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    Thursday, July 25, 2024

    Sun face a must-win vs. Liberty in WNBA semifinals

    Connecticut Sun forward Alyssa Thomas, left, goes to the basket as New York Liberty forward Breanna Stewart defends during the second half of Game 3 in the WNBA semifinals Friday at Mohegan Sun Arena. The teams meet in Game 4 of the best-of-5 series Sunday at Mohegan, with the Sun facing elimination. (Jessica Hill/AP Photo)
    New York Liberty guard Courtney Vandersloot, right, is guarded by Connecticut Sun guard Ty Harris during the first half Friday. (Jessica Hill/AP Photo)
    Connecticut Sun head coach Stephanie White gestures during the second half of Friday’s WNBA semifinal game against the New York Liberty. (Jessica Hill/AP Photo)

    Starting guard Bec Allen, she of the 6-foot-5 wingspan and cool demeanor, did not play Friday night for the Connecticut Sun due to a non-COVID-related illness.

    Allen, the affable Australian, was averaging 10.2 points, 6.2 rebounds and shooting 48.8% so far in five playoffs games. Head coach Stephanie White said she found out for certain Allen would not play during warmups, about 15 minutes before a 92-81 loss to the New York Liberty in Game 3 of the WNBA semifinals.

    “Certainly, you miss Bec’s length and versatility on the defensive end of the floor. You miss her ability to knock down shots offensively,” White said. “Plus, Bec just has a presence.

    “Bec’s just one of those glue players. She’s got a calming presence on the floor. When you’re missing a piece like that, it makes a difference. We kind of had to filter through that, I think.”

    The Sun gave up 37 points in the first quarter to trail 37-16.

    They’re now on the brink of elimination in the best-of-five series with the Liberty, with New York up two-games-to-one. Game 4 will take place beginning at 3 p.m. Sunday at Mohegan Sun Arena (Ch. 8). Allen is expected to be available.

    The third-seeded Sun will need to come together as a team for this one, White said.

    Not that they’re not capably resilient, having plowed through a pair of elimination games in the 2022 playoffs to reach the WNBA Finals against Las Vegas. Connecticut also faced an elimination game in the first round of this season’s playoffs, outlasting Minnesota on the road.

    It would need to beat second-seeded New York twice, Sunday at home and Tuesday in New York, to advance to its second straight Finals. The Liberty, led by WNBA MVP Breanna Stewart, the former UConn great, is looking for its first Finals berth since 2002.

    The Sun won the first game of the series in New York 78-63, their first win over the Liberty this season, before falling 84-77 in Game 2.

    “Well, first things first,” Connecticut’s Ty Harris said of facing elimination. “We have to come out a lot better. Don’t spot them 20 points in the first quarter. I know that throughout the game, through the rest of the game, we outscored them by 10. So not spotting them, coming out with a bang first quarter ... and we’ll just see where it gets us.”

    “I felt like our energy level from the beginning was just really poor for whatever reason,” White said. “I’m proud of our group for the second through the fourth quarter, but that’s not good enough when you’re playing for an opportunity to go to the Finals.”

    Connecticut’s Alyssa Thomas, who finished second to Stewart in the MVP voting, had 23 points, nine rebounds and 14 assists in Friday’s loss, leading five players in double figures.

    New York’s starting five all finished in double figures, led by Stewart with 25 points and 11 rebounds. Betnijah Laney added 20 points.

    “Our group is capable,” White said of the Sun. “It’s unacceptable the way we started the game. That’s on all of us. We have to regroup, come back, each of us take inventory of why it was that way to start.”

    v.fulkerson@theday.com

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