Jones and Flame on brink of elimination


Tribune Sports Reporter

Jonquel Jones and her Shanxi Xing Rui Flame are on the brink of elimination and face an early deficit in the Women's Chinese Basketball Association Finals.

The Flame dropped the first two games of the series to the top seeded Beijing Great Wall as the series got underway this week.

The championship series continues the regular season rivalry between Jones of the Connecticut Sun, the WNBA's most improved player, head-to-head with the league's reigning MVP Sylvia Fowles of the Minnesota Lynx, who leads the Great Wall.

In game one, Beijing outlasted Shanxi with an 84-81 win. Jones finished with 20 points, 11 rebounds and four blocked shots, while Fowles scored 23 and grabbed 15 rebounds.

In game two, Jones added another double double with 20 points and 15 rebounds but her team suffered an 82-55 loss.

Fowles finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds, one of five players in double figures to lead a balanced scoring attack.

Beijing won the rebounding battle 41-29, including 32 on the defensive end.Game three is scheduled for Wednesday, March 14, and is a must-win situation for the Flame. Fowles and the Great Wall got the better of both regular season matchups against the Flame and remain undefeated against them this season. Jones ended the regular season averaging a team-high 29.3 points, 18.8 rebounds and 2.9 assists over 31 games for Shanxi Xing Rui.

The WCBA is the top-tier professional women's basketball league in China and is the women's counterpart to the Chinese Basketball Association.

The 2017-18 WCBA will include a 26-round regular season and playoffs, as well as All-Star weekend on January 20, 2018. The league expanded by two clubs this year to bring the total number of teams to 14. The top eight teams advanced to the playoffs.

Back in the United States, Jones' Connecticut Sun will open the 2018 season by hosting a two-day preseason event involving the Dallas Wings, New York Liberty and Los Angeles Sparks May 7-8 at Mohegan Sun Arena.

The Sun will close out the preseason on Friday, May 11, hosting the Atlanta Dream at 7pm in Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport.

Jones' last offseason propelled her into becoming the WNBA's Most Improved Player, an All-Star and an All-WNBA Second Team selection, leaving fans and pundits eager to see what this offseason will bring.

Sun head coach and GM Curt Miller told the team's website that the outlook for the franchise includes higher expectations this season after last year's playoff run.

"The 2017 Sun played with moderate expectations and therefore played the majority of the season with little pressure. We must embrace that there will be higher expectations during the 2018 season," he said.

"We need to stay focused on our preparation, attitude and effort. I believe our locker room culture and chemistry will remain the key to help us deal with the higher expectations throughout the season."