Mohegan — How ironic, indeed, that as fans of the Connecticut Sun yearn for the old days - or at least an occasional victory - that a visiting player Sunday invoked memories from the glory days of the Sun franchise.
Katie Smith, former assassin of the Detroit Shock, once the Sun's blood rival, played her final game at Mohegan Sun Arena, having announced her impending retirement earlier this season. And she accomplished what she usually does here: rarely miss.
Smith's 13 points helped the Liberty to a 74-66 victory over the punchless Sun, who at least took another step toward the WNBA Draft Lottery.
"It's a great place to play. When we were in Detroit during that spell, it was such a great rivalry. We were always battling for tops in the East," Smith said. "It's so much fun to play here. The fans here know basketball, they love it."
Or they used to until they've had to endure whatever passes for basketball now. They watched their team plummet to their 19th loss, a single-season franchise record since the Sun's arrival in Connecticut. They figure to build on that during this week's West Coast trip.
Even Liberty coach Bill Laimbeer, roundly booed again Sunday, said the two bottom teams in the Eastern Conference can't generate the same venom.
"I prefer a competitive atmosphere when you're competing for the championship," he said. "I prefer being the No. 1 and No. 2 team in the Eastern Conference. Right now we're the bottom two. It's not the same atmosphere, not only among the players but also the crowd. Still, that was a good win for us."
Plenette Pierson led the Liberty with 18 points and Cappie Poindexter had 14.
The Sun cut into an 11-point deficit and got as close as three in the fourth period. But Sun coach Anne Donovan removed her two hottest scorers, Kelsey Griffin and Renee Montgomery, for a brief rest. That's when Pierson, suddenly guarded by Kayla Pedersen, scored six straight points and eventually gave the Liberty a nine-point lead.
Connecticut got no closer than seven the rest of the way.
"At this point, you approach every game, regardless of postseason or not and you have an element of pride to your game," Donovan said. "Especially in this arena. People don't just come in here and score at will. And tonight, we did a marginal job on Cappie (Pondexter) — to walk out of here with 14 points, that's pretty good when you can hold Cappie to 14 - and to have their bench just have a field day against us ? it's about pride. I don't even entertain talk of postseason or not postseason. This is about pride. Defensively, we're better than that."
Griffin led the Sun with 22 points and 10 rebounds. Tina Charles had 18 points and Montgomery had 14.
"We kept our composure throughout the game," Laimbeer said.
New York's bench, which made 9 of 10 field goal attempts in the first half, finished with a combined 24 points on 10-for-13 shooting.
New York led 42-35 at halftime. The Liberty shot 51 percent from the field.
"It was a huge win," Smith said. "If we lost this game, I think our playoff hopes would have been against all odds, really. It was a big game to stay in the mix."
New York (11-16) moved within a game of Indiana for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Sun guard Kara Lawson, who did not play because of the bone bruise in her knee, said she would return home and not make the West Coast trip with the team.