Sun, Mystics make each other’s blood boil of late

Washington Mystics coach Mike Thibault, right, and his son, assistant coach Eric Thibault, made a homecoming of sorts Sunday at Mohegan Sun Arena and will be back again tonight. Mike Thibault is the former successful coach of the Connecticut Sun.

Mohegan — It means nothing tonight for the Connecticut Sun, recently eliminated from the playoffs.

And it means everything. Why? Because it's Washington.

It was never like this. Washington, a budding rival? Nah. The Mystics were never good enough, really, to inspire much passion. Then Mike Thibault, a fixture in Connecticut, became Washington's coach. Former Sun guard Kara Lawson (now booed mightily in her old digs) was traded there. Thibault drafted two former UConn players, Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley. And suddenly, Sun-Mystics are another example of what makes sports so much fun.

A sampling of opinions:

"It's a different aura when we play them," Sun forward Chiney Ogwumike said.

"Anytime someone says 'it's fun to beat them,'" Sun coach Anne Donovan said, alluding to a quote from the Washington camp earlier this season, "that irks me."

"There's no doubt it's becoming a rivalry," Washington coach Mike Thibault said. "First, there's my situation. Then you have former UConn kids coming back. And some bad blood between people."

Thibault didn't elaborate, but it's no coincidence that Connecticut-Washington games have been quite physical this season, perhaps best illustrated by Washington center Kia Vaughn's one-game suspension for elbowing Ogwumike during Sunday's game.

Ah, yes. Sunday's game. A thriller. The Sun, in Donovan's words, "hung on to their last fingernail," earning a victory in double-overtime that temporarily helped them avoid playoff elimination. Tonight's game (7 p.m, MyTV9) means more to Washington than a lung. The Mystics need to win one of their last two games to make the playoffs.

Of course, Washington probably hasn't eclipsed New York as the Sun's top rival. Yet.

"Washington-Connecticut is more of a management rivalry and a fan rivalry," Sun guard Renee Montgomery said. "Games a lot of times are the same for us. I feel like New York would be more of our rival because play them so many times. It feels like we play them every other day. Plus, they used to be (sponsored by) Foxwoods. We're Mohegan. Battle of the casinos."

Washington came within a rebound Sunday of beating the Sun for the fourth time in four tries this season. Suddenly, the Sun could take a step toward ruining Washington's offseason with two late victories.

"We're here in the land of UConn and they have a couple of UConn players," Ogwumike said. "As individuals here in Connecticut, we want to matter to our fans. It helps to establish yourself against Washington. That's why we played so hard Sunday."

News and notes

Sun guard Katie Douglas is a "game-time decision" tonight according to team officials. Douglas, who didn't participate when the Sun resumed practice Wednesday after a two-day layoff, injured her back in the second overtime Sunday. … Ogwumike and her sister, Nneka, of the Los Angeles Sparks, have been named recipients of the WNBA Cares Community Assist Award for July. The sisters teamed with UNICEF to launch a fundraising competition which helps raise funds to support UNICEF programs in their native Nigeria, educating and empowering young women there. … The league announced Thursday the WNBA Draft Lottery will be next Thursday night. The Sun could have as many as two picks — their own and New York's — as part of the trade that sent Tina Charles to the Liberty.

The Sun announced they will hold a school supplies drive to benefit the United Way of Southeastern Connecticut during the game against Atlanta at 12 p.m. Sunday. Bins to collect school supplies will be placed inside both entrances to Mohegan Sun Arena. … Tonight is Autism Night as part of its Community Spotlight program. With the help of Autism Speaks, a silent auction to benefit the Southeastern Connecticut Walk Now For Autism Speaks will take place on the arena concourse during the game.

m.dimauro@theday.com

Twitter: @BCgenius

Washington's Kia Vaughn, left, here guarding Connecticut's Alyssa Thomas, was suspended a game for a flagrant foul against Connecticut's  Chiney Ogwumike during Sunday's game at Mohegan Sun Arena. The teams will meet again tonight, also at Mohegan Sun.
Washington's Kia Vaughn, left, here guarding Connecticut's Alyssa Thomas, was suspended a game for a flagrant foul against Connecticut's Chiney Ogwumike during Sunday's game at Mohegan Sun Arena. The teams will meet again tonight, also at Mohegan Sun.

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