Thomas propels Sun past Mercury

Mohegan — Alyssa Thomas’ Connecticut Sun teammates call her “AT”.

Most nights, Thomas is more like an ATV. They’re not flashy. They’re made to work hard and get dirty.

Connecticut needed everything it could get out of Thomas to both beat the Phoenix Mercury on Friday night and pull itself out of a five-game losing streak, and the engine that runs the team pulled through for it.

Thomas played almost the entire second half and scored 16 of her team-high 20 during that stretch as the Sun won, 79-64, in the season-debut for Phoenix’s Diana Taurasi before 6,864 on Pride Night at Mohegan Sun Arena.

Thomas played 18 minutes, 39 seconds during the second half and made 6 of 7 shots. She also scrapped to finish with 10 rebounds, including four offensive, and a game-high three steals.

“AT, she went crazy,” Connecticut’s Courtney Williams said. “She’s a dog. She’s a dog, man. That’s what she does.”

Jasmine Thomas played all but 43 seconds in the second half for the Sun (10-6), who are in third place in the overall WNBA standings. She finished with 11 points, eight assists and five rebounds in 36:44.

Connecticut had six players score in double figures, and three finished with a double-double — Jonquel Jones (13 points, 11 rebounds), Williams (10 points, 10 rebounds), and Alyssa Thomas.

It was just the third time in franchise history that Connecticut had three players record a double-double in a game. Jasmine and Alyssa Thomas and Chiney Ogwumike each had a double-double in an 87-78 road win over the Washington Mystics on Sept. 18, 2016.

Reserve Bria Holmes also gave the Sun a lift. The New Haven native scored six of her 10 points in the second half, using her speed to streak to the rim.

Connecticut traded for Holmes last season even though she was going to miss it due to her pregnancy.

"I told Bria, 'that's the Bria that we traded for two years ago,'" Sun head coach Curt Miller said. "Every game we see it more and more, the Bri that we saw in Atlanta her rookie year and second year averaging over seven points a game. You see the explosiveness and her ability to get to the rim."

Shekinna Stricklen scored 11 for Connecticut.

DeWanna Bonner had 20 points and eight rebounds for Phoenix (7-7), which thrashed the first-place Washington Mystics on the road Tuesday, 91-68. Mystics Olympian Elena Delle Donne missed that game due to a nasal fracture.

Brittney Griner (10 points) was the only other Mercury player to score in double figures against the Sun. She averaged a league-leading 20 ppg prior to the game. 

"They went to another level (in the second half) and we didn't," Phoenix head coach Sandy Brondello said. "We just didn't handle their physicality at all. We were very soft and just laid an egg."

Taurasi, who needed back surgery in April, played just 16 minutes. She missed all four of her shots and scored five.

Mercury reserve Sancho Lyttle suffered a knee injury during the third quarter and was helped to the bench. Brondello said the injury wasn’t serious.

Connecticut couldn't make a shot early as it missed 15 of its first 18.

The Sun trailed 36-30 at halftime. They opened the second half with a 20-1 run to go ahead, 50-37, with 3:13 left in the third quarter.

Thomas scored seven during that run with four rebounds and a steal.

Phoenix (7-7) cut its deficit to 57-54 with 8:33 left in the game. Thomas answered with a three-point play to spark a 16-4 run.

"It's important (for me) to set good screens having BG (Griner) on me," Thomas said. "It opens it up for (shooters) Courtney (Williams) and Strick (Shekinna Stricklen) as BG has to come out on them. So for me, it's just getting out in transition and running and moving them."

Connecticut shot 55.6 percent (20 of 36) in the second half.

“We liked our shots we were getting in the first quarter,” Miller said. “We just weren’t rewarding ourselves. My staff (assistants Brandi Poole and Chris Koclanes) just did a tremendous job of continuing to tell them that those shots are going to fall and believe it.

“We liked what we were doing offensively. We were moving them, and those shots are going to fall, and they needed to hear that positivity from my staff because that’s not always how I’m wired.”

n.griffen@theday.com

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