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Down two starters, Connecticut runs its winning streak to four
Mohegan - The sports phrase, "next man up", sounds great. In theory. A team can repeat it until their voices are shot, but, really, it's easier said than done.
The Connecticut Sun played the New York Liberty at Mohegan Sun Arena on Sunday afternoon. The New York Liberty featuring former Sun All-Star center Tina Charles, All-Star guard Cappie Pondexter, and Essence Carson.
Connecticut was without starters Allison Hightower and rookie Chiney Ogwumike. The former has a sprained knee. The latter was across the country taking part in Stanford's graduation.
The Sun won their fourth straight, 76-72.
They won without Ali.
They won without Chiney.
They won against Tina, Cappie and Essence.
"Everybody probably would've thought we would've lost this game today," reserve Danielle McCray said. "We know what we can do."
Connecticut was 1-5 at the end of May. It was dead last in the Eastern Conference on June 7.
The all-new and very young Sun have improved to 6-6.
"Two of our starters out, it's tough out there," Connecticut's Katie Douglas said. "Everybody contributed in a positive way, and everybody was able to rally around one another and made sure when they came in that the energy didn't drop off. I feel like it's our energy and our effort that's got us on this little streak. Playing hard, making sure we play hard for 40 minutes and making sure we're doing the little things right. We just need to keep it going."
Reserve Kayla Pedersen said, "Kelsey Griffin told us before the game that it's a team effort to replace people, and I think we really showed that today. Against New York, it's always going to be a tough, physical battle, and we didn't back down. And that's a great thing."
All five Connecticut starters scored in double figures. Griffin had 12 points and a game-high nine rebounds and rookie Alyssa Thomas had 13 points and seven rebounds.
Alex Bentley had 12 points and four assists, Kelsey Bone had 10 points and five rebounds, and Douglas scored 14.
Pondexter had a game-high 21 points and Charles scored 15 for the Liberty.
The Sun swept this weekend's home-and-home series with New York. They lost at home on opening night to the Liberty, 75-54.
"They have more of a sense of urgency," Charles said of the difference between Connecticut then and now. "They believe in one another and have a lot of confidence."
The Liberty led 27-19 with five minutes, 50 seconds left in the first half.
Enter McCray, who's been trying to get her groove back after missing last season to a torn Achilles. McCray scored all eight of her points in the final five minutes to help push the Sun ahead at halftime, 38-37.
Douglas ended the third quarter with a layup. Reserve Renee Montgomery started the fourth with a jumper. Douglas added a three-point play to give the Sun their largest lead, 62-53, with over eight minutes left.
McCray, Montgomery and Pedersen helped Connecticut hold its lead while starters Bentley, Douglas and Griffin were out.
Pondexter made the second of two free throws to get the Liberty within five points with over six minutes left in the game.
Pedersen answered with a 19-foot jumper to push Connecticut ahead, 66-59.
"It really is the cliché, 'be ready when your number is called,'" Sun head coach Anne Donovan said. "This is a professional game and you have to stay prepared. Even though it was our starters in double figures, I give much kudos to our bench. They came in and really battled."