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Tenacious Liberty Start Slow, Finish Strong, Against Sun

Just The Facts, Ma'am: The host New York Liberty generously spotted the Connecticut Sun an 11-0 lead in the first minute and a half of the game, then outscored Connecticut in the next three quarters to win 77-68.  Cappie Pondexter's 19 points and Nicole Powell's 14-point/10-rebound double-double led the way for the Liberty, while Renee Montgomery and Kara Lawson each had 13 points for Connecticut.

For clueless UConn fans, startled veterans, preteens with deep voices, and other denizens of the Garden, follow your intrepid blogger after the jump.

It's been a long time since I've been excited at a Liberty game. I forgot how nice the feeling was. And hey, it looks like some of our players realized that the season started!

Today was absolutely miserable weather in New York. My hair should not be wet an hour after I've fled into air conditioning. This is completely and totally unrelated to the game, except that it might explain whether I'm a little cranky or not.

Today's laugh of the day: part of the loop of music and announcements are little "Hi, I'm *insert name here* of the New York Liberty. Welcome to Madison Square Garden, the World's Most Famous Arena! Enjoy the game!" blurbs from various Liberty players. Taj McWilliams-Franklin managed to arrive right when her blurb came up in the loop. As the loudspeaker boomed out, "Hi, I'm Taj McWilliams-Franklin..." Taj looked up in startled surprise. It was hilarious.

I forgot how much I dislike the obsessive fan culture that surrounds UConn when it's in my way. I don't necessarily have high expectations for fan knowledge, but if you're going OMG Tiiiiiiiiiiiinaaaaaaaaa and OMG Reneeeeeeee and OMG Kaaaaaalaaaanaaaaaaaaa, I shouldn't have to remind you that Asjha Jones is a UConn alumna, nor should I have to tell you what year she graduated. At least they recognized Rebecca Lobo (who looks fabulous for expecting again).

We're two for four on young anthem singers. Today's 12-year-old had an incredibly deep voice for a 12-year-old girl and did an excellent rendition. I think she's one of the Lil Torches, or at least performs professionally- she handled herself like she had had professional training.

Don't believe the box. It was a very nice crowd, but it was thirteen thousand at the most, not 15,293. Come on, New York. Most teams would kill for the number you really had- why exaggerate? It's like Lisa Leslie throwing elbows- you're good enough to stand on your own merits without resorting to dirty pool.

The good news was that the Garden didn't manage to throw anything in the face of NYC Pride today. The bad news was that they didn't acknowledge it, either. But given this franchise's spotty record with the lesbian community, I'll take it.

Kelsey Griffin looks much, much better as a brunette. Strawberry blonde doesn't suit her coloring at all. I hope she realizes this at some point and goes back to her natural color. Judging from the two threes she hit, I think her transition to the three is going well. Stunningly, she didn't take any charges. DeMya Walker appears to have fallen off the same cliff as Tangela Smith and Kelly Miller. About the only part of her arsenal that was in full effect was her amazing acting talent. I think her knees and the baby and that rear bumper have caught up to her. Tan White was wilder than usual today. Most of her shots were all over the place, like she was trying for trick shots and couldn't get them to fall. She got tagged with what I thought was a bad charge call, too. I was disappointed that Sandrine Gruda didn't mix it up inside as much as I recall seeing her do in the past- she spent most of her time taking outside jumpers and occasionally swatting shots with her long arms. Most of her scoring came from people inexplicably fouling her while she took jumpers. (What is one of the primary rules of defense? Don't foul a jump shooter, remember? I think she got fouled three times on jumpers.) Allison Hightower got extended second-half minutes for reasons I don't think I understand- if it was for her defense, it didn't work, and if it was for her offense, it definitely didn't work. I know Mike Thibault had to improvise, but I think that was one improvisation he could have done without.

