On Sunday, the Connecticut Sun opened the third quarter with a 15-2 run to pull away from Phoenix and then the Sun buried the Mercury in the fourth quarter in a 94-66 rout. Connecticut allowed just nine points to Phoenix in the fourth quarter and 21 in the second half. “They kicked our (butt) in the second half in every aspect of the game,” lamented Phoenix’s Diana Taurasi afterwards.
It took a little longer on Wednesday but the Sun broke open a close, hard-fought contest with a 10-2 run to open the fourth quarter and held off the Dallas Wings in a 93-87 WNBA victory at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville before 6,435 fans. Connecticut (20-10) earned their 20th victory of the season for the first time since 2012 when they finished in the Eastern Conference.
Playing for the fourth time in nine days, the Sun received a game-high 23 points and seven rebounds from Alyssa Thomas and 20 points and a game-high 17 rebounds from Jonquel Jones. Jasmine Thomas, showing no ill effects from a sprained ankle two weeks ago, had 17 points while Shekinna Stricklen added 14 points.
Dallas (14-17) received 19 points from Skylar Diggins-Smith and 18 from Allisha Gray. Theresa Plaisance added 17 for the Wings, who played without leading scorer Glory Johnson, who was suspended one game for throwing a punch in Sunday’s game against Atlanta.
“That was gritty,” Sun coach Curt Miller said. “They have played only one time in the last 11 days and we are playing our fourth game in nine days. Those are the game in the WNBA that you typically do not find a way to the finish line. I felt at time we looked tired and we didn’t move them, we settled. We couldn’t do some of things we wanted to do, but you have to give Dallas credit.”
Connecticut led by three after three quarters that were hotly contested. There were 20 lead changes and the game was tied seven times.
But Connecticut’s Alex Bentley had two quick baskets in transition, Morgan Tuck scored off a nice feed from Courtney Williams and Williams drove to the basket for two points to give the Sun a nine-point lead, 77-68. Alyssa Thomas completed a 10-2 Connecticut run taking a nice feed from Williams and driving the basket for two points and an 11-point advantage, 79-68.
“I try to do whatever I can for the team,” Williams said. “Scoring, taking charges, just hustling. Whatever I can do out there to impact the game.”
The lead eventually swelled to 13 points but Dallas wouldn’t go away. A few turnovers in the final minutes allowed Dallas to cut the lead to five points, 89-82, with 36 seconds left. But Jasmine Thomas sank four free throws in the final 30 seconds to secure the win for Connecticut.
“We weren’t perfect in the final two minutes tonight,” Miller said. “We have to address that. The game got a little tighter than it needed to be, but we will learn from that. We need that because that is what playoff games are going to be like. I am proud of them.
“They need a break, you can feel that they are separating a little bit, they are all a little bit tired. It is challenging us on the court and it is challenging our chemistry to stay strong,” he said.
Alyssa Thomas scored 20 or more points for the fourth time this season and has scored in double figures 11 times in 24 games. She had a season-high 13 free throw attempts in the game.
“We rode a lot of people a lot of minutes tonight and her (Thomas) in particular,” Miller said. “She brought the toughness and the passion and energy in the first half. If it wasn’t for her I don’t know where we were going to get it from. She was a bulldozer, just flying down the lane making things happen.”
Connecticut plays their final regular season home game of the season on Friday night when they host the Chicago Sky at 7 p.m. before heading out onto the road to close out the regular season with three straight road games against Washington (August 29), Phoenix (Sept. 1) and Los Angeles (Sept. 3).
PLAYOFFS: The Sun have qualified for the WNBA playoffs for the first time since 2012. The top eight teams in the league earn spots in the playoffs regardless of what conference they are in.
The top four seeds get first round byes while the top two seeds – currently Minnesota and Los Angeles – get byes into the semifinals.
The first round and second round are single-elimination contests. If Connecticut plays in the first round, they will host a game on Thursday, Sept. 7 at the Mohegan Sun Arena. If the Sun finish third or fourth, they will host a second round game on Sunday, Sept. 10. The WNBA semifinals, a best-of-five series, begin on Tuesday, Sept. 12. Connecticut is currently the third seed, two games behind Los Angeles for the No. 2 seed and two games ahead of fourth place New York.