Guru's WNBA Report: New York Burns Indiana For Season's First Win
NEWARK, N.J. -- The New York Liberty parted ways with their normal business-like demeanor and went scampering down the back hallways of the Prudential Center here Sunday night on the way to the locker room screaming, cheering and yelling like a bunch of college kids following their 87-72 win over the Indiana Fever in a matchup of WNBA Eastern Conference rivals.
And why not?
The triumph over the same team that had dominated New York 91-68 one night earlier in Indiana was the first of the season, snapping the Liberty's franchise-worst 0-5 start.
It also ruined the Fever's chance to gain a franchise-best 5-0 start and left the defending champion Minnesota Lynx as the last unbeaten WNBA team, though they had to hang on at the finish at home to outlast the San Antonio Silver Stars in one of three Western matchups.
New York's win also left the Tulsa Shock (0-6) as the last team in the league to have yet to post a triumph, with another loss tacked on Sunday when Phoenix triumphed.
"We got up at five this morning to come back from Indianapolis so I feel like I've been up for 24 hours," New York coach John Whisenant smiled with a look of relief at last.
"Good win. Very good win. We got back to what give us a chance to compete with anyone in the league, our defense was much better," he continued.
"Players recognized that. We corrected what we didn't do last night -- (Indiana) still got some threes on us, but we got their points in the paint down to a reasonable number -- 20 -- and that's important with our defense.
"We had even distribution with our scoring. For whatever reason, when we play defense hard, our offense is better."
Former Rutgers all-American Cappie Pondexter led the New York attack, scoring 25 points, while sister Scarlet Knights alum Essence Carson scored 16 points, as did Plenette Pierson, while Leilani Mitchell scored 13 points, spurred by connecting on 3-of-6 three-point attempts, and Kia Vaughn, another Rutgers alum, scored 10 points.
Olympian Tamika Catchings, one of Tennessee's all-time all-Americans, scored 19 points for Indiana, while Katie Douglas scored 15 points and former Pittsburgh star Shavonte Zellous scored 10 points.
New York in the physicallly-contest matchup forced Indiana into 22 turnovers and picked up 27 points in transition.
For the first time this season, the Liberty outplayed the opposition in the second half, making good on a 24-14 start in the first quarter.
It looked like this one might get away when a 17-point lead in the fourth quarter got whittled to seven with 3:20 left in the game but then Indiana committed several turnovers, one of which Mitchell converted into one of her treys for New York off a Zellous travel and then Pondexter nailed a trey following a Fever offensive foul to make it a 13-point game with less than two minutes to play.
Whisenanant credited his new assistant, former veteran New Mexico men's coach Norm Ellenberger with helping out with some strategy down the stretch.
The New York coach conceded that though there had been some spots in games his team played well, overall the Liberty had really struggled.
"We hadn't played well. We hadn't been worth a darn. That's the reason we were 0-5," he said. "There are spots we played well, but then we would get outscored 10-1. We just weren't guarding and then we're not scoring in those periods either.
"For us to come out and be 0-5, this (win) was very rewarding."
Pondexter was elated to be back on the winning side.
"We came in energetic in both ends of the floor and that allows us to get out in transition and play our game," Pondexter said.
"Sometimes when want things to work, it doesn't happen right away. It takes time. I've had a lot of talks with a lot of people I trust, basketball-wise, and they've told me, `You start this way, you end up finishing very well.'
"I had to keep that in my mind and stay positive," said Pondexter, also noting, "I was very angry. I hate losing. I've never been 0-and-something in my life. That was kind of a hard pill to swallow. But we continue to strive for it if we really work hard."
Catchings saluted her opponents.
"They came out here really aggressive and that's what a team against the wall does," she said. "I don't think we really handled their pressure well at all.
"It's early in the season and while it's a game that doesn't matter in the playoffs, at this moment, every game matters. So for us, we have to continue to building on being a playoff team, a championship team, so every game does matter," Catchings added.
"Sometimes you need a loss to really learn. When you win everything gets masked over."
Fever coach Lin Dunn said, "They were 0-and-5 and showed a lot of heart. When you have players like Cappie and Vaughn and Carson and Leilani, they're not going to lay down and die and quit.
"They were frustrated about the loss and they took it out on us and we didn't respond to it. We did keep coming back. In the end their defense influenced the game and the outcome of the game," Dunn Observed.
"They played one quarter last night like they played tonight. They came out with enormous intensity, energy and pressure. They forced us into turnovers. We just didn't handle their pressure well. I thought they responded really well to the loss from last night."
New York has a chance to build on the win, hosting the two-time Eastern Conference playoff champion Atlanta Dream here on Tuesday night at 7 p.m. and then head to Washington Friday night against the Mystics, who have been losing a slew of games by narrow deficits.
Atlanta romped to a 100-74 win over New York down in Georgia last month.
The revitalized Chicago Sky then visit here Sunday, in what will be the second of two first-meetings on the same weekend against Eastern Conference rivals.
Indiana is off until Friday night when the Fever host the Connecticut Sun in a game between the two early Eastern leaders and then are off another long spell before the season's first meeting on June 15 with the Mystics in Washington.
The Guru will be back in the next 24 hours with a recap and look ahead on the usual idle Monday in the WNBA.
Also, the collegiate coaching carousel will continue to be updated when hires and departures are announced, though the pace is finally slowing down in that area.
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