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Bird, Stewart helps Seattle race away from short-handed Connecticut

Seattle guard Sue Bird, shown in Uncasville last season, was outstanding Sunday night as Seattle pulled away from the Connecticut Sun in the third quarter for a 84-70 victory.

While it may have been difficult for Connecticut Sun fans to watch their team crumble in the second half of Sunday night’s 84-70 loss to the Seattle Storm at KeyArena, they could at least take some solace by watching three former UConn All-American stars play well.

Seattle’s Sue Bird is 37 but she can still play. She drained 3-of-5 shots from three-point range, scored 11 points and had nine assists, including a spectacular over her head, backwards assist that was part of a 19-1 run that decided the game.

Brianna Stewart had 11 points while Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis had 10 points off the bench for Seattle, which improves to 12-5, with their sixth win in the last seven games. It’s the second-best start in franchise history for the Storm.

The Sun, who began the year with a 7-1 record, lost for the sixth time in the last eight games. They played without forward Alyssa Thomas for the seventh straight game. Thomas, who is averaging 12.0 points and a team-leading nine rebounds a game, remains day-to-day after injuring a shoulder against Washington on June 13. The Sun were also without starting guard Courtney Williams (12.3 ppg) for personal reasons.

This was the opener of a four-city road trip – the last long trip of the regular season for Connecticut.

The Sun survived a quick Seattle start and used a 15-3 run to take a 32-28 lead with 4:33 left in the second quarter but Seattle closed out the first half with a 19-3 surge to take a 12-point lead at halftime, 47-35. Stewart had six of her 11 points in the run.

Connecticut (9-7) started out well in the third quarter. Jonquel Jones scored in the lane, Rachel Banham hit a three-point shot over Stewart and Jasmine Thomas scored on a three-point play as she successfully drove to the basket and added a foul shot.

Chiney Ogwumike was fouled in the lane and sank two foul shots to cut the Seattle lead to four, 49-45 with 6:45 left in the third quarter.

Stewart hit a pullup jumper for Seattle but Ogwumike scored in the lane with 5:22 left as the Sun cut the lead to four again, 51-47.

But that would be it for Connecticut, which missed their next 14 shots from the floor. When Alex Bentley scored with 6:01 left in the game, it ended a drought of 9:21 that saw the Sun fail to score a field goal. In that same span, Seattle outscored Connecticut, 21-4.

It’s been 17 years since Bird helped UConn to multiple NCAA national championships. She looked great Sunday.

With Seattle holding a seven-point lead in the third quarter, she drove to the basket. Seeing no Sun defender move to slow her down, Bird drove to the basket and laid the ball in off her fingers.

The next time down the floor, Bird drained a three-pointer to push the lead back 11 points, 59-47. It was her third three-pointer of the game – tying a season-high.

Bird capped off a 10-0 Seattle run with an outstanding dish to Natasha Howard. She drove to the basket but moved to her left. With her back to the basket, Bird fired the ball backwards, over her head to a Howard, who was standing all alone under the basket as the big crowd of 9,703 fans a Key Arena roared and her teammates smiled.

Bird, who holds the WNBA record for career assists, had 10 assists against Dallas, nine against Minnesota and 11 against Los Angeles — the three contests leading up to Sunday’s game with Connecticut.

Trailing by 14, the Sun called timeout. But Mosqueda-Lewis came into the game and drained a three-pointer and a long jumper to push the lead to 18.

Alex Bentley led Connecticut with 15 points, four assists and three steals off the bench while Betnijah Laney scored 11 points with six rebounds. Jonquel Jones finished with 10 points. Ogwumike scored eight points and pulled down six rebounds. Banham, in her first WNBA start, finished with five points.

The Sun travel to Los Angeles for a game on Tuesday night at 10:30 p.m. Connecticut faces Phoenix on Thursday night at 10 p.m. and closes the trip with a game at Las Vegas on Saturday night at 10:30 p.m.

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 40 years. He was inducted into the New England High School Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2018.

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