Sun are off and running

Connecticut's Kalana Greene, left, takes off with a steal from New York's Cappie Pondexter during Saturday night's WNBA season opener at Mohegan Sun Arena. The Sun, playing for the first time under new head coach Anne Donovan, beat the Liberty 81-69.
Connecticut's Kalana Greene, left, takes off with a steal from New York's Cappie Pondexter during Saturday night's WNBA season opener at Mohegan Sun Arena. The Sun, playing for the first time under new head coach Anne Donovan, beat the Liberty 81-69. Sean D. Elliot/The Day Buy Photo

Mohegan — Kalana Greene said after a recent practice that she had never run as much as she had during those conducted by new head coach Anne Donovan.

The Connecticut Sun were going to run more, Greene said.

Greene's claim sounded odd given that the Sun weren't exactly a flock of turtles under former coach Mike Thibault.

Turns out Greene wasn't kidding.

Connecticut relentlessly pushed the tempo during its 81-69 season-opening win over the New York Liberty on Saturday night before 7,672 at Mohegan Sun Arena.

Race the ball up court. If the shot is there, take it, shot clock be damned. Play fast and play smart, but play fast nonetheless.

"You see that, right?" Greene said. "Running, and then running full speed (for) 40 minutes."

Example: The Sun trailed by four points with 18 seconds left in the first half.

One's inner coach would probably scream, "PLAY FOR THE LAST SHOT!"

Uh-uh. Allison Hightower hit a pullup jumper in transition with 11.1 seconds left.

Push the tempo. Push the tempo.

"Connecticut historically has been good in transition," Donovan said. "This is a crew that likes to run. We're good (at that). Kara (Lawson) and our guards throw the ball out there really well for our posts that run. It's (an) advantage to having (post) Kelsey (Griffin) in the lineup because she's good in transition.

"For the way we chart transition points, we had 47 tonight. ... That's a pretty nice number."

Donovan was asked for an average number.

"If we're living in the thirties, low thirties, I'm happy. But we had 27 at halftime, so we knew we were on the right pace."

Four starters scored in double figures for the Sun. Lawson made five 3-pointers and finished with 23 points, seven rebounds and five assists.

Center Tina Charles had 19 points and a game-high 13 rebounds.

Griffin started at the power forward spot occupied by Asjha Jones the previous six seasons. She had 10 points and five rebounds. Hightower scored 10, too.

Greene (eight points) was the only Sun starter who didn't reach in double figures. She did, however, have nine rebounds. That's notable as Donovan has stressed the need for better team rebounding with Jones taking the season off.

Kara Braxton had a team-high nine rebounds for New York.

Braxton is a 6-foot-6 center.

Greene is a 5-10 off-guard.

The game's dynamic was definitely affected by the absence of Liberty posts Cheryl Ford and Plenette Pierson, who both sat out to rest nagging injuries.

"We have to play with what we have," New York coach Bill Laimbeer said. "I thought we kept the game under control in the first half. We were right there. We played hard, but in the second half turnovers are what is bothering us right now and the offensive rebounds got them rolling. Without those, I think it would have been a two-point game."

New York had a 22-18 rebounding advantage at halftime. The Liberty also shot 50 percent.

The Sun finished with a 48-45 rebounding edge. The Liberty's shooting percentage also dropped to 38 percent.

Connecticut outscored the Liberty, 41-27 in the second half, too.

"We had lot of people who played high minutes, and they (New York) were gassed," Greene said. "As the game went on, third quarter, the beginning of the fourth, we stepped on the gas more, and they were slowing down."

Cappie Pondexter scored 23 for the Liberty and Essence Carson added 14 points and eight rebounds.

"We're a smaller team," Donovan said. "Everyone can play at that pace, even (post) Ashley Walker. It's where we're going to live."

n.griffen@theday.com">n.griffen@theday.com

Connecticut's Kara Lawson, who scored 23 points to go along with seven rebounds and five assists, makes a pass between a pair of New York defenders during the Sun's 81-69 victory over the Liberty in the WNBA season opener Saturday night at Mohegan Sun Arena.
Connecticut's Kara Lawson, who scored 23 points to go along with seven rebounds and five assists, makes a pass between a pair of New York defenders during the Sun's 81-69 victory over the Liberty in the WNBA season opener Saturday night at Mohegan Sun Arena. Sean D. Elliot/The Day Buy Photo
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