Sun complete two-game sweep of Mercury on emotional day
Mohegan — Thursday most certainly did not provide the ideal circumstances for either the Connecticut Sun or Phoenix Mercury to play a basketball game.
Bev Miller, the mother of Sun head coach Curt Miller, died earlier in the day.
Both teams were also shaken by the announcement that the Mercury’s Brittany Griner had been convicted in a Russian court of drug smuggling and sentenced to nine years in prison.
Life never stops and both teams had a job to do. And while it took a while for Connecticut to get going, it went on an 18-0 run late in the third quarter to beat the Mercury for the second time in three days, 77-64, before 6,215 at Mohegan Sun Arena.
“It was a rough day,” said Sun post Jonquel Jones, who played with Griner in Russia for UMMC Ekaterinburg. “It was tough, especially after we did the moment of silence (before the game). It was like, dang, we did that and now we have to go play basketball. My friend is still locked up overseas. You just kind of go out there and do the best that you can do and not taking the moment for granted knowing that this is where she would want to be.”
Miller said, “There’s moments that I’m back in Pennsylvania emotionally with my family even though I’m physically here. … I’m certainly not the best version of myself but my family wanted me here. My mom would’ve wanted me here more importantly.”
Jones had 14 points and 10 rebounds in just 19 minutes for the Sun (22-10) and Alyssa Thomas had 9 points, 13 rebounds and 6 assists. Brionna Jones added 13 points and 9 rebounds and Courtney Williams had 11 points and six rebounds.
“A bit of being a professional is trying to learn how to compartmentalize,” second-year Connecticut wing DeJonai Carrington said, “and I think that was something we really had to do today. Always keep those thoughts and those prayers and positivity, you know, in our minds but we still had to go out and play the game.”
Skylar Diggins-Smith scored 16 for Phoenix (13-19) and Diamond DeShields added 14 points after missing the previous five games due to a hip injury.
Diana Taurasi didn’t play for Phoenix due to right quad injury.
Connecticut was sluggish in the first half as it couldn’t get things going on either end of the floor. It shot just 36.1% while the shorthanded Mercury shot 45.7%.
There were 13 lead changes in that half alone with Jonquel Jones making two free throws in the final seconds to knot the game at 45, the eighth tie of the game.
“It was an emotional game on top of a very physical game,” Miller said. “We didn’t play our best basketball. Certainly we struggled at times offensively. We talked a lot about energy before the game and how energy is rewarded and that basketball has an uncanny ability to find energy and there were moments throughout the game and there were lineups, there were players that gave us great energy and they were rewarded for it.”
Phoenix began to go cold with the game tied at 53 and 3 minutes, 50 seconds left in the third quarter.
Connecticut, meanwhile, began its 18-0 run by scoring the final seven points of the quarter. DeWanna Bonner made the first of two free throws and Brionna Jones added two on the next possession. Williams added a jumper and Jones put back Carrington’s missed three to give the Sun a 60-53 lead.
The Sun ended the third quarter with a 7-0 run and added to it to start the fourth. Brionna Jones had a putback and was fouled moments later driving the lane after Thomas pushed the ball up fast in transition. Jones made both free throws to push Connecticut’s lead to 64-53 with 8 minutes, 53 seconds remaining.
The Mercury called timeout to try to break up the Sun’s momentum. It didn’t work. Thomas fired a crosscourt pass to Carrington in transition for a layup and then turned a steal into a layup.
Nia Clouden tacked on a three to extend Connecticut’s lead to 71-53 with 6:30 left.
Shey Peddy finally broke up the Sun’s run by making two free throws with 5:57 left to play.
“It was not a pretty game with a lot of emotions attached to it,” Miller said, “(but) it was a very important win in the big picture of fighting for playoff seeding to finish off this homestand with a win. Proud of them (on) a tough day.”
Jonquel Jones said, “The most difficult part (of Thursday) is that you know it’s life. Life is happening and we’re basketball players and we’re trying to go out there and put our best foot forward. ... but at the same time life is happening and things are happening with us and as human beings. Its tough.”