Late-game strategy seems a bit bizarre


And to think they called this "Throwback Thursday."

More like "Throw Up Thursday."

Not an encouraging night for the Connecticut Sun. Presented with the opportunity to beat a few old friends, the Sun clinked and clanked their way to their sixth loss in eight tries.

They missed 50 shots during their 74-66 loss to the Washington Mystics, whose team nickname is consistent with the myriad ties they have to Connecticut. The Mystics, by the way, missed 28 shots. Seems hard to do, miss 22 more shots than your opponent.

Connecticut shot 34 percent from the field, six percent below its season average, which is next to last in the WNBA. They were 1-for-13 from the field in the last six minutes. No, you can't miss them all. But you can threaten.

"We had some good looks in that time period. It's just disappointing," Sun coach Anne Donovan said. "I thought we got some good, wide open looks and just didn't knock them down. We need to knock down more perimeter shots."

Donovan didn't distinguish herself either. With the Sun down 68-63 and 1:07 remaining, she chose to foul Ivory Latta, an 83 percent free throw shooter and Washington's best player, giving her two free throws.

"We were just trying to foul quick, stop the clock and get the ball back," Donovan said.

And risk making it a three possession game?

With 1:07 left, why would you give anybody free throws only down by five points?

Trust me here: Donovan knows basketball a zillion times better than I do. But don't you find that strategy bizarre? I get that the Sun were short on team fouls and needed to foul to eventually send the Mystics to the line. But with 1:07 left? Their best player?

One member of the Mystics traveling party said, "We were shocked."

Latta, it turned out, made one of the two free throws. Hardly the point. The point is the intent. And it's making me wonder just how trustworthy Donovan's strategies are late in a close game.

Lest we forget last season's final game. The Sun and Indiana were tied with 23.2 seconds left coming out of a timeout. Donovan chose to foul immediately, rather than playing out the possession. The foul sent Katie Douglas, then of Indiana, to the line with 21 seconds left. Douglas made both free throws. Connecticut needed Kelsey Griffin's jumper at the buzzer to force overtime.

To recap: She gave Indiana two points in a tie game.

Sorry. But I'm not convinced Donovan is the right coach here. True enough: She was in an impossible position last season, stuck with players who didn't want to be here. So in many ways, this is Year One.

This is a far more together team. There is young talent. Washington coach Mike Thibault called Chiney Ogwumike "a beast (who is) going to be one of the best players ever in this league." He likened her to the great Tamika Catchings before the game. The highest praise. She's even better off the floor.

But all that said, Donovan makes me wonder. Late-game strategy is often where coaches win and lose games. I haven't seen Donovan win many yet here.

I get why the Sun lost Thursday night. They couldn't hit Vince Wilfork in the butt with a snow shovel. Thibault said the difference was his veteran players against the Sun's young players. Donovan said the ebbs and flows in intensity are a product of a young team. They're right on all counts.

But this is twice now Donovan has done something bizarre late in a game. Not such a big deal if you're not in the playoff race. Major issue if you are.

Maybe I'm being nitpicky. And Thibault wasn't perfect here either. But I have my suspicions. And I don't like what I'm seeing.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.


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