Published October 09. 2012 4:00AM
Indianapolis — It was there. Right there. So agonizingly close. Tie game, 12.5 seconds left and Allison Hightower at the free throw line. One make, one stop and it's off to the WNBA Finals.
And then what ensued might stay with the Connecticut Sun through the long, dead winter.
Hightower missed the free throw. The frantic trip up court produced a wide-open Briann January, who missed a layup, much to the chagrin of 9,225 hysterical fans Monday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Loose ball. Yet it was January who reached it first, diving to save it from the out-of-bounds line, right to Shavonte Zellous.
The same Shavonte Zellous who made one other basket all night.
Zellous nonetheless hit a 17-footer with 0.5 seconds left, giving Indiana a wild, 78-76 win over the Sun, forcing a winner-take-all Game 3 Thursday night at Mohegan Sun Arena.
"Give Zellous credit. She made a great shot," Sun coach Mike Thibault said. "It was a great playoff game. The good part is that we're going home. If I take one thing away from this game, it's that we made really bad decisions with the ball. Our turnovers (14) led to 21 points for them."
Indiana is 3-0 in elimination games in the playoffs.
The Sun had a 72-67 lead with 4:18 remaining, but didn't convert another field goal until Hightower's runner with 12.5 seconds left. They missed eight straight field goal attempts and turned it over once.
"Our execution isn't where we needed it to be," Sun guard Kara Lawson said.
Katie Douglas, who led the Fever with 24 points, gave her team a 74-72 lead with 56 seconds remaining. Tina Charles made two free throws to tie it before Tamika Catchings' driving layup gave Indiana a 76-74 lead.
The Sun survived a second half with Asjha Jones in foul trouble. Jones was hit with her fourth foul, forcing her to miss the last 4:52 of the third period. Indiana, meanwhile, was whistled for two fouls in the first 16:35 of the second half.
"It's hard to understand how one team can play an entire quarter without a team foul," Thibault said, alluding to the third period.
Renee Montgomery, who missed her first four 3-point attempts, made consecutive threes in the fourth period to rescue Connecticut from a 6-point deficit. The Sun led for most of the fourth period, by as many as five.
Lawson led the Sun with 18 points. Jones had 17 and 10 rebounds and Charles had 15 with eight rebounds.
Catchings had 21 for the Fever while Erlana Larkins had nine points and 11 rebounds. Former Sun guard Erin Phillips made a pair of 3-pointers in the second half and scored eight points overall.
"Now we're one game away from the finals," Indiana coach Lin Dunn said. "Now we see if we can steal one up there. We've won up there before."
The Sun players, mindful of the last time they started slowly at Bankers Life Fieldhouse (a 95-61 loss) ran to a 13-2 lead.
But Catchings and Douglas scored 32 of the Fever's 46 points in the first half. Indiana led 46-43 at the half, despite three fouls apiece by Phillips and Zellous.
"We made a lot of mistakes in this game," Lawson said. "We regressed from Game 1 to Game 2. We need to do a better job of taking care of the ball. This is what you expect from playoff basketball. One bounce went their way. We don't feel great right now. But we have another game."