A season of promise began for the Connecticut Sun Saturday with a victory based on perseverance against the New York Liberty at Madison Square Garden.
And that included veteran Asjha Jones, one of their Olympians, who connected from the left triangle of the lane with the shot clock running out and 31.4 seconds to play to get the Sun started Saturday on a 78-73 win over the Liberty before 8.,112.
Jones had missed 12 of her first 17 shots before sinking the one that gave the Sun a 73-71 lead after the last of five lead changes and 12 ties.
“I had been horrible,” Jones said.
Cappie Pondexter, who led the Liberty with 19 points, missed a driving layup with 17.3 to play and the Sun received possession. Danielle McCray, who started for the Sun, made a free throw with 15.1 remaining to give the Sun their 74-71 lead. Then New York’s Leilani Mitchell was called for an offensive foul for crashing into Allie Hightower as the Liberty tried to get the tying shot.
“Allie was great,” Thibault said.
Hightower, who scored a career-high 13 points in 26 minutes, was also groggy. She had to go to the locker room after collision.
“As long as we get the win,” Hightower said.
The Sun got possession again with 7.6 to play and Renee Montgomery (11 points) drained another two freebies to put the game away.
Thibault said he brought Montgomery off the bench to help give the Sun an offensive infusion after the game has begun.
“It’s different,” Montgomery said. “I’m going to go with the flow right now. If it helps us, it helps us.”
He will evaluate future starting lineups based on who the opponent is and how big they are.
“I thought we were able to sustain momentum in the second half [when the Sun outscored New York, 45-32] with the people we brought in off the bench,” Thibault said. “Renee and Allie gives us great energy off the bench and a lot of scoring, which has been a problem with us, at times.”
These teams are back at it Sunday when they meet in the Sun home opener at Mohegan Sun Arena at 5. Then the Sun then have a few days off before playing San Antonio at the casino on Friday.
“In the Eastern Conference, every game is really difficult,” Jones said. “To win this game on the road is big for us because our history is that we aren’t very good away from home.”
The Sun got a double-double from center Tina Charles (19 points, 13 rebounds) and 12 points from Jones, who shot 6 of 18 in 30 minutes.
The Sun was called for three technical fouls in the first half, one each on Charles, Montgomery and Thibault. The Liberty had one, too, on veteran Plenette Pierson. Nobody was happy with anything that was being called – and not called.
“I’m going to challenge mine,” Montgomery said. “I’m very sad about it. I didn’t actually say anything to her [Denise Brooks]. She said she called it because I was looking at her funny. I don’t like technicals. I had one and it was taken away after the league reviewed it.”
The game came down to the final eight minutes, the score tied at 58 after the Sun ran off the first seven points of the fourth quarter. It was just one in a series of runs each team engineered to send the game rocking back and forth.
The game also marked the return of Charles. The WNBA’s two-time rebounding champion did not play in the preseason and practiced sparingly while caring for a lower abdominal strain. She has now scored double-figures in 13 straight games and has 46 double-doubles, four short of Taj McWilliams-Franklin’s franchise record.
The lead moved back and forth through the first half. The Sun used three-point shooting to build a 15-10 lead, then watched the Liberty move the ball inside to slowly retake the lead, 20-19, before the end of the first quarter.
But the Liberty opened up a 41-33 lead at the half, outscoring the Sun, 11-3 in the final 4:51 of the half after a Charles basket tied the score at 30. The Sun went on an 8-0 run to start the third period to tie the game, but by the end of the quarter the Liberty was up again, 58-51.
“I just tried not to look at the scoreboard a couple of times,” Thibault said.
Sun guard Tan White did not play because of the concussion she suffered in the preseason opener May 7 against the Liberty at the Mohegan Sun Arena. She is not expected to return until Friday against San Antonio at the casino
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