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Liberty are history in loss to Connecticut

Liberty head coach Katie Smith watches during the

Liberty head coach Katie Smith watches during the second half of a WNBA basketball game against the Indiana Fever, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2019, in Indianapolis. Credit: AP/Darron Cummings

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — The date was Aug. 30, 1997. The Liberty were at the packed Compaq Center in Houston, playing in the title game of the WNBA’s inaugural season. But they fell to the streaking Comets. 

“We were having the best year out of all teams and, of course, the Comets come roaring back there in the end, and that game had to be played on their floor,” said Teresa Weatherspoon, then the Liberty’s point guard and now their director of player and franchise development. “Difficult place to play.”

The Liberty were in a different place in more ways than one on the 22nd anniversary. They flashed some hopeful signs with a good effort against an elite team and with two rookies having their best scoring games. But the shorthanded Liberty lost to Connecticut, 94-84, Friday night at Westchester County Center and dropped to 9-22 with three to play.

“It shows that we can compete with the top teams in this league if we want to and if we really focus on any night,” said Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe, who started in place of a resting Tina Charles and had 10 points and seven rebounds. “Even with our star player missing, we can compete with anyone.”

Rookie guard Marine Johannes hit four threes and led them with a career-high 21 points and a career-high six assists, and 6-9 second-round pick Han Xu hit two threes and contributed a career-high 12 points. But the Liberty’s fourth straight loss left them with a cumulative two-year record of 16-49. So they lead Indiana by one game for worst record in that span, the criteria to receive the best odds in the draft lottery.

“There’s no talk about trying to tank or anything like that,” coach Katie Smith said. “We’re coming out to compete.”

Besides Charles, second overall pick Asia Durr also sat out. The guard out of Louisville missed her ninth straight game with a groin strain. She has averaged 9.7 points in 18 games, missing 13 due to injury and illness. The Liberty don't want to rush her back.

“She got a nice taste of it and she’s comfortable with it,” Smith said of the pro game. 

Han showed her range in the fourth with a three to cut it to 71-66 and then another to cut it to 72-69. But the 19-year-old from China was 5-for-14 shooting overall and grabbed one rebound, so she knows she still has work to do on her game.

“Rebounding is super bad,” Han said. “I need to be smart to get rebounds. I shoot a lot of times, but I miss a lot of times.”

Shekinna Stricklen didn’t miss on two key three-point tries, the second making it 84-74 with 4:30 left. So the Sun, paced by Courtney Williams’ 26 points, moved to 22-9, a half game behind first-place Washington.

They had led by 11 early in the third before the Liberty took off on an 18-1 run to go up 59-53. Then the Sun had a quarter-closing 14-2 burst, good for a 67-61 advantage.

“We’ve got to knock down shots,” Smith said, “too many missed layups, too many open shots that we’re not knocking down that other teams do.”

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