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Mohegan — It would have been reasonable to conclude that everyone left the building with a victory Friday at Mohegan Sun Arena: The Washington Mystics won the game, earning a spot in the playoffs. And the Connecticut Sun? They won a second lottery pick in next year's draft, after the outcome of the game denied New York, whose pick the Sun owns, a postseason chance.
Sun coach Anne Donovan's forlorn look, however, suggested the 71-67 loss was another in a season of gutbusters.
"I was hoping that it would all happen on another night," Donovan said. "I was hoping (losing a game) would happen to New York on another night and Washington would get to playoffs on another night. At the end of the regular season, will we look at (the significance of the second pick?) Yes. It gives us more flexibility and more options. But … "
Donovan needn't have finished the sentence.
The Sun (12-21), playing without Katie Douglas (back), Allie Hightower (knee) and with Kelsey Griffin for barely more than four minutes because of matchup issues, the Sun managed to pull within a point on Alex Bentley's 3-pointer with 48.7 seconds remaining.
But they committed two killer turnovers in the final 30 seconds, imperiling their chance to make the Mystics suffer for one more day.
Washington (16-17), in the playoffs for the second season under former Sun coach Mike Thibault, made 10 of 10 free throws in the final 3:14.
It gave Thibault, who coached Connecticut to four regular-season titles and two trips to the finals, a chance to clinch on his old floor, five days after the Sun beat his team in double overtime.
"I didn't think about (clinching at Mohegan Sun Arena) once tonight, just trying to get our team in the playoffs," Thibault said.
Then he thought about it more and said: "I mean, yeah, you can't help it. We were used to the playoffs here. When I left here, we left the second-youngest team. And everyone talks about them being young now, but we were 25-9 with a young team and I would have liked to have seen that through. So it's a little bit personal."
Bentley led the Sun with 16 points. Alyssa Thomas scored 15, Chiney Ogwumike 13 with eight rebounds and Kelsey Bone had 12. The Sun were outrebounded 31-26, beaten in second-chance points 19-13 and missed seven of their 15 free throw attempts.
"Free throws ... my God," Donovan said, looking at the stat sheet.
Ivory Latta and Emma Meesseman had 16 points apiece for the Mystics. Bria Hartley had 13 and Mo Currie had 10, including six from the free throw line in the last 1:49.
The Sun forced 16 turnovers, keeping them in the game and Thibault's level of irritation plenty high all night.
"I go back to the Pat Riley quote all the time," Thibault said. "In this business, there's not a lot of time for joy. There's relief and there's misery. I thought we made jittery mistakes for a while."
The Sun finish the regular season Sunday at Mohegan Sun Arena against regular-season champion Atlanta on Fan Appreciation Day. All fans in attendance receive a free T-shirt.
"As a group, we've been team that plays hard. We haven't always had the right answer down the stretch, but we don't question the effort," Donovan said. "But it's hard for anybody to be pleased with another loss."