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Connecticut flexes their muscles in fourth quarter to beat Seattle

Shekenna Stricklen tied a season-high with 16 points as the Sun beat Seattle Sunday, 81-67. The Sun (8-1) have matched their best start ever in franchise history.

It looked like the Connecticut Sun were going to race away from the undermanned Seattle Storm in Sunday’s nationally-televised game on ABC from the Mohegan Sun Arena. The Sun closed out the second quarter with a 14-3 run to take a 13-point lead at halftime.

The Storm, which won the WNBA championship a year ago, were missing guard Sue Bird, last year’s league MVP Brianna Stewart and starting point guard Jordin Canada due to various injuries. But Seattle held the Sun to 12 points in the third quarter and forced nine turnovers to cut the lead to two.

Connecticut flexed their muscles in the fourth quarter, outscoring Seattle 16-4 in the first six minutes of the fourth quarter to seize control of the contest and earn an 81-67 WNBA victory Sunday before 7,773 fans in Uncasville.

The Sun improved to 8-1, matching their best start in franchise history. Connecticut also began the 2008 season with an 8-1 record.

Jonquel Jones had 11 of her 13 points in the second half and pulled down 11 rebounds. Alyssa Thomas had a team-high 20 points with eight rebounds and three steals while Shekinna Stricklen tied a season-high with 16 points – draining four 3-point shots – along with three steals.

“That was our most compete win tonight in terms of some stretches where our starters were fantastic, and then some stretches where our bench carried us,” Sun coach Curt Miller said. “We’ve had different things happen in our wins this season where the bench may struggle but the starters were good, but that was our most complete game in player personnel.”

Seattle (5-3), which erased a 13-point fourth quarter deficit to beat Washington Friday on the road, was led by Natasha Howard with 20 points while Jewell Lloyd added 15 points. Shavonte Zellous had 14 points.

“I thought we really competed against a really talented team, Natasha Howard and Jewell Lloyd are two of the toughest players to guard in the league, some of the most versatile. They never stop moving,” Miller said. “I know they are without two of their top players (Bird and Stewart) but that is a very difficult team to guard. To hold them in the 60’s, our defense has been really, really good to start this season and we look forward to keep on growing from that.”

After holding Seattle to just 33 points in the first half – their lowest scoring half of the season, the Storm scored the first 12 points of the second half to erase an 11-point deficit and take the lead. A Howard jumper with 4:35 had the Storm leading by two points, 49-47.

“We came out flat (in the third quarter), we weren’t playing the way we played in the first half,” Connecticut’s Alyssa Thomas said. “Oonce we settled down and started playing defense, we were able to pull it out.”

Added Stricklen, “We had to get back (our) focus. I think we let our intensity down and had some turnovers, they made a run. Then, we finally looked at each other and said let’s go — just don’t turn the ball over. We picked up our defense and made shots when we needed them.”

Thomas began the fourth quarter for Connecticut but getting an offensive rebound in the lane putting it back up for a basket. A few seconds later, she swiped a poor pass from Zellous and raced downcourt for a layup and a 60-54 lead in less than 30 seconds.

Zellous scored with 9:12 remaining in the lane but the Sun scored 12 of the next 14 points. Stricklen hit an open jump shot, Thomas scored on a nice fast break layup and Jones scored on the low post on a nice feed from Layshia Clarendon to push the lead to 10.

After another Seattle basket, Thomas hit a jumper on the baseline after a nice pass from Jones, Jones ripped down a rebound after a Clarendon miss and scored to complete a fast break run and Bria Holmes drove to the basket for two points and a 72-58 lead with 4:23 remaining.

The Sun made 32 field goals and had a season-high 23 assists.

“Connecticut is a really good team” Seattle interim coach Gary Kloppenburg said. “They don’t have any weaknesses, they shoot the ball well from the outside, they handle the ball well, have good guards, a good inside game, a well-balanced team and they have depth. They are going to formidable the rest of the season.”

The Sun have a few days off before they host the Atlanta Dream on Friday at the Mohegan Sun Arena.

“We are excited to finish off that tough stretch with a win tonight, our fifth game in 11 days, never in the same location twice,” Miller said. “We really grinded through that first nine games, so they (Sun players) are sitting in that (locker) room excited about their two days off, I’m sure.”

NOTES: Jones recorded the 30th double-double of her career and the sixth in nine games this season with 13 points and 11 rebounds. Her six assists was a season high. … Connecticut rookie Kristine Anigwe had a career-high of six points, three rebounds and a steal. The forward saw a career-high 12 minutes of action. … The Sun have won 12 straight regular season games at the Mohegan Sun Arena – setting a new franchise record. The previous record of 11 began at the end of the 2004 campaign and at the beginning of the 2005 season. … Connecticut has won six straight games at home. They lost a playoff game to Phoenix last September. … UConn head coach Geno Auriemma was a guest analyst on the ABC broadcast.

Boxscore: Connecticut 81, Seattle 67

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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