Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

WNBA Report: Connecticut Win Streak At Five After Blunting New York Rally

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

NEW YORK – Pride Night brought an array of rainbow combinations to the New York Liberty’s WNBA game in Madison Square Garden Friday night but when the final buzzer sounded after surviving a fierce rally by the home team, it was the Connecticut Sun that continued to shine with a 94-89 triumph.

It was the Sun’s first win in New York in three seasons dating back to June 13, 2014.

Suddenly, the heartbreaking finishes earlier last month on the front part of the schedule have dissipated and despite being decimated by a string of injuries it’s like the old days of the franchise when playoff qualification was an annual event to pair the excitement with what’s created in the winter an hour away during the women’s collegiate competition when powerful UConn takes the floor.

“You have to steal road wins if you’re going to be a playoff team,” said second-year coach Curt Miller after the Sun (6-5) won its fifth straight overall and sixth of seven along with two straight over New York and a back-to-back road pairing of taking Minnesota off the unbeaten column and then coming back from a week’s rest to beat the Liberty here.

“We want to try to get in the playoffs. That’s a goal this team hasn’t done. So you have to try to steal a road game here and there,” Miller explained. “So this is a huge win for us and the Minnesota win. Now we know we can play against the best in this league on the road. And that’s going to be huge for this young team.”

The Sun last appeared in the postseason in 2012.

The Sun goes next to Dallas Sunday to play the Wings before coming home next Tuesday and Thursday for a pair against the defending champion Los Angeles Sparks and Seattle Storm.

This one built to the point that Connecticut seemed on the way to replicating its 96-76 win against the Liberty (7-5) up at home at Mohegan on June 14. The Sun captured the first period, 26-18, outscored New York the next 20-14 for a 46-32 halftime advantage.

It got to wipeout dimensions when the visitors went up 21 at 70-49 with 1:59 left in the third before New York began to stir.

Exciting the crowd of 10,240, the Liberty then went on a 37-16 blast across the remainder of the third and into the fourth periods and caught the Sun at 86-86 on Shavonte Zellous’ layup off a Tina Charles offensive rebound with 1:02 left in regulation.

But unlike last month’s setbacks, Connecticut found a way and South Florida grad Courtney Williams broke the deadlock with a pull-up jumper from 10 feet with 54.3 left to play.

Rutgers grad Epiphanny Prince, playing in her first game along with several other WNBA stars who had a six-game leave to play overseas, missed a shot and Williams grabbed the rebound followed by Duke grad and WNBA veteran Jasmine Thomas nailing a 26-foot trey to make it 91-86 with 24.4 left.

Charles, the former UConn great, missed a shot and then former Tennessee star Shekinna Stricklen got the ball back to Connecticut and she ended up on the line shooting 1-2.

Zellous hit a trey with 4.9 left but Jonquel Jones, a former George Washington star, hit two foul shots to send the Sun merrily on their way to Texas.

“You’ve got to give New York tons of credit,” Miller said. “What an unbelievable fourth quarter. I felt like they scored on every single possession.

“But, we just talked about, if we could get a couple of stops and get a basket in transition or we were going to have our own run – and our kids stuck together.”

Connecticut was without former UConn star Morgan Tuck, who is out with a knee injury, while former Maryland great Lynetta Kizer is sidelined with back problems. Former Texas A&M star Danielle Adams and former Minnesota star Rachel Banham did not get into the game for the Sun.

Jasmine Thomas had career-high 23 points,  following up her 20 points scoring in the win at Minnesota, while Jones had 21, Williams scored 14, Stricklen had 13, and former Maryland star Alyssa Thomas scored 12 to put all five starters into double figures while off the bench and just missing was former Penn State star Alex Bentley, who had also been overseas, and returned to score nine points in 11:12 minutes of action.

“What is common across the board is the amount of people we’re putting in double figures,” Miller said of the Sun’s hot run that could be seven straight had not they coughed up a big lead on their last Washington visit.

“We’re not playing through one or two people. We’re distributing it and they’re playing together. I like it when you have five players on the floor hunting for shots within your offense. I think you’re hard to guard and we’re getting that now.”

Jones noted, “I think we’ve done a good job growing as a team. I think we believe in each other. We’ve won enough games to know, no matter what kind of situation that we’re in, we’re able to win it.

“I think we made it hard in the fourth quarter when we didn’t get enough stops but I think our maturity definitely pulled us through that one.”

Charles had 20 points and 11 rebounds for New York, while Zellous had 18, former Connecticut star Bria Hartley, who previous played in Washington, had 13, as did Sugar Rodgers, while Prince had 13 off the bench.

The Liberty turned the ball over 16 times in getting outscored 28-12 in points off turnovers.

The two Connecticut games to date are the only ones that New York trailed by 15 in each opening half.

The Sun were big on the offensive glass, outscoring the home team 21-4 on second chance points, dropping to New York to 1-4 when being outscored in that category.

Had New York won it would have been the largest comeback leading to a win in franchise history, which is now 21 seasons. The Liberty wiped out a 20-point lead at Washington on August 21, 2003 to go on to win in  what is now named the Verizon Center in the nation’s capital by a score of 65-60.

The Liberty start a four-game road trip there next Thursday, being off until then. That means that Friday night’s game here is the only one New York will have played over a 13-game span. New York entered the contest coming out of a comeback win 102-93 in overtime at Dallas a week ago.

“Give Connecticut credit,” New York coach Bill Laimbeer said afterwards. “They played a very strong game all along. But I think in Connecticut we didn’t show.

“Here, we played a lot harder but the same problems that we experienced in the past is that we have to value the basketball more. Giving up 28 points off turnovers and giving up 21 points on the offensive rebounds was our undoing.”

Charles gave kudos to Jones, a second-year player.

“Connecticut is really good right now, so kudos to them, especially Jonquel Jones. She is setting the tone for the team, at her young age being confident and aggressive. She is tough but we have to just keep getting better. We have days off before Washington so we have to take advantage of that.”        


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