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Williams, Alyssa Thomas lead Connecticut past Liberty

Connecticut guard Courtney Williams scored a game-high 26 points Friday night as the Sun beat the Liberty, 94-84 in White Plains, N.Y.

For much of the 2019 campaign, the third quarter has been when the Connecticut Sun pull away from the opposition.

But the Sun ran into some trouble Friday night at the Westchester Country Center against the New York Liberty. After trailing by seven at the half, New York went on a 21-7 run to open the second half and grab a four-point lead.

But behind Courtney Williams’ game-high 22 points and 20 points from the Alyssa Thomas, the Connecticut Sun rallied and pulled away from the New York Liberty with a 94-84 WNBA victory before 1,781 at the Westchester County Center in White Plaines, N.Y. The victory clinches a first round bye for the Sun in the playoffs.

Connecticut (22-9) moved a half-game behind Washington (22-8) for the best record in the WNBA and the top seed in the upcoming playoffs. After being bounced twice in the last two years in the second round of the WNBA playoffs, the Sun are pushing hard to be one of the top two seeds among the eight teams that make the playoffs and earn a bid to the best-of-5 WNBA semifinals.

The Sun have three regular season games remaining and need to win twice to secure a top two seed. Connecticut hosts the Dallas Wings on Wednesday and hosts Chicago on Friday in the final regular season home game of the season. Connecticut closes out the regular season at Indianapolis on Sept. 8.

The Liberty (9-22) have dropped four in a row and 11 of their last 12 games. But they held a lead late in the third quarter, 61-57 with 3:20 remaining in the third quarter.

But Connecticut got serious rebounding the basketball and Williams got hot shooting from the floor. The Sun used a 14-2 run with six points from Williams to take an eight-point lead, 71-63 with 8:47 remaining in the game.

Williams has been a catalyst the last several games. She is averaging 19.4 points per game in the last five games for Connecticut.

“Courtney did a great job of putting us on her back with some of her offensive (baskets),” Sun coach Curt Miller said in an interview posted on the Sun’s Twitter feed.

Brionna Jones also stepped up with some of her most meaningful minutes of the season. In 14 minutes of action, she scored a season-high nine points and pulled down two rebounds.

Down by two points, 61-59, it was Jones who scored two points inside the lane on a nice pass from Jasmine Thomas (10 points, team-high 7 assists) to tie the game. Less than a minute later, it was Williams with a smooth jumper in traffic to take a 63-61 lead.

Alyssa Thomas came up with a steal, leading to a fast break with Williams feeding Jones on the run to the basket. Jones added another two foul shots with 12 seconds left in the quarter for a 67-61 advantage as the Sun closed out the third quarter with a 10-0 surge.

In the fourth quarter, Williams scored six of Connecticut’s first seven points. New York cut the lead to three on a three-point shot from 19-year-old Han Xu with 7:33 remaining. But Williams hit a jumper and Alyssa Thomas scored in the lane to push the lead back to seven.

Leading by six, Connecticut extended the lead to nine on a three-pointer from Shekinna Stricklen with 5:13 remaining off a nice pass from Brionna Jones. Less than a minute later, Stricklen hit another three-point shot to push the lead to 10 with 4:30 remaining.

The lead never dipped below seven points the remainder of the game.

“I feed good,” Williams said in an interview posted on the WNBA’s Twitter feed. “I got it going. My teammates kept getting me the ball. (It was) about getting the ball in the basket. Get my teammates the ball and make the right basketball plays.”

Williams did have five assists, pull down six rebounds and come up with two steals.

New York, who played without Tina Charles who was out of uniform on the bench, was led by Marine Johnson with a career-high 21 points. Former UConn star Kia Nurse had 15 points while Xu finished with 12 points.

The Liberty just couldn’t build on their third quarter lead and saw their offense slow to a crawl late in the third period under defensive pressure from the Sun.

NOTES: The first two rounds of the WNBA playoffs are one-game, single-elimination contests. Connecticut has been eliminated by Phoenix in the second round of the playoffs for the last two seasons. The top two seeds in the eight-team WNBA playoffs earn automatic byes into the best-of-5 WNBA semifinals. …. Alyssa Thomas had 20 points and nine rebounds and scored more than 20 points for the second straight game. Jonquel Jones had 12 points while Jasmine Thomas finished with 10 points for the Sun. Stricklen scored nine points on three 3-points shots — two in the final 5:13 of the contest. … Williams had a season-high 28 points in Connecticut’s last game with New York on August 4.

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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