In most championship seasons, there is a game like this. It is a game that most teams would lose but they find a way to rally and earn the victory.
The Connecticut Sun trailed the visiting Seattle Storm by 13 points late in the third quarter. Seattle had a seven-point lead with 1:47 remaining. But the Sun had five steals in the final 1:40 and outscored the Storm by a 10-2 margin in the 90 seconds to steal a 79-78 victory at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville on Friday night before 7,092 fans.
Shekinna Stricklen, who tied a season-high with 24 points, sank a pair of free throws with 4.3 seconds remaining to give Connecticut their first lead of the second half. With a second straight win, the Sun (18-8) remain in second place in the overall WNBA standings behind Washington (19-7).
“We took a page out of their book,” Connecticut’s Alyssa Thomas said, referring to the defending WNBA champion Storm. “(We) pressured them full court. They really didn’t have a true point guard out there. We are good defenders so we just kind of jumped them and caused them to throw it around out there.”
Connecticut forced 27 Seattle turnovers and had a season-high 19 steals, including ten in the fourth quarter.
“I’ll give credit to Connecticut, they fought till the end and never gave up,” said Seattle’s Natasha Howard, who scored a game-high 27 points and pulled down 10 rebounds “We just kept turning the ball over at the end and that’s what we need to focus on, those types of moments. We need to cherish those possessions and Connecticut took advantage of it, they were determined to win tonight and they got it.”
The Sun had cut the lead to three points when Jonquel Jones pulled down a rebound and put it back into the basket with 3:37 remaining in the game. But Seattle used a 5-1 surge to take a seven-point lead, 76-69 with 1:47 remaining.
Jones missed on a three-point shot with 1:36 and Seattle got the rebound but Courtney Williams (9 points, game-high six steals) forced a turnover to give the Sun the ball. Jones sank a pair of free throws with 1:26 remaining to cut the lead to five, 76-71.
When Seattle tried to inbound the ball, Williams forced a turnover that went right to Alyssa Thomas (17 points, 11 rebounds), who went right to the basket for a layup cutting the lead to three, 76-73.
“We never gave up and we fought to the end,” Alyssa Thomas said. “[Shekinna Stricklen] played amazing, Courtney [Williams] did her thing on defense and we just ground out a tough win.”
On the next possession, it was Stricklen with the interception and steal. Jasmine Thomas made the Storm pay with a driving layup to the basket with 47 seconds to go to cut the lead to one, 76-75.
Williams missed on a pullup jumper with 18 seconds left and Howard sank a pair of foul shots with 15.1 seconds left to extend the Storm lead to three, 78-75.
Jasmine Thomas (11 points, seven assists) scored a quick basket with 10.7 seconds left to cut the lead to one, 78-77. On the inbounds play, Williams deflected the ball to Stricklen for the interception and turnover. Stricklen was fouled with 4.3 seconds left and hit the winning free throws.
And it was Alyssa Thomas with the steal with under four seconds remaining as Seattle tried to inbound the ball with an attempt for a game-winning shot.
“Gritty, gutty, ugly, pretty. Lots of adjectives can go into that,” Sun coach Curt Miller said. “Maybe the basketball God’s looking down, a lot of 50/50 calls were going our way tonight. We gotta win sometimes that way. We rode our starters the entire second half, we challenged them to muster up energy, which is not easy after a three-game West Coast road trip.”
The Sun snapped a two-game losing streak (Las Vegas, Minnesota) with a win over Phoenix on Wednesday but Connecticut, as all WNBA teams do, flew home on commercial flights on Thursday to get ready for this game with the Storm.
Seattle led by 12 points at halftime but the Sun came out strong in the third quarter with a 14-4 run that cut the lead to two points, 50-48.
Stricklen and Jasmine Thomas both hit three-point shots while Williams had a layup after a steal while Alyssa Thomas drove between two defenders for two points. Jones sank a shot on the baseline while Jasmine Thomas scored off a gorgeous bounce pass from Alyssa Thomas.
“We came back. I mean we battled in that second half,” Stricklen said. “We made plays when we needed and we could have easily gave up down seven or eight with a minute left and we didn’t. We got some plays down the stretch and it all worked out.”
Seattle (14-12) responded with an 11-0 run of their own to take their biggest lead of the game, 13 points with a 61-48 advantage with 2:35 remaining in the third quarter.
But Connecticut continued to hang around. Stricklen sank another two three-point shots and converted on a three-point play to help the Sun cut the lead to five, 63-58 after three quarters.
The largest Seattle lead in the fourth quarter was their seven-point advantage with 1:47 left.
“We put ourselves in a position to win the game, we just turned it over,” Seattle coach Dan Hughes said. “We didn’t take care of the ball and gave them opportunities where we should have been shooting free-throws or getting opportunities. It’s a game of spurts and they had the last one.”
The Sun return to action on Sunday at 3 p.m. at the Mohegan Sun Arena when they host Dallas.