Sun have a need for speed

Shekinna Stricklen of the Connecticut Sun, left, leads a breakaway past Monique Currie of the Phoenix Sun during a game Aug. 4 at Mohegan Sun Arena. Entering Saturday's WNBA schedule, the Sun lead the league with an average of 86.9 points per game. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
Shekinna Stricklen of the Connecticut Sun, left, leads a breakaway past Monique Currie of the Phoenix Sun during a game Aug. 4 at Mohegan Sun Arena. Entering Saturday's WNBA schedule, the Sun lead the league with an average of 86.9 points per game. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)

Mohegan — Basketball players want to play fast, now more than ever. A faster pace means more touches. More touches mean more shots. And, theoretically, more shots mean better stats.

Curt Miller wanted his college players to run free as head coach of both Bowling Green (2001-12) and Indiana (2012-14). He used that as part of his sales pitch to recruits, but he kept facing the same obstacle.

“In college, the biggest white lie out there by coaches is telling every recruit that they’re going to play fast,” said Miller, the second-year coach of the Connecticut Sun. “It just used to absolutely drive me insane because we would be recruiting against teams that were telling the same people we were recruiting that they were going to play fast. And then they would average 56 points.

“Everyone (swore) they played up-tempo.”

Miller doesn’t have to deal with that headache in the WNBA and his turbo-charged system has helped transform Connecticut into the league’s highest-scoring team.

The Sun will need to stay on the run when they play host to the Phoenix Mercury on Sunday in yet another pivotal game for playoff seeding (Mohegan Sun Arena, CSN, 3 p.m.)

“When we’re in practice and we’re doing a (fullcourt) 5-on-0 (drill), he’s always talking about tempo and pacing,” Connecticut point guard Jasmine Thomas said of Miller. “That’s really important to him and it’s important to us, too.

“We play the best when we have a good pace. When we have to slow the ball down, walk it up and execute (in the halfcourt) the majority of the game, one, we don’t have fun doing it, and two, it kind of takes away from what we’re good at.”

The Sun struggled to set their tempo during Friday’s 82-70 loss to the New York Liberty, a defensive scrooge. It was a rare clunker for Connecticut (18-10), which had won six in a row.

Clunkers were the norm at Mohegan Sun Arena in the three seasons prior to Miller’s hiring. The Sun were a crowd-killing combination of boring and unsuccessful. They averaged 41.2 percent shooting and 73.9 points during that time.

Connecticut started this season 1-5 before its offense revved up and helped it clinch its first playoff berth in five seasons.

“My whole head coaching career, I’ve always wanted to play fast,” Miller said. “Being fast but being disciplined. Basically, we want to continue to move the ball and move the defense. And while we’re in attack mode if the first point of attack doesn’t work, we have to keep moving the ball and moving people to that second (point of) attack.

“Ultimately, you feel like you’re going to get defenses spread out the more you move them.”

The Sun leads the league in offensive pace, the number of possessions per 40 minutes by a team (84.8).

Pace has led to Connecticut averaging a league-high 86.9 points prior to Saturday’s Atlanta Dream at Dallas Wings game.

“A lot of times when games get (fast) it can get pretty sloppy,” Thomas said, “but that’s actually how we like to play. If we can turn people over, or even after (their) makes get it and go, that’s when we’re really good.”

Sunday’s game will affect the ever-evolving playoff race. The league’s top eight teams qualify with the top four seeds earning a first-round bye. The top two seeds get a double-bye to the semifinals. Every team wants that extra rest.

Connecticut is third in the overall standings with a two-game lead over New York and the Washington Mystics, who are both 16-12.

Phoenix (15-13) is sixth and three games behind the Sun.

• Connecticut and the Mercury are holding matching food drives starting with Sunday’s game and running through their game at Phoenix on Sept. 1. Both teams will collect canned goods and non-perishable food items with the team that collects the most pounds of food earning a $500 donation from the other team for its food bank. Collection bins will be set up on the Mohegan Sun Arena concourse on Aug. 20, 23 and 25. Season ticket members may also donate at the annual member party on Aug. 22.

n.griffen@theday.com

Connecticut Sun guard Alex Bentley, left, intercepts a pass intended for Chicago Sky guard Tamera Young in a game July 25 at Mohegan Sun Arena. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Connecticut Sun guard Alex Bentley, left, intercepts a pass intended for Chicago Sky guard Tamera Young in a game July 25 at Mohegan Sun Arena. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

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