Sun want to protect their house against Sparks in WNBA semifinals

Mohegan — The Connecticut Sun have made Mohegan Sun Arena their house the past two WNBA seasons. It’s where they’ve done their best work and racked up a league-best 28-6 home record.

The Los Angeles Sparks have been just as unwelcoming at home this year and tied the Sun with a league-best 15-2 record.

Connecticut, however, has home court-advantage in its best-of-five semifinal playoff series against the Sparks. It will host Game 1 on Tuesday night (6:30, ESPN2).

“We’re at home,” Sun Shekinna Stricklen said. “We know we’re going to have the fan base (supporting us). We know it’s going to be loud in here, so we’ve just got to bring the energy, and the fans are going to do the rest for us.”

Connecticut will host Game 2 on Thursday, also at 6:30.

Game 3 will be at the Walter Pyramid on the campus of Long Beach State on Sunday (the area around the Staples Center is on lockdown because the Emmys are across the street that night at the Microsoft Theater). If necessary, Game 4 will be at Staples on Tuesday, Sept. 24, and Game 5 would be back at Mohegan on Thursday, Sept. 26.

Los Angeles won two of three games against the Sun this season, both at home.

The Sparks won the last game 84-72 on Aug. 25. It was the first time that two-time WNBA Candace Parker and Alana Beard, the two-time reigning Defensive Player of the Year, played. They missed the first two games with injuries.

Guard Riquna Williams shot 7 of 12, including 5 of 8 3-pointers, for a game-high 21 points in Los Angeles’ win.

“They played through Riquna,” Sun guard Jasmine Thomas said about the third meeting. “She really asserted herself in that game. … They saw how we played them in the past and we’re able to kind of predict some (of our) actions and how we defend some things.

“They were on that (11-game) home win streak. You really do feed off that confidence of playing at home.”

Los Angeles is the more experienced of the two teams. Nneka Ogwumike, Beard and Parker started for the Sparks’ 2016 WNBA championship team with current starting point guard Chelsea Gray playing major minutes off the bench.

Ogwumike made the title-winning shot with 3.1 seconds left in a 77-76 win in Game 5 on the road at the Minnesota Lynx.

Asked what it takes for a team to develop a home-court advantage, Ogwumike said, “I think it’s a lot about having pride for where you are, on your home court. Obviously, there’s a familiarity that contributes to us playing (well) there.

“(It’s) understanding that home court advantage is basically what you make it. There’s no guarantee you’re going to win at home, but you can definitely create a winning culture at home.”

Jasmine Thomas is the only Sun player to have played in a five-game series. She averaged 29 minutes as an Atlanta Dream rookie during the 2013 WNBA Finals. The rest of Connecticut’s players have gone as far as the second round, being eliminated the last two seasons.

Los Angeles has the older and more star-studded lineup with former Sun Chiney Ogwumike, Gray, and its two former WNBA MVPs (Nneka Ogwumike and Parker).

Most of Connecticut’s young core has been together for four years, though, longer than any of the other semifinalists.

The Sun were reminded of the Sparks’ talent and experience during Sunday’s WNBA second-round telecasts on ESPN2.

“(They said) we lack that mega-superstar,” Connecticut head coach Curt Miller said. “They called us essentially, I mean they did, a bunch of role players.

“There’s a lot of people that aren’t picking us to get to the final. There’s not a lot of people that believe a team without a 30-year-old can win at his level, and we’re going to try to buck the trend. This team has chip (on its shoulder). We’re going to prepare like crazy and play our guts out.”

n.griffen@theday.com

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