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Rookie Anigwe finding her niche as Sun begin stretch run

Mohegan — Connecticut Sun head coach Curt Miller began describing how rookie center Kristine Anigwe plays during a postgame press conference last Wednesday.

As Miller talked, Amber Cox, Mohegan's Vice President of Sports, began flailing her arms wildly as she stood in the back of the room.

"She is a whirling dervish at times," Miller said about Anigwe.

Connecticut begins the second half of its WNBA season on Tuesday night against the Chicago Sky (7 p.m., Mohegan Sun, NESN Plus), and Miller has alerted his team to the fact that opponents are going to be as physical as the refs will allow the rest of the season.

Physicality, like high-energy, is not an issue for Anigwe.

"I think (physical play) benefits me," Anigwe said. "I've played like that throughout my whole career. ... I've kind of adapted to how physical you can be while also kind of maintain your composure."

Anigwe, 6-foot-4, led the nation in rebounds (533) and averaged 22.5 points and 16.2 rebounds her senior season at California. She was also the 2019 Naismith Defensive Player of the Year.

Connecticut was floored when Anigwe was still on the board when it picked ninth during April's draft. She's averaged 7.7 minutes for the Sun.

Anigwe showed flashes of what she can do during last Wednesday's 70-63 win over the New York Liberty. She turned two offensive rebounds into three points at the free throw line during an 8-2 run to end the third quarter that put Connecticut ahead to stay.

Anigwe finished with eight points and four rebounds, all offensive, in 10 minutes.

"She loves the physicality and was a factor on the offensive boards," Miller said. "She got herself to the foul line and had two baskets in that first half that were important for us in the paint."

Miller began chuckling.

"The game has slowed down a little bit for her," Miller said. "She's more comfortable out there. At the same time, she's going 70 in a 55 a lot of the times when she gets the ball. We've got to slow. Her. Down. All that energy helps, but then when she gets the ball, she's got to slow down.

"She was big (Wednesday) and has really earned those minutes, and it gives us some physicality, a presence underneath when we needed it."

Connecticut and the Las Vegas Aces are both 13-6 and tied for first place in the overall standings. The Washington Mystics (12-6) are a half-game behind.

The top eight teams overall qualify for the playoffs and finishing the regular season as one of the top two seeds is wildly advantageous. Those two seeds get a double-bye into the best-of-three semifinals. The first two rounds are single-elimination.

It's been a quirky WNBA season due to parity brought on by inconsistency and injuries. The Sun, for example, had their best start in franchise history (9-1), then lost five in a row before going on a four-game winning streak.

Only 3.5 games separate Connecticut and Las Vegas from the eighth-place Minnesota Lynx (10-10).

Chicago (11-8) is tied with the Los Angeles Sparks for fourth place. They waylaid the Sun back on June 23 (93-75) to start them on their losing streak.

The Sky blew that game open during the second quarter. They shot 60 percent (12 of 20) and outscored Connecticut 29-8 to take a 56-35 lead.

Chicago, along with Las Vegas and Minnesota, had a league-high three players selected to last Saturday's All-Star Game — guards Diamond DeShields, Allie Quigley and Courtney Vandersloot.

n.griffen@theday.com

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