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Thomas steals Storm’s thunder with career night

The Connecticut Sun defeated the Seattle Storm inside the Mohegan Sun Arena Thursday night to extend its record to 7-7 this season.

Chris Poss - Swish Appeal

UNCASVILLE, CT — While some teams like the Minnesota Lynx and Los Angeles Sparks have once again experienced a steady pace of victories this year, for the Connecticut Sun, 2017 has brought in a slew of emotions on a seemingly endless rollercoaster.

After kicking off this year’s regular season 0-4, the Connecticut Sun manufactured a swift turnaround June 3 against the San Antonio Stars, blazing their way to five consecutive wins before being burnt out on the road by the Dallas Wings last weekend.

Despite not being able to get their season back on track at home against the defending WNBA Champion Sparks and picking up their second loss in a row, the Sun braced themselves for their latest challenger Thursday night: the Seattle Storm.

Although both teams entered the night’s match-up with underwhelming 6-7 records, notable stars on the opposing end graced the floor of the Mohegan Sun Arena in search of improving to .500 on the season. With the Storm possessing this season’s WNBA assist leader and living legend Sue Bird, as well as the reigning rookie of the year, forward Breanna Stewart on one end of the hardwood, an undeniable presence was established inside the paint and on the perimeter for the Storm.

However, Seattle was silenced inside the Sun’s home court, as Connecticut improved to 7-7 on the season, defeating Seattle 96-89. The Thomas duo along with Jonquel Jones —who is averaging a double-double this season—were key players in helping carry out the much-needed victory.

As the first half fell underway, it was immediately evident that Connecticut was determined for a win, connecting on its first three possessions to take a rapid 7-0 lead in the quarter’s opening minutes. Connecticut forward Alyssa Thomas covered the floor for the Sun, as she was responsible for four of those initial points and assisted guard Shekinna Stricklen on her three-point shot.

In spite of the Sun’s hot start, the Storm continued to fight behind Stewart's production in the paint. The 6-foot-4 UConn product and former number one overall pick put up 10 points in the first, but her team would enter the second down 31-26.

Seattle continued its fight for the lead in the second, tying the game at 31-31 behind a 19-foot shot from Bird. Nevertheless, the duo of Alyssa and Jasmine Thomas prevented the Storm from capturing the lead at any point. The dynamic duo went on to combine for 28 of the team’s 48 points, putting the Sun up by 10 points after two quarters.

“Sometimes it just comes down to people making shots, making plays,” Bird said. “At that moment, they just made some shots.”

At halftime the Sun honored former players Nykesha Sales, Rebecca Lobo and Katie Douglas in light of being a member of the WNBA for 15 seasons. With 10,000 of their biggest fans behind them in a sea of commemorative white shirts celebrating the team’s time in the WNBA, Connecticut marched on the floor with a surplus of fire beneath their feet.

Chris Poss - Swish Appeal

A quick dish from Bird to forward Crystal Langhorne gave the Storm a quick basket to start the third, but was instantly matched with a basket on the opposite end of the floor from Jones. Stewart stepped up for the Storm in their next two possessions, connecting on an 18-foot jumper and 23-foot three-pointer to narrow the deficit to four points.

After both teams found success on the offensive end in a tight back-and-fourth battle, a steal and basket from Bird brought the Storm within two, 58-56.

A tough take from Jasmine Thomas and two baskets from guard Courtney Williams after the Storm failed to produce on the offensive end, helped give the sense that the Sun was once again beginning to pull away with their now eight-point lead.

Jazmine Thomas then went on to knock down a 23-foot three-pointer and on the following possession, connected on a driving layup to put the Sun up 69-56.

“We know they’re a three-point shooting team, but some of their players caught fire,” Stewart said.

A Jones free-throw added another point to the Sun’s total and with a desperate attempt to keep her team’s head above water, Seattle guard Noelle Quinn hit a three-pointer, sending her team into the fourth down 11 points, 70-59.

In the night’s final quarter, Stricklen hit a quick jumper for Connecticut to extend their lead, while the Storm responded quickly with a basket down low.

As team’s transferred baskets on both ends, it was the Sun who were able to extend their dominance behind Jones and the team’s bench. The Storm and Sun exchanged threes until a Stricklen connected on a perimeter shot from 26-feet out to extend Connecticut’s lead 83-66.

Even with the deficit extension, the Storm continued to fight behind two free-throws and a pair of threes from guard Sami Whitcomb and Bird. Now down just nine points, 83-74, Seattle appeared to be making a valiant run in the final six minutes of the game.

After a timeout and failed offensive possession for the Sun, Stewart ran the floor for a layup on the other end. Langhorne then created an and-one opportunity, but was unable to connect on her free throw, bringing the Storm within five points.

Seattle continued to produce offensively and with 3:27 remaining, found themselves down by four.

Connecticut would be fouled on back-to-back offensive possessions and found themselves holding onto the lead through free throws with just under three minutes remaining. However, Storm guard Jewell Lloyd and Langhorne refused to let up on the Sun and with 1:19 left in the game after a pair of Langhorne free throws, found themselves down just one point, 90-89.

Connecticut’s Stricklen would then go on to hit a quick 17-foot jumper for her team with just over one-minute remaining. A defensive stop by Williams allowed another basket from Jasmine Thomas and with 27 seconds remaining, Jones was fouled. Up 94-89, Jones connected on one of her two shot attempts at the line to put the Sun up 95-89.

The deal was then essentially sealed with by yet another Jasmine Thomas steal. Thomas was then fouled and hit one of her two free throws as well, putting Connecticut up by seven points with 16 seconds remaining. That lead would hold up for the Sun as the team officially steered their way back on a winning track.

“I’m proud that we found a way to the finish line when Seattle made that run,” Connecticut Sun head coach Curt Miller said. “They had stretches all night long. They started the third quarter out 8-of-11, obviously they got really hot down the stretch to make it real interesting, but for us, to muster up the energy in our fourth game in seven days, and to win an important home game as we get to go back on the road for two more, it’s huge for us.”

While Alyssa Thomas (17), Stricklen (14) and Jones (13) all notched double figures on the night, none contributed more points than Jasmine Thomas, who notched a game-high 29 points. Thomas was outstanding for the Sun, shooting 12-of-16 from the field and heating up from beyond the arc shooting 4-of-6.

“Everybody’s finding me,” Thomas said. “As long as I stay confident in that, I think it helps spread the floor and helps my play from clogging the paint.”

Jasmine Thomas’ play was followed by another notable performance from Alyssa Thomas, a woman who has stepped up time and time again for the Sun, guarding and producing offensively on some of the WNBA’s top players. Despite being forced to move to the four with Chiney Ogwumike out, Thomas has embraced the change.

“I think I like it just because the four has the ball in their hands a lot in this offense,” Thomas said. “So I’m able to create opportunities for my teammates which I love to do.”

The Connecticut Sun will look to keep riding the wave of victory this Saturday away against the Indiana Fever at 4 p.m. ET.