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Friday, July 19, 2019

Liberty Even East Semifinal Series with 87-72 Rout of Indiana Fever

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Photo Caption: Nicole Powell led the Liberty to an 87-72 win over the visiting Indiana Fever, the East’s top seed, to even their WNBA Eastern Conference Semifinal playoff series at one apiece. Powell posted a team-high 19 points, plus five boards, three steals and three assists, but it was her stifling defense on Indiana MVP candidate Tamika Catchings, holding her to just two points on the day, that got the job done for New York Saturday, at Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.

Photo Credit: Full Court Press/Teri Priebe©

By Mel Greenberg

NEWARK, N.J.  – New York Liberty coach-general manager John Whisenant had one little request of the basketball gods Saturday afternoon, though he didn’t necessarily pose it in that particular manner.

“Just once I’d like to us play a full 40 minutes of the way we can play because when we do we can be very good,” he said prior to his team’s attempt in Game 2 at home to extend the WNBA Eastern Conference semifinals series with the top-seeded Indiana Fever to the full best-of-three limit.

At the outset, it seemed Whisenant might be denied again as his fourth-seeded bunch struggled in the first quarter to a 23-20 deficit.

Photo Caption: New York center Kia Vaughn collects the hardware for her well-deserved WNBA Most Improved Player award in ceremonies before Game Two began Saturday. Vaughn garnered 15 out of 40 possible votes for the honor from a national media selection panel. When Janel McCarville opted not to return to the Liberty line-up this year, Vaughn moved from the bench to the starting line-up in just her second season in the league, averaging career highs across the board with 10.1 ppg, 6.7 rbg, 1.2 spg, and 1.1 apg. Vaughn put up 10 points and hauled down five boards, to which she added three assists, three steals, and a block, in Saturday’s Game Two playoff win over the Indiana Fever to help keep New York’s postseason alive.
Photo Credit: Full Court Press/Teri Priebe©

But at least the Liberty were in contention at The Prudential Center in front of 8,508 fans, their largest non-camp day crowd of the season. And unlike Game One at Conseco Fieldhouse on Thursday, the Liberty did not have to climb out of a double-digit deficit only to see their rally from 15 points down wasted when Indiana’s Erin Phillips knocked down an off-balance jumper shortly before time expired to give the Fever a 74-72 victory and a 1-0 series lead.

Photo Caption: Aussie guard Erin Phillips became the unlikely hero of Game One for the Fever. Phillips had just six points all night, but two of them were the game winners, as she dribbled past her defender to net an off-balance jumper in the game’s waning seconds to seal the win for Indiana. Phillips went three-for-seven from the field for six points in the Fever’s Game-Two loss.
Photo Credit: Full Court Press/Teri Priebe

“I don’t know why we do that,” All-Star Cappie Pondexter said of New York’s ragged starts throughout the season that were rescued by late comebacks often enough to see the Liberty nose into the playoffs as the East’s final seed. “We just like coming from behind and mak[ing] the game interesting.

“But we don’t need to be the fourth-quarter team. That’s going to bite you in the ass. We don’t need that now,” Pondexter explained.

Photo Caption: New York’s Cappie Pondexter contributed 14 points for the winning side, but she got there on volume shooting. Pondexter netted just five-of-15 (33.3 percent) from the field and just one of her seven attempts from the arc (14.3 percent), though she did go three-for-three from the penalty stripe. Pondexter also added five boards, five assists and a steal.
Photo Credit: Full Court Press/Teri Priebe©

That attitude seemed to have taken hold team-wide, because the Liberty certainly didn’t need any fourth-quarter heroics to even the series Saturday. After the early sluggishness, New York went on a 30-18 run in the next quarter and then extended their lead in the second half by as many as 24 points before settling in for an 87-72 victory that sends the series back to Indianapolis Monday night at Conseco Fieldhouse to determine who moves on to the conference finals.

“I was more aggressive,” Pondexter said of the explosive second quarter. “The team needed a spark and I know they go as I go. I really wanted to force Game Three. I didn’t want the season to end and get ready to go overseas.

“I just came out and offered no regrets.”

