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The old days returned, if even for one afternoon here Sunday, an afternoon resplendent with summer sun. And yet 7,348 fans still thought enough of the Connecticut Sun - their summer Sun - to root on a team that had just lost 14 of 17 and hadn't made a shot since Bastille Day.
It made true, blue fans of the Sun, from the loyal lower bowlers to team owner Mitchell Etess (who got a priceless glare in overtime from referee Mike Price), realize what's possible here by recalling what used to be. We learned all over again this is the perfect building for the WNBA. Fans who care in a place of expectation. Now all they need is for the franchise to produce the way it did when the man who was coaching the enemy Sunday used to coach here.
In the old days.
The day's potential ignominy - eliminated from the playoffs on your home floor by your old coach - turned into the season's best celebration in Neon Uncasville. The Sun, playoff hopes just about deader than Hoffa, tied the game with a tenth of a second left and then won it in double overtime.
Connecticut 89, Washington 81.
And they did it with leading scorers Chiney Ogwumike (nausea, still foggy after an abscessed tooth) and Katie Douglas (back) on the bench. And the crowd, whose exasperation was palpable, finally got a chance to leave America's Most Beloved Arena happy.
"Everybody talks about Indiana basketball, but there's nothing like Connecticut," Sun coach Anne Donovan said. "We're glad they haven't given up on us, that's for sure."
They even cheered the fourth and fifth foul calls on beloved UConn graduate Stefanie Dolson. (Who knew that was even allowed within state lines?) They booed Kara Lawson. They cheered when Bria Hartley was called for a charge in overtime. Just like the old days when not even Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird escaped the wrath.
"The fans definitely have our backs," Ogwumike said. "When something goes wrong, you can hear this place reverberate because of the boos. It's really cool how they've taken us in. I know something great is going to come from this in the years to come."
This day even offered some intrigue into Friday night's rematch. Kelsey Griffin, the player Thibault took a chance on drafting and who saved the game on several occasions, made a huge three-pointer in the second overtime. Griffin, not one for self-indulgence, punctuated the shot by putting make-believe pistols back in the holster.
"I'm not sure you should be giving me the pistol holstering your guns, but that stuff comes around," Mystics coach Mike Thibault said. "What goes around comes around. I'm not sure she's at that star category to do that. But you know they're having emotion and they're trying to win and stay in the race. Emotion comes out sometimes."
Griffin, who tied the game with a putback at the end of regulation, also took a charge in the second overtime. Of the three-pointer, she said: "I'm not necessarily someone who shoots a lot of shots and scores a lot of points. But I work very hard on that shot. All game, they we daring us to shoot from the outside. I said 'why not now?' I make this every day in practice.'"
The Sun's season, for playoff purposes, ended last week in Los Angeles when they threw away a six-point lead in the last 23 seconds. And it was maybe an hour after their game ended Sunday that Chicago beat Atlanta, making it official.
Still, though, they probably left the arena happy. If nothing else, the Sun showed Sunday that they have some guts, even in the face of elimination and injuries.
This is a team about the promise of tomorrow, which is by no means guaranteed. But this was the old days again for one day. The fans await more of these next year. Many more. They deserve them.
This is the opinion of day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.