WNBA: Pondexter Gets Payoff From Rutgers Defense
NEW YORK -- The New York Liberty had just achieved an incredible win off full-court defensive pressure to rally from a 16-point deficit and beat the Connecticut Sun 77-68 in a game of WNBA Eastern Conference rivals late Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden.
On another busy WNBA day, the Liberty were one of four winners in five games who had to come back from deep deficits.
Here in New York, Liberty newcomer Cappie Pondexter, who had 19 points, was in the dressing room discussing the effort that got New York closer to .500 at 6-7 to be ahead of the Chicago Sky (6-9) who lost to Indiana.
In using defensive terminology, Pondexter mentioned "55" and a big grin came across her face as she connected with a media member who covered her days playing for the Scarlet Knights.
"Yeah, 55, C. Vivian Stringer," Pondexter beamed.
Since coming into the WNBA in 2006 and quickly becoming one of the league's top players, Pondexter became known more for her offensive exploits, particular her previous seasons teamming with former UConn star Diana Taurasi and winning two titles with the Phoenix Mercury.
But now Pondexter is in New York, courtesy of a block buster offseason trade, and playing for Anne Donovan, her 2008 Olympic coach who has been working the Liberty to become a defensive force.
"Yeah, some of all that paid off on nights like this," Pondexter reflected on Stringer's emphasis on pressuring the opposition.
"It's not quite the same as what Anne wants," Pondexter explained. "There's not a lot of trapping. Still, it's similar -- 90 feet of picking up for 40 minutes expending the same kind of energy.
"When you're bringing pressure for 90 feet for 40 minutes, either we're going to break or they're going to break," Pondexter described New York's effort.
"Fortunately, I think they broke today so I'm happy about that today. We defintely needed this win against a great team, that is Connecticut, and a great coach (Mike Thibault."
For the first half, all the discussion about being great was in the Sun's corner, especially after a dominating 30-16 opening quarter and a 46-33 halftime lead.
Rookie Tina Charles, the No. 1 overall pick of the draft out of UConn, celebrated her first official WNBA homecoming near Brooklyn by reaching a double double at halftime and finishing with 10 points and 16 rebounds.
But who knew with 20 minutes remaining that New York would take the latest WNBA greatest since sliced bread and turn Charles into toast the rest of the way holding her scoreless.
Kara Lawson and Renee Montgomery each had 13 points for the Sun and Sandrine Gruda matched Charles' 10 points.
At one point early on a day in which five WNBA games were playing, Connecticut (9-5) off ther big lead seemed ready to edge back into first in the east ahead of Atlanta, which was home and trailing the Los Angeles Sparks.
But the Dream rallied and the Sun had let a second game in the last week get away.
On New York's side, it was definitely a win the Liberty needed and became the second straight after Donovan's group squandered a rally at home last Tuesday night against the Minnesota Lynx.
Donovan praised rookie Kalana Greene, yet another former UConn player who was in a key role Sunday across the WNBA.
"She's no longer a rookie," Donovan said of Greene's important defensive moves late in the game.
"It's a great win for us," Donovan said. "Maybe these are games that we fought hard in the past and not come out on top at the end. I tought we played better and better as the game went along."
Donovan prior to the game had admitted several days ago she misjudged how fast the chemistry might build on a team in which center Janelle McCarville is the sole surviving key player of recent season.
"Those kinds of things, when you have that significant change in your key personnel, chemistry, identity and all those things are still coming," Donovan explained after Sunday's game. "I still think it's ahead of us what our identity is, but I'll tell you what -- our full court defense pretty good tonight."
And as Pondexter knows, it ain't nothing she experienced in her past across the Hudson River and down the highway several miles in Central New Jersey.
Langhorne Puts On Another Show
Crystal Langhorne, the former Maryland star out of Willingboro, N.J., near Philadelphia, continues to top herself in her brief WNBA career of three seasons.
On Sunday, she bested her own career effort again for the second time in a week, scoring 31 points as the host Washington Mystics brought down the defending WNBA champion Phoenix Mercury 95-85 at the Verizon Center.
Laqnghorne is the reigning most improved WNBA player off the postseason awards of a year ago.
Former Duke star Lindsey Harding scored 24 for Washington.
The win moved the Mystics (9-5) into a second-place tie with Connecticut and the Indiana Fever, which held off the Chicago Sky 70-64 in the Windy Suburbs near Lake Michigan.
Diana Taurasi scored 18 for Phoenix and former Temple star Candice Dupree scored 14 as the Mercury (5-9)sank into third place in the medicore West, 7.5 games behind first-place Seattle and a game behind the San Antonio Silver Stars.
Washington hosts Indiana Tuesday night in yet another key Eastern confrontation.
Atlanta Rallies over Los Angeles
The Atlanta Dream continues having a dream season in its third summer of WNBA existence.
Iziane Castro Marques scored 25 points and Angel McCoughtry, the top WNBA rookie a year ago, added 19 points as the Dream (11-4) continued to hold some breathing room at the top of the East, 1.5 games ahead of the nearest pursuers after rallying from a 16-point deficit sgainst the visiting Sparks.
DeLisha Milton-Jones and former Maryland star Kristi Toliver each scored 19 points for the Sparks (3-10), who are mired just a half-game ahead of last-place Tulsa in the West but still close enough to get into playoff contention with any kind of win streak.
Seattle Rally Keeps Storm Raging
The Storm lose key personnel at times but nothing has yet to really short-circuit Seattle in its domination of the WNBA West.
Trailing by 13 points in the Midwest, Seattle came back to beat the Tulsa Shock, 83-72, and stay ahead of second-place and idle San Antonio by 6.5 games.
The Storm lost Sue Bird, for at least the moment, when the All-Star and Olympian left the game with back problems.
But when one former UConn star goes down another picks up the torch in the same manner as when they played for the Huskies under Geno Auriemma.
This time it was Svetlana Abrosimova, who had 21 points -- 19 in the second half -- for the Storm (13-2), while Australia's Lauren Jackson scored a game-high 24. Former UConn star Swin Cash had 11 points.
Tulsa (3-11), the former Detroit franchise, got 16 points from Scholanda Robinson in dipping into last place a half-game behind the Sparks but not far from fourth-place Minnesota, which would get the fourth West playoff spot if the regular season ended right now.
In having the best overall record, Seattle's success has landed coach Brian Agler the slot to run the WNBA squad against the U.S. team dominated by WNBA players and coached by UConn's Auriemma in next week's All-Star game at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Connecticut.
Fever Holds Off Chicago
If the playoffs started now, three West teams would have losing records, while it's nothing but winners in the East in the identical slots.
Indiana made it another three-way deadlock in second place by holding off the host Chicago Sky, 70-64, as Ebony Hoffman scored 13 points.
Chicago got 15 points from ex-Liberty player Erin Thorn. Sylvia Fowles was held in check with 11 points, but the Olympian and former LSU star still grabbed 17 rebounds.
Indiana will meet Washington Tuesday night in the nation's capital that will drop one of the two out of the three-way tie.