Connecticut’s Tina Charles started the 2013 season where she left off in 2012—with a double-double—while Kara Lawson poured in 23 points and grabbed seven boards to lead the Sun to an 81-69 victory over the New York Liberty before 7,672 fans at the Mohegan Sun Arena on Saturday night. It was a triumphant debut for Anne Donovan in her first game as head coach for the Sun, while Bill Laimbeer dropped his first game as head coach for the Liberty.
The game was a see-saw battle throughout the first two quarters, with the Liberty taking a 42-40 lead into the locker room at intermission. But the Sun defense tightened up in the second half, opening up a 65-56 advantage after the third turn and holding the visitors to just 27 points in the third and fourth quarters.
Lawson had the Sun on her back in the second quarter, scoring 11 straight points for the Sun, including three consecutive treys. And good thing, too, as Charles, the WNBA’s reigning MVP, was struggling from the field, making just two of her first 12 shots, finishing the game just 33 percent (7-for-21) from the floor.
The game remained tight through the midway point of the third quarter, with the score tied at 50 apiece with 4:26 remaining in the stanza. But back-to-back three-pointers by Kalana Greene and Lawson ignited an 11-2 Sun run capped by a pull-up jumper by Lawson with 1:57 to go in the third that gave the Sun some breathing room.
With the game tied at 50 midway through the third quarter, the Sun took over, scoring the next nine points. Kalana Greene and Lawson hit back-to-back 3-pointers, then Kelsey Griffin had a put-back that made it 58-50.After a three-pointer by New York’s Cappie Pondexter cut Connecticut’s lead to four points, 67-63, with just under eight minutes remaining in regulation, the Sun responded with consecutive treys by Allison Hightower and Renee Montgomery to open up a 10-point Connecticut lead with 4:14 remaining, pretty much sealing the deal. The Liberty could only get a close as six points the rest of the way.
Overall, the Sun were deadly from three-point land, nailing 10 from behind the arc—five from Larson.
“What a spark,” said Donovan of her veteran point guard who was 5-for-9 from downtown “She is a great energy player who can change the tempo [of the game].:
Although sloppy from the field, the Sun out-shot the Liberty 39.7 percent to 38 percent. In fact, New York out-shot Connecticut from three-point land by a significant margin—50 percent to 38.5 percent. The problem was the Liberty just didn’t take enough shots from downtown, complements of a smothering second-half Connecticut defensive effort around the perimeter.
Charles finished with 19 points and 13 boards, while Kelsey Griffin and Allison Hightower added 10 points apiece for the Sun. Pondexter tied Lawson for game-high honors with 23 points, while Essene Carson (14) and rookie Kelsey Bone (10) also scored in double-digits for New York. Kara Braxton led the Liberty with nine rebounds, while Carson and Bone had eight boards apiece.
Kalana Greene and Griffin helped Charles on the boards, hauling down nine and five boards respectively for the Sun. Overall, the Sun dominated in the paint, out-rebounding their opponents 42-37.
“You know, in the past we’ve relied on Tina a lot,” said Griffin, the third-year veteran out of Nebraska. “This ytear I really want to help her out. She has to do so much for us anyway. Anytime I can get extra hustle plays to get us extra possessions, it’s good.”
Overall, Donovan, who coached the Liberty in 2009, was happy with her team’s performance vs. her former team.
“It feels really good to have that first one,” said Donovan, a Hall-of-Famer who earned Olympic gold medals as a player (1984 and ’88) and coach (2008). “[I’m] really pleased with our second-half effort. The ball didn’t drop that well in the first half, so we talked about getting more [offensive] glass in the second half; trying to get shots to fall that way. I thought we really focused in and did that.”
The Sun announced all proceeds from ticket sales for Saturday’s game sold after the Oklahoma tornadoes will be donated to the victims of the disaster.
Connecticut now prepares for an early-season road trip that will take them to Chicago on Friday and Minnesotal on Saturday. Both games will be televised on CPTV Sports, and all WNBA games are available online via WNBA Live Access. The Sun will return home on Friday, June 7, when they will entertain the Washington Mystics at 7 p.m. That game will represent the return of Mike Thibault, who coached the Sun for their first 10 seasons in Connecticut before being replaced by Donovan this past offseason.