NEWARK, N.J. (AP) - The New York Liberty's goal for the second half of the season is to win 11 of their remaining games. They got off to a good start in their return from the WNBA's Olympic break.
Cappie Pondexter scored 24 points to lead the Liberty to a 79-66 victory over the first-place Connecticut Sun on Thursday night.
Plenette Pierson, returning after missing the New York's last eight games before the hiatus due to a left knee strain, had 16 points to help the Liberty (7-12) snap a three-game skid.
``If we win 11 games we give ourselves a chance to make a playoff push,' Pondexter said. ``It's attainable. Right now we got 10 to go. I really feel we have a chance to win some games on the road.'
The Liberty, who have 15 games remaining, play their next five on the road - starting with a rematch against Connecticut on Saturday night. They then close with seven of their last 10 at home.
Renee Montgomery scored 16 points, and Allison Hightower and Mistie Mims added 12 each for the Sun (15-5), who snapped a five-game winning streak.
``We struggled tonight,' Connecticut coach Mike Thibault said. ``We shot terrible in the second half and we turned it over.'
Tina Charles, who helped lead the United States to a gold medal at the London Games, had just four points and 12 rebounds, while fellow Olympian Asjha Jones sat out due to a strained left Achilles' tendon - an injury she was dealing with before the break.
Connecticut dropped to 8-2 on the road and had its lead over second-place Indiana in the Eastern Conference cut to three games.
While the Olympic break helped teams like the Liberty get healthy and refreshed, Thibault believes it disrupted the Sun's momentum.
``It helped some players individually get some work in,' he said, ``but it didn't help our team in the sense of having a rhythm because you're practicing every day without your two starting post players.'
New York scored the first six points of the third quarter to stretch a four-point halftime lead to double digits. Pierson had a layup and Pondexter made two baskets to make it 45-35 with about 7 minutes left in the period.
The Sun pulled within six points twice, but Leilani Mitchell countered with 3s both times to extend the Liberty's lead back out again. Mitchell finished 3 for 3 from beyond the arc.
``Everybody knows Leilani, when she shoots she has a pretty good chance to make it,' Pondexter said. ``It's just a matter of her being aggressive. She's been putting up shots during the break. I really believe in her and I know her shots will take us a long way.'
Essence Carson had a layup and Pondexter followed with a steal and fast-break basket to extend the advantage to 59-46 with 1:41 remaining in the third.
New York's 8-2 run to open the fourth quarter stretched the lead to 67-50 with 6:54 remaining, and Connecticut got no closer than 11 the rest of the way.
Pondexter's 3 with 4:14 remaining put the Liberty up 73-54 for their largest lead of the game.
New York moved two games behind Chicago and Atlanta for third place in the East, and 7 1/2 behind the Sun.
``I don't think anybody's given up,' Liberty coach John Whisenant said. ``We're still in it, you look at Chicago and Atlanta and Indiana that are just two or three games ahead of us. We just got to win ... We figure we got to get to .500, win 11 of our (remaining) games, and we've won one of them.'
Connecticut finished with a 39-30 rebounding edge, but committed 17 turnovers - which led to 19 points for New York. Whisenant was also pleased his team held Charles nearly 15 points below her season average.
``Tina Charles is the best rebounder in the league in the last 3 or four years,' he said. ``She's a monster in there, she gets double digits and we're not going to match that. We don't have anyone who can do that. ... We did a good job keeping her out of (the scoring), and to do that we had to do relays because that's a physically wearing effort.'
Trailing by eight late in the first quarter, the Liberty used a 13-2 run to take a 25-22 lead with 5:22 to go before halftime. The Sun tied the score twice, the last time on Kara Lawson's jumper with 4:16 left in the first half that evened it at 27-all.
Kara Braxton followed with a layup and Pondexter hit a 3 to put the Liberty ahead by five a little more than a minute later.
Hightower and Mims made consecutive baskets in the final minute to pull Connecticut within one, but Pondexter's 3 from 25 feet out at the buzzer gave the Liberty a 39-35 lead at the break.
Follow Vin A. Cherwoo on Twitter at www.twitter.com/VinCherwooAP
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
All Rights Reserved