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For a second time, Connecticut loses on a buzzer-beating basket

Connecticut’s Chiney Ogwumike (13) was selected to play in the WNBA All-Star Game for the second time in her career. She had 10 points in Tuesday night’s loss to Atlanta.

The Connecticut Sun couldn’t put the game away so the visiting Atlanta Dream stole it from them. The Sun led by three points with 1:59 remaining only to see the Dream erase the deficit and take a lead.

Connecticut tied the game and had the ball with 10 seconds remaining and a chance to win their third straight game. But as Sun guard Jasmine Thomas tried to pass the ball to teammate Courtney Williams, Atlanta’s Jessica Breland just nudged the ball from behind.

It was enough to get the ball to Atlanta’s Tiffany Hayes, who scooted up court and let a shot fly from half court as the buzzer sounded. It went through the net to lift the Dream to a stunning 86-83 victory over Connecticut Tuesday night in Uncasville.

Hayes, the former UConn guard, finished with 18 points as the Dream (13-9) won their fifth straight game and swept the three-game season series from Connecticut (12-11).

“I knew there was only ten seconds (when play began) and once I saw ball I knew there was already time off the clock so I had to get it up fast so I just heaved it up there,” she said. It was her first-ever game-winning shot from half-court.

It was an emotional game at the Mohegan Sun Arena. Three technical fouls were called in the game. It was physical and players were diving for loose balls.

Tied at 83-83, Atlanta’s Angel McCoughtry missed a jumper with 10.9 seconds remaining. Breland tried to control the rebound but she fell to the floor. Connecticut’s Alyssa Thomas, who missed 10 games after injuring her shoulder in June, dove over Breland and onto the floor trying to get the loose ball.

Sun guard Layshia Clarendon dove to the floor, too and crawled to get the rebound, giving Connecticut possession of the ball with 10 seconds to go.

“We played hard tonight, that’s a tough way to lose,” Connecticut head coach Curt Miller said.

McCoughtry led the way for Atlanta with 24 points, including two huge shots in the final three minutes. Elizabeth Williams had 16 points while Brittney Sykes and Breland scored 11 points each.

Connecticut’s Jonquel Jones came off the bench to score 19 points (7-of-10 shooting) and pull down seven rebounds while Rachel Banham scored 15 points. Alyssa Thomas, who grimaced and held her shoulder after diving for that loose ball with 10 seconds remaining, had 12 points and 10 rebounds. Chiney Ogwumike, who was named to her first WNBA All-Star game since 2014, had 10 points and seven rebounds.

It was the first game for Clarendon against her old team. Clarendon was traded to Atlanta for guard Alex Bentley a week ago. Clarendon was 1-for-6 with two points while Bentley was 0-for-6 and didn’t score.

It was also the first game at the Mohegan Sun Arena for Atlanta head coach Nicki Collen, who spent two years as the assistant coach for Miller. Atlanta’s Renee Montgomery also spent some time here in Connecticut with the Sun earlier in her WNBA career.

Connecticut extended their lead to three, 81-78, with 1:59 remaining when Alyssa Thomas scored inside the lane. Jones was covered well but she fired the ball back out to Thomas near the top of the key.

But McCoughtry drained a three-point shot with 1:42 remaining to tie the game at 81-81. After the Dream defense forced a shot clock violation by the Sun, Elizabeth Williams scored in the lane off a nice feed from Breland, who was named the Eastern Conference player of the week on Monday, to take a 83-81 lead with 58 seconds to go.

Again, the Dream played tough defense and Jasmine Thomas’ shot was off the rim and Williams got the rebound for Atlanta.

“We just challenge each other to get stops and as cliché as it sounds, it’s that whole score, stop, score, stop and we always have the ability to get to the foul line,” Collen said. “Angel (McCoughtry) hit a big three (with 1:42 remaining) and we just enough big plays, we kept clawing and put the pressure back on them.”

Clarendon forced a turnover with 35 seconds remaining, poking the ball away from Bentley. Clarendon dished it to Alyssa Thomas, who was fouled with 31 seconds left and sank a pair of free throws to tie the game at 83-83.

It was the second time this year that the Sun have lost at the buzzer. Six days ago, they lost to New York at the buzzer here at home about a week ago when Shavonte Zellous scored in a 79-76 victory.

“I have to figure out who we can play through at the end,” Miller said. “We have to be able to make plays. We have to take the last shot, we’ve talked about that over and over again. Again, we went a little bit early. You have to credit (Jasmine Thomas) for trying to make a play, but it didn’t develop like we had hoped.”

The Sun led by as many as 11 points in the first half, sparked by Jones with nine points in the second quarter.

Connecticut led by seven at halftime but the Dream opened the third quarter with an 8-4 run to cut the lead to three and it was nip and tuck the rest of the way.

It doesn’t get any easier for Connecticut, which welcomes All-Stars Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart to the Mohegan Sun Arena on Friday night at 7 p.m.

ALL-STAR GAME: Ogumike was the only Connecticut player among the 22 players selected by fans, WNBA players and head coaches to play in the upcoming WNBA All-Star Game on Saturday, July 28 in Minnesota at 3:30 p.m.

In the midst of a comeback season after missing all of 2017 with an Achilles injury, Ogwumike leads the Sun in scoring (15 ppg.) and total rebounds (157), and is second in the WNBA in field goal shooting percentage (.603).

Ogwumike has scored in double figures 18 times, with a career-best 30 points at Seattle on June 15. She has five double-doubles. She has led the team in scoring seven times this season. It is her second All-Star selection. She played in her rookie season in 2014.

“It means the world to me,” said Ogwumike. “This past year was the hardest year for me, coming back from a second injury and also working full time (at ESPN). It has been a special year, a hard year, but still a special year. I have learned a lot. We are a great team that is still trying to find its way. I feel blessed.”

“I’m really happy, she deserves it,” Sun head coach Curt Miller said. “It wasn’t her night tonight, but there were signs of life with JJ (Jonquel Jones), I’m really proud of her fight. Chiney (Ogwumike) deserves every accolade she gets this year. It’s a feel-good story, and not many people can come back from the adversity that she keeps coming back from and play at the level she is playing at so I’m glad that she was recognized.”

Washington Mystics forward Elena Delle Donne and Los Angeles Sparks forward Candace Parker will serve as team captains and draft the rosters for the game.

Former UConn stars Sue Bird (Seattle), Breanna Stewart (Seattle), Diana Taurasi (Phoenix), Tina Charles (New York) and Maya Moore (Minnesota) were all selected to play in the game.

Bird was named an All-Star for the 11th time, breaking a tie with Tamika Catchings for the most selections in WNBA history.  Taurasi earned her ninth All-Star selection, tied for the third most with former Houston star and Hall of Famer Tina Thompson.

Moore and Delle Donne earned spots as team captains after receiving the highest vote totals regardless of conference. Moore today informed the WNBA that she is unable to perform her captaincy duties at this time. She has been excused from those responsibilities but will remain a part of the All-Star Game. Parker has been selected by WNBA President Lisa Borders to replace Moore as a team captain due to finishing third in the fan voting behind Moore and Delle Donne.

Gerry deSimas, Jr., is the editor and founder of The Collinsville Press. He is an award-winning writer and has been covering sports in Connecticut and New England for more than 40 years. He was inducted into the New England High School Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2018.

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