Banham’s buzzer-beater lifts Sun over Sparks, 68-65

Rachel Banham launches the game-winning shot just before time expired in the game. Photo courtesy of Connecticut Sun.
Rachel Banham launches the game-winning shot just before time expired in the game. Photo courtesy of Connecticut Sun.

Uncasville, Conn. – The Connecticut Sun showed signs of being the aggressor throughout its preseason opener against the Los Angeles Sparks. But it took Rachel Banham’s game-winning shot with .5 seconds remaining to put the Sun over the top, 68-65, Monday evening at the Mohegan Sun. Three players reached double-figures in the first of a back-to-back game series.

Seven-year veteran Jasmine Thomas led the team with 12 points and added two steals, while both forward Chiney Ogwumike and swing player Betnijah Laney each chipped in 10 points. It was Ogwumike’s first game back since the 2016 season, after which she tore her Achilles tendon overseas.

“She was the same old Chiney, just really efficient”, coach Curt Miller said. “She is a really talented player, and we’re glad to have her back.”

Ogwumike, who showed no signs of rust, made her presence felt on the glass as she matched a game-high eight rebounds.

“There were a lot of nerves, but I think the effort was there,” she said.

Connecticut led for the majority of the game, but allowed the Sparks to stick around with second-half mistakes.

“Turnovers are a concern,” Miller said about his group’s 20 on the night, which was uncharacteristic considering they were one of the teams that had the fewest turnovers in the league last season.

The Sun led by nine points heading into the fourth quarter, in a game that looked to be slipping away from the Sparks. The hosts went up by as much as 11 points after a fast break layup from Laney with 9:30 to go in the game.

Then Los Angeles slowly began to creep back into the game, as rookie forward Karlie Samuelson hit a floater, which ignited a 10-3 run to tie the game at 60-all with 3:54 remaining. The Sparks took their first lead after a finger roll from rookie Skakayla Thomas to go up 63-62.

With just over a minute to go, the teams were knotted up once again at 65-65 after two free throws from Laney.

Coming out of a timeout with 21 seconds left in regulation, Connecticut made two huge defensive stops at the rim to regain possession with .5 seconds left on the clock. Banham then wrapped around a screen and released a deep three-pointer right as the time expired to cement the win.

“I thought it was going in,” Banham said of the shot. “It felt good coming off my hand.”

Banham said she was pleased at her team’s fight, and at her own composure.

“It was rough, but we continued to battle,” she said of Los Angeles’ late run. “It was good for me to be able to show leadership and calmness in that situation.”

Rookie Thomas led the Sparks, who were without All-Star Candace Parker, with 17 points. Rookie Samuelson and veteran Cappie Pondexter each chipped in 14 points.

The Sun take on the Dallas Wings, who also won their game, at 7 p.m. ET tomorrow at Mohegan Sun Arena.