UNCASVILLE, Conn. (AP) – Alyssa Thomas and the Connecticut Sun want to make sure they don’t have to play in a single-elimination playoff game this year. They took a step in that direction with a gritty win over the Las Vegas Aces on Friday night.
Thomas scored 27 points and Courtney Williams added 24 to help the Sun rally to beat the third-place Aces 89-85. Connecticut moved into first place in the standings after Washington lost to Chicago.
“This game was huge for us, we don’t want to fall past the two spot,” Thomas said. “The one-and-dones aren’t too good to us. It’s super important for us to finish in the top two.”
The Sun own the tiebreaker over both the Mystics and Aces.
“It’s huge with positioning and having the tiebreaker over people,” said Thomas, who was a point short of her career-high. “We are getting to the end. We knew the importance of the game.”
Connecticut has lost in the playoffs the past two years in the second round, losing the single-elimination games. Earning a top two-seed will get them a bye to the semifinals and put them in a five-game series.
“We know we’ve been getting kicked out the last two years because of that single elimination. Our mindset since the beginning has been to make sure we’re one or two,” Williams said. “If we get to the semifinals and have a best of five, we’re going to be a problem so that’s what we’re fighting for.”
Connecticut (20-8) trailed by 11 in the third quarter before Thomas took over, scoring 11 of the next 13 points to tie the game. Williams’ jumper with a minute left gave Connecticut a 70-68 advantage. Neither team could get more than four-point lead in the final quarter.
The Sun led 87-85 with about 30 seconds left when Jackie Young missed a driving layup. Connecticut corralled the rebound and the Sun worked the clock down before Williams hit a jumper from the free-throw line with 10.2 seconds left to make it a two-possession game and seal the fourth straight win.
Liz Cambage scored 18 points and A’ja Wilson added 17 to lead Las Vegas (19-10), which saw its four-game winning streak end.
“We didn’t come out to play in the third quarter like we’re supposed to,” Aces’ coach Bill Laimbeer said. “We came out to play basketball game not to win an important game and it showed. We still should have won the basketball game.”
Connecticut honored former star guard Lindsay Whalen by putting her number 13 in the rafters alongside those of other former Sun greats Katie Douglas, Margo Dydek and Nykesha Sales. Whalen helped the Sun reach the WNBA Finals in 2004 and 2005 after getting drafted fourth by the team in 2004. With the Sun, She played in 197 games, scoring 2,290 points and had 964 assists.
It’s the third time that Whalen’s number has been honored. The University of Minnesota, where she starred and is coaching now, retired her number in 2005. The Minnesota Lynx retired her jersey in June.
Rachel Banham, who is out with a left ankle injury, was wearing a Whalen No. 13 Connecticut Sun jersey while on the bench. She also starred in college at Minnesota.
Aces: Continue a three-game road trip in Minnesota on Sunday.
Sun: Visit Los Angeles on Sunday to begin a three-game road trip.
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