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Bonner, Sun rally to beat Mercury

Mohegan — DeWanna Bonner fit in quite comfortably at her new WNBA home on Sunday.

Bonner, a Connecticut Sun forward, joined the team last year but didn’t get to play at Mohegan Sun Arena because the pandemic forced the league to relocate everyone to a bubble at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.

Bonner made a go-ahead 3-pointer with 2 minutes, 27 seconds left in her first home game as a member of the Sun on Sunday and scored a game-high 27 to give Connecticut an 86-78 win before 2,042 at the Arena.

“I wanted this win bad,” Bonner said. “Not because we were playing Phoenix (her former team) because I have so much love for that team (but) because it was my first game in Connecticut.

“This one was pretty special for me. I would put this at my top of my basketball resume and keep it there forever.”

The Sun hadn’t played at the Arena since Game 4 of the 2019 WNBA Finals on Oct. 7. It was also the Arena’s first live event since it shut down due to the pandemic.

“It’s so good to be back in front of fans,” Bonner said. “It was a great experience to play in front for the Sun fans tonight. They were awesome as usual.”

Bonner scored five straight during a 9-0 run that put the Sun ahead, 80-73, with 1:44 remaining in the game. She scored 18 in the first half and also finished with five rebounds, four assists and two steals

“She’s a special player,” Connecticut head coach Curt Miller said. “She was unselfish midway through the fourth quarter and (I) wanted her to just take over. Eventually the ball went through her, and she made big plays for us.”

Natisha Hiedeman scored a career-high 17 points starting in the absence of point guard Jasmine Thomas and added four steals for Connecticut (2-0). Jonquel Jones had 14 points, 13 rebounds and two blocks and Briann January had 15 points and six assists.

“(A) huge win for us,” Miller said. “(A) confidence booster for us that we can play against the best.”

Connecticut outrebounded the Mercury, 34-27, thanks to its frontcourt of Brionna Jones (6-foot-3), Jonquel Jones (6-6) and Bonner (6-4).

Diana Taurasi had 19 points, five assists and four rebounds for Phoenix (1-1) and Skylar Diggins-Smith had 19 points and five assists. Brittney Griner added 16 points and four rebounds.

Bonner made a three followed by two free throws to put Connecticut back ahead, 78-73, with 1 minute, 50 seconds remaining in the game.

“DB, she’s a superstar,” said Phoenix head coach Sandy Brondello, who coached Bonner for 10 seasons when the latter played for the Mercury. “That’s what she is. A lot of actions they run for her. Their big lineup, it hurt us.

“Bonner made some tough shots. We left her open a little too many times. She doesn’t miss many.”

January stole a pass by Griner on the Mercury’s next possession and was fouled by the latter, who left the game with her sixth foul.

January made both free throws to push the Sun ahead, 80-73, with 1:44 left.

Connecticut outscored the Mercury in the paint, 30-2. It also had a huge 24-10 edge in second-chance points.

The Sun converted Phoenix’s 17 turnovers into 25 points, too.

“They’re a big, physical team,” Taurasi said about Connecticut. “They’re long. …. You kind of have to (do) things a little bit differently against this team.”

The Mercury led by as much as 21-13 with 2:24 left in the first quarter.

Connecticut went on a 13-0 run that stretched from late in the first quarter into the second. Jonquel Jones’ step-back three gave the Sun a 26-21 lead with 7:09 remaining in the first half.

Connecticut led 37-33 at halftime.

The Sun caught a big break with 5:38 left in the third quarter when Bonner got Taurasi to pick up her fourth foul, sending her to the bench for the rest of the period.

Jones grabbed a defensive rebound and threw it downcourt to Hiedeman, who had gotten behind Phoenix’s defense, for a layup that gave the Sun the game’s largest lead, 52-39, with 4:32 remaining in the third.

Griner helped keep the Mercury in the game. She scored eight in that period, which included making all six of her free throws, to cut her team’s deficit to 59-52 after three quarters.

Griner made two quick turnaround jumpers to open the fourth and shrink Connecticut’s lead to 59-56 with 9:08 remaining.

Back-to-back threes by Taurasi gave Phoenix a 68-66 edge with 5:54 left in the game.

Diggins-Smith’s three-point play increased the Mercury’s advantage to 71-66 with 4:35 remaining.

“They made runs at us,” Miller said about Phoenix. “They’re big three (Diggins-Smith, Griner and Taurasi) made plays in stretches. Griner got going (in the third) and was really, really tough in stretches. Obviously, Diana made a big three to put them up late. And then Skylar’s Skylar.

“We could’ve gone away tonight. Gritty, late big plays by us.”

n.griffen@theday.com

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