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At end of long road trip, Connecticut can’t hold off late surge from Las Vegas

Connecticut’s Morgan Tuck, shown earlier this year, tied her season-high with 20 points in Saturday night’s loss to Las Vegas to end a long road trip for the Connecticut Sun.

It’s been a long road trip for the Connecticut Sun. They have played 10 of their 11 games on the road, including six stops on the West Coast.

On Saturday night, the Sun were playing the final game of a four-game West Coast swing in six days against the Las Vegas Aces. Connecticut led by 12 points after three quarters and had a seven-point lead with 4:19 left in the game.

But the Sun didn’t have enough left in the tank to finish off the Aces. Las Vegas outscored Connecticut, 14-3 in the final four minutes to beat the Sun in a 94-90 WNBA game.

The Aces were ready and willing to run up and down the court with the Sun. At the end, they had a little more. Rookie A’ja Wilson, the 6-foot-5 from South Carolina who was the No. 1 pick in last spring’s WNBA draft, was outstanding with a game-high 34 points and 14 rebounds – the second time this season she has scored over 30 points.

Guard Kayla McBride had 27 points and six rebounds while Kelsey Plum added a season-high 10 assists.

The Sun, who lost to Phoenix, 84-77 on Thursday night, slip to 10-9. They were led by Morgan Tuck, who had 20 points off the bench including a 4-of-7 performance from three-point range. Jonquel Jones scored 16 points while Chiney Ogwumike added 15 points and pulled down a team-high 11 rebounds.

Connecticut, which is 3-8 after starting the season 7-1, played without Alyssa Thomas (12.0 ppg, 9.0 rpg) for the tenth consecutive game. She is day-to-day after injuring a shoulder against Washington on June 13. Starting point guard Courtney Williams (12.3 ppg) has been out for personal reasons and has missed the last four games.

The Sun were in position to steal a victory but ran out of gas in the final minutes, missing five of their final six shots from the floor — pressed by an aggressive Aces defense.

Connecticut led 87-80 with 4:19 when Jones grabbed a rebound and drove to the basket and scored. But Wilson hit a jumper and then on their next possession, McBridge drove between a pair of Connecticut defenders to score. Plum hit a three-point jumper from the corner with 3:12 left to tie the score at 87-87.

McBride sank a pair of free throws with 1:52 left to give the Aces and head coach Bill Laimbeer a two-point lead, 89-87.

After another Connecticut miss with 1:28 remaining, the Aces controlled the rebound and raced down the floor. Wilson missed a shot in the lane, covered by three Connecticut defenders. Wilson fought for the rebound and put up a shot that went through the basket. Fouled, she added a free throw with 1:12 left to push the lead to 92-87 – a 12-0 surge by the Aces in 3:07.

Tuck drained a three-pointer with 51 seconds left to pull the Sun within two points, 92-90.

Jasmine Thomas missed two shots in the final 13 seconds of the game – shots that were tough to get up in the air due to an quick Aces squad that consistently pressured the ball and the shooter.

Tuck sank a career-high four three-point goals – an impressive performance considering she had just seven three-point shots combined in the previous 17 games. Her 20 points tied a season high first achieved at Phoenix on June 20.

Tuck’s former teammate at the University of Connecticut, Moriah Jefferson, had an immediate impact on the game for the Aces in the fourth quarter.

A third year pro, Jefferson was named to the WNBA All-Rookie team for the San Antonio Stars in 2016, starting all 34 games and averaging 13.9 points and 4.2 assists a game. But it was just her third game of the season coming off successful off-season knee surgery.

Jefferson played a season-high 17 minutes and had a season-high nine points (3-5 shooting) and five assists.

Early in the fourth quarter, Jefferson scored a traditional three-point play on a drive to the basket, had a beautiful pass inside the lane to Wilson, a sharp pullup jumper and a quick drive to the basket as the Aces cut an 11-point Connecticut lead to seven.

The Sun return to the Mohegan Sun Arena on Tuesday when they host the New York Liberty for an 11 a.m. matinee.

NOTES: The Sun trailed by as many as 15 points against Phoenix before closing to within one point twice in the final 4:16 of the game but couldn’t grab the lead in an 87-77 loss to the Mercury on Thursday night.

The Sun received a balanced effort with Chiney Ogwumike, Rachel Banham and Jasmine Thomas each finishing with 11 points while Alex Bentley scored 10 off the bench. Lexie Brown had a career night, finishing with nine points on three 3-point field goals.

Connecticut trailed by 13 points to begin the fourth quarter, 70-57 before a 15-3 run cut the lead to three points, 73-70. Brown had a pair of three-point shots in the surge while Jones and Tuck each had baskets in traffic in the lane.

Tuck scored with 4:16 remaining to cut the lead to one, 73-72. Jones scored with 3:45 left to again cut the lead to one, 75-74.

Phoenix (14-5) was led by Diana Taurasi (25 points, five rebounds, four assists) and Brittney Griner (23 points, six rebounds, three blocks).

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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