The winner of Monday night’s game in the next best-of-three round in the conference finals could face the defending Eastern postseason champion Atlanta Dream, who could close out the other semifinals series 2-0 Sunday afternoon when the third-seeded Dream hosts the second-seeded Connecticut Sun at Philips Arena in Georgia.

“It’s the same scenario as last year but we’re on their home floor now,” Pondexter referred to the Liberty’s Game 3 win at Madison Square Garden in New York City in 2010 that ended the Fever’s defense of their 2009 Eastern title.

“But I think we’re prepared. We’re tough. We’ve proven we can win on the road throughout the regular season. Now we’ve got to prove it throughout the playoffs. We win or we go home. That has to be our mentality.

“If we want to win and bring a second round to our fans here, we have to fight.”

The Liberty had plenty of that Saturday, offensively and defensively to the satisfaction of Whisenant.

“I’m happy,” he said. “We felt we moved the ball so much better than we did our last game. We had 21 assists. That’s usually an indicator. We had 11 steals. That’s an indicator the defense is doing its job.

“Twenty-one assists is a sign we’re moving the ball,” he explained. “As I tell our players, we can’t worry if they go in or not. We know they’re not all going to go in. Just shoot good shots and we know they’re good shooters and we’re going to make our share. That’s what we encouraged our team to do.”

New York shot 50 percent for the game while Indiana shot 45.5 percent.

The Liberty were able to get to the line frequently, shooting 20-for-21 from the charity stripe, while Indiana went just 5-for-10 from the free-throw line.

“New York played with a sense of urgency, a desperateness and, of course, they did because if they hadn’t won the game, their season would be over,” Indiana coach Lin Dunn said.

“I do not think we matched it. I thought their overall defensive intensity, their attacking, pushing the ball was very high. I thought we had a chance there in the second half – at the end of the day the threes they hit early hurt us. Powell kind of broke our back with her threes. Pierson attacking the rim was tough for us.”

Photo Caption: New York’s Plenette Pierson streaks to the hole for two of her 15 points in the game. Pierson added three boards, three assists and two swats.
Photo Credit: Full Court Press/Teri Priebe©

“But their defensive intensity cost us some turnovers. They were all over us, they were very aggressive, and when you look at the stat sheet, they had 28 points from turnovers,” Dunn said. “But give them credit. They did what they had to do. Now we’ll go back to Conseco and do what we have to do.”

Photo Caption: The expression on Indiana Coach Lin Dunn’s face says it all, as she sits on the bench in the game’s waning minutes. Dunn and the Fever will have their work cut out for them when they return to Conseco Fieldhouse for a decisive Game Three on Monday at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.
Photo Credit: Full Court Press/Teri Priebe©

The Liberty defense hounded the Fever into 18 turnovers, many of which led to scoring opportunities. Former Stanford star Nicole Powell, who has the most familiarity with Whisenant’s White Line defense after playing for him with the now-defunct Sacramento Monarchs, had 19 points. In tandem with Plenette Pierson, Powell also defended Fever All-Star veteran Tamika Catchings, one of the candidates for the MVP award, who finished with a meager two points for the outing, though Catchings did grab nine rebounds for Indiana. Catchings was one-for-eight from the field and 0-for-three on three-point attempts, though the Fever continued to get productivity out of Katie Douglas, the former Purdue star who scored 20 points. Rookie Jeanette Pohlen from Stanford added 13 for the Fever.

Photo Caption: Katie Douglas, shown here defended by New York’s Cappie Pondexter, poured in a game-high 20 points for the Fever, but it would not be near enough with so little help coming from running mate Tamika Catchings.
Photo Credit: Full Court Press/Teri Priebe

