Tina Charles used to be a fan favorite in Connecticut, but now she's become a thorn in its side.
The former UConn star scored a game-high 24 points as the New York Liberty ended the Connecticut Sun's six-game winning streak with an 82-70 victory in front of 7,016 fans Friday at Mohegan Sun Arena.
"Tina Charles, we didn't think she was going to play tonight," New York coach Bill Laimbeer said. "She had a little bit of back spasms, and as of yesterday, she was not going to play.
"Today she said, 'I don't think so,' and then she said 'OK,' and she played a phenomenal basketball game."
After going 0-for-2 shooting in the first quarter, Charles, who also once played for the Sun, turned it on in the second with 18 points. Her offensive surge swung New York's 22-17 deficit into a 45-41 halftime lead.
The Liberty (16-12), who have won four straight, didn't trail again. Jasmine Thomas scored 15 points to lead the Sun (18-10), eclipsing the 2,000-point mark for her career. She needed 14 points to reach the number coming in.
"They absolutely are different than any other team," Sun coach Curt Miller said. "They don't come down in transition and try to ball screen you. They run to the rim and post you up. … They are just relentless at trying to get paint touches."
It was the first loss for Connecticut since July 19, when Charles had 28 points and 17 rebounds in a 96-80 win for the Liberty (16-12).
While it cooled off one of the league's hottest teams, it was also an important teaching block for a Sun team that will be making its first postseason trip in five years next month.
"Disappointed certainly, but that game is so good for us," Miller said. "I can't begin to tell you how good that game is for us in the long run. That game took on a playoff feel, and the physicality that we knew was going to be in the this game and the intensity each possession simulated as best as we could have possibly had for a playoff game."
The Sun averaged 91.8 points during their winning streak, but struggled to find an offensive rhythm against the Liberty.
Connecticut shot just 34.3 percent for the game, its lowest of the season, and was 4-for-21 on three-pointers. The Liberty made 40.6 percent of their shots, but were 7-for-23 on threes.
"There is a reason they are number one in the league in field goal percentage defense. This is not anomaly," Miller said. "They make people make tough plays … and we settled for some jumpers."
The Sun almost matched New York in scoring in the paint, trailing 28-26, but just could not find any consistent offense.
"We needed to remember it's not going to just be easy, and we're not going to walk over people," Thomas said. "The closer we get to the postseason and people are still scrapping to get into the playoffs and solidify their spots, it's going to be hard."
It will not be any easier for Connecticut as it continues a three-game homestand with Diana Taurasi and the Phoenix Mercury up next at 3 p.m. Sunday.
The Sun won the first meeting 93-92 on Aug. 4, but 6-foot-8 Brittney Griner missed the game due to injury. In the rematch, Connecticut will need 6-6 Jonquel Jones to stay out of foul trouble, which is something she was unable to do against the Liberty.
Jones had three fouls in the first half that limited her minutes, then picked up her fourth 42 seconds into the third, which put her on the bench the rest of the quarter.
"Without question, because they are relentless and their dedication to pound it to the 4 and the 5," Miller said about New York being a bad matchup for Jones. "It always puts you in a position to foul around the basket."
The Sun never took the lead in the second half, but did cut it to 60-57 earlier in the fourth quarter. But the Liberty had answers again with Sugar Rodgers dropping a couple of three-pointers to help finish the Sun.
"We knocked down shots, and a couple from Sugar really helped," Laimbeer said. "Overall, I think we executed in the game, and I think that's what won the game for us."
Rodgers finished with 13 points, Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe added 12 and another former Husky, Bria Hartley, had 11.
Shekinna Stricklen finished with 12 points, Jones had 11 points and nine rebounds, while Alyssa Thomas added 10 for the Sun.
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