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Sun’s Bentley snaps scoring drought with 31-point windfall against Mystics

Connecticut's Alex Bentley had a career-high 31 points against Washington Friday night. The two teams play again Sunday.

Connecticut’s Alex Bentley had a career-high 31 points against Washington Friday night. The two teams play again Sunday.

UNCASVILLE, Conn. – Through the first 15 games of the season, the Connecticut Sun’s second-year guard Alex Bentley was averaging 16.8 points a game. She helped the Sun get off to a surprising 7-1 start and earned an invitation to play in the WNBA All-Star Game.

But she hit a rough patch following the All-Star break. She scored three points in a loss to Indiana, two in a loss to Seattle and four in another loss to the Fever.

But with the help of teammates, Bentley is back on track. The 5-foot-7 guard had 10 points in a win over San Antonio and exploded for a career-high 31 Friday night in a key 86-72 victory over the Washington Mystics at the Mohegan Sun. The Sun face the Mystics Sunday in the second game of a weekend, home-and-away series.

“It was a huge slump. You can call it that now,” a relieved Bentley said Friday night. “Teams were changing up how they were defending me.”

Bentley is just the ninth player in the Sun’s history to score more than 30 points in a game. It ranks as the seventh best single game scoring performance in Connecticut history. The last Sun player with 31 points in a game was Tina Charles in 2011 against Chicago.

Sun coach Anne Donovan said, “Teams were really focusing in on (Bentley), putting two defenders on her. Against a defense like that, someone has to step up.”

“My teammates did a great job finding me and giving me open looks,” Bentley said.

Against the Mystics, guard Jasmine Thomas had 15 points and center Kelsey Bone had 10 hard-earned points in the paint. Shekinna Stricklen scored 11 off the bench. And Connecticut moved the ball around to find the open shooter. The Sun had 23 assists on 35 field goals.

That created opportunities for Bentley and she took advantage. She had a career-high 12 field goals, including a pair of three-point goals in the Sun’s 16-3 run to open the game. Bentley was 12-of-22 from the floor, including 3-of-4 from three-point range.

“Alex was back to her usual self,” Donovan said. “She was aggressive, getting to the perimeter and driving to the basket.”

When things got a bit tight, Bentley drained a key three-point shot. Connecticut led by as many as 15 points in the third quarter before the Mystics tied the game early in the fourth quarter with a 14-0 run. The Sun had led the entire game.

But before Washington could climb the mountain and make a play to take a lead, Bentley hit a big three-pointer from the top of the key to put the Sun back up by three, 65-62. “Someone had to stop the bleeding,” she joked. “They left me open so I took the shot.”

Bentley scored the final three baskets of the game for the Sun, twice driving through two Mystic defenders in the lane to get to the basket for layups.

“Initially, she was frustrated and tried to force it,” Connecticut guard Jasmine Thomas said of Bentley and her scoring slump “But tonight she came out with the right mind set. She just wasn’t looking for her shot and trying to force the scoring. She got everyone involved.”

Bentley had a season-high six assists and had a team-leading three steals. She now has a career-high 47 steals on the season. “Defense is the key for every team, honestly,” she said.

Connecticut faces another key game with Washington Sunday at 4 p.m. on NBA TV. The Sun (11-9) are a half game behind Indiana for the fourth and final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference. Washington (12-8) is two games behind New York for the lead in the Eastern Conference.

With the race in the Eastern Conference so tight, tiebreakers are looming large. Connecticut has already lost the season series and the head-to-head tiebreaker with Indiana. If Washington prevails on Sunday night, the Mystics will win that season series, 3-1 and grab the head-to-head tiebreaker.

Ten of Connecticut’s 14 remaining games are against Eastern Conference foes. The win over Washington on Friday night was the Sun’s first win over an Eastern Conference opponent since June 14 against Atlanta. If the Sun want to make the playoffs, they’ll have to start winning in the East. They are 4-8 in the Eastern Conference and 5-1 against the West.

NOTES: On Friday night, Sun guard Jasmine Thomas scored in double figures (15) for the first time in 11 games. She tied a career-high with eight assists and three 3-point goals. … Thomas had a pair of three-point goals in the opening 16-3 run for Connecticut. … The Sun shot 73 percent from the field (11-of-15) in the first quarter scoring 29 points – its best performance in any quarter this season. … Connecticut returns home on Wednesday night to face another Western Conference opponent – Tulsa at 7 p.m, on WTCX, Channel 20. The Shock recently announced that they will be moving to Dallas next season. … Sun coach Anne Donovan was recognized prior to the Washington game for being just the fourth coach in WNBA history to win 200 career games. Mystics coach Mike Thibault, San Antonio coach Dan Hughes and former Houston Comets coach Van Chancellor have won more than 200 games. … Bentley’s previous career high was 25 points against Chicago earlier this year on July 2, converting on 11-of-24 field goals.

Gerry deSimas, Jr., is the editor and founder of The Collinsville Press. He is an award-winning writer and has been covering sports in Connecticut and New England for more than 30 years.

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