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Sun beat Storm, 81-67, match best start in franchise history

Mohegan — The Connecticut Sun have been on the go, go, go lately.

Connecticut should be pooped by now after playing its fourth game in seven days on Sunday (and seventh in 16 days). It hasn’t played more than a home game at a time during that stretch, jetting back-and-forth to Los Angeles, Atlanta and Minnesota.

Perhaps that doesn’t seem like a big deal, but think of how much folks in the region grouse about having to take an hour drive to Hartford.

The grind hasn’t slowed the Sun, who knocked off the Seattle Storm on Sunday, 81-67, and matched the best start in franchise history before 7,773 at Mohegan Sun Arena and a nationally televised audience on ABC.

Connecticut is 8-1, matching its start in 2005 and 2008. The stubbornness that’s needed to do that despite all the travel and lack of practice time is worth noting.

“We’ve been going, going, going,” Sun Shekinna Stricklen said. “That’s tough, but our growth, we’ve been together for some years. The way we have grown and matured has really helped, you know?

“If this was a couple of years ago, we might not be where are right now.”

The Sun have certainly benefited from a season in which more high-profile players than ever are either injured, on leave (the European Basketball Championship starts later this month) or taking the year off (Minnesota’s Maya Moore).

The defending WNBA champion Storm (5-4) are an unwilling example of this season’s turmoil as they’ve been besieged by misfortune. Head coach Dan Hughes was diagnosed with cancer, 2018 WNBA MVP and Finals MVP Breanna Stewart suffered a season-ending Achilles injury playing overseas, and Sue Bird needed arthroscopic surgery to remove a loose body in her left knee and is out indefinitely. That all happened before the start of the regular season.

Jordin Canada, who had been starting at point guard during Bird’s absence, injured her knee in Friday’s win at Washington and didn’t play against the Sun.

Connecticut has made some of its own breaks, though.

“Connecticut is a really good team,” said Gary Kloppenburg, Seattle’s acting head coach. “They don’t have any weaknesses. They shoot the ball well from the outside. They handle the ball well, have good guards, a good inside game, (are) a well-balanced team and they have depth.

“They are going to formidable the rest of the season.”

Alyssa Thomas had 20 points, eight rebounds, four assists and three steals for Connecticut. Jonquel Jones had 13 points along with a game-high 11 rebounds, six assists and three blocks.

Stricklen also made four 3-pointers and scored 16 with three steals for the Sun.

Natasha Howard had 20 points and eight rebounds for Seattle and Jewell Loyd had 15 points and three steals for Seattle.

“Natasha Howard and Jewell Loyd are two of the toughest players to guard in the league,” Sun head coach Curt Miller said. “I have tremendous respect for the toughness of (Alysha) Clark, the toughness of (Shavonte) Zellous (14 points). I know they’re without Bird and Stewart, but that is a very difficult team to guard and to hold in the sixties.”

The Sun led 44-33 at the half, only to go totally daft in the third quarter. They were stunningly careless with the ball and turned it over nine times, including five in the first 3 minutes, 39 seconds.

Seattle used all those turnovers to score 12 of its 21 third-quarter points. It took the lead twice before the Sun regained it to end the period, 56-54.

“We had to get back focus,” Stricklen said. “We let our intensity down and had some turnovers, they made a run, and then we finally looked at each other and said let’s go. Just don’t turn the ball over.”

Alyssa Thomas kickstarted Connecticut to start the fourth. She began a 10-0 run with a putback off a missed Rachel Banham 3-pointer, then followed with a steal for a transition layup. Jones ended the run with a layup to give the Sun a 66-56 lead with 7:48 remaining in the game.

“We’ve really grinded through those first nine games,” Miller said. “They’re sitting in that locker room excited about their two days off as much as their win, I’m assuming.”


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