The Liberty arrived at Madison Square Garden for Friday night’s game against Connecticut and was locked in.
The team got locked in for the third seed Wednesday night with four games left. So the Liberty wants to keep its edge and sharpen its game heading toward the postseason tip.
It didn’t help that there were only eight Liberty players dressed because of injuries. But the Sun usually doesn’t shine against the Liberty, anyway. Tina Charles had 23 points and 10 rebounds and Sugar Rodgers tacked on 18 points. And the Liberty pulled free in the final 4 1⁄2 minutes to claim an 89-82 win, its ninth straight against Connecticut.
“I actually think this is the best situation for us,” Charles said of the missing players. “It forces me to be a leader out there and be more vocal . . . We have to play smarter being this shorthanded.”
The Liberty (21-10) figures to be in better health by the postseason and it has a first-round bye. Guards Tanisha Wright (knee), Shoni Schimmel (concussion) and Shavonte Zellous (back) and center Kiah Stokes (hip) were all sidelined. Schimmel’s timetable is uncertain, but the others are expected to be in play for the playoffs. Zellous is due back tomorrow in Dallas.
After taking a six-point lead at halftime, the Liberty lost it within two minutes. It was 58-58 with 2:50 left in the third. The Liberty went on a 9-2 run and settled for a five-point lead going to the fourth.
Then the home team started to open up some space. Carolyn Swords hit free throws. Amanda Zahui B scored inside. And Rodgers, who had scored 10 in the third, converted a fast-break layup. A 67-62 lead had turned into a 73-62 lead, just like that.
Soon it was a 12-point cushion. But Connecticut countered with a 12-2 run to cut it to 78-76 with 4:40 left. Then Brittany Boyd (eight points, eight assists) stepped forward for the Liberty, hitting two free throws and spotting Swords for a layup and a six-point lead.
“I thought Brittany did a fantastic job, one of her best jobs all year long, of finding players and finding players at the right time,” coach Bill Laimbeer said.
Epiphanny Prince, working her way back from knee surgery, made it a seven-point burst and an 85-76 lead by nailing a three with 3:20 remaining.
“She’s trusting her leg more,” Laimbeer said.
Courtney Williams gave the Sun (11-19) a boost in the second quarter. The 5-8 guard popped in six of her seven shots and scored 14 of her 20. So Connecticut trailed just 44-38 at the break.
“Even if it’s not a playoff picture this year,” Sun coach Curt Miller said, “we want momentum going into next year.”