Rookies Impress as Liberty Fall in Preseason Opener

The New York Liberty kicked off their 2008 campaign with a preseason matinee on Thursday, falling to the Washington Mystics 58-52 in their third annual "School Day". While the result wasn't what the team was looking for, the Liberty were more than encouraged by the play of their two first-round draft picks, Essence Carson and Erlana Larkins.

The dynamic duo both made their Liberty debuts just 3:25 into the game, and immediately showed New York fans the bright future that lies ahead for each of them.

Carson, the seventh overall pick in April's draft, demonstrated her complete all-around game, finishing with eight points, four boards, and three assists along with one steal and one block. Her hustle and spirit quickly endeared her to the 12,983 in attendance, especially on a second-half play that saw her dive into the stands over the head of Liberty legend Teresa Weatherspoon.

"The fans are great with everyone out there," Carson said of The Garden crowd. "It's great to be able to play in the World's Most Famous Arena."

The former Rutgers star also noted that she has quickly become acclimated to the professional game just over a month removed from playing college basketball.

"I feel comfortable playing with everyone. We just have to work hard and in practice we have to do the little things to come out and play bigger," Carson said. "Everyone on the team makes me feel welcome, and I'm learning out there."

With Janel McCarville not expected to return from playing overseas until next week, and Tiffany Jackson and Jessica Davenport nursing injuries, Larkins capitalized on an opportunity for extended playing time. The 14th overall pick dominated inside, netting eight points on 4-for-8 shooting to go along with five rebounds and two blocked shots. She showed off a bevy of deft low-post moves, and on the defensive end harassed her opponent into bad shots while cleaning up on the boards.

"(Erlana Larkins) does a great job posting up and getting players on her back," said Cathrine Kraayeveld, who led the Liberty with six rebounds to go with eight points and a pair of blocks. "She is going to get a lot of and-one's and fouls. She is doing a great job in there."

Also impressing was newcomer Megan Duffy, a Notre Dame graduate who played her first two seasons with the Minnesota Lynx. The third-year guard, in her first season with the Liberty, kept the offense running with a good flow as she manned the point, finishing the afternoon with six points on a pair of three-pointers.

New York was buoyed by a strong defensive effort in the low post to start the game, recording four blocked shots in the first quarter alone. The Liberty limited the Mystics to just 11 points in the opening quarter, and continued to play tough defense throughout the game, forcing Washington to shoot just 32.3 percent from the floor.

New York started the second quarter cold, not scoring until Kraayeveld knocked down a lay-up off a beautiful in-bounds pass from Larkins with 6:04 remaining in the quarter. After that, New York went on a run, hitting shots on four consecutive trips down while forcing numerous turnovers on the defensive end to stretch out to a 27-16 advantage.

Leading the way was Lisa Willis, who connected on all three of her attempts from downtown. Scoring all of her game-high 10 points in the opening half, the third-year guard carried the Liberty to a 33-25 lead at halftime.

Washington shot out of the gate to start the second half by going on a 10-2 run that tied the game at 35-35. After that, New York went on a run of its own, starting with a strong lay-up by Larkins. On the ensuing Mystics possession, Carson showed her quick reflexes, snatching the ball out of her opposition's hands and making a long, full court pass right on the money to Erin Thorn to put the Libs up four.

After a two by Washington, Carson found Duffy for a high arcing three, and at the end of the third quarter, New York clung to a 44-40 lead.

The Mystics again started the fourth quarter strong, taking a three point lead over New York before Duffy hit another huge three to tie the game at 47-47. From there on out though, Washington got the fortuitous bounces, starting with a three that took a soft roll off the front rim, propelling the Mystics to an eventual 58-52 victory.

"We're ahead of where we were two weeks ago, but we're not where we need to be for opening day," said Head Coach Pat Coyle. "As far as the expectations, the expectation for this organization every year is to win a championship. Who knows what is going to happen, but we want to be better than we were a year ago."

The Liberty return to The Garden on Sunday, May 18, at 4 p.m. for their 2008 Season Opener.

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