Liberty close strong, hand Sun first loss of season

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UNCASVILLE, Conn. — In a rematch of last year’s WNBA playoff semifinals, the New York Liberty used a statement fourth quarter to hand the Connecticut Sun their first loss of the season 82-75 on Saturday at Mohegan Sun Arena.

The Liberty outscored the Sun 25-13 over the final 8:30 of the contest, shooting 71% from the field and committing zero turnovers in that span.

New York ran its winning streak to six straight games despite the absence of starting point guard Courtney Vandersloot for the second straight game because of personal reasons. The Liberty earned its first signature win of the season while tying its best 12-game start in franchise history (the Liberty also went 10-2 to begin the 1997 campaign).

“We understood this was a huge game for us, a statement game, they’re undefeated. It’s huge for the Commissioner’s Cup,” said Sabrina Ionescu, who finished with a game-high 24 points and scored or assisted on 18 fourth-quarter points. “And so we came in here, regardless of how ugly the game was looking, how sloppy it was at times, and we just stay poised and played our style of basketball.”

New York raced ahead by 12 in the first quarter before allowing the Sun to storm back in the middle frames. Connecticut led by seven midway through the third before New York put together its final push.

“The chemistry that we built last year and the experiences that we had helps us now,” Liberty coach Sandy Brondello said. “We settled down, our defense goes to another level. I think our connections even go to another level regardless what happens in those other quarters. … We just went to another level and I think that’s the ability that really good teams have.”

“I don’t know if we would have done this last year. I think this would potentially be a game we might have lost here,” Ionescu added. “For us to be able to show up here and do what we did, have everyone contributes, off the bench, the starters, is huge for us.”

Playing against her former team, Jonquel Jones (22 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists) shined with her third 20-point game of the season and tied her season high with four 3-pointers made. The 6-foot-6 center also was a force defensively, tallying four blocks and a steal while holding Connecticut to 1-for-16 shooting on shots she contested, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

The Sun’s 9-0 start was the best in franchise history, and they would have been the fourth team in WNBA history to start a season 10-0.

Connecticut, which is seeking the franchise’s first championship, had yet to play the Liberty or the two-time defending champion Las Vegas Aces prior to Saturday. New York has won eight of its past nine meetings against the Sun, including regular season and playoffs, dating back to last year.

“I don’t think we were under any impression that we were going to go through the season undefeated,” Connecticut head coach Stephanie White said. “We just reset, we go back and watch the film, we see the areas where we had the slippage. We address it, correct it and come out and move on and be better against Indiana.

“I’m not worried about this team. This is a veteran group. They understand the ebbs and flows of this league. We hit some adversity, OK, so we’ve got to continue to be better.”

Slow starts or bouts of inconsistency in-game had been an issue for the Sun at times this season, something White said “bites you in the butt a lot, but certainly against a good team who makes you pay.” In the fourth, offensive stagnation plagued them, White said.

“At the end of the day, when you’re competing for championships, when you’re playing great teams, it’s consistency for 40 minutes,” White continued. “It’s hustle plays for 40 minutes. It’s discipline for 40 minutes. It’s details for 40 minutes. It’s multiple levels of effort for 40 minutes, and we didn’t put together 40 minutes tonight and they did.”

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