Experienced Mercury oust Sun from WNBA playoffs
UNCASVILLE >> Many of the 8,420 fans who made their way inside Mohegan Sun Arena for Sunday afternoon’s nationally-televised WNBA playoff game were ready to see the young stars for the Connecticut Sun do their thing in the franchise’s first postseason game in five years. By game’s end, it was evident even to the most loyal of Sun fans that at this time of the season, nothing tops experience.
The visiting Phoenix Mercury’s final 37 points were scored by players with at least 14 games of previous playoff experience as Phoenix rallied for the 88-83 victory against a team who had six players making their WNBA playoff debuts.
“It is huge when you have that experience, you realize it is just a game and you can use that calmness to help you down the stretch in games,” said former UConn star Diana Taurasi, who had one of the Mercury’s three 3-pointers in a span of 64 seconds late in the fourth quarter. “We had our veterans on the court, Mo (Currie) was huge and didn’t really do much the whole game and made a big shot, Leilani (Mitchell) was steady the whole game and I think that helped us the whole game.”
When Shekinna Stricklen, one of two Sun starters with previous WNBA playoff experience, hit a jumper Connecticut took a two-point lead with 5:33 left to play. The Sun missed its next three shots, all in the lane. A foul shot by Brittney Griner made it a 76-75 game and then Mitchell drained a 3-pointer to give Phoenix the lead for good. Taurasi and Currie followed with 3-pointers as the Mercury, once down by as many as 17 points, suddenly led by five.
“We got the game up tempo like we wanted,” Sun coach Curt Miller said. “We wanted to take the game away from them, keep it as up tempo as possible but they were the ones to make big 3s in the fourth quarter. They made three straight 3s that I thought was the backbreaker and that was something we were trying with our tempo and our pace to try to take away.”
The Sun missed all six of its 3-point attempts in the fourth quarter. The Sun probably would have been able to attempt another 3 in the final quarter if not for an alert play by Taurasi to foul Stricklen with Phoenix holding a three-point lead with 11.4 seconds remaining. Rather than allow Courtney Williams to take a wide-open 3-pointer, Taurasi fouled Stricklen as she attempted to get the ball to Williams. Stricklen, who shot 86.5 percent from the foul line in the regular season, missed both free throws.
Camille Little, who played the previous two seasons with Connecticut, and Mitchell went 4 for 4 from the foul line in the final 7.6 seconds as Phoenix advances onto the WNBA semifinals.
Griner had 26 points and nine rebounds, Taurasi had 23 points while Currie and Mitchell added 12 points.
Alyssa Thomas had 20 points and 10 rebounds in her first playoff game while Jonquel Jones had 19 points and 15 rebounds for the Sun.
Before the game, Jones was honored for being the WNBA’s Most Improved Player while Miller was named both the Coach of the Year and Executive of the Year.