Madison Square Garden sure had a Storrs-like feel to it yesterday. On one bench was Tina Charles, arguably the best center in the history of UConn women's basketball. On the other was Maya Moore, arguably the best player (along with Diana Taurasi) in UConn women's basketball history … until someone named Breanna Stewart showed up two years ago.
Charles, the former Connecticut Sun star who requested a trade to her native New York prior to this season, sure is adjusting to her new/old confines well. After scoring a season-high 28 points in her last game vs. the Tulsa Shock, Charles put up a career-high 32 points to lead the New York Liberty to an 87-80 win over Moore and the defending WNBA champion Minnesota Lynx before 8,151 fans at Madison Square Garden on Sunday.
As Connecticut basketball fans have become so used to watching, Charles, a “Double D” machine, pulled down 10 boards for a double-double. Former Rutgers star Cappie Pondexter put up 18 points for the Liberty, while Sugar Rogers and Anna Cruz put up 10 points apiece for New York.
Moore led the Lynx with 25 points, followed by 13 from former Sun star Lindsay Whalen and 11 from Monica Wright.
The first quarter was the Maya and Tina show, with the two former Husky greats matching themselves shot for shot. Moore ended the period with 11 points after going 4-for-4 from the floor. Charles, meanwhile, dominated the paint, putting up 15 in the first stanza. But a barrage of three-point buckets at the end of the first period put the Lynx ahead by seven, 30-23, at the first turn.
Minnesota increased its advantage to 12 midway through the second quarter, when New York got back into the game thanks to a 17-4 run. A layup by Charles with 3:47 remaining until half time brought the Liberty all the way back with a 40-39 lead. The scoring went back and forth at that point for the duration of the period, and the teams headed into the locker room tied 48-48 at intermission.
A sluggish start by New York in the third period was offset by a 10-0 run fueling a late 18-4 streak by the Liberty giving New York a 67-63 lead heading into the fourth period.
The final quarter started out much like the first, with the teams trading baskets as if they were ping-pong players. But this was New York's Day. Moore, as is her want, took over the game, scoring 11 points in the final quarter, including a layup with 2:53 remaining in regulation that cut the Liberty lead to 80-78, but that was as close as the Lynx would get as the Liberty answered with a 7-0 run, broken by an inconsequential basket by another Sun star, Tan White, with 5.8 seconds remaining to end the scoring.
With the win—the Liberty's third straight—New York improves 7-11 and is 5.5 games in back of first-place Atlanta, but only 1.5 games behind the second-place Sun in the weak WNBA East Conference. Minnesota fell to 13-6 and are 1.5 games in back of Diana Taurasi and the first place Phoenix Mercury.