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Liberty hold off the Sun to break up season-opening nine-game winning streak

Jun. 9—MOHEGAN — It was going to be a statement for someone, either the unbeaten Connecticut Sun or the New York Liberty, the WNBA's top two teams, who changed leads eight times Saturday amid the rattle of a sold-out Mohegan Sun Arena.

But while the resilient Sun held a five-point lead at the start of the fourth quarter, as a DiJonai Carrington block led to an Alyssa Thomas fast break that brought things to another decibel level, it was the Liberty who finished.

Six-foot-six center Jonquel Jones unleashed three 3-pointers for nine points and teammate Sabrina Ionescu went 4-for-4 in the fourth quarter as the Liberty clung to an 82-75 victory over the Sun, seeming to have cast some sort of spell over their Eastern Conference rival in recent days.

The Liberty (10-2) earned the right to represent the Eastern Conference in the Commissioner's Cup final later this season and ran their record to 8-1 against Connecticut over the last two seasons.

"I hope they can just take a breath now that everybody's not going to be talking it about it anymore," said Sun head coach Stephanie White, whose team fell to 9-1 after the 9-0 start to the season that put Connecticut's among the best starts in WNBA history.

"We lost. Not a surprise. This league is tough. Now we've kind of got that out of the way, how do we approach the next day? How do we move on from this? How do we get better from this? How do we take it out on our next opponent?"

DeWanna Bonner had 16 points, eight rebounds, three assists, a steal and a block for the Sun and Thomas had 10 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists. Connecticut had six players in double figures.

Ionescu had 24 points and five assists for the Liberty, including two 3-pointers, making her the fastest player in league history to record 300 career 3s (117 games).

Jones, the former WNBA MVP while playing for the Sun, had 22 points, eight rebounds, five assists and four blocked shots, while reigning league MVP Breanna Stewart, the former UConn great, had 13 points, seven rebounds and five assists.

The Liberty led 28-18 after the first quarter, but the Sun, led by both a 3-pointer and a three-point play by Tiffany Mitchell, took off on a 10-0 run in the second quarter to take a 32-30 lead on a pair of free throws by Bonner.

It was 39-39 at halftime on a basket by Connecticut's Brionna Jones.

At one point in the third quarter, the lead changed on four straight baskets, with the Sun grabbing a 46-45 lead on a drive by Carrington and going on to lead by as many as seven points, 54-47, on a steal and a layup by Thomas.

Connecticut still led 60-57 after three quarters, but New York tied the game on a 3 by Jones from the left corner and took the lead for good at 66-64 on a drive by Ionescu, who had a perfectly reasonable explanation for her fourth-quarter fireworks. It was her turnover that led to the aforementioned Thomas layup.

"She benched me after a turnover and I got mad," Ionescu said, referring to Liberty coach Sandy Brondello. "So I knew I just had to make better decisions.

"Understanding my legs were a little heavy and I usually make shots that I missed some of those tonight, I was trying to find different ways to get my teammates open. I think it was just staying patient. It kind of lit a fire inside me a little bit."

The Sun pulled within one on a 3-pointer by Ty Harris to get to 76-75 with 1:33 to play, but Jones answered with a 3 and the Liberty scored the final six points.

"We understood this was a huge game for us, a statement game," Ionescu said. "They're undefeated."

"I don't think we were getting stops toward the end of the game and then we had a lot of unforced turnovers, unforced errors, just didn't get quality shots up," Carrington said of the Sun. "Obviously, it started at the beginning but if you're asking about the latter half of the game, that's what I would say."

Both teams have a quick turnaround. The Liberty play against the Washington Mystics at home Sunday, while the Sun complete a three-game homestand Monday against the Indiana Fever.

"Nobody likes to lose," Carrington said. "We're competitors and whoever we play, every night, we want to go out there and beat them, but it's not like (the loss is) the end of the world. It's a 40-game season. We didn't think we were going to go 40-0."

v.fulkerson@theday.com