Banham gives Sun a lift in 86-77 win over the Fever

Connecticut Sun forward Chiney Ogwumike (13) tangles with Indiana Fever center Natalie Achonwa, back, and guard Tiffany Mitchell, left, for a rebound in the second half of Saturday's WNBA matchup at Mohegan Sun Arena. The Sun ran their record to 3-0 with the 86-77 victory over the Fever. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Connecticut Sun forward Chiney Ogwumike (13) tangles with Indiana Fever center Natalie Achonwa, back, and guard Tiffany Mitchell, left, for a rebound in the second half of Saturday's WNBA matchup at Mohegan Sun Arena. The Sun ran their record to 3-0 with the 86-77 victory over the Fever. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

Mohegan — Rachel Banham is back on the attack.

The Connecticut Sun hit another pokey moment late in Saturday night’s game and had just missed a sure layup that would’ve given them more breathing room against the Indiana Fever.

Banham got the ball seconds later from Jasmine Thomas on an inbounds play and immediately pulled up and made a 17-foot jumper that resulted in a three-point play.

“I’m trying to be more aggressive,” Banham said after Connecticut’s 86-77 win before 5,843 at Mohegan Sun Arena.

“That’s something that (Sun coach) Curt (Miller) told me, that he wanted me to play more like I did in college (at Minnesota). That was kind of my mentality, just to be aggressive and go out there and look for my shot but look for my teammates as well.”

Banham scored 14 points in 18 minutes off the bench.

“It’s a different Rachel Banham than we’ve had here," Miller said.

The Sun needed all they could get from as many players as possible as they didn’t have a smooth performance.

Hey, everyone has bad days at work, but Connecticut is off to its first 3-0 start since 2012.

“It wasn't always pretty tonight and, certainly, we had stretches where we didn’t play particularly well,” Miller said, “but mission accomplished. We didn’t shy away this year from talking about how important May was. We got off to slow starts my first year (2016) and second year.

“(We) know how much we're on the road in June and early July (Connecticut plays 13 of its next 16 on the road), that this three-game homestand to start the year was very, very important to us.”

Alyssa Thomas (8-of-12 shooting) scored 21 with four rebounds for the Sun and Courtney Williams had 11 points, seven rebounds and six assists. Jasmine Thomas added 11 points, four assists and three steals and Chiney Ogwumike had 10 points and eight rebounds.

Connecticut couldn’t maintain big leads against the Fever who, despite being 0-5, aren’t bereft of talent. They still have Candice Dupree (14 points, six rebounds, three steals). They're also rebuilding around a young, talented — and fast — core, among them Kelsey Mitchell (18 points) and Victoria Vivians (13 points), the second and eighth overall picks, respectively, in April’s draft.

The Sun led by 20 with 6 minutes, 21 seconds left when Vivians made two 3-pointers, sandwiched around another by Mitchell. It cut Indiana’s deficit to 79-68 with 4:01 remaining and got the home crowd and Sun bench squirming.

Banham’s three-point play less than two minutes later pushed Connecticut’s lead to 82-68 with 2:30 left.

Banham wasn’t passive at the University of Minnesota. She graduated with the sixth-highest scoring total in NCAA history (3,093). She was also a 39.4 percent 3-point shooter, which is why Connecticut was willing to trade center Elizabeth Williams to the Atlanta Dream for the fourth overall pick in the 2016 draft.

Banham missed the final 16 games of her rookie season when she needed micro-fracture surgery on her right knee (she tore her right ACL in 2014). She still wasn’t comfortable with it last season and began worrying that making mistakes would cost her minutes off the bench.

“I used to kind of think like that last year and that kind of messed me up,” Banham said. “I don’t try to think about that. I just go in and play, and my mindset is to play pretty hard defense and the rest is going to come. I know if I’m playing good on the defensive end, Curt is going to keep me in longer and I think if I can do that and make a 3 (pointer) or two, I’m OK.

“I feel so much more comfortable out there. I think people are noticing. I feel I’m moving a lot better. My knee obviously feels 10 times better than it ever has.”

Miller said, “I told our TV personalities that she looks like the Rachel Banham that had an unbelievable senior year. … (She) got some illegal screens (against Indiana) because of her (defensive effort). I’m really happy for Rachel.”

n.griffen@theday.com

Connecticut Sun guard Rachel Banham, center, is fouled by Indiana Fever center Kayla Alexander, left, while defending Fever forward Victoria Vivians, right, in the first half of Saturday's game at Mohegan Sun Arena. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Connecticut Sun guard Rachel Banham, center, is fouled by Indiana Fever center Kayla Alexander, left, while defending Fever forward Victoria Vivians, right, in the first half of Saturday's game at Mohegan Sun Arena. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

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