Sun overcome adversity, edge Mercury
Mohegan — Connecticut Sun coach Curt Miller likes players who have a bit of swagger to them.
Swagger, thy name is Alex Bentley.
"I've got a bit of swag to me," Bentley said with a grin.
The Sun needed every bit of her and her swagger, plus resiliency and guts to overcome a first-half injury to Jasmine Thomas on Friday night and even more adversity late for a 93-92, take-years-off-one's-life win over the Phoenix Mercury before 7,331 at Mohegan Sun Arena.
There are three players Connecticut (15-9) rely on the most — point guard/leader Jasmine Thomas, forward/catalyst Alyssa Thomas and center/wunderkind Jonquel Jones. All played in last month's WNBA All-Star Game.
Jasmine Thomas rolled her ankle with over three minutes left in the first half and didn't return.
Oh, it got worse. The Sun led 85-81 with 2 minutes, 26 seconds left when Jones fouled out after Phoenix's Diana Taurasi drove the lane and into her for a three-point play.
Lastly, Miller was hit with a technical before Taurasi took her foul shot. Taurasi made both free throws to tie the game.
The game would be tied two more times before Bentley made a go-ahead layup with 38.2 seconds left.
"Really gritty by our team," Miller said. "When your leader on and off the court goes down, a lot of teams would've folded late in that game and with that run (Phoenix was on). ... The team stayed together."
The Sun had to sweat out the final seconds after Leilani Mitchell made a 3-pointer with 3.6 seconds left to cut their lead to a point. Shekinna Stricklen was fouled and missed both shots, but the Mercury couldn't get a shot off in time.
"We have a bunch of people who are great leaders on this team, who have great basketball IQs, who are relentless and hate to lose," Jasmine Thomas said. "So, no matter who’s on the court, I really believe that we can close out games.”
Bentley scored seven of her 16 points in the fourth quarter. The reserve also had four assists, played the entire second half (33 minutes in all), and was responsible for chasing Taurasi around the floor.
"While she missed some shots (10 of 16), I know she's capable of making a big one down the stretch for us," Miller said. "And frankly, I thought she did a pretty good job on Diana considering all of the shots she was making."
Bentley even got in some trash talk with Taurasi, who has a virtual PhD in the subject.
"I respect her as a player and a person," Bentley said. "She makes it fun. I like people who talk. A lot of people in the league kind of get a little sensitive, but she's not one of them."
The Sun had six players score in double figures. Jones had 19 points, 15 rebounds and two blocks and Alyssa Thomas had 18 points, seven rebounds, four assists and two steals.
Stricklen had 11 points and two steals and Jasmine Thomas scored 15 with two steals. The latter said after the game that she had sprained her ankle.
"I roll my ankles all the time. That's kind of like my injury," Thomas said. "It's been a while since my ankle touched down to the floor. ... It just stiffened up on me. I knew I couldn't go back out there. But I'm OK."
Taurasi made 12 of her 18 shots, some of which were ones only she could make, and scored 33 for the Mercury (13-11).
It was a very important win for Connecticut, too. The Sun took sole possession of first place in the WNBA's Eastern Conference after the Washington Mystics lost to the San Antonio Stars (76-74).
The Sun also kept Phoenix from tying them in the overall standings. The top eight teams qualify for the playoffs, regardless of conference. The top two teams get a bye to the semifinals. The third and fourth ranked teams receive a first round bye.
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