On a night that the Connecticut Sun honored long-time University of Connecticut associate coach Chris Daley with the Margo Dydek award, three of her former players with the Seattle Storm gave the visitors an 11-point lead after three quarters of play Tuesday night in Uncasville.
Former UConn stars Sue Bird, Breanna Stewart and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis had Seattle in position to steal a win on the road from the Sun.
But the Sun were not to be denied. Third-year players Courtney Williams and Jonquel Jones played with an energy in the fourth quarter as the Sun outscored Seattle, 33-9 in the fourth quarter to pull away and earn a 84-71 victory at the Mohegan Sun Arena.
Williams scored 15 of her career-high 27 points in the fourth quarter including seven consecutive points to open the fourth quarter while Jones had 20 points and game-high 14 rebounds including six in the fourth quarter. Jones also had a block, a pair of steals and three assists in the final quarter.
Stewart led Seattle (10-16) with 17 points while Bird had 14. Mosqueda-Lewis had 15 points, including 13 in the second quarter as the Storm built up an 11-point lead at halftime.
But once again, Connecticut (16-9) rallied to earn their fourth straight win and their seventh consecutive victory at home. Earlier this year, the Sun erased a 22-point lead against Washington.
“It was truly an exciting fourth quarter for us,” Connecticut coach Curt Miller said. “We didn’t play great basketball and we missed a lot of shots we’re capable of making. Seattle really took it to us in the first 30 minutes. But all of sudden, it turned.”
Miller was thrilled with the young core of players that helped turn it around for the Sun, who scored the first seven points of the fourth quarter – all from Williams.
Jones is just in her third year from George Washington while Williams is in her third year from South Florida. Alyssa Thomas is a fourth-year pro from Maryland. Their relentless play helped spark the fourth quarter rally.
Trailing by nine, Williams blocked Mosqueda-Lewis and the ball rolled toward midcourt. But Shekeena Stricklen was able to keep the ball alive and flipped it to Rachel Banham, the second-year guard from Minnesota, who found Williams streaking toward the basket. Williams laid it up and in to energize the 7,853 fans in the arena.
“JJ (Jonquel Jones) and Courtney came alive (in the fourth quarter),” Miller said. “We were missing some shots we were capable of making but Courtney got going and then we just rode her. It’s tiring chasing her around. She’s boundless of energy and then when you’re chasing her around, screens, screens, and we really got going.
“JJ was a real factor,” Miller said. “She was disrupting finishes around the rim and altering shots all night long, even when she wasn’t getting blocks. Then, it felt like she got every big defensive rebound when we needed one.”
“So, those young kids really were gritty tonight. Rachel’s (Banham) line might not be impressive, but we haven’t played Rachel Banham 19 minutes and she more than held her own, pleased with her minutes also,” Miller added.
The Sun had nine steals and blocked four shots – two by Jones in the pivotal fourth quarter. Stricklen led the way with a career-high five steals.
Williams drained a three-pointer with 7:44 left to cut the lead to four, 62-58. Bird hit a long jumper to push the lead back to six but Jones converted on a three-point play in the lane to trim the Seattle lead to three, 64-61 with 6:38 remaining.
After a Seattle miss and a Jones rebound, a Williams jumper cut the lead to one. At the other end of the floor, Jones blocked Bird’s shot and Banham sank a jumper from the top of the key to give Connecticut their second lead of the evening, 65-64 with 5:33 remaining. After another Jones rebound, Williams followed up with a jumper to push the lead to three and Thomas flipped up a shot with 4:37 left to swell the lead to five.
“I just got in a zone and tried to stay as long as I could,” Williams said. “My teammates were finding me and I was just trying to knock down shots.”
Connecticut held Seattle to 3-of-20 shooting in the fourth quarter. “We got cold at the wrong time,” Stewart said. “I think we came out in the first half and hit them. In the second half, you have to expect a run from a home team. We got good shots, we just didn’t make them.”
NOTES: Connecticut made 11-of-14 field goals in the fourth quarter. … Alyssa Thomas collected 17 points on 7-of-14 shooting from the field. The forward set a new single-season high in made field goals (133), and had her sixth straight game in double-figures with 19 games this season scoring 10 or more points. … Alex Bentley collected 12 points against the Storm. This is Bentley’s seventh game this season with 10 or more points and her third straight game in double figures. … The Sun return to the floor Sunday when they host Dallas at the Mohegan Sun Arena. … The Sun were without All-Star guard Jasmine Thomas, out with a sprained ankle she suffered Friday’s win over Phoenix. Lynetta Kizer also missed the game with a bad back.