NEWARK, New Jersey — Cappie Pondexter pointed to what coach Bill Laimbeer had written on the whiteboard near her locker at halftime: 40 minutes.
Pondexter and her teammates responded after a dismal opening 20 minutes with a strong second half to rally past the Connecticut Sun 78-68 on Friday night.
"It's a 40-minute basketball game," Pondexter said. "It takes 40 minutes to win or lose a game. At halftime we're down nine and he reminded us it's a 40-minute game. At the end they got gassed and we were able to keep our pressure up and make some huge buckets down the stretch."
New York (4-2) trailed 47-36 midway through the third before Pondexter scored eight points in the final 4:50 of the period, including a jumper just before the end of the quarter that gave New York a 56-55 lead — its first since early in the game. She had 14 points in the third and then kept it going in the fourth, scoring four of the Liberty's first nine points as New York extended its lead to 11.
"When Cappie gets going we're a pretty special ballclub at times," Laimbeer said. "She was a little embarrassed about the first half — an 0-for until the last play. ... When she wants to take over the game she's one of the best if not the best in doing such."
Pondexter got some help from Leilani Mitchell, who had 10 of her 16 in the fourth quarter and also had nine rebounds and five assists.
"She made the big plays today. She's one of the big keys to the game," Laimbeer said. "Leilani came through when we made our comeback. She hit a couple of 3's ... if she misses those we may not have won this game."
Allison Hightower scored 17 points and Kara Lawson added 16 for the Sun (2-4), who pulled to 72-68 with 1:20 left but could get no closer.
Along with the victory, Katie Smith passed Lisa Leslie for second place on the league's career scoring list with a 3-pointer midway through the first quarter. She finished the game with 10 points, giving her 6,272 in her WNBA career — nine more than Leslie.
"It's a lot of pride that you've done good work for a long period of time," Smith said. "You've been consistently at the top or near the top. I love this game. I love competing and playing. Glad I did it, but someone will get us someday."
She's still nearly 800 points behind all-time leader Tina Thompson, who has announced she plans to retire at the end of this season.
However, if you throw in the nearly 1,400 points Smith scored in the ABL, she is the most prolific scorer in women's pro basketball history. After spending two years in the ABL, the 39-year-old Smith has played the past 15 seasons in the WNBA and is the only guard among the league's top five scorers.
Smith has said this will most likely be her final year playing professionally. She joined the Liberty this past season to help provide veteran leadership, but got thrust into a starting role last week when Essence Carson's season ended because of a torn ACL.
New York was also playing without Cheryl Ford, who had been sidelined with left knee pain. Laimbeer announced after the game that the Liberty would cut Ford on Saturday.
"It's unfortunate but her knee's not responding to what it needs to be playing in this league," he said.
The Sun have had their own injury problems. Tan White is out for a few more weeks with a broken finger and has a full cast on her right hand. Renee Montgomery has missed the last four games with a left ankle sprain and isn't expected back any time soon.
Playing short-handed, the Sun have struggled since their opening night win over New York. Connecticut had dropped three straight games before beating Indiana by 12 on Wednesday night.
The Sun got off to a hot start, going up 13-6 midway through the first quarter behind five points from Hightower. The Liberty responded with six straight, including Smith's milestone 3-pointer that made it 13-12.
That was about the only positive in the first half for New York, which missed 24 of its first 28 shots before Kara Braxton's jumper with 4:01 left in the second quarter made it 25-18. Braxton finished with 11 points and 13 rebounds.
Pondexter missed her first seven shots before hitting a drive down the lane with 9.5 seconds left in the second quarter. She was fouled on the play, but missed the free throw.
Connecticut led 33-24 at the half after holding New York to 24-percent shooting and forcing 13 turnovers.
"The Liberty looked like a team that really got after it in the second half," Connecticut coach Anne Donovan said. "They had 54 points and were hungry. When Cappie gets on a roll you're in trouble."
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