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Connecticut takes care of Dallas to clinch third straight WNBA playoff berth

Courtney Williams scored 14 of her team-high 18 points in the second half of Sunday’s WNBA win over Dallas.

The Connecticut Sun didn’t lose their focus Sunday at the Mohegan Sun Arena against Dallas Wings, a team that came into the game eight games under .500.

The Sun had an emotional win on Wednesday, erasing a seven-point deficit in the final 1:47 to beat the defending WNBA champion Seattle Storm.

On Sunday against Dallas, Connecticut let an early 13-point second quarter lead disappear before rallying in the final two minutes of the first half to take a three-point halftime lead.

The lead never dipped below four points for the remainder of the game as Connecticut clinched a WNBA playoff berth for the third consecutive year with a 78-68 victory over the Wings.

Courtney Williams scored 14 of her team-high 18 points in the second half while Jonquel Jones and Jasmine Thomas had 16 points each for Connecticut (19-8), which earned their third consecutive win. Thomas also dished out nine assists – her second game of the season with nine or more assists. She had a season-high 11 in the one-point loss to the Wings on June 26 in Dallas.

“Really excited that we’ll be playoff bound for the third time,” Sun coach and general manager Curt Miller said. “Really proud of these guys that we played well (with) five games in 10 days.”

The Sun beat Phoenix on Wednesday night in Arizona – the final night of a four-game road trip (New York, Minnesota, Las Vegas) before flying home to slip past Seattle on Friday night at the Mohegan Sun Arena.

“They stayed focused,” Miller said. “That’s an impressive, gutty performance. Until someone goes through that, you don’t know how tough that is, playing five games in 10 days, coming back from the West Coast as part of that trip. And against arguably the most athletic team in the league (Dallas). So (I am) really, really proud that we got to the finish line tonight and we held them under 40 percent shooting.”

While the Sun savor a third straight playoff appearance, remember that Connecticut missed the WNBA playoffs five years in a row before earning a playoff bid in 2017.

“I mean that’s always our first goal going into the season is to make playoffs,” Connecticut’s Jasmine Thomas said. “So, that’s one thing we got taken care of and now we just get to play out for a position. You know, we want to be in that first or second spot for sure.”

The top eight teams in the league earn a playoff spot – regardless of what conference they are in. The top two seeds earn byes into the best-of-5 semifinals. The No. 3 and No. 4 seeds have to play one single-elimination game while the final four seeds in the playoffs may have to play at least two single-elimination games.

Washington (20-7) is currently the top seed in the league followed by Connecticut (19-8) and Las Vegas (18-9). All three teams have clinched playoff berths. The Sun’s next game is Friday night against Las Vegas at the Mohegan Sun Arena.

Dallas, which had won three straight, cut the lead to six points early in the fourth quarter but Williams hit a pair of long jump shots on consecutive possessions to push the lead to 10 points. The Wings, led by Allisha Gray with 22 points and Arike Ogunbowale with 20 points, refused to go away quietly.

Dallas (9-18) cut the lead to six on Gray’s fourth three-point shot of the game with 5:43 remaining. But, it was Williams again with another long jumper to put the lead back to eight points with 4:15 left, 69-61.

A jump shot from Grey again cut the lead to six with 3:52 remaining but Connecticut used a 9-0 run to take a commanding 15-point lead with 1:47 left. Alyssa Thomas drove through the lane for a basket and was fouled. She hit the foul shot to complete the three-point play.

Williams drove the baseline and scored on a underhanded scoop shot, Jones hit a pair of free throws before Williams hit another jumper for a 78-63 lead.

“Actually, this game I had a little bit more energy,” Williams said. “This game I felt really good. Now, that last game, against Seattle, that one was crazy. I feel like you could tell. I mean we gutted it out but man I think that one took a lot out of us.”

Dallas coach Brian Agler said, “I thought Connecticut played a solid game. I thought that they were pretty solid. Courtney Williams had a big second half, and that was probably as big a difference as anything.”

Gray said, “We had a couple of defensive breakdowns at the end and then they also turned their energy up in the second half. We also came out strong in the second half but we just have to contain it and keep up that same energy.”

NOTES: Jones had 16 points and 10 rebounds for Connecticut. … The Sun improve to 13-1 at home – the best home record in the WNBA. … Shekinna Stricklen and Alyssa Thomas had nine points each for the Sun. … Gray’s 22 points tied a career-high. She had 22 against New York on August 16. … With the win, Sun coach Curt Miller has now won 75 career regular season games. He is the eighth-fastest coach in WNBA history to hit that milestone, needing just 128 games.

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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