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Sun withstand the pressure to beat Minnesota for seventh win in eight games

Connecticut’s Courtney Williams had a season-high 22 points Saturday afternoon as the Sun beat the defending WNBA champion Minnesota Lynx, 89-75.

The Connecticut Sun are looking sharp eight games into the 2018 WNBA campaign. The Sun finished off a four-game road trip with a 3-1 record, including Shekinna Stricklen hitting a game-winning three-point shot with 0.1 left on the clock on Thursday to beat the New York Liberty.

The Sun returned home in Uncasville for a Saturday afternoon matinee, hosting the defending WNBA champion Minnesota Lynx, a team desperately looking to get back on track after losing five of their first eight games.

But the Sun played with poise and toughness to beat Minnesota, 89-75, and earn their seventh win in eight games before a season-high 6,771 at the Mohegan Sun Arena. It is the best start for the Sun since 2015 when they also began the season with a 7-1 record.

The game was tied 10 times and the lead changed seven times. The Lynx tried to assert themselves in the third quarter opening the second half with a 14-4 run – only to see Connecticut respond with a 13-0 run of their own.

And when Minnesota (3-6) tried to rally in the fourth quarter, Connecticut responded again. The Lynx cut the lead to seven points with 6:31 remaining but the Sun raced off on a 9-0 run to secure the victory.

“Well, this league is about runs, and that’s a championship team, you know they were going to make a run at us,” Connecticut coach Curt Miller said.

“I think it shows our toughness,” Connecticut guard Courtney Williams said. Williams scored a season-high 22 points to lead the Sun, including a 10 points the first quarter when she sank 5-of-7 shots from the floor. “A big thing about our team is that we like to play tough and when things aren’t going our way we make sure we stay in the game and keep that same mindset,” she said.

In the third quarter, it looked like the Lynx would establish control of the game as they turned a six-point halftime deficit into a four-point lead, 52-48 with 5:01 left in the quarter.

But in a little over three minutes, the Sun forced four Minnesota turnovers, the Lynx missed five shots including a technical foul and the Sun scored 13 points to take a nine-point lead, 61-52.

“Teams are always to make runs,” Connecticut guard Jasmine Thomas said. “How you react to them, how you respond to them is extremely important and it is a sign of our maturity. I feel like a couple seasons ago, maybe we would have gotten down and had to scrap back in the fourth quarter.”

Minnesota’s Sylvia Fowles, who led the Lynx with 20 points and 14 rebounds, lamented the lost opportunity. “We can’t keep shooting ourselves in the foot,” she said. “We had Connecticut right where we wanted them, had a couple turnovers to let them get shots up and had a couple of missed assignments. We’re just going to have to make sure we lock in and just refocus and regroup.”

The run started with Chiney Ogwumike hitting a foul shot to cut the lead to three. She got a steal and drove in for a layup to cut the lead to one, 53-52. After a Lynx turnover (three-second violation), it was Alex Bentley with a jumper to give Connecticut the lead.

A jumper from Thomas and a pair of three-point shots from Stricklen closed out the 13-0 surge that put the Sun in command with a 61-52 lead with 1:48 left in the third quarter. Stricklen finished with 11 points off the bench.

Minnesota cut the lead to seven with 6:31 remaining but the Sun responded. Ogwumike had a block and three rebounds during that stretch while Jonquel Jones (10 points) hit a clutch three-point shot. Alyssa Thomas (seven points, 11 rebounds) also had a steal, a rebound and a jumper while Williams capped the run with a 12 footer.

Williams 22 points was the most since she had a career-high 27 against Seattle last August. Jasmine Thomas had 18 points and four assists. In the last two games, she is averaging 18.5 points with six assists.

Ogwumike had 11 points and 11 rebounds while Alyssa Thomas had seven points and 11 rebounds. It was the first time that Alysa Thomas has been held under 10 points this season.

For the Lynx, former UConn star Maya Moore had 17 points and pulled down five rebounds. She had a game-high four steals and is averaging 19.4 points over the last five games for Minnesota.

The Sun host Washington (5-4) on Tuesday night at 7 p.m. before heading back out on the road. After they play the Mystics, the Sun will play nine of their next 10 games on the road.

“For us to go 4-1 in that stretch (June 1-9 with four of five games on the road) is simply remarkable and a credit to that locker room,” Miller said. “They believe in each other, care for each other, play for each other. Really, really proud of that stretch.”

Added Miller, “To understand what goes through when you’re playing in five games in nine days in five different cities, the wakeup calls, the commercial flights, breakfast and lunch always in the airports, you land, you grab your bags and you go right to practice, you get checked in and the next day you’re waking up to a shoot around or a walkthrough.”

The Sun have the best record in the WNBA with an 7-1 record with Seattle is second with a 6-2 mark. The top eight teams in the league qualify for the playoffs, regardless of their conference. Connecticut has a 2 1/2 game lead over Atlanta (4-3) in the Eastern Conference.

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. He was inducted into the New England High School Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2018.

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