Just when the Liberty seems to be hitting its stride, the WNBA All-Star break has arrived.
The Liberty closed out a three-game homestand and the season’s first half with a second straight double-digit victory, beating first-place Connecticut, 96-80, Wednesday at Madison Square Garden.
“It’s unfortunate we get the break,” coach Bill Laimbeer said. “Some teams at the break go up, some teams go down. We’re starting to go up.”
The win over Connecticut — the club’s first in three tries this year — indicated Sunday’s 85-55 rout of shorthanded Washington was not a fluke. The Liberty (10-9) had lost five of six before Laimbeer tinkered with the lineup, inserting Bria Hartley at point guard, sliding Epiphanny Prince to shooting guard and bringing Sugar Rodgers off the bench to help the offense push the pace.
That strategy helped again Wednesday as the Liberty had no shortage of good looks en route to shooting 47.7 percent from the field and 42.9 percent from long range.
Tina Charles was the primary beneficiary with 28 points and 17 rebounds, but Shavonte Zellous had 16 points, six assists and five rebounds and Hartley added 10 points.
“When the ball’s hopping around, when everyone’s playing their game, when everyone’s doing their role, it works really great for us,” Charles said.
Despite having 11 turnovers to the Suns’ one, the Liberty led 45-41 at halftime. The Liberty used a 13-0 run in the third quarter to take a 74-54 lead into the fourth.
“Part of the problem was we were turning the ball over in the first half and that really hurt us,” Laimbeer said. “We would have had a sizable lead if we weren’t turning it over.”
The Liberty will open a five-game, post-break road trip against Minnesota (15-2). Laimbeer said he expects the caliber of the opponent to help his team’s focus coming out of the break.
“If we were playing some other team, maybe we might get a little lost during the break,” he said. “But I think we know what’s in front of us. We like where we’re at. Hopefully they take care of their bodies and come ready to play in Minneapolis.”
Curt Miller of the Sun will coach the Eastern Conference in Saturday’s WNBA All-Star Game. Miller replaces Laimbeer, who will not coach because of personal reasons.
Rodgers was named as injury replacement. This will be Rodgers’ first All-Star appearance.
“I came off playing zero minutes at Minnesota and now look at me,” said Rodgers, who broke out for the Liberty last year in her fourth season. “It just tells the rest of the younger girls in the league, wait your turn and be patient. Your time is coming if you work hard.”
Rodgers also will participate in the three-point contest at halftime. She said she will donate the $10,000 prize to Charles’ Hopey’s Heart Foundation if she wins.