UConn women’s basketball alums Stefanie Dolson, Azurá Stevens win WNBA championship with Chicago Sky

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Two more Huskies are WNBA champions again.

Former UConn women’s basketball standouts Stefanie Dolson (2010-14) and Azurá Stevens (2017-18) earned their first WNBA titles as the No. 6 seed Chicago Sky took down the No. 5 Phoenix Mercury 80-74 in Chicago to win the best-of-five Finals series, 3-1.

Eighteen former Huskies have been on 17 of the 25 WNBA championship teams. The Sky’s fourth-quarter, come-from-behind victory also sent home a Mercury team loaded with former UConn standouts: Diana Taurasi, Bria Hartley, Megan Walker and (injured) Kia Nurse. The Sky’s Kahleah Copper was named Finals MVP, while Chicago products Candace Parker (16 points, 13 rebounds) and Allie Quigley (26 points) also shined Sunday.

The Sky faced championship expectations since free agency, when Parker opted to return home after spending her entire career with the Los Angeles Sparks. After stumbling through the regular season with a .500 record, Chicago became the epitome of “peaking at the right time,” and the play of Dolson and Stevens helped ensure that happened. And Dolson specifically put the finishing touch on Chicago’s championship: After Parker tied the score late at 72, Dolson (playing with five fouls) converted a pair of go-ahead layups, and came up with two defensive rebounds in the final minute.

“We wanted to get a pick-and-roll going down at [Brittney Griner] and try and get Stef,” Courtney Vandersloot said. “Stef is awesome at that little floater. She has amazing touch, and she’s done it a few times. This isn’t the first. But it was nice to be able to see her get in there, and it just felt comfortable.”

Dolson, who also won gold at the Olympics this summer in 3x3 basketball and is known for doing more of the little things than making flashy plays, averaged just 16.8 minutes in the postseason and didn’t see the court as much in the Sky’s semifinal series against No. 1 Connecticut. But with a matchup against Griner on tap, Sky coach James Wade said he told Dolson that they’d need her to step up in the Finals.

“She was ready. She gave us some good, valuable minutes, and she leaned on BG a lot throughout the game, so BG didn’t have the same legs in the fourth quarter as she did in the first three quarters,” Wade said.

“I’ve never seen Stef happier,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said last week. “Winning the gold medal and getting to the Finals. I don’t know that there’s any team, anywhere, that wouldn’t benefit from having Stefanie Dolson.”

Stevens, who assumed a starting role mid-season, played a critical role all playoffs. Her length, defense, rebounding and versatility prompted Sun coach Curt Miller to call her the “X-factor” of the Sky-Sun semifinal series. Though her Finals series was a bit quieter on paper, she made her impact felt all over the court, and in all, she averaged 9.8 points and 6.9 rebounds in 25.4 minutes across the postseason.

“Azurá is growing up before our eyes,” Wade said in the semifinals.

“I don’t think she even understands how talented she is and how talented she could be,” Parker said. “For her to have that two-way game, and so much more that she could do, is scary.”

Her growth is particularly remarkable given how far she’s come in her pro career: She was hurt most of the 2019 season, her second season as a pro and with the Dallas Wings, due to a foot injury. After being traded to the Sky, she left the 2020 WNBA bubble early due to a knee injury that required surgery.

You could tell how excited Stevens was to take home a WNBA title by her celebratory scream in her post-game interview with Holly Rowe.

“Azurá is the perfect pro player. She’s long, and she can play a bunch of positions,” Auriemma said. “You look at somebody like Jonquel Jones, who had as good as season as anybody ever had, and you look at Azurá and say given the opportunity to play, Azurá is kind of the same kind of player. And those are the players that are going to be really successful in the WNBA.”

Taurasi reportedly breaks door

The Next’s Alex Simon reported that after the game Taurasi, who lost a Finals series for the first time, slammed the visiting locker room door so many times that it cracked down the middle. Phoenix’s players declined to do their required post-game media press conference. Taurasi has been struggling with injuries all summer, including a high ankle sprain and a broken bone in her foot in the postseason. She finished with 16 points on 16 shots Sunday.

UConn WNBA champions

1999: Jennifer Rizzotti, Kara Wolters (Houston Comets)

2000: Jennifer Rizzotti (Houston Comets)

2003: Swin Cash (Detroit Shock)

2004: Sue Bird (Seattle Storm)

2006: Swin Cash (Detroit Shock)

2007: Kelly Schumacher, Diana Taurasi (Phoenix Mercury)

2008: Kelly Schumacher (Detroit Shock)

2009: Ketia Swanier, Diana Taurasi* (Phoenix Mercury)

2010: Svetlana Abrosimova, Sue Bird, Swin Cash (Seattle Storm)

2011: Charde Houston, Maya Moore (Minnesota Lynx)

2013: Maya Moore* (Minnesota Lynx)

2014: Diana Taurasi* (Phoenix Mercury)

2015: Kalana Greene, Asjha Jones, Renee Montgomery, Maya Moore (Minnesota Lynx)

2017: Renee Montgomery, Maya Moore (Minnesota Lynx)

2018: Sue Bird, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, Breanna Stewart* (Seattle Storm)

2020: Sue Bird, Breanna Stewart*, Morgan Tuck (Seattle Storm)

2021: Stefanie Dolson, Azurá Stevens (Chicago Sky)

*-WNBA Finals MVP

Alexa Philippou can be reached at aphilippou@courant.com.

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