Professional Basketball

Sun Outlast Lynx in OT, Remain Unbeaten


Minnesota Lynx guard Courtney Williams shoots over the outstretched arms of Connecticut Sun guard Rachel Banham during Thursday’s game at Mohegan Sun Arena. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

Two free throws by Connecticut forward DeWanna Bonner with 7.4 second left in overtime lifted the Sun past the Minnesota Lynx 83-82 in front of 6,152 at Mohegan Sun Arena on Thursday night, to remain the league’s last remaining undefeated team.

Coming into the contest, the Sun and Lynx were both undefeated, along with the New York Liberty. However, the Liberty dropped a 90-81 contest against the Chicago Sky, and with the Lynx loss, Connecticut stays atop the standings. Also, it was the first game that Sun forward Alyssa Thomas and Lynx forward Napheesa Collier each played in since being named their conferences respective players-of-the-week, which only added to the intrigue just before tipoff.

At first it didn’t look like the Sun stood a chance. Connecticut center Brionna Jones scored on a layup to begin the game, which was answered by layup from Lynx center Alanna Smith. Minnesota forward Diamond Miller and Sun forward Alyssa Thomas exchanged baskets. Then the visiting team went on an 8-0 run with layups from guard Courtney Williams and Smith, plus the first points from forward Napheesa Collier. The Lynx led 12-4 with 5:56 left in the opening quarter.

Rachel Banham came off the bench and scored a three-pointer to make the score 16-10 in favor of the Lynx, but Minnesota again blew the quarter wide open with a 7-0 run before the Sun closed with two free throws from Thomas and a steal with transition layup from Bonner. Minnesota led 23-14 at the end of the first quarter.

The Sun turned their 4-0 run from the end of the first quarter into a 12-0 run in the first few minutes of the second with free throws from guard Tiffany Mitchell and two layups from Jones. The shocked Lynx called a timeout to regroup with 7:30 remaining in the half holding onto a one-point lead, 23-22.

Coming out of the timeout, Thomas made two free throws after being fouled by Williams, and Jones made another layup. The Connecticut run went to 16-0 but was ended when Minnesota guard Kayla McBride hit a three-pointer with 6:15 left in the half to tie the score 26-26.

Connecticut Sun forward Alyssa Thomas shoots a jumper over Minnesota Lynx guard Natisha Hiedeman during Thursday’s game at Mohegan Sun Arena. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

Again, Connecticut responded with a 7-0 run with a three-pointer and layup from Bonner and a layup from guard DiJonai Carrington. Since the 27.2 mark in the first quarter, the Sun rattled off a 23-3 run and took a seven-point lead, 33-26, with 4:21 left in the first half.

Minnesota finally regrouped and put together a small run of their own. Smith scored a layup, as did Collier. Then Courtney Williams’s jump shot with 2:24 left in the half tied the score at 33-33 capping a 7-0 Lynx run. The Sun maintained a 37-35 lead at the half.

Connecticut continued to assert themselves on offense in the third quarter, and managed to build up a seven point lead in the process. Thomas scored on a driving layup and made a free shot after getting fouled by Lynx guard Natisha Hiedeman, the Sun led 43-36 with 8:15 remaining in the third quarter. The seven point led would be Connecticut’s largest of the game and it would be the only time they held it.

Smith scored on a layup to cut the Lynx deficit to five, and then was fouled by Bonner two minutes later. Smith converted both free throws and the score was now 43-40 in favor of the Sun with 6:00 left in the third quarter.

The Lynx chipped away at the deficit and took the lead on a McBride three-pointer with 2:09 left in the quarter, which put Minnesota ahead, 49-48. Yet a Thomas running layup gave the home team the 52-51 lead when the quarter ended.

The teams traded baskets and the leads a few times in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter. Bonner got the hot hand and propelled her team to a six point lead, but two Lynx three-pointers and a Collier cutting layup tied the score 63-63 with 5:34 left on the clock.

Minnesota Lynx forward Napheesa Collier drives against Connecticut Sun forward Alyssa Thomas during Thursday’s game at Mohegan Sun Arena. Both players were named WNBA players of the week last week. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

The next five minutes became a methodical grudge match. Minnesota managed to take a lead and make it a two possession game with a turnaround fadeaway shot by Collier and a pullup jumper from Williams, but Connecticut answered with a three-pointer from guard Tyasha Harris to pull within one point making it 67-66 with just under four minutes to go.

There were three ties, two lead changes and six free throw attempts in the next four minutes. Collier made two free throws after getting fouled by Jones to tie the score 70-70 with 32.1 seconds on the clock. Thomas scored a layup with 14.2 seconds to put the Sun up by two. Collier answered with a layup with 11.2 seconds left on the clock. This was not answered as Mitchell missed the three-point attempt and the game was tied, 72-72 at the end of regulation.

