UNCASVILLE, Sept. 25 – In another time, the Connecticut Sun might have panicked. But they’ve grown up over the past season, winning 25 games and winning a league-high 13 games.
In game one of the Eastern Conference semifinals Thursday night, the visiting New York Liberty scored the first seven points of the second half to tie the game. But the Sun simply went back to work. They went on a 12-0 run to seize control of the contest and take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-3 series with a 65-60 victory at the Mohegan Sun Arena.
“We kept our poise,” said Connecticut’s Ashja Jones, who scored 10 points in 28 minutes of action, her longest stint since straining her Achilles tendon in July. “We knew they would go on a run. Every time we play them it’s a fight.”
Game 2 of the series is Saturday night at the Prudential Center in Newark. Game 3, if necessary, will be Monday night in Connecticut.
Jones had eight of her 10 points in the second half. Tina Charles led the Sun with 17 points and nine rebounds. New York’s Cappie Pondexter led the Liberty (15-19) with 14 points while Pienette Pierson added 13 points and pulled down nine rebounds. Nicole Powell added 11.
Back-to-back shots from Pierson tied the game at 45-45 midway through the third quarter. But the Sun didn’t allow another point in the quarter as the Liberty missed their final eight shots of the quarter. In the meantime, Connecticut’s Kara Lawson drove to the basket off a feed from Renee Montgomery and Jones hit a fadeaway across the lane with 50 seconds left in the period.
In the fourth quarter, Connecticut (26-9) scored the first six points including a steal and driving layup from Tan White to push the lead to 12 points, 57-45. The Liberty never got closer than five points the rest of the way.
It was the Sun’s first playoff win since 2008.
“In the past, we might have been overwhelmed,” Charles said. “We have the confidence we can come back.” Charles hit 8-of-17 shots from the floor and blocked four shots. Before the game, she was named the league’s MVP.
“We’ll have to play better on Saturday,” Connecticut coach Mike Thibault said. “If we let a team get 17 offensive rebounds again, it will be a problem.”
Added Lawson, “We will have to make a commitment to get on the defensive glass, not let them get second chance points and let them run.”
SIXTH MAN AWARD: Connecticut’s Renee Montgomery was named the WNBA’s Sixth Woman of the Year. She received 23 votes from a national panel of 41 sportswriters. In 34 games, Montgomery averaged 11.6 points, 3.4 assists and averaged .848 from the free throw line. She scored in double digits in 23 of 34 games and a season-high 25 points against Phoenix on Sept. 7.
PERROT SPORTSMANSHIP: Sun guard Kara Lawson was named the recipient of the 2012 Kim Perrot Sportsmanship Award, the WNBA announced Thursday. Lawson, who won the award in 2009, received 18 of 41 votes from a panel of national sportswriters and broadcasters. Designed to honor a player who exemplifies the ideals of sportsmanship – ethical behavior, fair play and integrity – the award is named in honor of the late Kim Perrot, who guided the Houston Comets to the first two WNBA titles before passing away after a 7-month battle with cancer.
Lawson has been actively involved in raising funds and awareness for Alezheimer’s research since her collegiate head coach Pat Summitt of the University of Tennessee was recently diagnosed with early-onset dementia. This season, Lawson pledged to donate $50 to the Pat Summitt Foundation for each three-point shot she sank this season. She hit a franchise record 74 this season, personally donating $3,700.
Lawson is averaging a career high in points (15.1), assists (4.0) and rebounds (3.9) in her 10th WNBA season.
Connecticut 65, New York 60
New York (15-20) Nicole Powell 4-11 0-0 11, Pienette Pierson 5-13 3-3 13, Kara Braxton 2-8 0-0 4, Essence Carlson 2-12 0-0 5, Cappie Pondexter 3-16 8-8 14, Demya Walker 0-0 0-0 0, Leilani Mitchell 0-3 0-0 0, Kia Vaughn 3-9 1-1 7, Alex Montgomery 1-5 3-4 6. Totals 20-77 15-16 60
Connecticut (26-9) Kalana Green 1-4 0-0 2, Ashja Jones 5-12 0-0 10, Tina Charles 8-17 1-3 17, Allison Hightower 3-7 2-2 9, Kara Lawson 309 909 8, Mistie Mims 2-4 2-2 6, Renee Montgomery 2-5 2-2 7, Tan White 3-8 0-0 6, Danielle McCray 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 27-66 7-9 65
New York 13 21 11 15 – 60
Connecticut 23 18 8 16 — 65
Assists: Connecticut 17 (Lawson 6), New York 11 (Pondexter 6); Rebounds: Connecticut 39 (Jones 9), New York 44 (Pierson 9). Three-point goals: New York 5-23 (Powell 3-8, Braxton 0-1, Carlson 1-4, Pondexter 0-4, Mitchell 0-2, Montgomery 1-4); Connecticut 4-14 (Greene 0-1, Jones 0-1, Hightower 1-2, Lawson 2-5, Montgomery 1-3, White 0-2)