UNCASVILLE, Conn. - With two seconds to go in the first-ever major league playoff for an Indian-owned sports team, the WNBA's Connecticut Sun emerged from a time-out huddle with the plan for the winning lay-up.
Leading scorer T. J. McWilliams-Franklin made the play through flailing Charlotte Sting defenders, breaking the tie she had scored less than a minute before. A blocked Charlotte pass spun high into the hands of Sun star Nykesha Sales, who cradled the ball like a baby as the horn sounded.
The 68-66 final score kept alive a four-game Sun winning streak that brought it to the play-offs the hard way. The team now leaves home court at the Mohegan Sun Arena for two away games at Charlotte. Winner of two in the three-game series will contend for the Eastern Division title and a show-down with one of the strong teams from the West.
Player morale was sky-high after its dramatic win, a sharp turn-around from mid-season. "We've bonded as a team," said Debbie Black, the blonde five-foot-three playmaker.
"I don't think we could have imagined being at this point when we looked at buying the team," said Mohegan Chairman Mark F. Brown. "It's amazing."
The only downer was the weak attendance, at 4100 less than half the sell-out for the Sun's last regular season home-game, also with Charlotte, a week earlier. The fans apparently hadn't penciled a play-off game into their calendars, and much of the core tween-girl audience was further distracted by the opening of middle school earlier in the day.
But those who came cheered lustily and even uncharacteristically heckled officials as the Sun fought back from eight points down with four minutes to go. When a series of foul shots brought the tie within reach, nearly everyone in the solidly pro-Sun stands was on their feet. As "Taj" McWilliams-Franklin made her shots, the roar, for once, truly was deafening.