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On a challenging day, Sun outlast Phoenix for a win on the court


Connecticut’s Jonquel Jones takes questions after Thursday night’s win over Phoenix wearing a “We are BG” shirt to  recognize Brittany Griner, who was sentenced to nine years in prison Thursday in Russia.

On most days, sports can be an escape from the challenges of life. It can be a few minutes or hours to revel and be amazed by the athletic achievements of others and be distracted from issues that are not easily solved.

Then, there are days like Thursday when life can overwhelm you and you see those athletes you admire and watch excel on the athletic field or court on your favorite team are as just as human as you and I.

Their pain is real and the tears flow. And then, they go out and play a professional basketball game.

The Connecticut Sun got 14 points and 10 rebounds from Jonquel Jones and 13 points and nine rebounds from Brionna Jones in a 77-64 win over the Phoenix Mercury Thursday at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville.

The Sun won for the eighth time in their last 10 games and improved to 22-10 on the year. Connecticut beat the Mercury for the second time in three days as Phoenix played without injured star Diana Taurasi (quad muscle) and missed 19 consecutive field goals over a ten-minute stretch in the second half.

But the joy in the building was muted and the tears were flowing down many cheeks in the opening minutes of this contest.

Earlier in the day, Phoenix’s 6-foot-9 All-Star center Brittany Griner was sentenced by a Russian court to nine years in prison for drug possession and smuggling. She has been in custody of the Russian police since her arrest in February.

Current WNBA MVP Jonquel Jones played with Griner in Russia on Ekaterinburg, winning three straight European League championships from 2019-21. Griner has played in WNBA for nine years, won a gold medal with the Americans in 2016 and two world championships.

It wasn’t any easier in the Sun locker room with the passing of Curt Miller’s mother this morning.

“There were a lot of mixed emotions. It was a rough day,” Jonquel Jones said. “Doing the moment of silence made it that more emotional. My friend is still locked up in a Russian jail. You go out (on the floor) and do the best you can do.”

The two teams gathered at midcourt before the game and lights were dimmed. Players from the Sun and Mercury came together and stood with arms interlinked for 42 seconds in recognition of Griner’s uniform number. Many coaches and players wore shirts that said “We are BG.”

Inviting the crowd to join in as well, the players wanted to “recognize the gravity of the moment and collectively send (Griner) strength.” In a statement read by the public address announcer, the players said, “We are inspired every day by BG’s strength and we are steadfastly committed to keeping her top-of-mind publicly until she is safely back on American soil.”

The Sun were happy with the win and Miller was pleased with the energy shown by youngsters DiJonai Carrington and Nia Clouden off the bench in the second half. Phoenix (13-19) tried to stay in the game and did until midway through the third quarter thanks to 16 points from Skylar Diggins-Smith and 14 points from Diamond DeShields.

But Connecticut outscored the Mercury, 18-1, during their scoring drought that turned a one-point Sun lead into a 18-point advantage with 6:38 remaining.

“This was bigger than basketball,” Miller said. “Life happens and you can never things for granted. Brittany’s day (last February when she was arrested) began as another travel day in basketball. It was a tough, difficult day for everybody.”

Miller’s family encouraged him to coach the game “My mom would have wanted me to be here,” he said.

“It was tough to get up and get excited about the game of basketball,” Jonquel Jones said after the pre-game huddle of solidarity for Griner. “I just asked the Lord to send some of this energy to her so she can feel it. It was emotional.”

Throughout the first half and the first six minutes of the third quarter, it was a tough, hard-fought contest. Alyssa Thomas went to the locker room late in the second quarter after Phoenix’s Shandra Gray fouled her and cut her scalp with her elbow.

It was 53-53 with 3:51 left in the third quarter as the Sun closed out the quarter with a 7-0 run with a pullup jumper from Courtney Williams and a rebound basket from Brionna Jones along with foul shots from DeWanna Bonner and Brionna Jones. The Mercury missed their final 13 shots of the quarter.

Connecticut made some nice plays in the fourth quarter to build an 18-point lead, 71-53. Brionna Jones scored off another rebound in the lane, Harrington scored on the run, in transition, Thomas stole the ball and scored on a layup before Clouden drilled a three-point shot.

“Energy is rewarded and the basketball has an uncanny ability to find energy,” Miller said. “There were a lineup and players who gave us great energy and they were rewarded for it.

“It was a big win for us (in terms of) playoff seeding and I am proud of them on a tough day,” he said.

The Sun (22-10) moved into a tie with Las Vegas for the second seed in the eight-team WNBA playoffs that begin on August 17. Vegas dropped an 82-80 decision to Dallas on Wednesday night.

Both teams have four games remaining but Las Vegas owns the first tiebreaker since the Aces won two of three games with Connecticut this summer.
Connecticut returns to action on Saturday when they travel to Chicago to face the defending WNBA champion Sky at 1 p.m. on ABC. The Sun have lost five straight and six of the last seven to Chicago, including a loss in OT and one in 2 OT.

MORE: The Sun grabbed a season-high 54 rebounds in the victory, two shy from breaking a franchise record for total rebounds in a game. … The Sun swept the season series from Phoenix, 3-0.

Phoenix’s Skylar Diggins-Smith talks about the challenge of playing the Sun on Thursday night. And she doesn’t hold back.

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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