I hope Anete Jekabsone-Zogota is all right. We never got any word about why she played so little and never got back into the game. That was a major factor for the Sun- that's the kind of shooter you like to have as a backup option when things go wrong. Asjha Jones didn't look quite back to herself, but still, you can't leave her alone for that elbow jumper- she can hit that from a stationary position. Tina Charles came out like gangbusters in the first half, enough that I wanted to see a lot of missed shots in the second half so she'd have a chance to break Holdsclaw's record, but between Thibault's benching of her and the Liberty's sudden willingness to box out, she completely disappeared in the second. Renee Montgomery... seeing this team back to back with the Lynx provided an interesting perspective, and I'm now thinking that despite all the local ties and the perceptions of the players involved, Whalen and Montgomery should never have been traded for each other. They don't fit each other's old team, old system, old colleagues. Wright and Charles might be the right players for their teams, so that part of the trade works, but the showpieces just don't. Kara Lawson showed flashes of her old football career, but despite the numbers, it never felt like she could take over the game for Connecticut.

I thought the Nikki Blue experiment was over, but she's back again. Give her credit, she almost hit a three on a beautiful series of passes, and she wasn't too awful for the limited time she was in. There was also a brief Essence Carson sighting, which was nice, even if she didn't do much with it. She's got to get her head on right if she wants to stay in New York, because otherwise she'll probably be out of the league (honestly, if she weren't a first-round pick and a Rutgers alumna, I think she'd be off this team already, but we all know about Blaze and her willingness to admit mistakes). Kia Vaughn looked slightly better than she had in the last couple of games, at least until she started fumbling rebounds like she thought she was supposed to be at the beach volleyball tournament down in Brooklyn. Plenette Pierson did her job- she got rebounds, got a few baskets, and got into her opponents' heads. I definitely wouldn't like her if she weren't on my team, but whether I like it or not, this would appear to be my team, which means I have an appreciation for what she does. Kalana Greene started slow, but kicked into a higher gear as the game went on. (Full disclosure: I had Kalana in Pick One.) She stepped her game up with crucial plays.

Nicole Powell! So nice of you to join us! I'm starting to think someone gave her the wrong calendar, and part of her lackadaisical play has been because she thought this was an unusually long preseason, and she couldn't figure how the preseason had gotten so long so suddenly. Now that she knows the games count- her shots aren't necessarily falling at the clip I'd like, but she's being more aggressive, and she's getting more points, and she's really crashing the boards. I also like that she's started chasing loose balls- she wasn't doing much of that at all early on. Leilani Mitchell had a quiet game- at least by the standards she's set for herself recently- but her fearlessness is second to none. When someone with her build gets up in DeMya Walker's grill- DeMya Walker who once threatened Lisa Leslie in profane language- there's really only way you can describe her: tiny, but fierce. Janel McCarville still doesn't look like herself, or at least not the self she was last year for us, but her hands have been great, and she's hitting the deck like her life depended on it. Taj McWilliams-Franklin's hair was normal- a long straight ponytail- but her game was on point. She was in the right place at the right time. Cappie Pondexter had another of her games where she fills the stat sheet, shoots inefficiently, makes dazzling moves, and commits stupid mistakes. She plays pretty much the same game every night. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. I can't get excited about that.

The officiating got really weird in the third quarter. It started to look like the referees were letting the crowd get into their heads, and that's really not a good way to run a game. Coach Thibault was absolutely furious, and I can't say I blame him on some of those calls. For that matter, some of the calls that had the Liberty fans livid were good calls. (Nicole, if you use your rump to smack someone, that is a foul. If your foot is out and someone trips over it, you will be called for the foul.) Some dicey calls in the fourth quarter that put Connecticut into the bonus made me think that the officials were trying to make things up to the Sun. It doesn't, or shouldn't, work that way.

Things I never want to see in the on-court entertainment again: a dance-off held in wedding dresses. They weren't even attractive dresses. We had 50-50 odds on the winner actually using her "wedding planning package" prize- too much was dependent on state laws and whether she was the marrying kind under any state law.

It was nice to see everyone working together for a change. I don't give any credence to this whole notion that the team needed time to gel and that's why Blaze could start making her usual excuses. I do think that a few people got reminded that their jobs are not guaranteed, up to and possibly including Donovan, and that's what's with this sudden attack of give a damn.

Of course, just when they're fun to watch again, they're going on the road for two weeks on the West Coast, and they don't even have Ashley Battle with a camcorder this time. I'm sure that between the inevitable failures of LiveAccess and the inevitable failures of this team, all that enthusiasm will have washed away by the time they host Chicago again. So I'll savor it while I can, and let the torch burn in my heart once more.