For openers, Sun sure can close

Connecticut's Asjha Jones, right, collides with New York's Plenette Pierson during the Sun's 78-73 season-opening WNBA victory over the Liberty at Madison Square Garden on Saturday.
Connecticut's Asjha Jones, right, collides with New York's Plenette Pierson during the Sun's 78-73 season-opening WNBA victory over the Liberty at Madison Square Garden on Saturday. Mary Altaffer/AP Photo

New York - A day earlier, before anyone knew the season opener would be bristling with four technical fouls, late-game drama and Allie Hightower's prone body on the floor of the World's Most Famous Arena, it was that sage, Kara Lawson, who said the following:

"At the end of games," she said, "people either make plays or they make mistakes."

Lawson said that partly in reference to the Connecticut Sun's fourth quarter disorder from last season, especially on the road, when the Sun often fancied the latter of Lawson's two options.

But then came Saturday, a new day, new season. And happily for Connecticut, a happier outcome.

The Sun, trailing most of the second half, played their best when the time was the most desperate, escaping Madison Square Garden with a 78-73 win over New York and 8,112 fans.

The two teams do it again today in the Sun's home opener at 5 p.m.

New York's Cappie Poindexter gave her team a 71-69 lead with 2 minutes 16 seconds remaining. It was there, though, that the Sun managed four straight defensive stops. Asjha Jones, meanwhile, scored four straight points, including the jumper with 31.4 seconds left that gave the Sun the lead for good.

"Road wins in this league are gold," Sun coach Mike Thibault said. "We'll find out how good we are if we turn around with a great effort game (today). Certainly by appearance, it looks better than last year's fourth quarters did."

Jones, who was 6-for-18 from the floor and scored 12 points, mastered the concept of it's not how-to, but when-to, making her last two shots.

"We executed plays coach drew up. That's a big change for us,' Jones said. "In the past, we haven't always executed well after timeouts and he goes crazy."

With the Sun leading 74-71, New York was whistled for an offensive foul before a shot was launched. Leilani Mitchell tried to set a screen, but ran over Hightower, who was assigned to guard Pondexter.

Hightower needed trainer Jeremy Norman's help to leave the floor. Heck of a way for Hightower to end the day she scored a career-high 13 points of the bench.

"We just collided," Hightower said. "She was trying to do a dribble handoff and we ran into each other. As long as we get the win. If you run into someone full speed, it's going to hurt a little."

Hightower was smiling after the game and said she'd play today.

Hightower and Renee Montgomery (11 points) combined for 24 points off the bench.

"Allie and Renee off the bench is a huge energy thing," Thibault said. "I thought we were able to sustain momentum with people coming off the bench and picking up the scoring. It's been a problem a couple of times in the past."

Tina Charles, who didn't score until 7:51 remained in the first half, led Connecticut with 19 points and 13 rebounds, the 46th double-double of her career. Danielle McCray also had 10. Lawson had six assists.

The Sun's 41-32 deficit at halftime came partly because of three technical fouls. In order of occurrence: Charles, Thibault, Montgomery.

After official Kevin Sparrock hit Thibault with his technical, Thibault yelled to him, "that's your best call of the night."

"I love my money," Thibault said, resisting the temptation to criticize the officiating. "Like (Oklahoma City Thunder coach) Scott Brooks said (Friday) last night, 'we must have used our hands a lot on defense.'"

Montgomery said she would appeal her technical.

"She (official Denise Brooks) said I looked at her funny," Montgomery said. "I don't know if that's in the rulebook."

Pondexter led the Liberty with 19 points on 7-for-16 shooting.

"I love the way we continually fought through it," Montgomery said. "There were a lot of fouls, technicals stuff that wasn't going our way. For us to play through it and grind it out at the end, that was big. A lot of times, we've fallen apart at the end."

m.dimauro@theday.com

Connecticut's Allison Hightower goes up against New York's Essence Carson (17) during the Sun's 78-73 win over the Liberty on Saturday.
Connecticut's Allison Hightower goes up against New York's Essence Carson (17) during the Sun's 78-73 win over the Liberty on Saturday. Mary Altaffer/AP Photo
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