7:30 PM ET, October 1, 2004
Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
NEW YORK -- After building a 16-point lead with a big run, Nykesha Sales didn't want to take a break for halftime.Sales scored 13 of her 15 points in the first half and the Connecticut Sun beat the New York Liberty 61-51 on Friday night in Game 1 of the WNBA's Eastern Conference finals."All of us were doing some really good things," Sales said. "Putting the ball in the basket, rebounding, playing great defense. It all came together right before the half ended. We all felt that energy. It was too bad that it was halftime. We kind of wished the second half would start right away so we could keep that momentum."Taj McWilliams-Franklin had 14 points and 10 rebounds and Lindsay Whalen added 12 points for Connecticut, which used a 23-5 run in the first half to build a 16-point lead en route to its third straight win in the playoffs.The Sun took control of the game with a 13-0 run over a three-minute stretch late in the first half. It was part of the bigger 23-5 spurt that turned an 8-6 deficit into a 29-13 lead with 1:41 remaining."I'm surprised at the way we came out to play," Liberty interim coach Pat Coyle said. "We can't keep putting ourselves in a hole. They played well, defensively and offensively. We didn't have our best effort."Crystal Robinson scored 17 points for New York, which lost for just the second time in its last seven games overall and third in last 11 at home.Game 2 is Sunday at Connecticut."We really don't want to be in this situation, but by no means are we throwing in the towel," Robinson said.Connecticut led 29-17 at halftime while setting a franchise record for fewest points allowed in a half."You can only do that so many times," Robinson said. "If you dig a hole too many times you're going to lose some of those games and that's something we absolutely have to quit doing."New York, which shot just 6-for-30 in the opening period, improved early in the second half. Robinson scored 11 points as the Liberty outscored the Sun 20-12 in the first 9½ minutes after intermission to cut the deficit to 41-37."We've seen that happen a lot," Sales said. "The first five minutes of the second half is not always that great for us. We played so hard in the first half, we put ourselves in a great position. Those lows are OK if we have an opportunity to fight back and continue that energy we had in the first half."Connecticut went on a 12-4 run over the next 5½ minutes to push its lead back to 12 and New York didn't get closer than eight points the rest of the way."We did a good job contesting their 3-point shots and we didn't give them a lot of second shots," Connecticut coach Mike Thibault said. "We tried to make them run back as much as we could."Sales had nine points in the big first-half run for Connecticut, which shot 42 percent from the field in the game.New York finished at 36 percent shooting (20-for-56), including 5-for-18 on 3-pointers."We have to throw the ball in the paint," Coyle said. "We have to make them work. I didn't think we did a very good job of that tonight. I'll take responsibility for that because that's playcalling. We have to be able to throw it in there. I don't think we recognized the switching they did (on defense). A few times they had (5-3) Debbie Black guarding (6-5) Elena (Baranova) in the paint."Baranova finished with seven points on 3-for-7 shooting and grabbed a team-high 11 rebounds.
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