A lack of experience didn't keep the Connecticut Sun from finishing tied for the best record in the Eastern Conference last season. Now, they feel they are ready for the next level - something that will require improved play on the road.
The Sun visit the New York Liberty on Saturday in a meeting between teams that lost in the first round of the playoffs in 2011.
Connecticut finished tied with Indiana at 21-13 in the East but was swept in the opening round by Atlanta.
The Sun averaged 80.1 points last season - second-most in the conference. Tina Charles, the 2010 rookie of the year, led the way with 17.6 points and 11.0 rebounds per game, while Renee Montgomery and Asjha Jones averaged 14.6 and 13.3 points, respectively.
They also received a steady contribution from Kalana Greene, who broke into the starting lineup in her second season and averaged 5.6 points and 3.8 rebounds. Danielle McCray started 23 games as a rookie and averaged 5.9 points.
Connecticut played in the WNBA finals in 2005 and last reached the conference finals in '06, but it feels it has the chance to be among the contenders this year, provided it can improve on a 6-11 road record.
"This team showed last year they know how to win, that is not in question," coach Mike Thibault told the WNBA's official website. "But closing out games ... that was something we struggled with at times last year. It comes down to those crucial possessions in front of a hostile crowd, where your opponents are making that push and you need to execute."
New York is also hoping its experience will help it go further this season after finishing 19-15 in 2011 and losing in three games to Indiana in the conference semifinals.
Defense wasn't a problem for the Liberty, who gave up 74.8 points per game last season - second-fewest in the East - but they were eighth in the league in scoring with an average of 76.0 points.
Cappie Pondexter led the team with 17.4 points per game while Plenette Pierson contributed 12.9.
Looking to add an inside presence, New York drafted 6-foot-6 center Kelley Cain with the No. 7 overall pick this year, taking a chance on the oft-injured former Tennessee player.
Cain averaged 8.6 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.5 blocks in 92 games for the Lady Vols, setting a single-season record with 113 blocks as a sophomore. However, she had two surgeries on her knee and one on her hip.
Cain gave up her final season of eligibility last year. She graduated in January and played in Turkey during the winter.
"I liked her hands and her ability to score around the (basket)," Liberty coach and general manager John Whisenant said. "We need that on our team. Our scoring inside gets you outside shots more wide open. That's one of the things I was looking for."
Connecticut won three of four against New York last season.
This game will be played at Madison Square Garden instead of the Prudential Center in New Jersey, where New York's games are scheduled for a second straight year due to renovations at MSG. It was switched because Game 3 of the NHL's Eastern Conference finals between the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils will be played in Newark.