Liberty coach Bill Laimbeer had a simple message to his team — start fast.
All season long the New York Liberty has been plagued by slow starts. For one of the rare times this year, the team played a strong first 20 minutes and had just enough to hold on for a victory, beating Connecticut 67-65 Sunday.
"Definitely, we engraved that in our minds," said Cappie Pondexter, who led New York with 14 points. "Coming out of today's game after watching video we saw what we could do better. We came out with a better attitude."
New York (5-11) has struggled in the first half this season, falling behind by an average of seven points in their losses. On Sunday, they played much better in the game's opening 20 minutes. A balanced offense that saw eight different players score and had New York up 34-31 at the break. It was only the fourth time this year that the Liberty have led at the half. They improved to 3-1 in those games. They are 2-10 when they trailed.
Now they just need to work on finishing. New York built an 11-point lead early in the fourth quarter before Connecticut rallied to get within a point in the game's final few minutes.
"We executed a game plan to get a win and we almost shot ourselves in the foot," Laimbeer said. "I wrote on the board after the game two things, 'One was we have to play smarter. No question about that. And we have to value two points.' We don't do that very well. Those are two things if we can come to grips with, and understand, and get better at we'll be OK."
Trailing 63-52 early in the fourth quarter, the Sun rallied behind Alex Bentley and Chiney Ogwumike. Bentley scored seven and Ogwumike added four during a 13-3 run that made it 66-65 with 2:21 left. Connecticut had three chances to take the lead after Ogwumike missed a free throw that would have tied it, but couldn't convert any of them.
New York (5-11) couldn't extend the lead and the Sun had one last chance at victory after Anna Cruz missed a 3-pointer from the corner with 31 seconds left.
Katie Douglas' shot from the top of the key bounced off the front of the rim with 6 seconds left and Cruz hit one free throw for the final margin.
"We had the perfect comeback being written and we tore out the last page," said Ogwumike, who had 22 points and a career-best 17 rebounds. "At least we clawed our way back."
Connecticut had won six straight before dropping its last two games.
Pondexter led a spirited New York team that had lost six of its past seven games. The Liberty's star guard, who was scoreless for the first time in her career in a loss on Friday night, was much more aggressive on offense Sunday.
"I knew I had to step up for my team and myself," Pondexter said. "Kind of get going early and not wait and get myself in a rut. I'm happy with my performance, but I know I can do better."
New York led 56-52 early in the fourth quarter before the duo scored seven straight, including a three-point play by Charles and a layup by Pondexter that brought the crowd to its feet and made it 63-52 with 6:52 left.
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