re going to go with the underdog mentality and give it our best shot.”

Sky coach James Wade entered the playoffs convinced no one thought his team could repeat, so both he and Miller might be trying to grab the “underdog” title. In terms of recent history between these teams, though, the Sky have dominated. They won the semifinal series 3-1 last year and won all four regular-season meetings this year. Those four games were decided by single-digit margins, two of them by three points.

The Sun would have preferred to close out their first-round series in a sweep in Connecticut and not make the trip to Texas for Game 3, but they advanced on the road in convincing fashion.

Sun forward/guard DeWanna Bonner won two WNBA titles while she was with Phoenix, and Miller said he thought she brought a “championship pedigree” to Wednesday’s game, leading Connecticut with 21 points.

Bonner, who turned 35 on Sunday, gave credit to 24-year-old Sun guard DiJonai Carrington for her relentless defense. The Sun held Dallas to 24 points in the second half.

“Her defensive pressure was unbelievable,” Bonner said.

While the Sun now move on to the familiar territory of the semifinals — they lost in that round the past two years after falling in the WNBA Finals in 2019 — the Wings at least have a playoff win to build on. Dallas’ 89-79 victory Sunday was the franchise’s first in the postseason since 2009, when the team was still in Detroit as the Shock.

In 2010, the Shock moved to Tulsa for six seasons then went to the Dallas-Fort Worth area to become the Wings in 2016. Coach Vickie Johnson, a longtime WNBA teammate and friend of Aces coach Becky Hammon, is in her second season with the Wings and is looking forward to the future.

The Wings were without leading scorer and two-time All-Star guard Arike Ogunbowale due to injury for most of August; she returned for a few minutes Wednesday but didn’t score. Ogunbowale’s former Notre Dame teammate Marina Mabrey led the Wings with 20 points and, Johnson said, grew a lot as an overall player in 2022.

The fact that the Wings made the playoffs and forced the Sun to a third game gives her team confidence for 2023, Johnson said.

“I think the biggest thing they learned is that they’re very good,” Johnson said. “I told them when Arike went out to just believe in themselves. Play together, play with energy and effort, and that’s what we did.”

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