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Storm Downs Sun, 78-65

August 29, 2013

And then it was one.

Tina Thompson and Camille Little pumped in 18 points apiece, with Little getting half of hers during the fourth quarter, and the Seattle Storm came within one final step of qualifying for a 10th straight trip to the WNBA playoffs by beating the Connecticut Sun in KeyArena on Thursday night, 78-65.

The Storm (15-14) climbed above the .500 mark for the first time since a 91-86 victory at San Antonio on June 21, and reduced their magic number for advancing to the postseason to one.

in a nutshell:

-- One Storm win in any of their last five games – three straight against league-leading Minnesota, starting Saturday at 5 p.m. in Minneapolis, then two in a row against Tulsa – and they’re in.

-- One more San Antonio loss in any of its final six games eliminates the fifth-place Silver Stars. Ditto for sixth-place Tulsa, which also has six remaining. Those two square off tonight in Oklahoma, so one team will be out of contention when the final horn sounds. The other will be on the cusp of elimination, but still alive.

No surprise then, that even after winning their fifth in the last six games, improving their August record to 8-4, and climbing into a virtual third-place tie with Phoenix (the Mercury are 14-13 for a .519 winning percentage; Seattle’s percentage is .517), Storm players still weren’t ready to count on a playoff spot that is still officially up for grabs.

“I guess it feels good. But it doesn’t mean anything until it actually happens,” said Thompson, who also collected nine rebounds on Thursday, leaving her one short of a second straight double-double. “I’ll give you a better answer once it happens.”

Head coach Brian Agler echoed that sentiment.

“We’re down to one – that’s all I can say. We’re not done,” Agler said. “We still haven’t accomplished our goals. We have work to do, and we’re going to stay focused on that.”

That focus was evident for good chunks of Thursday’s game after a rugged week on the road. Seattle played three games in five nights, winning at Phoenix and splitting two in San Antonio, then spent most of Wednesday traveling home in time to face the Sun.

“We’re tired, so I’m really proud of how they dug down and played tonight, because it wasn’t easy,” Agler said. “You think about the game after game and the travel we’ve had in the last week or so – it hasn’t been easy.

“(But) our team is hungry – they can smell it,” Agler added. “They understand this was a huge opportunity for us tonight.”

Temeka Johnson chipped in 12 points and nine assists for Seattle, the latter just one shy of her season high. Shekinna Stricklen tallied 11 points, getting nine of those in the first quarter, all on 3-pointers.

Tina Charles had 18 points for Connecticut (7-21), which lost its sixth straight and ninth in the last 10.

The Storm led for all but the opening two minutes of the game. The injury-depleted Sun, with former Seattle coach Anne Donovan in her first year at the helm, got the opening point on a free throw, and tied it twice at 3-3 and 5-5.

A run of seven straight points broke that deadlock and put the Storm in front for good. Then, an 11-0 surge – a basket by Tianna Hawkins to end the first quarter, then the first nine points of the second quarter, including a pair of 3-pointers by Thompson – pushed it to 19 at 31-12 with 6:52 left in the half.

Connecticut got it back down to single digits just before the third-quarter buzzer, coming within 58-49 entering the final 10 minutes. But Seattle quickly regained command as Little and Johnson each had driving lay-ins to start the fourth period, and Little hit a free throw to push it back to 63-49. A deep 3-pointer by Thompson from the left of the circle made it 66-51 with 7:59 to play, and the Sun never got closer than 11 after that.

“We got a stagnant in our offense, they got a little confidence, and there were a couple times they got easy shots,” Little said. “But overall, I think our defense constant the whoel game. We made it hard for them to score.”

Indeed, Connecticut hit just 37.7 percent from the field (23 of 61), and was even colder in the first half at 27.3 percent (9 of 33). The Storm hit 48.9 percent (23 of 47), got to the free throw line 11 more times than the Sun, and had a 31-25 advantage on the boards.

“I think it has been a great run for us,” Johnson said. “The crazy thing about it is usually around this time (of the season), people have jelled, and they understand each other. We’re at that point where we’re still getting better as a unit. Not everybody can really say that.

“We’ve been playing some really good basketball down the stretch,” she added. “But I think there’s still more to us.”

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