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DeWanna Bonner gives Sun a unique advantage in WNBA Finals

None of Chelsea Gray's three 3-pointers came when she was matched up against DeWanna Bonner. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

UNCASVILLE, Conn. — Curt Miller is a film nerd. During his endless film sessions, the Sun coach noticed something about Aces guard Chelsea Gray: Most of her shots against his team were contested. She was making them, but the Sun players always had a hand up.

So, how do you stop someone who seemingly can’t be stopped?

You put a player with a 7-foot-4 wingspan on her to make those shots even harder.

Enter DeWanna Bonner, who hasn’t given much thought to her own length.

“I just learned that tonight, literally,” Bonner said with a laugh after Connecticut beat Las Vegas 105-76 to force Game 4 of the WNBA Finals. “Holly Rowe (of ESPN) walked up to me and said so. She said she Googled it. I’ve never measured it, but if Holly says it, it’s probably true.”

The exact number doesn’t matter. What does matter is the way Bonner’s long limbs overwhelm ball handlers and shot-makers like Gray.

“(Gray) has an incredible release point and incredible knack for scoring while contested,” Miller said. “So we decided to put a little bit more length on her.”

Before Thursday’s contest, Gray was averaging 23.3 points per game on 68.8 percent shooting, recording 21 points in each of the first two WNBA Finals contests.

In Game 3, she had just 11 points on seven shots.

The Sun sent different players at Gray throughout the contest, but Bonner spent the most time on the Aces’ point guard.

Gray scored her first bucket with 7:46 left in the first quarter. After that, she made three 3-pointers in the second quarter, but none of them came when she was matched up against Bonner.

“I’m just trying to stay locked in and limit her touches as much as I can, not give her too much room,” Bonner said. “Try to use my length more than anything. I’m a 6-4 guard for a reason, so I just try to use my length, use my speed because … she’s been playing incredible basketball. However I can limit her touches or try to limit her from seeing the basket, getting a clean look at the basket, is what I’m trying to do before she even gets to her spot.”

Miller’s decision to lean on Bonner for a difficult defensive assignment is one that her former college coach, Nell Fortner, knows well.

Fortner was at the helm when Bonner played at Auburn from 2005-09. Any time an opposing player had Fortner stumped, she turned to Bonner.

“We had her guarding people’s point guards,” said Fortner, now the head coach at Georgia Tech. “That is very long and very lengthy on the ball. She’s able to stay up with you laterally — that is unheard of. Defensively, I could put her on anyone.”

Over the first two games of the series against Las Vegas, Bonner struggled. She had just five total points on 11.1 percent shooting, a stark contrast to the 13.9 points per game she averaged in the first two rounds against Dallas and Chicago.

Her two lowest point totals in those rounds were nine against Dallas and two against Chicago — both losses for the Sun.

Bonner’s ability to score is clearly critical to the Sun’s success, and on Thursday she used her defense as a means of jumpstarting her offense.

“We challenged her this game, and she took those challenges head on,” Miller said. “She played with energy and played with offensive efficiency. It just gives the rest of our crew so much confidence.”

Bonner says she didn’t do anything differently going into the game other than sleeping in her own bed, something the self-described homebody was looking forward to after the stint in Vegas.

Instead, she just stayed the course, focused on defense and let her offense come naturally.

Bonner finished with 18 points, six rebounds and five assists, kickstarting a Connecticut attack that had six players finish the game in double figures. Jonquel Jones led the way with 20 points, while Alyssa Thomas recorded the first triple-double in WNBA Finals history with 16 points, 15 rebounds and 11 assists. Natisha Hiedneman added 14 points, Courtney Williams had 11, and DiJonai Carrington came off the bench to add 12.

According to Miller, everything Connecticut does starts with the 35-year-old guard.

“She’s such a veteran, respected presence in our locker room,” Miller said. “There’s no secret that she has championship pedigree and has played on some great teams. And so we have a group that really looks up to her.”

Bonner’s experience in the league, including two WNBA championships with the Mercury, has certainly helped her hone her leadership skills, but she showed that ability even before she got to the pros.

“That was something that we saw her grow into at Auburn,” Fortner said. “By her senior year, we won that SEC championship. She was very competitive, focused and everybody followed her.”

After following her to a Game 3 victory, the Sun are hoping to follow Bonner a little further, all the way to the franchise’s first WNBA title.

Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.