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Chicago Sky even semifinals vs. Connecticut Sun

Courtney Vandersloot was angry after Game 1 of the WNBA semifinals.

She didn’t try to hide it. The Chicago Sky captain is always angry after a loss — and she always blames herself. But that frustration was even more pointed after the Connecticut Sun held Vandersloot and her wife and backcourt mate, Allie Quigley, to a combined 12 points and three assists in Game 1.

Vandersloot didn’t record a point or an assist until the third quarter, and Quigley went 0-for-5 from 3-point range.

“That was a hard one. I felt a lot of responsibility for that one,” Vandersloot said ahead of Game 2 on Wednesday at Wintrust Arena. “I felt like if I played a little bit better game, maybe we win. … It’s a personal challenge for me. I know that I’m able to do it. This team has confidence in me. If I change how I play, I think we’re in really good shape.”

The Sky can’t win this series without a standout contribution from Vandersloot and Quigley. That wasn’t a concern in Game 2, as the dynamic duo returned to their signature form to power a dominant 85-77 win that leveled the series at 1-1.

Quigley set the tone the first time she touched the ball, sinking a 3-pointer from several feet behind the arc with a trailing defender’s hand in her face to open the scoring for the sky.

It wasn’t just an offensive rejuvenation for the pair — Vandersloot hounded Sun players with off-ball defense, outplaying her size to snatch passes out of the air and sprinting full-court to block a transition shot out of the hands of Sun forward DeWanna Bonn.

After Vandersloot cut backdoor for a vintage slash-and-scoop to the basket in the third quarter, she cracked a rare smile and embraced her teammates at midcourt as the Sun took another frustrated timeout.

By the end of the first half, Vandersloot and Quigley had already eclipsed their Game 1 performance, combining for 15 points and five assists to fuel the Sky to a 47-32 lead. Vandersloot finished with 10 points and eight assists, while Quigley went 3-for-6 from behind the arc and had 13 points and three assists.

“They’re who we are,” coach James Wade said. “Since I’ve been here, Allie and Sloot have been the face of the Sky. What helped us is that they were aggressive. … We play with such a talented team that they tend to play a little bit for the team, but they have to force action a little bit because they make good decisions. We trust you.”

Wade didn’t complicate his advice on the Sky offense ahead of Game 2: “Hey, guys, we’ve got to make shots.”

The Sky shot 35.3% from the field in Game 1, missing wide-open layups and 3-pointers alike as the Sun forced them out of rhythm with their size advantage. But that shooting slump ended emphatically in Game 2 as the Sky shot 50.8% from the field and 40% from 3-point range.

Candace Parker scorched the Sun for the second game in a row, scoring 22 points and adding four rebounds, four assists, three blocks and a steal.

Parker flashed her signature intensity from the moment she entered the arena, bobbing her head to “God Did” by Jay-Z — the unofficial anthem of her postseason run — as it blasted through the arena in the final minutes before tipoff.

“When you have generational talents (like Parker), they’re just too good, too dominant,” Wade said. “Great wine just ages well. … You can’t put an age on that. What did Aaliyah say? Age ain’t nothing but a number.”

While Parker’s scoring stoked the offense, it was the Sky’s defensive pressure that once again swung the momentum of the series.

This is an old script now for the Sky, who ratcheted up their defense to flip a Game 1 loss in the first round against the New York Liberty into a dominant beatdown.

The sky crowded the perimeter and swarmed the sun forwards in the paint, forcing Connecticut into 12 turnovers. After struggling with the Sun’s size in Game 1, the Sky limited the the league’s best offensive rebounding team to six second-chance points.

“It’s a lot of will,” Wade said. “This is the playoffs, so we have to be more physical. Sometimes it’s just about who wants the ball more. … We rebounded with all five players, and it’s going to take a concentrated effort to do that again and again and again.”

Sky forward Emma Meesseman helped Parker combat the Sun’s trio of forwards in the paint. Jonquel Jones still managed 23 points, but the Sky frontcourt shut down Alyssa Thomas (seven points) and DeWanna Bonner (two).

All five Sky starters scored in double digits as the team returned to its slash-first offensive identity while feeding Parker on the block. Meesseman scored 14 points in addition to her defensive adjustment, and Kahleah Copper added 12.

The series moves to Connecticut for Game 3 at noon Sunday.

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