Pierson had 15 points for the Liberty, while Pondexter finished with 14, Kia Vaughn scored 10 while Essence Carson came off the bench to notch 12 points in a balanced scoring effort.  Leiliani Mitchell went three-for-four from beyond the arc. The virtual total shutdown of Catchings brought several perspectives from Whisenant and Pondexter besides Indiana’s Dunn and Catchings herself. “Nicole Powell is a fine defensive player,” said Whisenant. “She’s not as athletic as Catchings. But she’s been in our system for several years and she’s learned to position herself on the floor. “I’m sure Catchings had an off-day. Catchings is a great player. Sometimes as long as her team is going well, she won’t push offensively. But I’m assuming she got nine rebounds, so she was still pretty effective. “And when they go small and Catchings [is] a power forward, Plenette [Pierson] was on her and Plenette did a good job guarding her.” Dunn observed, “‘Catch’ missed some shots she usually hits. We’ve been trying to rest her with that soreness in her knee. The knee is a lot better. She did do a good job on the boards. You just have one of those nights when the ball doesn’t go in the basket.” Pondexter offered another glimpse of what it’s like for most WNBA players this time of year after playing overseas when the WNBA is not in session. “Guys, you have to understand, we play all year around,” the former Rutgers all-American noted. “Right now, to understand, I know how she’s feeling because I feel the same way. “It’s a long seven months overseas and then you play an intense four months here with the best players in the world and it’s going to catch up to you. ‘Catch’ is a phenomenal player. No question in my mind she’s going to come out unbelievable the next game. But I think we did an overall great job of covering her. It was a great team effort on her. We keyed on her. We just have to make her have tough shots like she had today.” Catchings said of her own performance, “We wanted to win that first game so bad and then coming here we didn’t play with the same intensity that we had.”

Photo Caption: It would be a long and frustrating afternoon for the Fever’s perennial All-Star Tamika Catchings, who found herself stifled by New York’s Nicole Powell and Plenette Pierson at every turn. Catchings was forced to settle for just two points and coughed up a game-high six turnovers, though she did find ways to contribute, pulling down nine rebounds, also a game-high.
Photo Credit: Full Court Press/Teri Priebe©

“Personally, I feel I let everybody down. I’m going to play hard no matter what. I’m disappointed in myself. Defensively, I’m always going to do what I’m going to do. “I think it was definitely me. Nicole, obviously she’s been doing a good job, but for me and what I’m capable of doing, we have to do a better job and I have to do a better job making sure that I attack more,” Catchings said. “They’re throwing a lot of different things at me. My jump shot wasn’t falling. I’ll get in the gym tomorrow and get some jump shots up and get ready for Monday.”    

Originally published Sat, September 17, 2011

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Week: February 7, 2012
1 Baylor (31) 24-0 1 1 1 775
2 Notre Dame 23-1 2 2 2 743
3 Connecticut 21-2 3 4 3 710
4 Stanford 20-1 4 5 4 685
5 Duke 19-3 6 8 5 650
6 Miami (FL) 20-3 7 7 6 604
7 Kentucky 21-3 5 15 7 584
8 Maryland 20-3 10 10 8 534
9 Wisconsin-Green Bay 20-0 9 24 9 530
10 Ohio State 21-2 11 NR-RV
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11 Tennessee 17-6 8 3 11 476
12 Delaware 20-1 13 NR 12 434
13 Georgetown 18-5 15 11 14 379
14 Texas A&M 16-5 16 6 15 378
15 Nebraska 19-3 18 NR 13 309
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17 Louisville 17-6 12 9 20 276
18 Gonzaga 21-3 19 NR-RV
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19 Purdue 19-5 17 21 16 222
20 Georgia 18-6 20 12 21 202
21 Penn State 18-5 21 14 18 176
22 DePaul 17-7 23 18 NR-RV
23 Georgia Tech 16-6 22 NR-RV
22 104
24 South Carolina 18-5 NR-RV
NR 24 46
25 Vanderbilt 18-5 NR-RV
NR 45
Dropped Out: No. 24 North Carolina, No. 25 Kansas.
First-place votes: Total first-place votes received (if any) are indicated in parentheses following school name.
Others receiving votes: St. Bonaventure (22-2) 34; North Carolina (17-6) 19; California (17-6) 18; Florida Gulf Coast (21-2) 16; Middle Tennessee (19-5) 15; Texas-El Paso (20-2) 8; Texas Tech (16-6) 5; Brigham Young (21-4) 4; Fresno State (19-4) 4; St. John's (15-8) 4; Princeton (15-4) 3; Oklahoma (15-7) 2; West Virginia (17-6) 2; Kansas State (15-7) 1.
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Credit: Courtesy Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA). The weekly Division I Top 25 Coaches' Poll, sponsored by USA Today and ESPN, is based on voting by a Board of Coaches made up of 31 head coaches at Division I institutions all of whom are WBCA members.