Sun Spoil Liberty’s Season Opener
By VIN A. CHERWOO, AP Sports Writer

Sun 77, Liberty 63 (F)
Tamika Whitmore scored 14 of her 17 points in the first half, Asjha Jones and Lindsay Whalen had 16 each and the Connecticut Sun beat New York 77-63 on Sunday, spoiling the Liberty's season opener.
Connecticut 77, New York 63

NEW YORK, May 18 (AP) -- The new-look Connecticut Sun built a big lead, hit a rough patch and then ran away from the New York Liberty.

Tamika Whitmore scored 14 of her 17 points in the first half, Asjha Jones and Lindsay Whalen had 16 each and the Sun spoiled the Liberty's season opener, 77-63 on Sunday at Madison Square Garden.

"We still don't have all of our rhythm yet,'' Connecticut coach Mike Thibault said. "We looked sluggish early trying to run the ball. I think we caught our second wind down the stretch, with six or seven minutes to go. We regrouped.''

Connecticut (2-0) is without two of its top four scorers from last season. Two-time All-Star and Indiana native Katie Douglas was traded to the Fever in a deal for Whitmore, and veteran forward Nykesha Sales is sitting out the season due to various injuries.

The Sun have opened strong, beating expansion Atlanta 100-67 on Saturday, and then squandered most of an 18-point lead in the third quarter against the Liberty before pulling away.

"Every team has a good run in them and they're a great team,'' Whalen said. "We knew it was not going to be a cakewalk in here. ... Its tough to blow teams out. We weren't thinking, 'Oh now it's going to be easy.' We knew it was going to be hard. We kind of let them back into it. Something to work on for next time.''

Rookie Jolene Anderson added 13 points, including 4-for-6 shooting on 3-pointers. The Sun were 10-for-23 on 3s, outrebounded New York 39-22 and had 22 assists - eight by Whalen.

Thibault admitted his team appeared to have trouble handling the Liberty's press while they were making their run, but was pleased by the rest of the Sun's play.

"Probably half of our turnovers came in the pressure situations where we got shot-clock violations, eight-second violation, a bad pass, but everything else was good,'' he said. "Our team defense was good, our rebounding for two games in a row has been sensational. That was a goal from the start of training camp, to be a really good rebounding team.

Shameka Christon had 14 points, Tiffany Jackson scored 12 and Janel McCarville added 10 for New York, which has lost eight of its last nine season openers.

"We didn't play well today,'' Liberty coach Pat Coyle said. "I can't stand up here and give you a reason why. It was the home opener, I don't know how you can come out flat. We need to regroup in a hurry, that's what I expect from this group and that's what is going to happen.''

After trailing big late in the third quarter, New York pulled within 3 early in the fourth. The Liberty went on an 18-4 run spanning the final two quarters to pull to 56-52 on McCarville's basket with 8:17 to go. Jackson's two free throws with about 7 1/2 minutes left cut the deficit to 57-54.

"That was our fault,'' Whitmore said. "We got relaxed a little bit. We didn't break their press too well. Once we figured it out, we stayed poised, got the ball up the floor and scored.''

Whitmore hit a 3-pointer, Jones had a basket and Whalen made two free throws to push Connecticut's lead back to 10.

Christon and Erin Thorn hit consecutive 3s to pull the Liberty to 66-62 with 2:29 left, but Anderson followed with a 3 to push the Sun's lead to 9.

"We can't come out and start sluggish and slow like we did,'' Christon said. "We're going to go back and watch film and learn from our mistakes.''

The Liberty, the league's top 3-point shooting team last year, were 0-for-7 from beyond the arc in the first half before finishing 5-for-17. Thorn hit a 3-pointer, the Liberty's first of the day, and Jackson had a jumper to pull New York to 38-31 early in the third quarter.

The Sun then scored nine consecutive points, the last seven by Whalen, to push their lead to 47-31 with 5:46 left in the period. Jones' two free throws stretched the lead to 52-34 a little more than two minutes later.

The Sun used a 14-4 run, capped by two baskets by Jones, to take a 34-22 lead with 3:38 left in the first half.

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