On this magical night, D's three wouldn't fall
Mohegan -- This was just how it was supposed to end. Final seconds, the ball in Diana Taurasi's hands and a sellout crowd of 9,518 standing, waiting, wondering.
And then the ball left Taurasi's hands, a 3-pointer with the Phoenix Mercury trailing 82-79 on Friday night. The momentary gasp as the ball headed toward the rim so perfectly punctuated the moment. What, like they hadn't seen Taurasi make this shot in this spot a million times?
With all eyes on "D," however, it's a good bet most of the 9,518 fans missed who was playing "D." That would be Tan White, who after chasing Taurasi to everywhere but the powder room all night, had enough bounce remaining in her legs to rise and challenge the shot, inches from Taurasi's shooting hand.
Taurasi's shot bounced off the rim. The celebration happened a few seconds later.
Quite a night in Neon Uncasville.
And who knows? Maybe more than an appreciable number left the building knowing that "Tan White" is more than a color scheme for the living room. Sun coach Mike Thibault yells "sic 'em," and there is Tan locking down one scorer after another. Even on a night when Taurasi got 26 points, Diana shot a pedestrian 6-for-19 from the field.
"Tan White was great and she's been that way from Day One," Thibault said, later alluding to the fact that the question of keeping Erin Phillips or White on the roster for this season was no question at all.
"Tan fits our team," Thibault said. "Her teammates like her, the chemistry is good. I think last year she felt like she found a home here."
Her home was rocking on Friday, the residual effect of Taurasi's presence. The crowd cheered her passionately during pregame introductions, even louder when she was issued a technical foul and then moaned mightily as Taurasi kept going to the free throw line, a game-high 13 times.
"They boo me every year," Taurasi cracked. "That's called great fans. Now they are cheering Kara Lawson, so who knows what's going on? What is going on in Connecticut these days?"
Times, they are a changin', aren't they?
"I think our fans were ready for this game," the Sun's Asjha Jones said. "We needed them tonight. It's hard to play that team."
It's hard because the Mercury average nearly 100 points per game. They run. And run more. And they have the game's biggest star.
"When you're playing against a scorer, you know they're going to make shots," White said. "My job is to aggravate them."
Taurasi, as we know, is easily aggravated.
"Tan is athletic and quick and gets in your face," Taurasi said. "She is definitely one of the toughest defenders and I think that's the role she has to have on that team. On the perimeter, they are not very deep, per se, with traditional guards and she's going to have to do that for that team."
It's not just the defense. Let the record show the Sun led 62-59 with 7 minutes, 52 seconds remaining when White was issued two fouls on the same possession. When White returned two minutes later, the Sun trailed 69-66. And then with the Sun down one, 73-72, White made the game's top hustle play, saving a ball from going out of bounds. It led to a break and eventually two free throws from Sandrine Gruda, which put Connecticut ahead for good.
"Tan makes people work," Jones said.
White is becoming a shorter version of Asjha: no frills, focused, consistent, professional, reliable.
And those players are invaluable on nights like this, when the crowd is buzzing and the whistles are tweeting and the coaches are barking. Even Renee Montgomery, who had never been given a technical foul in her life, was hit with a "T" for the second time in as many games.
"If it keeps going like this," Renee said, "I'm going to be like Ron Artest and start thanking my psychiatrist."
Ah, but Renee left the building very happy, along with her teammates on Friday. Except one, perhaps. While the others went home to enjoy a win and ponder a trip to New York on Sunday, Tan White, ice bags on her knees, was already thinking about her next assignment: Cappie Pondexter.
But then, that's just the way Tan White likes it.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.
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