With nothing to play for but pride, Mistie Bass made a layup off an in-bounds pass with 11 seconds remaining in regulation for the game-winner in the Connecticut Sun's 78-77 victory over the Atlanta Dream before 5,742 fans at the Mohegan Sun Arena on Wednesday night.
Former Louisville star—and UConn nemesis—Angel McCoughtry led all scorers with 23 points and registered a double-double by grabbing 10 rebounds. Erika DeSouza added 16 points for the Dream and Jasmine Thomas scored 15.
Bass led the Sun with 15 points. Renee Montgomery led the Sun scoring effort with 14 points—all of them after halftime with eight coming in the fourth period—while Kelsey Griffin added 12 and Tan White had 11. It was the third straight game that Griffin scored in double digits.
The Sun were playing without four key players—all banged up with a variety of injuries. Tina Charles, who has been shut down for the rest of the season, Kara Lawson (knee), Kelly Faris (left foot), and Ally Hightower (right knee strain) did not dress for the game.
Atlanta, which is trying to clinch the second seed in the WNBA Eastern Conference, led for most of the game. With the Dream up by one, 10-9, Atlanta went on a 10-2 run, building a nine-point lead with 2:09 left in the first period. But Connecticut ended the first stanza strong, scoring the last eight points of the quarter—six of them by Brazilian star Iziane Castro Marques, to cut the Dream lead to just one, 20-19, after the first turn.
Connecticut took the lead early in the second period and led by as many as three with 6:45 remaining until halftime, but the Dream closed out the quarter on a 13-9 run and took a one-point lead, 37-36, into the locker room at intermission.
The game remained nip-and-tuck the rest of the way, with the Dream leading by one, 59-58, after three. The Dream built a seven-point cushion with just under seven minutes left in regulation, but the Sun battled back to keep within range. Then, down by five, 71-66, with 4:23 remaining in the fourth period, five unanswered points by Connecticut—four from Montgomery, one from Bass—knotted the score at 71 apiece with 2:27 left.
A three-pointer by former UConn star Tiffany Hayes gave the Dream a one-point lead, 75-74, with just over 35 seconds remaining, but two free throws by Montgomery put the Sun back on top by a point. A short jumper by Thomas off an assist by McCoughtry put Atlanta up by one, 77-76, with 25.4 ticks remaining in regulation, setting the stage for Bass's heroics.
“[Montgomery] started off slow and she was bothered by it,” said Sun head coach Anne Donovan of her All-Star point guard, who was scoreless at intermission. “At halftime, you could see it on her face. If she got the same looks [in the second half], she was going to knock them down. It was just great leadership from her. She kept everybody calm. When [the Dream] made their runs, we answered back, and mostly it was because Renee talking about it or executing the run.”
“The main thing was in the first half, I would get our post players a lot of layups,” explained Montgomery, a favorite of Connecticut basketball fans dating back to her UConn days. “You know that their defense is going to change at a certain point. You just have a mindset that you know that at a certain point, it’s going to be your turn. You set somebody up to set yourself up. In the fourth quarter, I had some open looks, so I took them.”
While the playoffs are not going to happen, the Sun still could avoid finishing alone in the basement as they are two games behind the fifth-place New York Liberty with two games remaining. Next up is a trip to D.C. Where the Sun will play the Washington Mystics on Friday night before returning to the Mohegan Sun Arena to wrap up their forgettable 2013 campaign vs. the Indiana Fever on Sunday. Tip-off for Sunday's game is slated for 1 p.m. Good seats are still available at the Mohegan Sun box office or through Ticketmaster.