Sun hit their stride at the perfect time
Mohegan — Throughout their losing streaks, injuries and drama, the Connecticut Sun’s players said there was no need to panic.
They were right.
Connecticut was 12-12 on July 20.
The Sun concluded their WNBA regular season Sunday with an 89-86 stomach-churning victory over the Los Angeles Sparks, their ninth win in 10 games.
“It was just a matter of getting our stuff together,” guard Jasmine Thomas said with a smile. “That was the PG version.”
The Sun clinched the fourth seed in the playoffs and a first-round bye. They will host a second round game Thursday at Mohegan Sun Arena against the highest remaining seed after Tuesday's first-round — the No. 5 Phoenix Mercury, No. 6 Los Angeles or the No. 7 Minnesota Lynx.
The single-elimination game is at 8:30 p.m. on ESPN2.
“We had a struggle in the middle of the season and we were dropping games,” forward Morgan Tuck said, “but I would rather drop games then. Now I think we have good momentum, and everyone is feeling confident heading into the playoffs."
Connecticut finished 21-13 for the second straight season despite two seasons worth of turmoil. To wit:
• It started 7-1 and was first in the league.
• Starter Alyssa Thomas, who was playing at an All-WNBA level, injured her shoulder during the third quarter of the team’s ninth game, a June 13 home game against the Washington Mystics. The Sun lost, 95-91. Thomas missed the next 10 games.
• Connecticut, after that loss, played 13 of its next 16 games on the road.
• Starter Chiney Ogwumike tweaked her knee two days after Thomas’ injury during a 103-92 loss at the Seattle Storm. She sat out the next game, which was the next day at Phoenix. The Sun lost, 89-72.
• Starter Courtney Williams, during Thomas’ absence, missed all four games of a road trip due to what the team called a "personal matter." Published reports alleged that she had a physical altercation with teammate Alex Bentley.
• Connecticut returned home after that aforementioned road trip on July 8. It traded Bentley the next day to the Atlanta Dream for guard Layshia Clarendon and a 2019 second-round pick.
• Things seemed to be looking up when Thomas and Williams returned on July 11 for a home game against the New York Liberty. Nope. The Liberty’s Shavonte Zellous hit a contested game-winning 29-foot, pullup bank shot with 0.3 seconds left to drop the Sun, 79-76.
• Connecticut lost at home in even more inexplicable fashion six days later against the Dream (July 17). Atlanta’s Tiffany Hayes had a steal with less than 3 seconds left and swished a 3-pointer from behind the halfcourt stripe at the buzzer to beat Connecticut, 86-83.
• Three days later, the Sun played arguably their worst game of the season — a 78-65 home loss to the league-leading Seattle Storm. It was the fewest points Connecticut scored in a game all season, and the first time it lost by double digits with a full roster. It also dropped them to 12-12 in the standings.
The Sun turned it around due to a number of factors. They needed a little time to regain their mojo with Thomas and Williams back in the lineup. They also had to adjust to having a true-point guard coming off the bench (Clarendon) instead of a shooter (Bentley).
Jonquel Jones has played a huge role in Connecticut's resurgence after an inconsistent start. She's played lately like the player who earned All-WNBA second team honors last year in her second season. She was named the Eastern Conference Player of the Week on Monday, as chosen by the coaches, after helping the Sun go 3-0. Over that time, she shot 73.5 percent from the floor (25 of 34) and 68.8 from the 3-point line (11 of 16), averaging 23.3 points, 8 rebounds and 1.67 blocks.
The Sun also won their last two games without Ogwumike, who rested her sore knee.
“We thought we had a chance to play good basketball again (when Thomas and Williams got back),” Sun head coach Curt Miller said. “We just needed to get back to playing and attacking Connecticut Sun-style.
“As we built momentum, I think that locker room will tell you, they think that they can beat anyone. And you saw it.”
Dallas at Phoenix, 8:30 p.m.
Minnesota at Los Angeles, 10:30 p.m.
Lowest remaining seed at Washington, 6:30 p.m.
Phoenix, Minnesota or Los Angeles at Connecticut, 8:30 p.m.
Note: All first and second-round games are single eliminaton and will be televised on ESPN2