Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Friday, June 30, 2017

WNBA Gamer I: No Doubting Thomas as Both Former ACC Stars Lead Sun over Storm

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

UNCASVILLE, Conn. – No matter how one approaches the results, when it comes to the performances of two of the stars of the WNBA Connecticut Sun’s 96-89 thriller Thursday night over the Seattle Storm here at the Mohegan Sun Arena there’s no doubting Thomas, either of one of them.

Jasmine Thomas, the former Duke standout, had a career high 29 points, shooting 12-for-16 from the field. Including 4-of-6 three-pointers, while dealing six assists, alongside teammate Alyssa Thomas, the third-year pro out of Maryland who had 17 points, shooting 8-for-11 from the field and dealing nine assists as the home team got back to .500 at 7-7 and also dispensed with a brief two-game losing streak.

Meanwhile former George Washington star Jonquel Jones in her second season in the league, had 13 points and 10 rebounds, having entered the contest with a league-best 12.1 average dominating the boards.

Shekinna Stricklen, the former Tennessee standout, also scored in double figures with 14 points, shooting 5-for-10, while former South Florida star Courtney Williams had eight points. Off the bench two former Big Ten Conference greats – Penn State alum Alex Bentley and recent Minnesota star Rachel Banham -  had seven and six points respectively.

As a team, the Sun sizzled from the field, shooting 56.5 percent from the field.

This game is one a WNBA marketing wonk working for the Sun could bottle and savor on a chilly winter‘s night in the offseason winter.

Connecticut celebrated its 15th birthday in front of a near-sellout crowd of 8, 668, as a reincarnated franchise after relocation from Orlando, where it played in Florida as the Miracle.

In a thrilling finish, the Sun managed to squander all but one of a commanding 17-point lead in the fourth quarter before applying the breaks on Stricklen’s 17-foot jumper with 1 minute, six seconds left in regulation, followed by a Courtney Williams steal that led to a Jasmine Thomas layup with 33.8 left in regulation.

Jonquel Jones then went 1-for-2 while Jasmine Thomas also went 1-for-2 from the line for the night’s final scoring by both teams.

At halftime, past Sun stars Rebecca Lobo and Nykesha Sales, both former UConn greats of which Lobo will be into inducted into the Naismith Springfield Basketball Hall of Fame in September, and Katie Douglas were interviewed before the crowd on the crowd to talk about the glory days of the Sun past.

But the play of the presence, especially in recent weeks in which injuries have become the mother of newfound success, were what had the juices of second-year coach Curt Miller flowing.

“Proud of our team tonight,” he said afterwards. “That’s a big, big win for us in that stretch. It’s not easy to win a game in this league … when this is our fourth game in seven days. Our players mustered up the energy to make plays in that fourth quarter when that game got real tight.

“Give a lot of credit to Seattle. Both teams shot tremendous from the field and the three-point line. Both teams shared the basketball. It was a really, really, well-played game. I’m proud that when Seattle made that run – they had stretches all night long, they started the fourth quarter shooting eight for 11, they got really hot down the stretch to make it interesting.

“But for us, we mustered up the energy – fourth game in seven days and an important game as we go back on the road for two more.”

Connecticut will be in Indianapolis Saturday night visiting the Indiana Fever before traveling to San Antonio Wednesday night and then coming back home to host Washington in a big showdown next Saturday night and then visiting Seattle on July 12th and completing the back-to-back visiting the defending WNBA champion Los Angeles the next night.

As for the emergence of the two Thomas’, Miller said, “Jasmine Thomas had a tremendous game and stayed aggressive, they gave her different looks on ball screens, they gave her different defenders, Sue (Bird) was on her, Jewell (Loyd) was on her, and she just kept being aggressive.

“She’s playing with so much confidence right now, she’s shooting the ball so well from the three-point line, she’s always been a tremendous athlete and had that mid-range game but now … she’s that much tougher to guard. She just has a confidence that she can make plays when we really need them.

“Alyssa Thomas has just excelled from the unintended consequences of our injuries, she’s turning out to quickly prove she’s one of the elite fours in the league. What we really like about her, she’s a forward who can be a contributor and you can elicit through her.

“Nine assists again tonight. We’ve had to go with this alignment out of necessity. What she is is unselfish,” Miller said of Alyssa Thomas, “and try to find the matchups that can help us throughout the game.”

This was Uconn night with alums off both rostersm featuring bird, second-year pro Breanna Stewart, and the injured Kalenna Mosqueda Lewis on the youthful Seattle squad that fell to 6-8, besides former Notre Dame great Loyd, and former Boston College star Carolyn Swords, while the injured Morgan Tuck is on Connecticut.

Stewart had 22 points, Loyd 21, Bird 16, connecting on all three of her attempts beyond the arc; and former Maryland great Crystal Langhorne out of Willingboro in suburban Philadelphia, scoring 14. Stewart completed a double double with 10 rebounds.

The Storm, who will host next month’s All-Star game on July 22, and Sun, each hit 10 three-balls.

Seattle had gotten off to a hot start, winning five of its first seven games, but now has lost three straight, and six of seven.

Next up for the Storm is a visit to the Dallas Wings Saturday before hosting New York next Thursday, Los Angeles next Saturday, and Connecticut on July 12 that will be part of a five-straight home stretch heading into the All-Star break.



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