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New York — Slowly but surely, the Connecticut Sun are maturing.
Take Friday's game for instance. Connecticut had a seemingly airtight 22-point lead over the New York Liberty late in the first half. New York blazed back to cut that lead to two points with just over four minutes.
The Sun weren't able to withstand that adversity days into the season back in May.
Connecticut held both its lead and poise on Friday night. Alex Bentley scored a career-high 24 points as the Sun won, 83-75, before 7,911 at Madison Square Garden.
"We have a little bit more experience under our belt in some of our younger players," Connecticut's Katie Douglas said. "Our composure level seems to be at a higher level."
It was the third straight win for the Sun (5-6). They had started the season 0-3 and were 1-5 at the end of May. It was their first road win since Aug. 3 of last season (at New York, 88-66).
It was also the third straight game in which Bentley bested her personal single-game scoring record. She has made 27 of 38 shots over the last three games, and joined Tina Charles, Nykesha Sales and Shannon Johnson as the only players in franchise history to score 20-or-more points in three-or-more games.
"To us who coach her, it's no surprise," Connecticut coach Anne Donovan said. "It's no surprise. She's just been that kind of kid. That's why we traded (Kara Lawson to the Washington Mystics) for her. She gave us fits last year as an opponent (with the Atlanta Dream).
"We feel really good about having her in our back pocket. She's grown into the role we're asking her to play."
Rookie Chiney Ogwumike had 20 points and seven rebounds for Connecticut and Douglas added four 3-pointers for 14 points with five assists. Kelsey Bone added 10 points and five rebounds.
Starting guard Allison Hightower didn't play after straining her knee in Thursday's 96-95 win over the Phoenix Mercury. She participated in warm-ups, though, to see if she could play.
Connecticut trucked the Liberty from the opening tip and led, 43-21, with one minute, 48 seconds left in the first half.
Cappie Pondexter (20 points, four assists) and Charles (25 points, 10 rebounds, six assists) brought New York back from certain doom.
Charles made two free throws with 4:34 remaining in the game to cut Connecticut's lead to 70-68.
Flash back to May 18 — the Sun led the defending WNBA champion Minnesota Lynx on the road, 60-44, with over three minutes left in the third quarter. Connecticut lost in overtime, 90-87.
Back to Friday night — Bentley pushed the ball up the court right after Charles' free throws and drew a foul. She made the first and missed the second. Rookie Alyssa Thomas chased down the loose ball just before it went out of bounds. She passed it to Bentley, who fired it over to Douglas for an open 3-pointer.
Ogwumike added a driving bank shot on Connecticut's next possession to push them ahead, 76-68.
"We had the pain of that Minnesota game where we're like, 'hey, don't let them steal all of the momentum'," Ogwumike said. "We have to find a way to close this game. It's that mentality that really helped us."
Douglas said, "Things aren't going to go right at all times, and it's hard to play with the lead, but I feel like we really buckled down."
Connecticut will play host to the Liberty (3-7) on Sunday at Mohegan Sun Arena (1 p.m.)
Charles to donate salary
Charles will donate half of her WNBA salary this season to Hopey's Heart Foundation, which she founded in memory of her late aunt, Maureen "Hopey" Vaz, who died of multiple organ failure in 2013.
The foundation provides health education, CPR training and lifesaving automatic external defibrillators (AED) in schools, communities and recreational centers. The WNBA and State Farm will donate $7,500 to Hopey's Heart Foundation in recognition of her efforts.