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Sugar Rodgers leads Liberty over L.A. Sparks

Liberty guard Sugar Rodgers (14) attempts a scoop

Liberty guard Sugar Rodgers (14) attempts a scoop layup in front of LA Sparks center Jennifer Hamson (5) in the first half of a WNBA game on Sunday, June 28, 2015 at Madison Square Garden. Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

After losing three of its previous four games, the Liberty was looking for a spark. Well, it was mostly looking for the Los Angeles Sparks, the winless bottom-dwellers of the Western Conference, to provide a boost before the Liberty departs on a three-game road trip.

As it turned out, the Sparks put up quite a fight, but the Liberty got a boost from Sugar Rodgers.

The Liberty (5-4) led for most of the game but had to bounce back from five separate ties before outlasting the injury-riddled Sparks, 79-70, Sunday at Madison Square Garden. Rodgers, in her third career start (all coming this season), had a career-high 23 points, including nine from behind the arc.

"No one is riding the Sugar train harder than I am," coach Bill Laimbeer said. "She's found it so far. Three games in the starting lineup doesn't mean a whole season, but we always knew she had the talent."

After a hard-fought defensive rebound by Essence Carson, Rodgers hit a left-wing three-pointer to break a tie at 63 midway through the fourth quarter. Tina Charles (16 points, nine rebounds, five assists) hit a driving layup with 4:14 left and banked in a jumper a minute later to help the Liberty take a 10-point lead, its largest of the game.

"They're tired," Laimbeer said of the Sparks, who had only eight players available. "They don't have enough bodies . . . That's kind of what happened tonight, but that was our game plan also, to keep the pressure on them the entire game and let our defense do its work."

The Sparks' Kristi Toliver led all players with 30 points. She was one of the few who could match up with Kiah Stokes (three blocked shots) and the Liberty defense, which came into the game having held opponents to 36 percent shooting from the floor. The Sparks shot 36.7 percent.

"I can't say enough about our defense," Laimbeer said. "Every team, we seem to hold [them] to 36 or 38 [percent] . . . We're a solid defensive team."

Notes & quotes: Queens' Epiphanny Prince is scheduled to make her return to the lineup for the July 9 game at Washington, and changes, they are a-coming, Laimbeer said. Prince, who was obtained in a trade for longtime star Cappie Pondexter, missed the first month of the season while playing for Russia. "You can't not change when you have 15 points coming in," Laimbeer said of Prince, who averaged 15 points in 32 minutes per game for the Chicago Sky last season. "It's going to hurt some players in rotation minutes, [but] she's an asset that we can really use."

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