Alyssa Thomas reaches new milestone in Connecticut Sun’s push for WNBA title

Alyssa Thomas #25 of the Connecticut Sun drives to the basket during the game against the Chicago Sky.
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All-star forward Alyssa Thomas hit a new milestone Sunday night with the Connecticut Sun, recording her ninth double-double of the season and moving into first place all-time in post-season scoring in franchise history. Her performance boosted the No. 3 seed to a 68-63 win over the 2021 WNBA champions Chicago Sky in Game 1 of their best-of-five semifinal series.

The nine-year veteran, who’s played her entire career with the Sun, now has 385 points in 25 postseason contests. Thomas also added 10 rebounds, seven assists and one steal in the victory, which came down to the wire before Connecticut pulled off the upset in Chicago.

DeWanna Bonner led the Sun in scoring with 15 points and nine rebounds, and she scored the final four points of the game, making two free throws at the 1:31 mark in the fourth quarter and an easy bucket – with an assist from Thomas – to seal the win with 3.8 seconds left.

“I still see people sleeping on our group,” wrote Thomas in a first-person essay earlier this month for The Players’ Tribune. “I feel like we have a lot of underrated players on our team. And with us falling short in the past, people underestimate us. But honestly, it’s all fuel. We just want to win in the worst way.”

That fuels come from a string of promising runs the last three years, beginning with a loss in the 2019 WNBA Finals to the Washington Mystics. Connecticut, which is still chasing the first WNBA title in franchise history, made it the semifinals the last two seasons, losing to the Aces in 2020 and falling to the Sky in four games last season.

It was particularly disappointing for Thomas, who had missed all but the last two games of the regular season in 2021 after suffering an Achilles injury that January. But she came off the bench in all four playoffs games to contribute significantly, averaging 11.8 points, six rebounds and 3.8 assists in 23.3 minutes per game.

This season, the 6-2 Thomas has come back full strength, leading the team in minutes played (32.1) and posting averages of 13.4 points, 8.2 rebounds and 6.1 assists in 36 starts. Her tenacity earned Thomas her third turn as an All-Star, two Eastern Conference Player of the Month honors and most recently, she was named AP’s Comeback Player of the Year.

What’s more, Thomas recorded the franchise’s first triple-double in a win over the Minnesota Lynx on July 22, finishing with 10 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists. Then she did it again four games later, scoring 10 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists in a win over Phoenix. Thomas is just the fifth WNBA player with multiple triple-doubles, and she joined Chicago’s Candace Parker (19 points, 18 rebounds, five assists, four steals and six blocks on Sunday) and New York’s Sabrina Ionescu as the only players with more than one this season.

2022 WNBA Playoffs: TV schedule, results, scores, semifinal format and more

“I’ve never been around someone that’s as consistent with her effort, her passion to play,” Sun head coach and general manager Curt Miller said of Thomas during their first-round series vs. the Dallas Wings. “She’s elite basketball smart. She sees things before they happen, she really understands the game. So that combination of effort, basketball IQ makes her really special.”

Born in Harrisburg, Pa., Thomas had a standout college career at Maryland where she earned All-American honors and led the Terrapins to a Final Four appearance her senior year. She finished school as the all-time leader in points and rebounds in program history. Thomas was picked quickly in the 2014 WNBA Draft, going fourth overall to the New York Liberty and draft-day traded to the Sun, where she’s been ever since.

“Then it’s the versatility,” added Miller. “There’s no one in this league [who] plays harder. There’s no one, no one, zero, there’s no one in this league that’s more versatile defensively, that can guard more positions than her.”

“I’m just trying to keep those little tidbits in my head,” explained Thomas to WNBA.com regarding her thought process on court. “Because when we think about defense as a whole, it’s good to know the plays, but our job is to break down their plays. So, when the play’s broken down and the shot clock is winding down, what is their tendency? What are they gonna go to? That’s what I try to focus on.”

Thomas undoubtedly will take that focus into Game 2 vs. the Sky on Wednesday night in Chicago.

