July 30 WNBA Preview — Chicago Sky (11-8) at Connecticut Sun (13-6)

The Chicago Sky often appear to be the odd team out when potential WNBA title contenders are considered. They have a chance to change the narrative and tighten the top of the league standings Tuesday night when they face the Connecticut Sun.

The Sky (11-8) are fifth overall in the league standings, two games back of co-leaders Connecticut (13-6) and Las Vegas but not mentioned in the same breath as the Sun, the Aces, the Washington Mystics, or the Los Angeles Sparks often when it comes to teams with title aspirations.

First-year coach James Wade has overseen a remarkable turnaround, one which was recognized by the Sky’s peers and WNBA media as their starting backcourt tandem of Courtney Vandersloot and Diamond DeShields – along with forward Allie Quigley – were named to the All-Star team as reserves.

Quigley and DeShields contributed to Team Wilson’s 129-126 victory over Team Delle Donne in Saturday’s All-Star game, with the pair combining for five 3-pointers and 27 points. Quigley also got the better of her wife Vandersloot during the game, hitting one trey over her and then another as she rushed in late to defend.

“She was talking a lot of mess during the week how she would lock me up on defense,” Quigley told The Associated Press. “I had to take the opportunity and show her who’s boss. I said sorry a couple times too.”

But now it is back to business for Chicago, which is seeking its first five-game winning streak since a record-tying six-game run from Aug. 15-31, 2013. The Sky have averaged 85.7 points in their four wins, with Vandersloot – the WNBA’s leader in assists at 8.5 per game – averaging 10.8 in that span.

“Right now, they should be feeding off this, the confidence of this, what it means to win close games,” Wade told The Athletic following Chicago’s 78-70 win over Indiana on July 21. “We’ve won a lot of close games. They should take confidence in us having three All-Stars. They should take a lot of pride in that, us being one of the top-scoring benches, all that stuff. Think of all the good things.”

Things did not go according to plan logistically for the Sky in making the trip to Connecticut as only Wade, two players, and a member of the training staff were able to fly into Hartford on Monday after their scheduled flight was canceled according to Madeline Kinney of the Chicago Sun-Times. She also reported the rest of the team did not arrive at their hotels until approximately 4:30 a.m. local time.

Connecticut also closed out the first half of the season on a four-game win streak that was preceded by a five-game skid. The Sun also boast quality perimeter firepower as Shekinna Stricklen ended Quigley’s bid for a third consecutive 3-point title in Las Vegas over the weekend and scored over 20 points in both rounds.

“I was thinking I need at least 25-27, not going to lie,” Stricklen said, referring to eliminating Quigley in the first round. “Still in shock about the first round. … Thought Allie (Quigley) was going to get a lot more.”

Stricklen, whose 8.9 points per game is her best since averaging a career-high 10.0 for Seattle in 2013, is shooting 39.1 percent from 3-point range. She has served as a bellwether for Connecticut – the Sun are 8-0 when she makes at least three shots from beyond the arc compared to 5-6 when hitting two or fewer.

Jonquel Jones and Alyssa Thomas represented Connecticut in the All-Star game, with Jones totaling 13 points and 13 rebounds in just 18 minutes and Thomas chipping in eight points for Team Delle Donne.

This game pits two of the league’s best offenses against each other as the Sky enter the game second in scoring at 79.8 points per game, while the Sun are fourth (78.3). Chicago outscored Connecticut 29-8 in the second quarter of a 93-75 victory June 23 as Cheyenne Parker scored 22 points to lead five players in double figures.

(Jasmine Thomas photo courtesy Chris Poss/High Post Hoops)

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