Published May 21. 2012 4:00AM
Mohegan - One physical game against the New York Liberty, which featured four technical fouls and just about as many bone-jarring collisions between players, gave way to another one just about 24 hours later.
And so the Connecticut Sun started the home-opener of their 10th anniversary season Sunday fatigued and down 11 points in the first quarter as the Liberty's 6-foot-6, 225-pound Kara Braxton, 6-4 Kia Vaughn and 6-2 Plenette Pierson took the ball inside, inside and inside for an 8-0 lead and a 24-15 advantage to start the second quarter.
"Sometimes, if your team is in good shape, you get your legs going, you get your second wind," Connecticut coach Mike Thibault said of the way the game turned from that point on.
"It's always the first five minutes of any game," the Sun's Asjha Jones said. "Both teams are bent over, grabbing their shorts. (New York is) tough. We just stuck with it. Everyone comes out and they're kind of crazy. After that, the game settles down."
The Sun, bolstered by 29 trips to the foul line, 26 in the first half, found its second wind in the second half, beating the Liberty 92-77 before 7,118 fans at Mohegan Sun Arena to start the season 2-0 for the first time since 2008.
Tina Charles finished with 25 points and 11 rebounds, Asjha Jones 20 points and eight rebounds and Renee Montgomery 15 points, six assists and 7-for-7 shooting from the foul line on a day which began with a 10th anniversary celebration with the players entering from the top of the arena, slapping hands with fans on the way down the aisles, and ended with Jones and Charles combining for close to double figures in ice packs as they addressed the media.
It was also the first time the Sun won games on back-to-back days since Aug. 28 and 29, 2008 at Indiana and Atlanta.
Connecticut, which has been using Montgomery off the bench to create a game-changing momentum when she enters, took its first lead on a Montgomery scoop shot with 1:10 remaining in the first half, making it 39-38. Montgomery followed with two free throws, Kara Lawson hit one free throw and Charles converted an offensive rebound off a Lawson miss to make it 44-38 with 22.5 seconds remaining.
In the second half, Charles, who missed all three preseason games with a groin injury, began to score with machine-like precision. She was 9-for-12 for 18 points in the second half, including a tip-in, a one-touch shot on an assist from Montgomery and a line drive hook shot she took spinning to the basket from the right side.
"They're Olympic players for a reason," Thibault said of Charles and Jones, a pair of UConn alumnae who will play for their former coach, Geno Auriemma, at this summer's Olympic Games in London. "They can score, they can rebound, they can defend. That's a pretty good trifecta."
The Sun's lead was down to 69-67 on a three-point play by New York's Essence Carson with 7:50 to go when Connecticut's Danielle McCray responded with a flurry, hitting two free throws, knocking in a 3-point field goal from the right side after Lawson found her open and assisting Charles as the lead ballooned back to 76-67.
Thibault finally removed his starters with 1:06 left in the game, giving them until 7 p.m. Friday against the San Antonio Silver Stars to have to do it all over again.
"Absolutely. Having a day off is feeling great," Jones said.
Charles, who missed all three preseason games with a groin injury, said of her health: "Physically? Now, after the game, 80 percent, but mentally 100 percent."
Charles missed competing in a recent three-day mini-camp for the U.S. team in Seattle, but said she returned from the West Coast with a few words of wisdom from Auriemma.
"He told us, 'When you go back to your teams, make sure you play like Olympians,'" Charles said. "… That's all mental. I know I'm going to have aches and pains, but the team is bigger than myself. It's just about me playing as a teammate."
But it will still be good not to have to face New York for a while.
"It's really good," Charles said. "Especially in the post. They have big bodies. They go after it."
New York was led by Cappie Pondexter with 18 points and Pierson had 16.
The Sun finished 26-for-29 from the free throw line.