Connecticut Sun head coach Curt Miller was looking at the big picture on Sunday afternoon at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, at the midway point of Connecticut’s 22-game WNBA schedule.
The Sun came into their nationally-televised game with the Seattle Storm on a three-game winning streak and victories in four of their last five games. The Storm have been the dominant team in this pandemic-constricted season with seven straight victories and wins in nine of their first 10 games.
So, when Seattle began pulling away in the third quarter, Miller decided to save his resources to fight another day. Connecticut’s starters headed the bench for good early as the Storm won their eighth straight game with a 95-72 victory.
Seattle (10-1) led by as many as 27 points and received 19 points and five rebounds from Breanna Stewart with Sami Whitcomb chipping in 14 points off the bench. Sue Bird had 13 points and three assists while Natasha Howard was a dominant force in the game with 12 points, 11 rebounds, two blocks and three steals.
Jasmine Thomas led the Sun (4-7) with 17 points while Brionna Jones had 12 points and 11 rebounds. DeWanna Bonner scored 13 points.
But Miller is already looking ahead. The top eight teams in the league earn a spot in the WNBA playoffs and the Sun are currently the No. 8 seed.
“We made a conscious decision that Tuesday is a huge game for us as the lead started to get into double digits in the third quarter,” Miller said. “We need to get some rest for some players so we shut it down earlier than normal for some players.”
Connecticut will face Indiana (4-6), currently the No. 7 seed, on Tuesday night at 7 p.m. on NESN. Eight of Connecticut’s final 11 games of the season will be against teams that are currently seeded No. 6 or lower in the WNBA standings.
“We control our own destiny,” Miller said. “We have the ability to compete to be in the top eight. We feel OK. We’ve won four of our last six games. I’m encouraged what our defense can look like of the season.”
Seattle, off to the best start in franchise history, just had too much for Connecticut on Sunday. Few teams have challenged the Storm this season. The Sun hung in there in the first half.
“I thought we did a lot of good things defensively,” Miller said. “But if you make a mistake, they will exploit you and we had too many missed assignments and they will make you pay.”
The Sun had cut the lead to five points thanks to a quick 6-2 spurt late in the second quarter. Alyssa Thomas (5 points, team-high 6 assists) drove the length of the court and sank a tough basket in traffic to cut the Storm lead to 32-27.
But on the next play, there was Howard pulling down an offensive rebound and putting it back in to push the lead back to seven and then Stewart sank a three-point shot and the Sun deficit was 10 points.
Howard was problem all game for Connecticut. “Natasha Howard was fourth in the league last year (in scoring) and now she is eighth on her team,” Miller said. “She is an incredible talent in our league and an incredible player. When she plays like she did today, it makes such a difficult matchup. She got her hands on so many balls was a factor on why we struggled to score in the paint and around the rim.”
The Sun the lead to six on a nice move in the lane from Jones only to see Alysha Clark drain a three-point shot to push the lead to nine with 1:38 left in the first half. Bonner drove to the basket with 24.1 seconds left to cut the lead to seven but guard Jordin Canada drove to the basket to give Seattle a nine-point halftime lead, 42-33.
Connecticut cut the lead to seven twice early in the third quarter only to see Jewell Lloyd hit a jumper and a three-point shot.
The Sun cut the lead to eight on a Jasmine Thomas layup with 5:38 left in the third quarter, 51-43 but Stewart hit a three-point shot, Howard had a steal and Bird drained a three-point shot and the lead was quickly up to 14 points.
NOTES: Jasmine Thomas scored the first eight points of the game for Connecticut. She finished with a team-high 17 points, leading the Sun for the second time this season. … Jones had her third double-double of the season with 12 points and a team-high 11 rebounds. … Bria Holmes and Natisha Hiedeman each contributed six points off the bench. Holmes tallied three field goals and Hiedeman tallied one and three went 4-of-4 from the line. … Seattle shot above 50 percent in every category. The team tallied 37-of-65 field goals for 56.9% from the field, 13-of-23 from three-point range for 56.5% and 8-of-12 from the free throw line for 66.7%. The Storm tallied 13 three-point field goals which is the most scored on the Sun this season. … The game was nationally broadcast on ABC.