Sun play­ers re­flect on Dono­van’s pass­ing

New Haven Register (New Haven, CT) - - PAGE 2 - By Jim Fuller james.fuller @hearst­medi­act.com; @NHRJimFuller

UN­CASVILLE — Walk­ing into locker room at half­time, the veteran mem­bers of the first-place Con­necti­cut Sun were frus­trated and em­bar­rassed after fall­ing be­hind by 30 points. It didn’t take long for the emo­tional pen­du­lum to swing in a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion.

Word be­gan to spread at half­time of the pass­ing of for­mer Con­necti­cut Sun coach Anne Dono­van and at that point, the five play­ers who played for the Hall of Famer could think of no bet­ter way to pay homage to their for­mer men­tor than by un­leash­ing a sec­ond half erup­tion to end all sec­ond half erup­tions.

The Sun tied the WNBA record by over­com­ing the largest deficit to take the lead be­fore fall­ing 96-91 to the Wash­ing­ton Mys­tics at Mo­he­gan Sun Arena on Wed­nes­day night.

“She brought half of us here and hear­ing about it at half­time, it re­ally put me in shock,” Sun guard Alex Bent­ley said. “That sec­ond half was for her, just to fight for her. It is crazy.

“She just got us on the court. She was re­ally con­nected to how we played, our style of play. She brought me here so I had a spe­cial re­la­tion­ship with her be­cause she was one of those coaches who com­pletely put her faith in me and be­lieved in me, pushed me, chal­lenged me. I am def­i­nitely go­ing to miss her.”

Elena Delle Donne had 36 points ad Kristi To­liver 25 as Wash­ing­ton (6-4) handed Con­necti­cut its sec­ond loss of the sea­son.

Wash­ing­ton coach Mike Thibault spoke about how im­por­tant the win was for his team be­fore re­flect­ing on his close friend who he worked with on Dono­van’s Olympic coach­ing staff.

Court­ney Wil­liams had a ca­reer-high 34 points, 16 com­ing in the third quar­ter for the Sun (7-2). Chiney Og­wu­mike added 19 points and Jas­mine Thomas 13 for Con­necti­cut but in the end, the for­get­table first-half per­for­mance by the Sun al­lowed Wash­ing­ton to as­sume con­trol of the game from the out­set.

Og­wu­mike, Alyssa Thomas (who in­jured her shoul­der late in the third quar­ter and did not re­turn) and Bent­ley were mem­bers of Dono­van’s sec­ond Con­necti­cut Sun team in 2014, the fol­low­ing year Jas­mine Thomas and Skekinna Stricklen joined the team on the last Sun team to open a sea­son 7-1 be­fore this year’s group.

The Sun trailed by as many as 30 points in the first half be­fore fly­ing back to re­gain the lead. How­ever, the Sun missed three of its last four shots of the game.

To­liver hit a deep 3-pointer with 58.5 sec­onds left to give Wash­ing­ton the lead for good.

“It is good to know that we don’t give up,” Jas­mine Thomas said. “We are past those days of com­ing out with slow starts, let­ting peo­ple score that eas­ily against us. Credit to them, tremen­dous of­fen­sive play­ers of course but a lot of that is our fo­cus of not ex­e­cut­ing our game plan.”

Then Thomas re­flected on the death of Dono­van.

“Very sad to hear that news,” Thomas said. “She is the coach who brought me here to get me in Con­necti­cut and even though things were tough when she was here, she gave me my first op­por­tu­nity to re­ally play my game and be my­self.

“I kind of felt sick a lit­tle bit be­cause our emo­tions are flow­ing. We are mad about the game and it brings it all into per­spec­tive that it is just a game. I re­ally feel bad for her fam­ily and don’t even re­ally have the words to de­scribe how I am feel­ing.”

Jes­sica Hill / As­so­ci­ated Press

For­mer Con­necti­cut Sun coach Anne Dono­van, who won a na­tional cham­pi­onship at Old Do­min­ion, two Olympic gold medals in the 1980s and coached the U.S. to gold in 2008, died Wed­nes­day of heart fail­ure. She was 56.

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