Like their last game, a double overtime win against the Seattle Storm, the Lynx came out in the overtime period strong. Hiedeman, fouled by Harris, converted one of her two free throw attempts to give Minnesota the one-point advantage.

Then Mitchell failed to get a shot off in time turning the ball over with the shot clock violation. Collier scored on a layup and was fouled by Jones, but missed the free shot. The Lynx were up by three.

Jones scored a layup to cut the deficit back to one, then a Hiedeman layup brought the advantage back up to three points.

Williams scored a layup to put the Lynx up by five points with 1:41 left in overtime, but she landed wrong and was injured on the play. Minnesota trainer Chuck Barta tended to her on the baseline where she landed and then assisted her to the Lynx bench during the stoppage in play where he evaluated her ankle and calf muscle further. She was well enough to stay in for the remainder of the game.

Connecticut Sun center Brionna Jones gets her shot blocked by Minnesota Lynx forward Napheesa Collier during Thursday’s game at Mohegan Sun Arena. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

Thomas scored on a put back layup with 1:23 on the clock. Collier got tied up by Bonner on the next possession forcing the jump ball situation. The Sun won the tip and Banham, who just replaced Mitchell in the lineup, came off a ball screen that forced Williams to be a step behind. Banham nailed the three point shot to tie the score 79-79 with 40.8 seconds left.

Collier was fouled by Jones, but she only made one of her two free throws. It would prove to be a costly mistake.

Even with Minnesota leading by one, there was still enough time for Connecticut to take the lead, which they did on a short jumper by Thomas. Now the Sun held the 81-80 advantage with just 17.4 seconds remaining.

McBride hit a step-back jumper just four seconds later to give Minnesota the single point lead. All the Lynx had to do was clamp down on defense for one more possession and they could win their second consecutive overtime game.

They almost succeeded.

Bonner was by the baseline and attempted a shot. Collier went up and made a clean block with her hands getting all ball. Then the whistle blew stopping the clock with 7.4 seconds left. Referee Angel Kent called Collier for a blocking foul. Bonner made both free throws to give the Sun the 83-82 lead.

There was still enough time left for one more Lynx possession. McBride was open for a jump shot just outside of the paint. It was short and bounced off the front of the rim and into the hands of Connecticut guard Tiffany Mitchell. The Sun outlasted the Lynx 83-82 in overtime to remain the league’s lone unbeaten team.

The Sun went 30-for-67 (44.8 percent) from the field; 5-for-11 (45.5 percent) from three-point range; and 18-for-21 (85.7 percent) from the free throw line. They committed 18 turnovers leading to 24 Minnesota points.

Connecticut Sun forward Alyssa Thomas scores on a wide open layup during Thursday’s game against the Minnesota Lynx at Mohegan Sun Arena. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

“There’s no gimme’s in this league. Every game matters. Every possession matters,” said Connecticut head coach Stephanie White. “This is a team that we played in the playoffs a year ago, and we certainly knew what they are capable of.”

The Lynx went 33-for-68 (48.5 percent) from the field; 4-for-21 (19.0 percent) from three-point range; and 12-for-20 (60.0 percent) from the charity stripe. The Lynx turned the ball over 17 times leading to 19 Sun points.

“It was a heck of a game. Both teams battled. This is what we expected when we came here,” said Minnesota head coach Cheryl Reeve. “I thought we did enough to win the game but it just didn’t happen tonight.”

Connecticut held a 46-36 advantage in points-in-the-paint, while Minnesota led 8-4 in second chance points.

“You see a difference when we impose our will and dictate, versus when we react, and we were really reactive in that first quarter,” said White.

DeWanna Bonner led the Sun in scoring with 20 points. Brionna Jones added 19 points and Alyssa Thomas pitched in 18 for the home team. Thomas led the Sun with 11 rebounds. Thomas and Jones each dished five assists to lead Connecticut.

“I was happy when I got to sub in because I knew I was probably going to get to shoot a ‘three,’” said Sun guard Rachel Banham, whose three-pointer in overtime was crucial to the Connecticut late bounce back. “It’s always fun when you get to play against your old team. It’s like any other game in that you want to get out there and whoop butt.”

Napheesa Collier led all players with 31 points. Courtney Williams added 19 points, Kayla McBride scored 13, and Alanna Smith chipped in 10 for the Lynx. Collier led the Lynx in rebounding with 11, while Williams paced the Lynx with six assists.

“It’s real disappointing because we worked so hard and then something [free throws] should be so easy… If I would have made my free throws, we wouldn’t have gone into overtime,” said Collier. “We went into overtime and could have won the game. When you miss early free baskets like that and it doesn’t cost you the game, I take a lot of that responsibility, so it’s tough,” said Collier.

The Sun (4-0) visit the Chicago Sky (2-1) on Saturday at 7 p.m. CT. Minnesota (2-1) hosts the New York Liberty (4-1) at 12 noon on Saturday, their first of two back-to-back contests before traveling to the Atlanta Dream (2-1) on Sunday.

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