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Mohegan - How ironic, really, that it's "Throwback Thursday" tonight at Mohegan Sun Arena. Maybe they could completely exhaust the old school theme and even cue Guy Lombardo:
Seems like old times, being here with you … just like old times …
Good old times, too. The Washington Mystics are in town with many friends who have created largely happy memories for the basketball fans of Connecticut: The Sun's former 200-win head coach (Mike Thibault), assistant coach and East Lyme High basketball player (Eric Thibault) popular Sun players (Kara Lawson and Kalana Greene) and UConn greats (Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley).
And it is with only half-hearted hyperbole that it's suggested this could be the first time Sun fans will know the opponent better than their own team.
It is for this reason the Sun — players, coaches and everybody else — should understand this is a big game. For reasons other than the drone of sporting clichés: It's the next game so it's the biggest one. All conference games are important. Blah blah blah.
This is a big game because of different circumstances. It is a game that will influence public perception.
The time has arrived for the Sun to win back the trust of their fan base. Questions abound. Last season's chronic failure and the 2-5 record to date have produced understandable doubts here. Is Anne Donovan, the second-year coach, the answer? Can anybody make a shot outside the paint? They're young, sure. But getting better?
Doubts have been illustrated through decent crowds to date, but not near the standards set by the success of many of the people wearing road uniforms tonight.
Sun fans have familiar frames of reference for the Mystics and their players. They know Lawson (who might not play because of a balky back) to have been a clutch player here before last season's disconnect. They just watched Hartley and Dolson win two straight national championships at UConn. And they know Thibault's teams won four regular season titles, two conference championships and made two trips to the finals in 10 years.
So if you can beat them …
Practically, of course, Washington is just as young as the Sun. There are many tougher tests in the WNBA. But sports and logic are mutually exclusive sometimes. Most of the folks coming tonight will watch with discerning eyes. The Mystics have the coach they miss, two rookies they wanted on the Sun and a guard who made a lot of 3s here.
This theory - that tonight is a biggie - was floated at Wednesday's workouts:
Donovan: "With Dolson and Hartley coming back and Kara's first time back, I'm sure it's important to (Washington). For us, it's another game where we have to play well against an Eastern Conference opponent."
Sun guard Katie Douglas: "If the fans feel a certain way about (tonight's) game and we're able to play well, we definitely want fans on our side. They're some of the best in the league. You might not like hearing it, but it is a one game at a time approach. Because when you are playing with so many new people and have such a young nucleus, we really just have to focus on one opponent no matter who's on the other team or who used to coach here. It's more about what kind of schemes they run. That's what we're talking about."
Thibault: "Last year was different coming here. Now we have two former Sun players and two former UConn players. We used to look at all the other teams coming in here with (former UConn players). Now it's kind of funny to be on the other side.
"I think (Connecticut) they will be (excited). It's a little different because they have very few players that were part of my team. Allie (Hightower), Kelsey (Griffin), Renee (Montgomery) and Danielle (McCray). If you were to tell Kelsey Bone or Chiney (Ogwumike) they'd look at you like 'what's the big deal?' I think it's a big deal because it's an early season conference game against teams we're literally fighting for a playoff spots with."
Hartley: "I was saying to Stef when I got here, this is like home. Hopefully Connecticut fans show us a little bit of love."
Clearly, nobody was buying the idea, at least not fully, that tonight is Armageddon. Free country. Lots of games left. But this game will generate more media attention than usual. A win would be helpful to the brand.
Plus, the Connecticut Sun are 12-29 in their last 41 games. The fans are suspicious. They pay the money. They count.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.