The Connecticut Sun can become the second team to clinch a spot in the WNBA playoffs Sunday if they can slow down rookie Arike Ogunbowale and defeat the Dallas Wings.
The Sun (18-8) are one game behind the Washington Mystics for the top seed and hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over them by winning two of the three games between them this year. Connecticut rallied from seven down in the final 1:47 to extend its home winning streak to six games Friday night, edging Seattle 79-78 after Shekinna Stricklen hit a pair of free throws with 4.3 seconds to play.
“We stole one. You have to steal some throughout the year when you don’t play your A-game, when you play a little bit ugly,” Sun coach Curt Miller said told the Hartford Courant. “That was an unbelievable win that we probably didn’t deserve, and we stole it.”
Stricklen finished with a season high-tying 24 points and Alyssa Thomas added 17 and 11 rebounds, but the Sun stayed in the game with their defense. They forced Seattle into 27 turnovers that led to 28 points.
Stricklen continues to serve as a bellwether for the Sun with her perimeter game. Connecticut improved to 10-0 when she hits at least 3-pointers compared to 8-8 when she makes two or fewer. The winner of the 3-point shootout during All-Star weekend, Stricklen had totaled 20 points on 4-of-18 shooting from beyond the arc in her four games before breaking out Friday.
The Sun have won 19 of their last 20 home games dating back to last year.
Dallas (9-18) is riding a season-high three-game winning streak after defeating the New York Liberty 83-77 at home Friday night. Isabelle Harrison hit a go-ahead layup in the final minute, and Ogunbowale added three key free throws after that to help keep the Liberty at bay.
Ogunbowale finished with 21 points despite shooting 6 of 18 as she furthered her scoring binge. Locked in a battle with Minnesota Lynx center Napheesa Collier for rookie of the year honors, Ogunbowale has topped 20 points in her last three games and five of her last six, averaging 21.3 points in the latter span while helping Dallas go 4-2.
“Arike’s just playing her game. She’s doing all the things that she’s done to get here. She’s a pure scorer,” Allisha Gray told the Dallas Morning News after reaching the 1,000-point mark for her career with a 22-point effort. “I just fit in where I can. Every night, I may not come out and score or be the leading scorer but I’m willing to do the things that don’t show up on the stat sheet.”
Ogunbowale leads all rookies in scoring at 16.3 points per game, which is also good for seventh in the league. She banked in a go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:23 to play to lift the Wings to a 74-73 win June 26 in the only meeting between the teams thus far. Ogunbowale finished with 25 points while Alyssa Thomas had 28 to pace Connecticut, which erased a 13-point deficit in the third quarter and nearly stole the road win.
(Shekinna Stricklen photo courtesy Chris Poss Twitter account)