Sun 78, Liberty 73
NEW YORK (AP)
Every time New York went ahead and stretched its lead, Connecticut came back and tied it. Then the Sun went ahead in the final minute and spoiled the Liberty's one-game homecoming to Madison Square Garden.
Asjha Jones made a tiebreaking jumper with 31 seconds remaining and the Sun went on to a 78-73 victory over the Liberty in the season opener for both teams Saturday.
Tina Charles had 19 points and 13 rebounds to lead Connecticut. Allison Hightower scored 13 points, Jones finished with 12 and Renee Montgomery added 11.
''We came out with a lot of aggression,'' Charles said. ''There were times we were down seven, but we were able to get it back. Coach (Mike Thibault) had different lineups out there and everybody just came together collectively and we handled ourselves well on the court.''
Connecticut trailed by five early in the second quarter, then by nine in the final minute of the period, by seven at the end of the third. The Sun rallied to tie the score each time.
Connecticut, 15-2 at home last season, struggled to a 6-11 record on the road while failing to hold late leads. Earlier in the week, Thibault said the next step in his team's development was to play better in the fourth quarter. They did that in the opener.
''Just us coming back, that was maturity,'' said Charles, the 2010 rookie of the year. ''Us playing together going on our third year, and that's just mental toughness - not letting the game go, not getting down on ourselves, not pouting, just being real mature, and knowing we could get back.''
Cappie Pondexter led New York with 19 points, Plenette Pierson had 15 points and 10 rebounds, and Kara Braxton scored 13.
The Liberty were outscored 27-15 in the fourth quarter, outrebounded 9-5 and outshot 56 percent (10 for 18) to 43 percent (8 for 14). They had no steals and the Sun turned the ball over just once in the period.
''We got to play better. We got to improve from where we are tonight,'' New York coach John Whisenant said. ''We got static (in the fourth quarter). ... We weren't efficient. Not efficient around executing our offense and we weren't getting turnovers from our defense.''
After Jones' go-ahead jumper with put the Sun ahead 73-71, Pondexter missed a layup with 19.9 seconds remaining. Danielle McCray made a free throw with 15.1 to go to push the lead to three. On the Liberty's ensuing possession, Leilani Mitchell was called for an offensive foul away from the ball with 7.6 seconds left.
Montgomery made two free throws a second later to seal the win.
The Liberty are in the midst of a three-year stretch playing their home games at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., because of renovations the Garden. However, the game was moved to the Garden because the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils played an NHL playoff game at the Prudential Center earlier in the day. The Liberty will play the rest of their home games this season back in Newark.
''I was excited,'' Pondexter said. ''This is one of the best places to play basketball. I'm definitely going to miss it. Too bad we can't come here often. But we got to carry this show to the Prudential Center.''
Charles tied it at 65 with 4:32 to go, then made a go-ahead layup 36 seconds later to put Connecticut ahead with its first lead since late in the first quarter. After Pondexter and Braxton made layups 26 seconds apart to put New York back ahead, Charles' hook shot tied it again with 2:51 to go. She was fouled on the play but missed the ensuing free throw.
With the score tied at 71, Essence Carson missed two free throws with 1:44 to go. Braxton got the rebound on the second miss, but the Liberty failed to take advantage of the second chance.
The Sun scored the first eight points of the third quarter to tie the score at 41 on Hightower's 3-pointer with just more than 2 minutes gone in the period. New York went ahead by four several times, but Charles' layup tied it at 51 with 1:58 left. The Liberty then scored the final seven points of the period, capped by Pierson's 3 with less than a second remaining for a 58-51 lead.
Hightower had a jumper and a three-point play and Mims made a jumper as Connecticut scored the first seven points of the fourth to tie it again with 8:12 remaining.
Charles, Montgomery and Thibault were called for technical fouls in a chippy second quarter that saw Pierson also get a tech for New York.
''Yeah, there was a lot of stuff going on,'' Charles said. ''We pulled it out, that's all that matters.''
The Liberty went ahead with a 9-0 run to take a 39-30 lead with 1:16 to go in the first half. The teams traded baskets and Montgomery hit a free throw on Pierson's tech to pull the Sun to 41-33 at the break.