Sun thump Lynx, earn home playoff game
Mohegan — Layshia Clarendon’s hands were raised straight up in the air as Connecticut Sun teammate Jonquel Jones launched — and hit — a late 3-pointer in Friday night's WNBA game.
Clarendon followed by pumping her fist in the air and pirouetting.
“That’s the fun and the joy that I like to play with,” Clarendon said, “where you just throw up your hands and appreciate the moments when you execute like that.”
The Sun gave themselves and the 7,089 fans at Mohegan Sun Arena a lot to celebrate. They blitzed the defending WNBA champion Minnesota Lynx after a lethargic first half for a 96-79 win, and clinched a home playoff game next week.
Connecticut (20-13) couldn’t stop the Lynx in the first half. Minnesota shot 82.4 percent (14 of 17) in the first quarter and 62.5 percent in the first half.
The Sun held Minnesota to 38.5 percent shooting in the second half and outscored the Lynx 53-33.
“There was a determination, an effort on the defensive end in the second half,” Connecticut coach Curt Miller said. “We held them to 15 of 39 (shooting) in the second half ... and you would’ve thought that was impossible after they shot 70 percent a long way into the (first half).”
Sun Alyssa Thomas said: “We were not making it difficult for them (in the first half). It came down to us pressuring the ball (in the second half) and turning them over so we could get out and run.”
Miller also emphasized getting the ball inside during the second half. The Sun scored 24 in the paint and finished with a 42-32 edge.
“Keep attacking, keep attacking,” Miller said. “We’re better when we get (points) in the paint, and that can be off the dribble, that can be on catches, but we have to get (points) in the paint. It opens up our outside (game).”
Connecticut guaranteed itself no worse than the sixth seed in next week’s playoffs. It plays host to the Los Angeles Sparks (19-14) in Sunday's regular-season finale with the winner getting the fourth seed, a first-round bye, and a second-round home game.
The Sun would be fifth if they and the Phoenix Mercury (19-14) both lost Sunday. The odds are against Phoenix losing, however, because it plays host to the New York Liberty (7-26), which have lost 12 straight.
Connecticut would be the sixth seed, then, if it lost and the Mercury won. It would play host to Minnesota in the first round.
The first round starts on Aug. 21. The second round is Aug. 23. Both are single-elimination.
The Sun won despite post Chiney Ogwumike, their leading scorer, missing the game due to a sore knee. She banged it up during Tuesday’s home win over the Dallas Wings and is day-to-day.
“It was just about being smart (and not getting hurt further),” Ogwumike said. “I’m just banking on the rest. … To string together a couple of days (off), which is impossible this season. I like my chances (to play Sunday).”
Jonquel Jones started in place of Ogwumike and was fantastic again. The 6-foot-6 post made 5 of 7 3-pointers and scored 20 of her game-high 26 in the second half. She also had five rebounds and four blocks.
Alyssa Thomas had 18 points, eight rebounds and eight assists for Connecticut and Clarendon had 14 points, five assists and three steals. Courtney Williams added 13 points and eight rebounds and Jasmine Thomas had nine points, seven assists and four rebounds.
The Sun also set single-season franchise records for assists (644) and made field goals (1,112).
Sylvia Fowles had 25 points and eight rebounds for Minnesota (17-16) and Maya Moore had 12 points, eight assists and two steals.
Former Sun great Lindsay Whalen had six points and three assists off the bench. She announced earlier this week that she would retire after this season and the Sun paid tribute to her prior to the game.
The Lynx were without starting post Rebekkah Brunson (concussion) and reserve guard Danielle Robinson (ankle surgery).
“(The Sun) came out with a real intensity about them to start off that (second) half and give them credit for that,” Whalen said. “We were down six midway through the third (quarter), coach (Cheryl Reeve) called timeout and then (their intensity) just continued for them.”
• Connecticut, if it were to reach the semifinals, would have to play an Aug. 31 game at the Dunkin' Donuts Center in Providence, according to Sun vice president Amber Cox. There is a Fall Out Boy concert that night at Mohegan Sun, Gampel Pavilion is in use and Hartford’s XL Center was cost prohibitive, Cox said.
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Nneka Ogwumike had 16 points, eight rebounds and four steals as the Los Angeles Sparks used a late third-quarter run to beat the Connecticut Sun on Sunday, 84-72, to clinch the regular-season series before 17,076 at Staples Center.
The Connecticut Sun had little time to celebrate their most important win of the season.