What a hole it was that the Connecticut Sun tried to dig themselves out of on Thursday night.
The Phoenix Mercury sank 16-of-17 shots from the floor, including 6-of-7 from three-point range, to score a WNBA record 45 points in the first quarter of their WNBA contest against the Sun at Footprint Center in Phoenix.
It helped Phoenix build up a 21-point lead and gave them plenty of wiggle room to beat the Sun for the second time this season, 90-84. The Mercury have won just nine games this season and two have come at the expense of the Sun.
Connecticut (21-8) cut the lead to four by halftime and had the lead down to two points with 30.4 seconds remaining. But Phoenix guard Moriah Jefferson, the former UConn star, found a wide-open lane to the basket with 19 seconds remaining to extend the lead back to four and the Sun turned the ball over trying to inbound it to take the remaining air out of Connecticut’s comeback bid.
The Sun played virtually the entire game without DeWanna Bonner, who hurt her back just 1:50 into the contest. DiJonai Harrington missed a large portion of the game after getting hit in the face, colliding with teammate Bernadette Hatar going for a rebound.
And when Jefferson found an open shot to the basket with 19 seconds left, it was Rebecca Allen who was slowed by what looked like a back strain on the play. Allen had been outstanding in the fourth quarter with 11 of her season-high 24 points in the final 10 minutes.
Giving up 45 points – the most by a team in a single quarter in league history – was just too much for the Sun to overcome, even against a team that came into the contest 12 games under .500.
“Our execution and energy wasn’t there,” Sun coach Stephanie White said. “This is a team in Phoenix that is certainly better than their record indicates and they’re playing really good basketball right now. We spent the entire game trying to recover.”
The win snapped a three-game winning streak for Connecticut, which had won nine of their last 11 games.
Alyssa Thomas, the Eastern Conference player of the week, had 20 points, a team-high 11 rebounds and a team-leading eight assists. Tiffany Hayes added 15 points. But point guard Natasha Hiedeman struggled mightily, going 0-for-8 from the floor.
What a first quarter it was for the Mercury. They missed just one shot in the quarter. Jefferson hit an off-balanced three-point shot from just over the halfcourt line at the buzzer to end the quarter.
While Phoenix relished their performance in the first quarter, they cringed at their second quarter performance. The Mercury shot 1-of-9, committed 11 turnovers and saw Connecticut cut the lead to four at halftime. Allen had 10 points in the quarter, going 4-for-4 from the floor with a pair of three-point shots.
“Earlier in the season, we would have lost this game,” Phoenix’ interim coach Nikki Blue said. “We took their punch and continued to fight back. That is what I am proud of. The team rallied together.”
Connecticut cut the lead to five in the third quarter but the Mercury responded with a 7-0 run to build a 12-point cushion.
The Sun cut the lead to one, 82-81 when Hayes drilled a three-point shot with 2:05 remaining. Olivia Nelson-Ododa struggled offensively, sinking just one of four shots, but she was able to slow down Britney Griner in the fourth quarter giving the Sun a chance to rally.
After Hayes’ shot, it was Jefferson with a jumper from the top of the key with 1:42 remaining to boost the Phoenix lead back to three, 84-81. At the other end of the floor, Thomas missed two shots in the land and then Griner hit a shot in the land to boost the lead back to five, 86-81 with 1:00 left.
Allen hit one of two free throws with 50.7 seconds left to cut the lead to 86-82. The Sun were 17-of-25 from the charity stripe.
Phoenix’s Diana Taurasi missed a jumper with 24 seconds left and Thomas came up with the big defensive rebound. Allen scored on the run, off an assist from Hiedeman to cut the lead to 88-84 with 30.8 seconds remaining.
Jefferson had 10 of her 17 points in the fourth quarter. She was 4-for-4 in the quarter from the floor and 2-for-2 at the free throw line.
“She really dictated the game for them,” White said. “She got into the paint pretty much whenever she wanted. She drove into the paint. She knocked down pull up (jumpers), got to the rim and did a good job facilitating. She is just an active, active player at both ends of the floor.”
Taurasi had 16 points for the Mercury while Griner had 21 points and pulled down 10 rebounds.
The Sun try to rebound by heading to Dallas on Saturday night at 7 p.m. (NBC Sports Boston) to complete their three-game road trip.
Earlier this week, Thomas was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week for the ninth time in Thomas’s ten-year professional career and the third time this season.
During the week of July 31-August 6, Thomas averaged a triple-double with 16.0 points per game, 13.5 rebounds and 10.0 assists as the Sun went 2-0. In the Sun’s 79-89 victory over the Lynx on August 1, Thomas became the first player in WNBA history to record more than 20 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists in a single game, when she tallied 21 points, 20 rebounds and 12 assists. The triple-double marked her fifth of the 2023 regular season and ninth in her WNBA career (regular season and postseason play). In the Sun’s 88-72 win over the Fever on Augusts 4, Thomas continued to fill the stat sheet, notching 11 points, eight rebounds, seven assists, two steals and one block.
Phoenix 90, Connecticut 84
Connecticut (84) Allen 9-12 3-5 24, Bonner 0-0 0-0 0, Thomas 8-19 4-5 20, Hayes 5-9 3-6 15 Hiedeman 0-8 1-2 1, Nelson-Ododa 1-4 1-2 3, Harris 2-6 3-3 7, Carrington 2-6 2-2 8, Hatar 3-7 0-0 6. Totals 30-71 17-25 84
Phoenix (90) Cunningham 3-6 0-0 9, Turner 3-4 0-0 6, Griner 9-18 3-3 21, Taurasi 5-10 2-3 16, Jefferson 6-9 4-4 17, Sutton 1-2 0-0 2, Onyenwere 1-2 0-3 5, Gustafson 2-3 5-5 10, Henderson 1-2 2-2 4, Sissko 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 31-56 19-21 90
Connecticut (21-8) 24 24 12 24 — 84
Phoenix (9-20) 45 7 17 20 — 90
Three-point goals: Connecticut 7-13 (Allen 3-4, Hayes 2-3, Hiedeman 0-3, Harris 0-1, Carrington 2-2), Phoenix 9-18 (Cunningham 3-5, Taurasi 4-9, Jefferson 1-3, Gustafson 1-1)