The problem for the Sun was, Deanna Nolan was as good as she’s ever been, too.
Nolan scored a career-high and franchise-record 36 points to lead the Shock to a 92-88 victory at Mohegan Sun Arena. Detroit (18-5) won its seventh straight game while also snapping the Sun’s own six-game winning streak.
The Shock's four-point victory Tuesday was as tough as any they've come by in their season sweep of Connecticut, whom they also defeated by five points once and three points twice. The Sun led at halftime, 45-41, as Whalen shot 7-of-11 from the field for 15 points en route to a career-high 33. Whalen's triple on her first attempt of the third quarter gave Connecticut their largest lead of the game, 50-43.
Then Nolan took over for a Shock team that looked precariously close to cashing it in. After scoring 16 points in the first half, Nolan scored 11 straight points for Detroit, the first seven of which gave the Shock a 55-54 lead. A subsequent 7-0 run gave the Shock their biggest lead of the game, 67-59, late in the third quarter.
Nolan scored 15 points in the pivotal third quarter, breaking her team record of 13 points in quarter, which she shared with Swin Cash and Cheryl Ford. On a night when Seattle's Lauren Jackson tied the WNBA record for points in a game (47), Nolan fell one made field goal shy of the tying that league mark of 17. Nolan was 16-of-23 from the field (69.6 percent), including 2-of-3 from long range. She also had a team-high seven assists.
“It was big, a big one,” Nolan said of her performance. “I basically came out just looking for my shot. The first couple dropped and you get in a scoring mode and they kept falling.”
Yet Whalen nearly stole the show anyway. Another triple by the third-year guard made it 71-all early in the fourth setting up another nail-biting finish between the Eastern Conference rivals. Whalen tied it again at 79 and then capped her 33-point night with a three-point play that pulled Connecticut within 87-84 with about 90 seconds left. She was 13-of-18 from the field but only 4-of-8 from the free-throw line.
Sun guard Katie Douglas hit two jumpers in the final 14 seconds to make it a one-possession game with 6.4 seconds left, but time once again ran out on the Sun. Douglas, who had also struggled from the field against Detroit this season, scored 27 points on 11-of-15 from the field.
Nolan got some unexpected help to combat Douglas and Whalen's prolific attack. Though center Katie Feenstra was less of a factor down the stretch due to foul trouble, she performed admirably in her first appearance in the Shock starting lineup. She made an immediate impact with five points and four rebounds in the opening four minutes, helping the Shock take a 12-8 lead. That became a 19-14 deficit when Kara Braxton replaced her, compelling head coach Bill Laimbeer to stick with Feenstra for the first half. By halftime the third-year player from Liberty already had a season-high 15 points and seven rebounds, a tally she had surpassed in a game only twice this season.
“Feenstra has been playing really well lately, everything is starting to come together for her, all the stuff she had been working on,” Laimbeer said. “She is one of the hardest workers we have and today was a culmination of that.” She finished with 19 points on 7-of-8 from the field and nine rebounds. Though her shot was off (1-of-8 FGs), Braxton grab a team-high 10 rebounds, four on the offensive glass, most after Feenstra had picked up her fifth foul.
Braxton and Feenstra's production was a necessity with the news that Cheryl Ford, All-Star Game MVP and the league's leading rebounder, was not only sitting out her second straight game but would need an MRI to check for torn cartilage after a collision in practice involving the bone bruise in her left knee. It was the eighth game this season Ford has missed due to the injury, which occurred in the first Shock-Sun meeting June 15. Despite Ford's absence, the Shock had 13 more rebounds than the Sun in the second half.
“We kinda have a feel for them, we kind of have their number,” Nolan said of the Sun, whom have now lost nine of 10 to Detroit dating back to last season. “All of our games against them have been decided by five points or less. I think we have a feel for what they wanna do and how they wanna do it. It’s just a matter of playing defense and stopping them.”