UNCASVILLE, Conn. – It’s been such a long, long season for the Connecticut Sun.
The Sun had dreams of contending for a WNBA championship only to see it crumble under an avalanche of injuries that began before the season began with All-Star forward Ashja Jones informing the team in April she would be sitting out the season to recover from nagging injuries.
Renee Montgomery sprained her ankle in the second game of the season against Chicago and didn’t return for three weeks. Kara Lawson has missed mulitiple games with a sore knee and taking time to be with her ailing father.
Guard Alison Hightower played well and earned a spot in the WNBA All-Star game before she was shut down with a strained right knee. Rookie Kelly Faris reinjured the left foot she hurt in the final stages of the 2013 basketball season with Connecticut.
Center Tina Charles, the league MVP a year ago, played like a most valuable player all season before sitting out Friday’s game (sore knee) against the Washington Mystics at the Mohegan Sun Arena.
The Sun came into the game with the league’s worst record at 7-22 against a resurgent Washington team that was 14-15 and fighting to secure its first WNBA playoff berth since 2010. And they were playing against their former coach Mike Thibault, who coached the team for 10 years before getting fired earlier this year.
Connecticut played with heart, hustle and pride to snap a seven-game losing streak with a 77-70 win over Mystics before over 5,600 fans who gave the Sun a standing ovation when it was over.
Tan White tied a career-high with 26 points and had six assists while Kelsey Griffin scored 17 points for Connecticut. Mistie Bass had eight points and yanked down 10 rebounds.
“I’m so proud of that effort from those eight,” Sun coach Anne Donovan said. “They just played so well and so hard, followed the game plan and just hustled from beginning to end despite Washington’s runs. I’m just really proud of their effort.”
Connecticut scored the first eight points of the game and began with a 10-2 run, hitting a pair of three-point goals. They opened the second half with a 9-2 surge to take an nine-point lead. The lead was as high as 14 points after Griffin finished off a three-point play with 7:15 remaining.
Washington did the cut the lead to four with 1:31 left in the game but White fed Kayla Pederson for a layup at the other end of the floor to extend the lead to six. After a missing Washington shot, White ripped down a rebound and was fouled. She sank a pair of free throws with a minute to go to give the Sun an eight-point lead.
“Tan has been talking about pride all week. It’s one thing for coaches to tell their players to play hard, play with pride, play for the fans but it’s another thing when you hear a player saying those things,” Donovan said. “Tan just has so much pride in her own individual game and every matchup, whether she’s guarding (Ivory) Latta or (Matee) Ajavon, she just has so much pride in what she’s doing.”
Thibault wasn’t thrilled with his team’s performance. “We got our (butts) kicked. We got outworked and outhustled. I shouldn’t say outworked because there are work stats that we did well. We got on the boards and we got to the free-throw line, but we shot the ball poorly and our turnovers were god-awfu,” he said.
“They got 27 points off of our turnovers. We started both halves in a fog. Tan (White) has a huge game. We acted at the start like she’s not going to shoot but that’s all we talked about all week was that she is a major part of their offense right now,” Thibault said.
The Sun were missing four starters – Charles, Lawson, Hightower and Faris. WNBA.com reported that Charles, Hightower and Faris are done for the season.
“It wasn’t about who we didn’t have,” Donovan said. “When I went out there and called our lineup, with four of our starters in dress clothes, it’s just amazing the heart and character of the eight who went out there and took the floor.”
The Sun scored 27 points off 22 Washington turnovers. Crystal Langhorne had 16 points and 11 rebounds for the Mystics (14-16), and Tayler Hill scored 15 points.
“Give Connecticut credit,” Thibault said. “I thought that those kids that did play played their butts off. Everybody talks about all the injuries they have and everything else, but they still put Renee Montgomery, Tan White, Mistie Bass and Kalana Greene out there and Kelsey Griffin and Kayla Pedersen.
“Those are all good pros. Yeah they don’t have some of their best players, but in this league, they are in the league for a reason. Tan White is not an accident being in this league. Our players, I don’t know if they get that or not,” Thibault said.
Connecticut has four games remaining in the 2013 season with a game at Indiana on Saturday night and a game against Atlanta next Wednesday night at 7 p.m. at the Mohegan Sun Arena. The Sun travel to Washington next Friday night and close out the season by hosting Indiana on Sunday, Sept. 15 at 1 p.m.