Weary Sun have reason to celebrate

How fitting, really, that the day the Connecticut Sun clinched WNBA's Eastern Conference regular season championship was a microcosm of their entire season to date: what a long, strange trip.

All members of the Sun traveling party unloaded a happy cheer when they landed late Monday night at Bradley International Airport, following a day of delay-filled travel. It wasn't until they landed that they discovered second-place Indiana's 86-79 loss at Minnesota from earlier in the evening.

And it gave the Sun their fourth regular season title in the franchise's 10 years. They clinched the top seed in the conference playoffs, giving them homecourt until the WNBA Finals.

The Sun (23-9) own a 2.5-game lead over Indiana as well as all the tiebreakers, meaning the Fever (20-11) cannot catch them.

"Everybody had their phones out to get the score the minute the wheels touched down," an exhausted - but jubilant - coach Mike Thibault said Monday night. "Very proud of our team. I think we're better prepared for the playoffs now because we've been through them, although we're not playing great because we have some bumps and bruises."

The bruises increased by one Sunday when Danielle McCray sprained the medial collateral ligament in her knee. More about her status will be known today.

Thibault said this week will be about finding a balance between finishing strong and resting his players.

The Sun, who have survived a 13-game injury to Olympian Asjha Jones, can thank former UConn great Maya Moore and former Sun great Lindsay Whalen, who led Minnesota's rally Monday night. Moore scored a career-high 29 points and Whalen had six assists in the second half as the Lynx overcame a 14-point deficit.

Connecticut will play either New York or Chicago in the first round of the playoffs next week at a date and time to be determined at the conclusion of the regular season.

The Sun finish the regular season with home games Wednesday (vs. Indiana) and Sunday (vs. Atlanta).

• The Sun will begin selling tickets for the first round of the playoffs Wednesday at 10 a.m. For more information or to purchase tickets, fans can call 1-877-SUN-TIXX or visit www.connecticutsun.com. Tickets will also be available at the Mohegan Sun Arena Box Office or online at Ticketmaster.com.

m.dimauro@theday.com

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