“I love playoff time,” writes Thomas. “I’m trying to take it to another level. I know I still have another gear in me.”

ALSO FROM ON HER TURF: Azurá Stevens pulls back curtain on mental health as Chicago Sky aim for title repeat

Justine Wong-Orantes’ atypical path to becoming one of the best liberos in the world

Justine Wong-Orantes hits the ball in the women's semi-final volleyball match between USA and Serbia during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
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It’s been 20 years since the same nation held both the Olympic and world volleyball titles at the same time, but libero Justine Wong-Orantes is looking to help lead Team USA accomplish that very feat at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championships in the Netherlands and Poland. Competition began on Friday and the U.S. is currently 2-0 after group play wins against Kazakhstan and Canada.

“We’re trying to win, for sure,” Wong-Orantes told On Her Turf. “I think, especially with the new turn of the program and the new year of the quad, we just have a really nice blend of veterans and also newcomers on the team.”

The 14-woman roster for Team USA, which is ranked No. 1 in the world and won its first Olympic title last summer, features six players from that gold-medal-winning team. And while Wong-Orantes is among the 2021 U.S. Olympic team veterans, she’s still a relative newcomer to international play.

The Southern California native enjoyed a notable junior career – she was 12 when she became the youngest female to ever earn an AAA rating in beach volleyball – and was a standout collegian at Nebraska, where she was a member of the 2015 NCAA championship team. But Wong-Orantes followed a different path upon graduation, initially choosing not to go overseas to play professionally.

While she was first selected for the U.S. national team in 2016 and played a handful of international tournaments in the following years, it wasn’t until she started playing professionally in Germany in 2019 that she saw the potential to elevate her position on the roster. In particular, the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Olympics gave her an additional year of overseas experience, which she calls “a blessing in disguise.”

“I just felt like I was still in that developmental stage,” she said. “And a whole year postponement allowed me to go overseas and really get all the touches, all the repetitions, and just kind of expose myself to international volleyball another year. So I was, in hindsight, pretty thankful for that COVID season because I got an extra year under my belt, and I think that just gave me a ton of confidence.”

Ahead of the Olympics, Wong-Orantes earned “best libero” honors at the 2021 FIVB Volleyball National League in Rimini, Italy, which helped secure her spot on the Olympic roster. In Tokyo, she followed up with another standout performance and was named best libero of the Olympic tournament.

As to how the Wong-Orantes transformed into one of the world’s top liberos, she points to her background as a beach volleyball player. She began competing at age 8, and her first partner was Sara Hughes, a star on the AVP Pro Tour who also won two NCAA titles with USC.

“I think having that background and just the court awareness that beach volleyball forces you to have allowed me to really have a good read on the game,” said Wong-Orantes. “I think that’s what makes a great libero is just reading and always being reactive towards the ball.”

Wong-Orantes also credits the assistance of mental coach Sue Enquist, a former UCLA softball coach and U.S. national team coach, who now helps teams work on their culture and relationships. Enquist began working with the U.S. volleyball team during the pandemic and has continued in her role ever since.

“We just worked on a lot of stuff within ourselves, within our program, how to communicate with each other off the court, and I think that honestly propelled us into such a high, high level with how we worked with each other, and then that transferred onto the court,” explained Wong-Orantes, who noted the team has Enquist on speed dial while at the World Championship. “I really commend Sue. I just really give a lot of praise to her because I think our culture was never bad, but I think [she] just transformed into a different level.”

2022-09-26 - FIVB Volleyball Womens World Championship 2022 - Day 4
ARNHEM, NETHERLANDS – Justine Wong-Orantes (far right) poses for a photo with her U.S. teammates after defeating Canada at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship on September 26, 2022. (Photo by Rene Nijhuis/Orange Pictures/BSR Agency/Getty Images)

Wong-Orantes said she and her U.S. teammates are on their toes for the world championships, which features twice as many teams (24) as the Olympics and a “more grueling” format.

“It’s going to be a long tournament, and I think we’re really going to need all 14 of us that are here. I’m pretty certain that, at any given moment, someone’s going to be called on and someone’s going to need to step up in big moments.”

