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Liberty’ Stokes Blockout Sun, Join Chicago In First Place

Liberty take first place with win.

Photo Credit: Jason DeCrow

Photo Credit: Jason DeCrow


The New York Liberty (8-5) and the Connecticut Sun (7-5) met for an important crossroads match for first place in the Eastern Conference. The importance of this game was two-fold. One to establish early who is the power in the east and two, to get another win to pad the record before heading out to a long four game road trip. The Liberty offense was stifled but defense never runs dry. This was the driving force to victory as Tina Charles did some heavy lifting with 22 points and 12 rebounds and Kiah Stokes blocked eight shots to frustrate Connecticut 64-57.

The Liberty went with the same lineup as they did against San Antonio the day before. The Sun, with old friend Kelsey Bone (11 points), fought New York even.  Liberty Head Coach Bill Laimbeer made a quick adjustment bringing in his rookie weapons Brittany Boyd and Kiah Stokes off the bench. Boyd responded quick with six points to keep New York in the thick as their offense struggled for form. Stokes, in addition to the block totals, also scored seven points to go along with 8 rebounds. The score on the board after one was 12-11 Liberty, an indication of the physical nature of the contest.

Alex Bentley (15 points) and Shekinna Stricklen (14 pts off the bench) of the Sun were on fire from the start as their three point daggers gave the Sun 18 points combined as Connecticut forged ahead 25-16 with seven minutes remaining in the half. The Liberty chipped away using every method available and it was Kiah Stokes blocking a couple shots here and hitting jumpers and even a layup off a pass that was the most successful.

Tina Charles had to scratch for her points but with seven at the half, the Sun double teams did their job. As the quarter closed into the final thirty seconds, Bentley hit a shot from the top of the key and nearly hit a half court desperation bomb that rattled the net but out as the Liberty found themselves fortunate to be down only 33-28.

The second half was about adjustments and New York made a few. “Offensively we just took our time, more patient, and took care of the ball.” Essence Carson pointed out. And no one is better than Epiphanny Prince to do just that as she started to make herself known with a transition pass to Tanisha Wright who laid it up and later on Prince drove for a layup and missed but caught the rebound and fed Charles for a score. Epiphanny then drove for a score off a nifty drive into the teeth of the Sun defense for a three point play and a three point lead for New York. Prince would finish as the only other double digit score with ten. Charles also started to shake the first half rust and her post fade-away with 6:12 left in the third gave the Liberty a 38-35 lead. “After the second quarter, we knew the guards had to do better defensively.” Charles said, “Stopping their momentum helped us get going in the second half.”

The Liberty had picked up the pace and though they still struggled to score, their passes were crisper and the athleticism of the team offset the set offense of the Sun throughout the second half. “You have games where your offense is not present.” Avery Warley-Talbert admitted, “But defense you can and we’re going to do the things we can control.”

The teams traded threes with under five minutes as Swin Cash hit one from the top of the circle in response to give the Liberty three point lead. The contest was becoming a war of attrition. Bone for the Sun and Charles of the Liberty trading scores until a transition crosscourt pass from Boyd to Stokes appeared to be a foul but was not called and a resulting foul call on New York off the rebound led to free throws and a 50-47 Sun lead. The 8, 813 in attendance was riled to say the least. The moans of past failures in games like this starting to fill the air. But this is a different Liberty team, where a new hero is only a move away. “These wins are so important. We would have lost these games for the past two years easily.” Laimbeer said, “We would have folded, gave up and lost by ten. This is not that team. This is a quality team that takes a lot of pride.”

Enter Sugar Rodgers, scoreless all game and having missed a three on the previous position, took a pass and slashed into the paint and scored on a  underhanded scoop layup to give New York a fighting shot and as the third quarter ended the Liberty were fully engaged and leading 52-50. “Hard work pays off. In and out of the gym, coaches believing in us.” Sugar proclaimed, “My defense is going to create my offense.” This is a philosophy that translates on down.

Charles, starting to rack up the points, determined, drove for a layup to start the final period and backed in a miss from Tanisha Wright to move the Liberty up four with just over eight minutes to play. Kiah Stokes became a shot blocking machine with three in a two minute span exciting Charles to chest bump her. The Liberty would block a franchise high ten. “I was excited. My teammates are trusting me moreto pressure the ball.” Kiah explained, “It was great to hear that I got the record and know I’m making an impact on the team.”Swin Cash, was the opportunist, received a pass alone in the corner and swished it to make it 60-54 giving New York their first hint of breathing room.

When the Sun closed to five on a deep three with two and half minutes remaining, Charles responded like the All-Star she is with two free throws and her 11th board. The Liberty defense shut the Sun off from there with Tanisha Wright, who struggled to get the ball in the basket, still had five assists and her aggressive strip in the corner with 1:30 left pretty much sealing it. The Liberty never got the finishing basket to close the show but their defense made sure it would not haunt them this evening. “It’s amazing, especially after a game like this today maybe we didn’t get off to the best start and you have to grind it out,” center Carolyn Swords said, “Whether I’m starting or coming off the bench, I’m ready to do what I need to do to help the team win.”

Now with back-to-back home wins, the Liberty (9-5) now share the lead in the East with Chicago as they embark on a four game road trip, three before the All-Star Break. “We’re playing very well together.” Essence Carson explained, “We want to continue this momentum on the road for the next four games.” Head Coach Bill Laimbeer is pleased to see the progress on the court and even mediawise, a mark that the Liberty are getting noticed. “We’re on TV more, I saw that we’re on channel four and channel seven highlights,” Laimbeer noted, “People are starting to pay attention. We have something fun to watch. We’re going to better barring injuries as the season moves along.”

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