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Optimistic Sun face healthy Liberty in opener

Oct 8, 2019; Uncasville, CT, USA; Connecticut Sun forward Jonquel Jones (35) drives the ball against the Washington Mystics during the second quarter in game four of the 2019 WNBA Finals at Mohegan Sun Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Over the previous five seasons, Jonquel Jones has gone from the WNBA’s most improved player to its MVP.

Next up on the checklist: turning the Connecticut Sun into WNBA champions.

The Sun will begin pursuit of the first title in franchise history Saturday night, when they are scheduled to visit the New York Liberty in the season opener for both teams.

The Sun finished first in the WNBA last season at 26-6 before falling to the eventual champion Chicago Sky in the semifinals. The Liberty, who earned the eighth and final playoff spot in last year’s playoffs after going 12-20, lost to the Phoenix Mercury 83-82 in the first round.

Contending for a championship is nothing new for the Sun, who have qualified for the playoffs 13 times in 19 seasons since relocation from Orlando in 2003. They have fallen in the WNBA Finals three times — most recently in 2019.

With their top five scorers back from last season — including Jones, who won the MVP after averaging 19.4 points and 11.2 rebounds per game — the Sun know they’ve hit the title-or-bust phase.

“We’ve come up short,” Sun head coach Curt Miller said prior to the WNBA Draft, when Connecticut selected Michigan State’s Nia Clouden with its first-round pick. “I know the narrative is ‘We’ve yet to win a championship.’ We are hungry. We believe we are still in the window to compete for championships.”

The narrow playoff loss in 2021 represented a big leap forward for the Liberty, which went 19-71 the previous three seasons.

New York, whose top six scorers from last season return, expects continued progress this season with a new coach as former Mercury head coach Sandy Brondello replaced Walt Hopkins. Former top draft picks Sabrina Ionescu and Asia Durr are expected to be 100 percent healthy.

Ionescu has played through ankle issues since being the No. 1 pick in the 2020 draft, while Durr, the No. 2 selection in 2019, hasn’t played since their rookie season because of an extended battle with COVID-19 symptoms.

“I think it’s (about) laying down the foundation of years of Liberty basketball,” Ionescu said. “I think for all of us, there’s a sense of urgency.”

The Sun have won their last nine games against the Liberty dating back to July 11, 2018, when New York earned a 79-76 win.

–Field Level Media