By SANTOSH VENKATARAMAN
(AP) -- The Connecticut Sun look to have done the hard part by winning on the road in this season-opening home-and-home set with the New York Liberty.
The Sun were dominant at Mohegan Sun Arena in 2011 and can sweep this set Sunday when they meet the Liberty in their home opener.
Connecticut took the season opener for both teams with a big finish Saturday in a 78-73 victory at Madison Square Garden. The Sun outscored the Liberty 27-15 in the fourth quarter, outrebounded them 9-5 and outshot them 56 percent (10 for 18) to 43 percent (8 for 14) over the final 10 minutes.
"Just us coming back, that was maturity," said center Tina Charles, the 2010 rookie of the year. "Us playing together going on our third year, and that's just mental toughness - not letting the game go, not getting down on ourselves, not pouting, just being real mature, and knowing we could get back."
Charles, a New York native, had 19 points and 13 boards while Asjha Jones added 16 points. Jones made a tiebreaking jumper with 31 seconds remaining to give the Sun the lead for good at 73-71.
The Sun should be favored Sunday after matching Seattle with a WNBA-best 15-2 home record last year. Connecticut has won all six home meetings with New York since the Liberty won a decisive Game 3 of a first-round playoff series in 2008.
Cappie Pondexter led the Liberty with 19 points Saturday. She missed all four 3-pointers as New York made just 2 of 15 from beyond the arc.
"We got to play better. We got to improve from where we are tonight," New York coach John Whisenant said. "We got static (in the fourth quarter). ... We weren't efficient. Not efficient around executing our offense and we weren't getting turnovers from our defense."
Plenette Pierson had 15 points and 10 rebounds while Kara Braxton added 13 and nine, respectively, but the Liberty's frontcourt players struggled to contain the 6-foot-4, 198-pound Charles.
"We came out with a lot of aggression," Charles said. "There were times we were down seven, but we were able to get it back. Coach (Mike Thibault) had different lineups out there and everybody just came together collectively and we handled ourselves well on the court."
The intensity figures to be raised in Sunday's rematch of this Eastern Conference rivalry. Charles,Thibault and Renee Montgomery all were called for technical fouls in a chippy second quarter while Pierson was assessed one for New York.
"Yeah, there was a lot of stuff going on," Charles said. "We pulled it out, that's all that matters."
Updated May 19, 2012