Sun hope a better start can help snap five-game losing streak
Mohegan — The Connecticut Sun were led through a "smudging" after Thursday’s practice by Beth Regan, who serves on the Mohegan Tribal Council of Elders.
The ceremony is a Native American custom in which smoke is used to cleanse the body of negativity or bring good spirits, amongst other things.
“We do it occasionally when we feel we need some good juju,” Connecticut head coach Curt Miller said.
The Sun are looking to right themselves and snap a five-game losing streak. They host the Phoenix Mercury on Friday as part of Pride Night (8 p.m., Mohegan Sun Arena, ESPN2).
Connecticut (9-6) had won a franchise-record nine of its first 10 games, including a seven-game winning streak. The Sun have since dropped from first place in the overall WNBA standings to a third-place tie with the Minnesota Lynx.
“It’s not that we haven’t been playing hard,” Sun starter Shekinna Stricklen said. “We’ve been in positions to win. (It’s) just making the baskets when we need them, and also, we’ve been starting off really show. We’ve got to come out with a lot better energy and better toughness.”
Connecticut’s last five opponents shot a combined 55.3 percent (52 of 94) in the first quarter, outscoring the Sun by an average score of 25-19.
“(It’s) put us on our heels from the beginning,” Miller said. “You start to question was the scheme right. … or are we just not giving enough focus (and) energy to the game plan going into the game?”
“A lot of this comes down to effort and a belief and staying confident and staying the course through this.”
The Sun also continue to struggle offensively, odd given that the bulk of this team was around the last two seasons when Connecticut was among the best offensive teams in the WNBA.
They are dead last in true shooting percentage — an advance metric that takes into account field goals, 3-point field goals and free throws — over the last five games.
“Nothing is mutually exclusive,” Miller said. “If we were shooting a better percentage and scoring at a higher clip, we could play with more of a set defense. But we’re not scoring the ball as well this year, we’re not shooting well, and therefore it puts us in more defensive transitions.”
Phoenix (7-6) has won five of its last six games and is in fifth place overall. The Mercury are one of five teams with a winning record in the 12-team league, and they've done so without the legendary Diana Taurasi. She needed surgery for a disc protrusion in her back on April 24 and has been cleared to play.
Bryce Marsee, the Mercury’s basketball communications manager, said Thursday that Taurasi is questionable for Friday and will be a game-time decision.
Phoenix has been led by the league’s two top scorers — center Brittney Griner (20 ppg) and forward DeWanna Bonner (18.8, tied with New York’s Tina Charles).
“They’re two dynamic players, two of the best in the world year-in and year-out,” Miller said. “It’s difficult when they play through Griner in that they have numerous shooters on the floor. Even without Diana, they can really spread you out and it makes you pick your poison.
“Bonner is so difficult because she’s so versatile. She’s going to play minutes at the four (power forward). She’s going to play minutes at the three (small forward). She’s got crazy-deep range. If you get up and pressure her, she’s an elite athlete with long step-through moves around the rim.”
The Hartford Gay Men’s Choir will perform the national anthem and Alyson Stoner will perform at halftime as part of Friday night's festivities. Postgame, fans may hear from a panel about LGBTQ+ issues featuring Sun Layshia Clarendon, Griner and Connecticut Kid Governor Ella Briggs, who will also serve as the Guest of the Game. The panel will be moderated by espnW writer Katie Barnes.
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Jasmine Thomas had 14 points, five rebounds and four assists as the Connecticut Sun had one of its best offensive games of the season Friday night, crushing the Atlanta Dream 98-69 and moving into first in the overall WNBA standings.