UNCASVILLE — Fans of all ages began lining up outside of the Mohegan Sun Arena box office hours before Friday’s Connecticut Sun game against the Seattle Storm, several of them wearing the No. 10 on their backs. A day after basketball legend Sue Bird announced she would be retiring at the end of the 2021-22 season, she took the court in what ended up being an 82-71 Sun win.
Bird hit back-to-back threes within the game’s first two minutes to open the scoring for Seattle. The Storm built a quick 13-8 lead, but reigning MVP Jonquel Jones found Natisha Hiedeman beyond the arc. Once she caught the pass and rose up, Courtney Williams raised three fingers and began trotting back on defense – she knew it would fall.
Connecticut built a 31-23 lead in the second quarter after a midrange jumper from DeWanna Bonner. In response, Bird hit her third three-pointer of the game and forced Connecticut to call a timeout with just under five minutes to go in the half.
Brionna Jones took over in the low post off the bench, scoring 12 first-half points. She fueled an 8-0 run that closed the first half with a 42-32 Connecticut lead. Brionna Jones finished with 19 points.
“Bri Jones and JJ (Jonquel Jones) combined for 16-18 inside the arc tonight, and we were dominant finishing around the rim with those two, just a really good night around the paint,” Sun head coach Curt Miller said.
Bird opened the second half the same way she began the first – with a three pointer. The Storm used an 8-0 run of their own in the third quarter that was capped off by a three-pointer from Breanna Stewart to reclaim their lead, 46-45. Stewart’s 14 third-quarter points, after just five in the first half, fueled Seattle to a 58-56 lead entering the final period.
The teams traded shots to start the quarter with the Storm maintaining its slim lead until Bonner grabbed a defensive rebound and hit a three-pointer from the top of the arc to give Connecticut a 65-62 lead with just over seven minutes to go. Bonner scored 15 points in the game’s final period to propel the Sun to a lead of as many as 14. She ended with a game-high 20 points in the contest.
“My teammates just kept telling me to keep shooting the ball, it’s gonna fall,” Bonner said. “I’m just riding the wave, we’ve got some great players on our team.”
Bird scored 14 points and dished four assists in her “homecoming” in front of thousands of fans, including the UConn women’s basketball team.
“When the schedule comes out, there’s two games that I circle mentally: the New York game and the Connecticut game. That’s because they feel like homecomings, I know that I am going to get the support, I know that I am going to be able to play in front of people that really watched me grow up. That’s really special to me,” Bird said in a press conference Thursday.
The arena was at its loudest when Bird was introduced ahead of the game. Fans, young and old, rose to their feet and held their breath every time she shot the ball, though Friday won’t be the last time Bird plays in Uncasville. The Storm will return to Mohegan Sun on July 28.
“It was most definitely deserved. She’s had a great career and she deserves all of the flowers, but at the end of the day this is our home court. Nobody’s ever gonna walk in here and act like we’re about to give them a win,” Jonquel Jones said. “We loved the atmosphere, we appreciated it, but we want those people that are in Connecticut to come back and support us too, show us love too, so we can get more people here – it would be amazing.”
The Sun will be back in action when they travel to Washington for a 2 pm bout with the Mystics on Sunday, June 19.