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Sun (finally) get to play at home against Mercury

It has been 586 days since the Connecticut Sun have played a game at Mohegan Sun Arena.

The Sun last rocked the joint since Oct. 7, 2019, when they held off the Washington Mystics, 90-86, in Game 4 of the best-of-five WNBA Finals. A crowd of 8,458 made the Arena come alive as loud as it ever had since the franchise arrived from Orlando in 2003.

There weren't any home crowds for the Sun in 2020 because the global pandemic forced the WNBA to relocate all of its teams and games into a bubble inside IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.

Connecticut returns to both the Arena and its fans on Sunday night as it plays host to the Phoenix Mercury (7 p.m., CBS Sports Network, NESN). It is the arena's first WNBA game since it shut down during the pandemic.

The girls are back in town.

“Our second-year players, like Kaila Charles, we learned before (Friday’s game at the Atlanta Dream) that she was playing in front of her family for the first time (as a WNBA player),” Sun head coach Curt Miller said. “You’re almost like, ‘what are you talking about?’ You forget that the second-year players have not played in front of (WNBA) fans. … Five of our 10 players who played for us last night had yet to play in front of fans in the WNBA.

“To hear that (second-year post) Beatrice Mompremier and Kaila were playing in front of fans for the first time, you needed that sentence repeated. It didn’t register that that is true.”

Connecticut (1-0) tied the Los Angeles Sparks for the league’s best home record in 2019 (15-2). It will allow approximately 2,300 season ticket holders to attend the first nine games, at which time it will make a decision about possible expansion in August after the Olympic break.

“We had the best home record in the league (in 2019) in large part due to that great fan base that we can rely on as our sixth man,” Miller said. “We’re really fortunate that we’re going to come back and play in front of as many as 2,300. No matter what that number looks like, just having our dedicated fan base, especially those season ticket holders through the years, back cheering us on means so much to us.”

“I missed out on playing in front of Connecticut fans last year,” said Briann January, who joined the team in 2020. “I’ve had (11) years of them cheering against me (playing for both the Indiana Fever and Phoenix), and I’m ready to feel some of that support. I’m really excited.”

The Sun began the season with a 78-67 win at the Atlanta Dream on Friday night thanks to their defense and size advantage.

Phoenix (1-0) will be a much tougher challenge, led by its superstar trio of center Brittney Griner and guards Skylar Diggins-Smith and Diana Taurasi. They averaged a combined 54.1 points last season, and the 6-foot-9 Griner will challenge Connecticut’s preference to play through its bigs down low.

Taurasi made a go-ahead three with 1.1 seconds left to give Phoenix a 77-75 win at the Minnesota Lynx on Friday night.

n.griffen@theday.com

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