Chiney Ogwumike certainly put on a Rookie-of-the-Year-worthy performance on Sunday. Playing on the sport's biggest stage, the two-time All-American from Stanford and May's WNBA Rookie-of-the-Month led all scorers with 22 points, and was the game's leading rebounder with 17 boards, but it wasn't enough. Behind 14-point efforts from both Tina Charles and Cappie Pondexter, the New York Liberty defeated the Connecticut Sun, 67-65, before 7,023 fans at Madison Square Garden on Sunday.
This was a game no one in their right mind thought the Sun would be challenging for at the end. Leading 20-15 at the first turn, the Liberty scored the first seven points in the second quarter, held the Sun to t 23.5 percent shooting for the quarter, and turned a five-point deficit into a 34-31 advantage at intermission. It was only the fourth time this season that New York owned a half-time lead.
The Liberty increased their advantage to seven points, 54-47, at the third turn, but after Charles, the heart and soul of the Sun franchise from the moment she was drafted No. 1 overall out of UConn in 2010 until last season, made a jumper, the Sun responded with a three-pointer by Katie Douglas (for her only three points of the game) and a jumper by second-year guard Alex Bentley (18 points) to close within four points, 56-52, with 8:28 remaining in regulation.
At which point the Liberty went on a 7-0 run to open a seemingly comfortable 63-52 lead with 6:52 remaining in regulation.
But not so fast...
A three-pointer by Bentley sparked a 13-3 outburst by the Sun capped by back-to-back layups by Ogwumike which cut the New York lead to one, 66-65, with 2:21 left on the clock. But both teams seemed to run out of gas at that point. Former Georgia Tech star Alex Montgomery missed two shots from beyond the arc for the Liberty, while a three-point attempt from Douglas clanked off the rim as the shot-clock expired with 8.3 ticks left. The rebound went off the hands of Ogumike and into the hands of New York point guard Anna Cruz, a rookie from Spain, who, was immediately fouled, by Douglas. The Spanish national missed the first by made the second from the charity stripe to increase the New York lead to two. Without any time-outs remaining, a long in-bound pass came to Douglas about 10 feet past the half-court line resulted in a desperation three-point attempt that fell short and the Liberty escaped with the victory by the skinny-skin-skin of their teeth.
While the Sun were held to 35.6 shooting from the floor—including 20 percent (3-for-15) from three-point land—they were able to mount a furious comeback thanks largely to a 44-32 advantage on the boards, including a 15-6 margin off the offensive glass. Perhaps the most glaring statistic is that the Sun got just four points from its bench, compared to 26 points scored by the New York reserves.
''We had the perfect comeback being written and we tore out the last page,'' said Ogwumike. ''At least we clawed our way back.''
New York, which has struggled throughout this still-young WNBA season, improved to 5-11 while Connecticut lost its second straight game after winning six straight to fall back to .500, 8-8. They still are in second place in the Eastern Conference, trailing first-place Atlanta by 3.5 games.
The Sun now return home to host two games this week—Tuesday night vs. Jayne Appel, Becky Hammon and the San Antonio Stars, and Thursday night vs. Skylar Diggins and the Tulsa Shock. Tip-off for both games will be at 7 p.m. at the Mohegan Sun Arena. The San Antonio game will be televised on WCTX My9, while Thursday's game vs. Tulsa will be streamed live on WNBA Live Access.