It’s been four long years since the Connecticut Sun have played in the WNBA playoffs. It’s the longest streak in franchise history.
And the drought is over. The Sun earned their first invitation to the WNBA playoffs since 2012 with a 96-88 win over the Dallas Wings Saturday night at the Mohegan Sun Arena in front of 6,898 fans. The win coupled with Atlanta’s loss to San Antonio secured Connecticut’s spot in the postseason.
Connecticut went to the Eastern Conference finals in 2012 under head coach Mike Thibault before dropping game three to Indiana Fever in Uncasville. The playoff format is different today. The top eight teams in the league – regardless of conference – earn a spot in the playoffs. The Sun have secured their ticket.
“This is step one,” Sun coach and general manager Curt Miller said. “We hope to be in the playoffs every year. This is so special for all of those guys who haven’t been to the playoffs before. A lot of our roster hasn’t been to the playoffs. I’m really happy for them that they’ll get to experience (the playoffs) for the first time.”
Connecticut (17-9) prevailed in much the same way they have throughout this surprising 2017 campaign – with hustle and contributions from players up and down the lineup.
Forward Alyssa Thomas led the way for the Sun with a team-high 21 points and 13 rebounds while second-year center Jonquel Jones continued to dominate with 19 points, 16 rebounds, four steals and five blocked shots. For Thomas, 13 defensive rebounds was a career high.
Courtney Williams had 19 points while Alex Bentley, with her second straight start, chipped in with 12 points and five assists.
All-Star guard Jasmine Thomas, who missed Tuesday’s win over Seattle with a sprained ankle, played 13 minutes and had six points.
“I thought this game was going to come down to toughness, “Miller said. “I have great respect for Dallas. I think they’re unbelievably athletic, unbelievably talented. And I personally think they are truly one of the dangerous teams in this league. And in the playoffs, I don’t think anyone would want to face them.”
The Sun were a bit banged up. Jasmine Thomas was a game-time decision and was limited in how long she could play. Lynetta Kizer is still struggling with back injury and Morgan Tuck and Rachel Banham were still sore after Tuesday’s win over Seattle.
“For us to compete that athleticism, that team, with the extended minutes we had to play our starters tonight, that just shows an absolute toughness,” Miller said about the Sun.
It was the fifth straight win for Connecticut and their eight straight victory at the friendly Mohegan Sun Arena – their longest such streak in over a decade since 2006.
Jones, a WNBA All-Star game selection out of George Washington, helped the Sun pull away in the final five minutes. The Wings took a one-point lead after a pair of free throws with 5:31 remaining before Williams hit a jumper to put the Sun ahead by one, 81-80.
Jones responded with a steal from Dallas’ Allisha Gray that led to a layup from Alyssa Thomas – the third of three Sun All-Star picks – and an 83-80 lead with 4:59 remaining. Twenty seconds later, Jones had her fourth block of the contest.
Connecticut extended their lead to five points, 87-82, with 3:27 remaining when Shekenna Stricklen scored off a rebound of a shot missed by Alyssa Thomas
“I think that’s what our team is about, everybody just doing what they need to do and playing within their roles,” Jones said. “Once we do that, we’re a really hard team to stop.”
Dallas (13-16) cut the lead to three on a layup by Karima Christmas-Kelly with 2:41 remaining but Williams hit a layup with 2:21 off an assist from Jones (her fourth) to push the lead back to five. After a Dallas turnover, Alyssa Thomas scored on a layup off a nice assist from Bentley for a 92-83 advantage with 1:48 remaining.
“It’s one of those games where the last 30-40 seconds could go either way,” Dallas coach Fred Williams said. “I thought in the last 40 seconds we kind of rushed some things, had an open look by Sky(lar Diggins) that could have cut it to one or so, but these kind of games help our young players become veterans and we look at each game as trying to get better at those aspects and get closer to that playoff run.”
For visiting Dallas, Gray had a career-high 21 points while Glory Johnson had 20 points and 12 rebounds. Skylar Diggins had 19 for Dallas.
The Sun return to action on Tuesday when they travel to Washington to face the Mystics at 7 p.m. Connecticut returns home to host the New York Liberty on Friday night at 7 p.m.