UNCASVILLE, August 18 – It’s been five years since the Connecticut Sun played in the WNBA playoffs. The New York Liberty presented the Sun with a little lesson on the intensity they will probably see there in this year’s WNBA playoffs.
A relentless Liberty squad pulled down dozens of rebounds and former UConn and Sun star Tina Charles took over to lead New York to an 82-70 win over Connecticut at the Mohegan Sun Arena Friday night. Charles had a team-high 24 points but had 18 in the second quarter when she hit six of eight shots from the floor and drained six of seven foul shots.
Not only did the Sun (18-10) have their six-game winning streak snapped but New York (16-12) outrebounded Connecticut, 46-35 and destroyed the Sun on the offensive glass with a 36-6 edge in rebounds. Connecticut shot a season-low 34.3 percent from the floor.
Liberty rookie Sugar Rodgers had 13 points while former UConn guard Bria Hartley had 11 for surging New York, which beat defending champion Los Angeles on Sunday by 14 points.
Sun coach Curt Miller was disappointed but he saw a silver lining in the loss in front of 7,016 fans.
“I can’t begin to tell you how good that game is going to be for us in the long run,” he said. “This game had a playoff feel. The physicality that we knew was going to be in this game and the intensity on each and every possession simulated the best we could for a playoff game. Our young team (got to) understand the grind that playoff games will be. It won’t be the 96 and 100 point games that you sometimes get in the regular season.”
The Sun led by as much as 10 points in the first quarter thanks to a 9-0 run capped off by a driving layup to the basket by Morgan Tuck. But the Liberty closed out the quarter with a 7-2 surge with seven consecutive points from Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe. She finished with a career-high 12 points.
Charles’ 18 points in the second quarter turned a deficit into a lead. The Liberty led by as many as 12 points before the Sun made a quick little run in the final minute of the second quarter to cut the lead to four at halftime.
There was a question if Charles would play at all. She was suffering with back spasms on Thursday. But by game time, Charles was ready to go.
“I didn’t know if I was going to play tonight, but I always want to be there for my guys and it’s the reason I came on this trip,” Charles said. “They said that I could actually stay home, but I didn’t want too, I wanted to be there. I am all about winning, I am all about momentum going into the playoff run.”
New York led by as much as 10 points in the third quarter but the Sun cut the lead to two points on a driving layup to the basket by Courtney Williams with 41.7 seconds left in the third quarter.
But New York scored eight of the next nine points in the game to take a commanding nine-point lead, 66-57 with 8:38 remaining. Connecticut never any closer than six points the rest of the way.
“We needed to remember that it is not going to be easy, we are not just going to walk over people as we get closer to the postseason and people are still scrapping to get into the playoffs,” said Connecticut guard Jasmine Thomas, who led the Sun with 15 points. “It is going to be hard.”
Liberty coach Bill Laimbeer is thrilled with his team. They’ve won four straight and are coming together as a group.
“I said from the very start you guys won’t know who we are until August,” he said. “I have been saying that from the opening day of training camp because I saw it coming. We have a lot of young faces, some new players on our team and now we are starting to figure out who we are and we are playing good basketball.”
For the Sun, Shekinna Stricklen had 12 points while Jonquel Jones scored 11 and Alyssa Thomas chipped in with 10. Jones had nine rebounds while Alyssa Thomas had eight. But nearly all were on the defensive end. Connecticut pulled down just six offensive rebounds – limiting second chance opportunities.
“It was about toughness and tempo,” Miller said. “They were tougher and played with a better tempo. We held them to 40 percent shooting but we were scrambling the whole game. They (had the) toughness to pound the ball inside to Tina. It was a great learning lesson for us.”
Just like the playoffs, the Sun have little time to recover. They host the Phoenix Mercury and Diana Taurasi on Sunday at 3 p.m. in the Mohegan Sun Arena. This time, they’ll also have to deal with Britney Griner, who missed the last game with the Sun due to an injury.
NOTES — New York was the last team to beat the Sun on July 19 and they have won six of the last eight games. … Charles was traded by the Sun to New York in 2014 in a draft day trade for Kelsey Bone, Alyssa Thomas, the Liberty’s No. 1 draft pick, and a 2015 first round selection. The Liberty also received Connecticut’s third round pick in 2015.
Former UConn forward Kiah Stokes scored just one point in 20 minutes of action but she pulled down seven rebounds. … Canton’s Mark Shaker sang the national anthem before the contest.