2022 Ascendant LPGA: How to watch, who’s playing in Texas’s annual signature event

Atthaya Thitikul of Thailand hits her second shot on the 16th hole during the final round of the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.
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The LPGA make its annual stop in The Colony, Texas, this week for the 10th edition of the Ascendant LPGA benefiting Volunteers of America, where Thailand’s 19-year-old rookie Atthaya Thitikul comes in hot off her second career win and second playoff victory this season at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.

Leading the 132-player field at Old American Golf Club, located at Golf Clubs at The Tribute, are Texas residents and past champions Cheyenne Knight and Angela Stanford. They’ll compete for the $1.7 million prize purse alongside major champions Nelly KordaLydia Ko and Brooke Henderson. Last year’s Ascendant LPGA champion, world No. 1 Jin Young Ko, will not be defending her title after announcing earlier this month she would be missing several weeks due to a nagging wrist injury.

This past weekend in Arkansas, Thitikul took the lead with a 10-under 61 in the second round and shot 68 in the final round to finish regulation tied with Danielle Kang at 17-under 196. Thitikul, who won the JTBC Classic in March in a two-hole playoff vs. Nanna Koerstz Madsen, drained an 8-foot birdie putt on the second playoff hole to secure the win over Kang.


How to watch the 2022 Ascendant LPGA 

Coverage of the 2022 Ascendant LPGA from Old American Golf Club in The Colony, Texas, can be found on Golf Channel, with streaming options available any time on any mobile device and online through NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

  • Thursday, Sept. 29: 12:30-3:30 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Friday, Sept. 30: 12:30-3:30 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Saturday, Oct. 1: 1-4 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Sunday, Oct. 2: 1-4 p.m. ET, Golf Channel

Who’s playing in the 2022 Ascendant LPGA

Six of the top 10 players in the Rolex World Rankings are among the field in Texas, including:

  • No. 2 Nelly Korda
  • No. 4 Lydia Ko
  • No. 5 Atthaya Thitikul
  • No. 6 Brooke Henderson
  • No. 7 Lexi Thompson
  • No. 10 Nasa Hataoka

A number of local Texans also are in the tournament, headlined by past champions, Angela Stanford (2020) and Cheyenne Knight (2019), and two junior champions of the Volunteers of America Classic Girls Championship, who are playing on a sponsor exemption: Yunxuan (Michelle) Zhang (2022), a freshman at SMU, and Avery Zweig (2021), a high school sophomore from McKinney, Texas.


Past five champions of The Ascendant LPGA

YEAR WINNER SCORE MARGIN RUNNERUP
2021 Jin Young Ko (South Korea) 16-under 268 1 stroke Matilda Castren
2020 Angela Stanford (USA) 7-under 277 2 strokes So Yeon Ryu, Inbee Park, Yealimi Noh
2019 Cheyenne Knight (USA) 18-under 266 2 strokes Brittany Altomare, Jaye Marie Green
2018 Sung Hyun Park (South Korea) 11-under 131 1 stroke Lindy Duncan
2017 Haru Nomura (Japan) 3-under 281 Playoff Christie Kerr

Last time at The Ascendant LPGA

South Korea’s Jin Young Ko carded a final-round 69 to maintain her 54-hole lead at Old American Golf Club and held on for a one stroke win at the 2021 Volunteers of America Classic, her eighth career LPGA tour title. Ko finished regulation at 16-under 268, edging Finland’s Matilda Castren by one stroke.

It kicked off a five-win season for Ko, who had just lost her No. 1 ranking to Nelly Korda the week prior after holding the top spot for 100 straight weeks. She regained the No. 1 ranking back in October 2021, after earning her fourth win in seven starts at the BMW Ladies Championship.


More about Old American Golf Club

Opened in 2010, the Old American Golf Club is one of two clubs at The Tribute, a lakefront resort community on Lewisville Lake in The Colony, Texas. Designed by Tripp Davis and 12-time PGA Tour winner Justin Leonard, Old American plays as a Par 71 and stretches to 6,475 yards on the tournament scorecard.