UNCASVILLE, Conn. – Thursday night was Throwback Thursday at Mohegan Sun Arena.
Old-fashioned Connecticut Sun gear was given away as prizes, Kara Lawson, Kalana Greene and Mike Thibault returned to face their former team, and Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley made their returns to Connecticut as professional basketball players.
The only thing that was not throwback was the Connecticut Sun, which once again failed to take advantage of their opportunities, dropping a 74-66 decision to the Washington Mystics.
Sun rookie forward Chiney Ogwumike, who Thibault described as a "beast" and a player who will be "one of the best players to ever play in (the WNBA)," was again the bright spot for the 2-6 Sun, finishing with team highs of 16 points and nine rebounds. The rest of the team fell flat following an 85-76 win over Atlanta on Sunday. Offensive movement was limited and the Mystics seemed to find open space far too easily.
"We're at our best when we play defense, we rebound and we run," veteran forward Katie Douglas said. "This is a young team so we should be able to run. I feel like when we do start getting into the half court...we've got to be able to execute and make sure our screens are precisely set, angles are met and just the little details that are really, really crucial at this stage of the game."
Connecticut took advantage of offensive rebounds and turnovers, but ultimately shot 26 of 76 from the floor while allowing Washington to make 30 of 58 shots.
Such a difference in shots does not happen often, but as Thibault, who coached the Sun from 2003 to 2012, pointed out, the turnovers and second chances helped Connecticut. The Mystics' defense was just that good tonight.
"I think our half-court defense has been our savior," Thibault said. "They got extra shots, but every shot they got in their normal, regular offense was contested. When you've got a game where they score...36 points of their 66 were offensive rebounds and turnovers, so their half-court offense we did a good job on."
Even after what Douglas called a "brutal" second quarter, the Sun found themselves within striking distance of the Mystics, down 38-30 at the half.
Out of the break, it was all Connecticut. The Sun shot 47.1 percent from the field in the third quarter while Washington made five of 16 shots, allowing the Sun to take a 51-50 lead into the final quarter.
Everything went wrong for Connecticut after that.
The Sun looked flat again. The offensive motion that magically appeared in the third quarter was gone. Shots were rushed, and the Mystics, led by veteran performances from Kia Vaughn, Ivory Latta, Monique Currie and Lawson, were able to see out the win.
"We had our run and they were just even keel," Ogwumike said. "Their poise let them stay consistent, they stayed true to what they did all game. That was a better game than us because we were sort of up and down, up and down. So them being even keel helped them, but we need to realize that that third quarter, after we made that huge run, we're like, 'Hey, that's how we need to play in the first quarter, second quarter, third and fourth.'
"And I think we can do it. I'm learning how. I've got great teammates, and they really help me when I make a mistake. They don't make me feel like I'm a loser."
The bright side for Sun fans on Thursday night was the chance to welcome back Dolson and Hartley, who led UConn to its second straight national championship and fifth unbeaten season in April. Both players received huge ovations when they entered the game and finished with six points each.
Dolson, who came in off the bench to thunderous applause, got a taste of being an away player in Connecticut for the first time. After years of jeers going towards Ogwumike and Brittney Griner when fans thought Dolson got fouled, it was Dolson receiving the boos, after fans thought she fouled Ogwumike, a Stanford alum, on her way to the hoop.
"I respect it," Dolson said, laughing about the idea of being booed in Connecticut. "You've got to be loyal to your home team. I knew obviously they're not going to cheer for me if I do something bad or whatever. It was weird, obviously, having this crowd boo me, but whatever. They're loyal."