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Minnesota hands Connecticut their fourth straight loss

Connecticut’s Jonquel Jones gets past Minnesota rookie Napheesa Collier in Saturday’s WNBA game in Uncasville. The Lynx beat the Sun, 74-71.

UNCASVILLE, July 6 – Two weeks ago, the Connecticut Sun were flying high. They had the best record in the league and were off to the best start in franchise history – 9-1 after 10 games.

Then guard Layshia Clarendon stepped on teammate’s foot in practice and tore tendons in her ankle, resulting in her needing season-ending surgery. The Sun haven’t won since. Connecticut went 0-3 on a recent three-game road trip and getting throttled by Chicago and Washington while dropping a close decision to Dallas.

The Sun lost their fourth straight game on Saturday as the visiting Minnesota Lynx beat Connecticut, 74-71 before a season-high crowd of 8,076 at the Mohegan Sun Arena.

Lynx rookie Napheesa Collier, the 6-foot-1 forward from UConn, helped hold Connecticut’s 6-foot-6 Jonquel Jones to a season-low five points. Shekinna Stricklen, who had four consecutive games in double figures including a career-high 24 points against Atlanta on June 21, scored just six points – her fourth straight game under 10 points.

Collier, a first round pick in April’s WNBA draft, had 10 points, a blocked shot and a pair of steals in her first visit to Connecticut with the Lynx. Guard Odyssey Sims had a game-high 21 points to lead Minnesota while Sylvia Fowles had 18 points including 14 in the first half.

Jasmine Thomas led the Sun (9-5) with 16 points while Courtney Williams and Alyssa Thomas had 11 points each. Bria Holmes came off the bench to chip in with a season-high 10 points.

The loss left the Sun frustrated. “Tonight was the night for us to get a win and we let it slip away,” Jones said.

The Sun tied a season high with 17 turnovers including six each in the third quarter and fourth quarter. Connecticut held Minnesota to just 10 points in the third quarter but couldn’t build a lead. The Sun led by four after three quarters thanks to a 14-foot fadeaway bank shot from Alyssa Thomas.

“At both ends of the floor, you feel like you did a lot of good things defensively and on a lot of nights, it was good enough defensively to get that win,” Sun coach Curt Miller said. “But we left a lot of points out there with our turnovers in the second half. We left points out there with a bad foul shooting night (7-of-12).

Alyssa Thomas had 11 points and a team-high nine rebounds in Saturday’s loss to Minnesota.

A week ago, the Sun were torched by Washington in a 43-point loss — the largest in franchise history. Tonight – even with a loss – things were different. “I liked our fight, I liked our competitiveness more than on some of the road trip, I saw togetherness, I saw a competitiveness that we need to play with in order to win,” he said.

With Clarendon’s injury, there is little room left for error now, Miller said. “She was our sixth starter and our toughness,” he said. “We miss her. We miss her tempo and we miss getting Jasmine (Thomas) a quality break. It’s not an excuse.”

It just is the fact at the moment for the Sun.

Jones wasn’t thrilled with her performance either. She was 2-of-10 from the floor with seven rebounds. “I was terrible,” she said.

Point guard Jasmine Thomas was a little kinder. “A lot of that isn’t just on her,” Jasmine Thomas said. “We weren’t able to get the ball to her or put it in a position where she was in a comfortable position to play. Sometimes when she did get it, we were stagnant and not giving her options (as the Lynx’s defense collapsed on her). We have to be better playing off. I have to be better as a point guard to get her going.”

Collier spent much of the game guarding Jones. “She used her quickness and she is lengthy,” Miller said. “That is a different type of player than (Jonquel) usually sees. We just kept thinking it was a matchup we wanted to exploit. (Jonquel) will be disappointed. In her maturation and her growth to be a dominant player in the league, she can’t let (power forwards) guard her in this league.”

The Lynx (8-6) have won four of their last five games.

“We were able to turn the tables and they wanted to win badly and when you want to win badly you give that extra effort and they were able to do that, “ Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve said. “Through it all, shot clock violations and whatever else, they just found a way to win and it was fun to coach them today. They had a will about them that was fun to be around.”

Connecticut’s Kristine Anigwe gets a hand on the shot from Minnesota’s Sylvia Fowles in Saturday’s WNBA game in Connecticut.

Connecticut couldn’t put away the Lynx. In the third quarter. Jones drained an 18-foot step back jumper after a nice pass from Williams for a one-point Sun lead. On the next possession, Jasmine Thomas stole the ball and drove in for a layup and a three-point lead. The Lynx responded with four straight points.

Connecticut had a three-point lead, 60-57, with 9:30 left in the fourth quarter but Minnesota outscored the Sun 9-1 over the next 4:21 to take a five-point lead. In that stretch, the Sun had four turnovers, missed four shots and had zero offensive rebounds.

Meanwhile, Fowles scored on her own rebound and hit a 16-foot jumper. Former Sun draft pick Lexi Brown drained a three-pointer off an assist from Collier and Danielle Robinson drove to the basket to score.

Connecticut cut the lead to one, 66-65 on Jones’ layup with 3:53 remaining but Sims hit back-to-back shots for Minnesota to stretch the lead to five again, 70-65 with 2:38 left.

Jasmine Thomas’ three-point shot with 2:25 left cut the lead to two, 70-68 but Connecticut missed their next five shots from the floor. Robinson sank four free throws in the final 54 seconds to secure the win.

NOTES: The Sun return to action on Wednesday when they travel to Atlanta to face the Dream. Connecticut returns home on Friday to host Diana Taurasi and the Phoenix Mercury. … Minnesota’s win snapped Connecticut’s 13-game regular season home winning streak. … The Lynx had lost five straight to the Sun.

Collier has been a shining light for the Lynx, who have been battered with injuries.

Forward Karima Christmas-Kelly her knee on Tuesday and will out for the season. Guard Seimone Augustus had arthroscopic surgery on her right knee on May 30 and will be sidelined indefinitely. Forward Damiris Dantas has missed the last two games with a strained calf and is out indefinitely while forward Jessica Shepard is out for the year after tearing her ACL on June 8 in Los Angeles.

Collier came into the game averaging 11.7 points and 5.8 rebounds a game. She had a season-high 11 rebounds on Tuesday against Atlanta. She had a career-high 27 points against Chicago on May 25 and her 11.7 points per game is the second-highest among rookies in the WNBA.

It’s a disappointing loss for, from left, Connecticut’s Alyssa Thomas, Jasmine Thomas, Jonquel Jones, Courtney Williams and Rachel Banham.

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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