The Phoenix Mercury were missing the legendary Diana Taurasi, back on the sideline thanks to her injured back. Guard Essence Carson missed her third straight game with a strained calf while veteran forward Sancho Lyttle sat out for the sixth consecutive game with a knee injury.
And, the visiting Mercury played the entire second half without 6-foot-9 center Britney Griner, who injured an ankle late in the second quarter.
Still, it was a two-point game when Phoenix’s Leilani Mitchell hit a jumper from the top of the key with 3:08 left in the game to cut the Sun lead to two points.
Connecticut’s Courtney Williams ensured that the Mercury wouldn’t steal a victory. Williams hit back-to-back baskets in the next minute and scored 10 of her 14 points in the fourth quarter to help the Sun win their sixth straight WNBA game with a 68-62 victory over Phoenix Thursday night before 6,014 at the Mohegan Sun Arena.
The Sun (15-6) led by two, 60-58, after Mitchell’s jumper. But Williams hit a shot hanging in the air with 2:48 remaining. After a Mercury miss, it was Williams again with a baseline floater to give Connecticut a 64-58 advantage with 2:11 remaining.
Phoenix’s Dewanner Bonner scored after getting through three Sun defenders in the lane to cut the lead to four points, 64-60, with 1:48 left but Connecticut’s Jonquel Jones drove the baseline to score a basket to increase the lead to six. Williams added a pair of free throws with 14 seconds remaining.
“Courtney Williams got going in the fourth quarter. Our team played through her,” Sun coach and general manager Curt Miller said. “They stayed confident. [Jonquel Jones] did some nice things when we really needed her to.”
Jones led the Sun with 15 points and 14 rebounds while Williams finished with 14 points. Shekenna Stricklen scored 12 points while Jasmine Thomas scored in double figures (10 points) for the eighth consecutive game.
Phoenix (10-10), who have lost two straight games, were led by DeWanner Bonner with 20 points and 10 rebounds. Bonner scored all nine points for the Mercury in the third quarter. Mitchell added 13 points while Camille Little scored 10.
Williams plays with a frantic energy that enables her to soar through the lane and rip down rebounds. She frequently looks like she is hanging in the air as she puts up her shot.
“Whoever is hot, we play through them,” Thomas said. “We noticed Courtney [Williams] getting hot and we just let her make plays for us, let her take over at the end of the game. But I also think it was defensively. We were able to get stops, get rebounds and kind of take control at the end of the game and that’s what we wanted to do.”
“I mean, I just locked in,” Williams said. “Once I seen one go through the basket, you know I got to feeling myself. So I knew I had to keep it going.”
Once again, a strong third quarter catapulted the Sun into the lead. Phoenix led by four at halftime but the Sun held the Mercury to just nine points in the third quarter to take the lead. The Sun led an opponent to less than 10 points in the third quarter for the third time this season.
Connecticut also had 13 steals in a single game for the fourth time this season. It is one steal shy of their season-high of 14 against Las Vegas on June 2.
“We fought hard, but it’s hard when we lose our best scorer and inside presence (Griner). It gives an opportunity for others to step up and there were things we could have done better offensively and obviously Courtney Williams hurt us down the stretch,” Phoenix head coach Sandy Brondello said.
The Sun won two games in three days having beaten Chicago on Tuesday night. Now, the Sun head onto the road for a four-game road trip beginning with a game at New York on Sunday.
“Proud of that locker room tonight,” Miller said. “That was gritty. You know, they’re not all going to be pretty. They haven’t all been pretty this year. But another gritty win when we looked at times, tired, a little fatigued coming off that emotional Chicago game. We were sloppy in transition. We had nine turnovers in transition. And for us to cut that out when it could have gone a different direction, easily, I’m proud.”
Miller also praised former UConn star Morgan Tuck, who has seen limited minutes this season. But on this evening, she played 17 minutes and scored eight points. She had back-to-back baskets midway through the fourth quarter. A spin move on the baseline helped the Sun take a three-point lead, 52-49 with 6:38 remaining.
“The person that I called out in the locker room was Morgan Tuck,” Miller said. “[Morgan] hasn’t always got extended minutes and especially hasn’t always earned the minutes in crunch time. I’m really proud of her tonight.
“That’s not an easy cover (playing defense against) DeWanna Bonner and it’s not an easy cover in veteran Camille Little,” he said. “She moved us offensively. She moved the ball and got the defense to move and defensively, I thought she was really, really solid. So hats off to Morgan Tuck. To stay ready. To stay the professional that she is, is a credit to her, a credit to her pedigree and her four national championships (at UConn). It hasn’t always worked out for her (this season) in terms of minutes but she was ready tonight and we needed it.”
NOTES: Taurasi has played in just one game this year against the Sun here at the Mohegan Sun Arena on July 12. … Connecticut (15-6) has the best record in the WNBA. … Jones recorded her 11th double-double of the season. It was her eleventh game of the year with 10 or more rebounds in a single game. … For the seventh time this season, Stricklen had four three-point shots in the game. … The Sun return home on Friday, August 16 when they host Seattle at 7 p.m.