UNCASVILLE – Sue Bird stood on center court with her hand above her heart as she looked around the Mohegan Sun Arena, soaking in it all.
The entire audience was cheering for the former UConn star during a pre-game gala to honor the last game of the regular season in Connecticut.
With fellow Legendary Legend and Connecticut State President Gene Rizzotti along with Sun Head Coach/General Manager Kurt Miller standing by Bird, a video was shown showing highlights of her legendary career through college and the WNBA.
Baird was also awarded a 2002 vintage bottle of wine in celebration of the year he was enlisted, a set of books curated by her sister Jane Bird, who owns an independent bookstore in Greenwich, and a donation to a charity of her choice, the Layshia Clarendon Foundation.
The storm will finally drop to the sun 88-83 Thursday night, but it was one last private comeback for the bird to a crowd that ran out nonetheless.
“It was really a special moment for me,” Baird said. “I have some friends, some family members in attendance as well, but of course the fans. I’ve said it before, I feel like they’ve really watched me throughout my career since it started here.
“A lot of times as a UConn player, I feel like the fans look at us as family, so they really stay with us throughout our career. And that’s something I appreciate, something I’ve always enjoyed every time I come back here, so tonight was a perfect way to end that. I was better. Winning, but I’ll get it.”
Still playing at the elite level at 41, Bird scored 14 points in 4 out of 5 3-point shots and also provided seven assists.
“If I had been 25, 26, I would have made 30 tonight,” Beard said with a laugh. “I feel very fortunate to be able to get out on my feet, both figuratively and literally. It’s so amazing, I’ve seen other athletes who haven’t been able to do it and I’ve seen the heartache it causes. So, more than anything, I feel I’m really fortunate that I make a decision and nothing else, specifically my body.
And also, that’s talking about longevity, the fact that I’m 41 and I’m able to do that, right. It’s different when you’re 30 and you’re doing it. But at 41, I can do it something I’m really proud of, but it’s something I also know I’m very lucky for.”
With her third game index, Bird passed Simon Augustus to finish sixth on the WNBA field goal all-time list. The basket, which gave Storm a 35-31 lead in the second quarter, was the 2456th in her career.
Three former UConn stars have wrapped up Storm’s starting line-up, and each has made a huge impact. Gabe Williams finished with 16 points, nine rebounds, four assists and three steals. Brenna Stewart scored 17 points, three rebounds, and two steals. Tina Charles finished the night with 14 points, 10 rebounds and five assists.
Alyssa Thomas led the Sun team with a double performance, scoring 19 points, 11 assists, five rebounds and stealing twice. DeWana Bonner scored 12 points and had 10 rebounds, Briona Jones had 13 points and five rebounds, and Courtney Williams had 12 points, five rebounds and three rebounds.
With this win, the Sun (20-9) snatched a place in the playoffs for the sixth consecutive year. It was their third win over Storm this season, and now they are two games ahead of the WNBA standings in a tight race for the playoff rankings among the league’s top five teams.
The competition featured seven ties and three major changes, falling back to the wires in the fourth quarter.
Connecticut State had its biggest lead of the game at the start of the final frame, going up 79-70 thanks to Jones’ layup. But Gabe Williams was back in action less than a minute after that and quickly gave the storm a boost.
The 5-foot-tall winger with 11 passes in a perfect position from center court threw Brian Stewart down for a corner kick that trimmed Seattle’s deficit to three points. Williams then forced to steal the next possession, resulting in a 3-pointer from Stewart that tied the game 79-79 with less than six minutes left.
Williams again played an important role in equalizing a few minutes later. Sun player DeWanna Bonner, who stands at 6-foot-4, attempted a pass from the top of the arc, but Williams got up and shot the ball wide. I then ran along the field, drove to the paint and used a spinning motion to dance around a boner and score a layup to make it an 83-83 game.
“I think I found my rhythm, especially in the transition tonight,” Williams said. “So I kind of got some confidence in there. I’m going to try to deliver that, trying to start more.”
But with Storm trailing 86-83 with less than 30 seconds remaining, Stewart was unable to land a 3-point shot. Courtney Williams then discouraged the match when she made two free throws that raised the sun five points with 7.7 seconds left.
“Connecticut is a very good team,” Baird said. “The things they do, they do really well. And this was a winnable game for us. It’s obviously a winnable game for them as well. That’s how we look at it and we have to move on to the next stage.”