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Chicago outlasts Connecticut in overtime in high-scoring affair

Connecticut’s Courtney Williams drives to the basket in Friday night’s loss to Chicago at the Mohegan Sun Arena.

UNCASVILLE, Sept. 7 – There were 1.3 seconds left on clock in Friday’s WNBA game and Connecticut Sun guard Courtney Williams picked herself off the Mohegan Sun Arena floor.

The Sun trailed the visiting Chicago Sky by three points but Williams was fouled while attempting a three-point shot by Chicago’s Diamond DeShields.

“My heart was beating out of my chest,” Williams said afterward. “But you know, I shot them like I always shoot them. It’s repetition. You (need) to shoot them the same way you always shoot.”

Williams sank all three free throws with the cheers from the 8,077 fans rising higher after each free throw went through the net to force overtime. Williams sank Connecticut’s first two baskets in overtime but Chicago hit three consecutive shots in the final three minutes of OT to beat the Sun, 109-104 Friday night.

Williams had a team-high 25 points to lead Connecticut (23-10) while Jonquel Jones added 18 points and pulled down a team-leading nine rebounds. Williams also had nine rebounds, including a crucial carom in the final five seconds of the game that put in her position to hit the game-tying free throws.

Trailing by three, 94-91, the Sun had the ball but couldn’t get a shot off due to strong defensive play from Chicago. With the shot clock winding down, Jasmine Thomas put up a three-point shot with 4.3 seconds left that bounced off the rim but it was the speedy 5-foot-8 guard Williams who raced along the baseline to rip the ball out of the air between two Chicago defenders.

Williams maneuvered outside the three-point line, put up a shot and was fouled by DeShields.

“Honestly, if you have watched us this year, you’ve seen Courtney do this time and time again,” Jones said. “She is a very clutch player and I feel late in games, her game elevates. It was awesome to see. I was just happy to be a part of it.”

Courtney Williams pulls down a rebound with five seconds left in regulation to allow Connecticut to keep possession in Friday night’s WNBA game against Chicago.

Earlier this week, Connecticut clinched a top two seed in the WNBA playoffs with a win over Dallas, putting the Sun into the best-of-5 semifinals beginning September 17. The first two rounds of the WNBA playoffs are single-elimination games and the Sun were eliminated in the past two years by Phoenix in the second round.

The Sun came into the game with a chance to get the No. 1 seed and home court advantage throughout the playoffs but with the OT loss and a win by Washington over Dallas Friday night, the Mystics (25-8) clinched the No. 1 seed.

Chicago (20-13) is still trying to secure the No. 4 seed and a bye into the second round of the playoffs. The Sky received a game-high 30 points from DeShields and 19 from Courtney Vandersloot.

Second-year Chicago guard Gabby Williams, the former UConn star, came off the bench to pull down five crucial rebounds and score three big baskets in the fourth quarter and OT to lift the Sky.

“That (was a) playoff environment and playoff basketball (with) two high-level teams (making) plays down the stretch,” Sun coach Curt Miller said. “Disappointed that we couldn’t hold that fourth quarter lead but we made some big plays to get it into overtime. Proud of our grittiness and proud of what we did at home this year (15-2 record).”

Jonquel Jones drives to the basket in Friday’s loss to Chicago at the Mohegan Sun Arena.

Connecticut had a 10-point lead with 7:07 remaining in the fourth quarter after Brionna Jones scored on a layup. But Chicago persisted with 8-2 run that cut the lead to two points with five minutes left.

That is when Gabby Williams emerged for the Sky. She tied the game with a driving, finger-roll layup with 3:35 remaining, 87-87. With the Sky trailing by one, Gabby Williams pulled down the rebound from a miss from teammate Astou Ndour and put it off glass to put the Sky up by one point, 89-88.

Jonquel Jones hit a three-point shot from the top of the key to put Connecticut up by two, 91-89 with 2:34 remaining but the Sun missed their final four shots from the floor in regulation.

Ndour tied the game at 91-91 with a cutting layup with 1:34 left and Chicago took a three-point lead, 94-91 when DeShields hit a three-point shot from 26-feet away with 1:23 remaining.

“The mindset is just staying in attack mode,” DeShields said. “We want to be able to host (a game) in the playoffs. And we want to be able to take that and play that game at home, and that’s really all that it’s about.”

Chicago’s Gabby Williams goes up for the rebound over Connecticut’s Jonquel Jones.

In overtime, it was Gabby Williams hitting a three-point shot to give the Sky a three-point lead before Courtney Williams sank a pullup jumper to cut the lead to one. After a Sky turnover, Courtney Williams hit a pullup shot from 19-feet away to give the Sun a one-point lead, 98-97.

“Down the stretch, the person that wanted shots for late was Courtney,” Miller said. “She certainly didn’t shy away from it and wanted those shots.”

Chicago hit their next two shots from the floor while Connecticut missed their next two and had two turnovers as the Sky built a five-point lead, 103-98.

Courtney Williams hit a three-point shot with 1:14 remaining to cut the lead to two, 103-101 but Ndour scored on a layup with 58 seconds left to push it back to four points. Chicago extended the lead to six on a pair of free throws before Shekinna Stricklen hit a three-point shot with 36 seconds left to cut the lead to three but that is as close as the Sun would get.

“We came up short,” Courtney Williams said. “We were playing hard and making some plays and it’s always tough when you come up just a little bit short. But, it is what it is. We have to keep looking forward.”

NOTES: The Sun close out the regular season on Sunday with a game at Indiana beginning at 4 p.m. … Connecticut returns home to the Mohegan Sun Arena for game one of the WNBA semifinals on Tuesday, September 17 with game two set for September 19. Game five, if necessary, will be Thursday, September 26 in Uncasville. … Connecticut finished 15-2 at home this year, tying a franchise record set in 2011. … This was the first OT game of the season for both teams. … The nine assists was a career-high for Connecticut’s Courtney Williams, snapping her previous career high of seven assists set on Wednesday in a win over Dallas. Williams had 25 points – her fifth game of the year scoring more than 20 points. … Stricklen was 4-for-5 from three-point range for Connecticut, finishing with 14 points. … Jasmine Thomas scored 13 points for the Sun while Bria Holmes added 11 points coming off the bench. … For Chicago, DeShields scored a career-high 30 points. It was her ninth game of the season with 20 or more points. … Chicago’s Gabby Williams finished with nine points and seven rebounds – most in the fourth quarter and OT. She had two points and two rebounds in the first half. … Chicago rookie Katie Lou Samuelson was scoreless in 2:18 of action. … The Sky players donated $5,100 to Jonquel Jones’ Go-Fund Me effort to raise money to help relief efforts following Hurricane Dorian hitting the Bahamas.

Connecticut’s Alyssa Thomas defends against Chicago’s Diamond DeShields.

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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