Liberty Drops Season Opener to Connecticut
The New York Liberty fell to the Connecticut Sun 77-63 in Sunday's 2008 season-opener -- a game that was much closer than the final score indicates.
The Liberty have traditionally struggled on opening day, and while a second-half surge had The Garden rocking, New York was unable to overcome an early deficit and is now 3-9 in season-openers.
The Sun got off to a quick 5-0 start before Janel McCarville scored four consecutive points, picking up right where she left off last year when she was named the league's Most Improved Player. "J-Mac" had four points, two steals and a blocked shot in the game's first five minutes before being forced to the bench upon picking up her second foul.
McCarville's foul trouble was a major factor in the game, as she was limited to just 18:29 minutes on the floor before fouling out midway through the final quarter. As a result, New York was outmuscled on the boards by a 39-22 margin, giving Connecticut second-chance opportunities that they constantly converted into points.
"We didn't put a body on anyone today," said Liberty Head Coach Pat Coyle. "We have to have carry over from practice, (players) one through 11, we didn't play well today. I can't stand up here and give you a reason why."
The Sun's Tamika Whitmore propelled her squad with 14 points in the first half, giving Connecticut a 36-26 lead heading into third quarter. From there, guard Lindsay Whalen took over, stretching the lead to 52-34 with a barrage of three-pointers before the Liberty regained their edge and fought their way back into the game.
During a remarkable 20-5 run in the second half, New York showed flashes of brilliance with the up-tempo, exciting style of play the team expects to showcase all season. The run spanned the final three minutes of the third quarter and the opening 2:26 of the fourth, and it was sparked by a suffocating full court-press defense that Connecticut could not solve.
"We're going to play with a lot of energy this year," said veteran Ashley Battle. "We are going to play an up-and-down game that will generate a lot of excitement. We are going to be a faster team defensively getting in the passing lanes, and we will push the tempo of the game."
After converting a pair of free throws, Tiffany Jackson kick-started the Liberty run by stealing an inbounds pass and finding Loree Moore, who took it to the hoop for an easy two. Following a defensive stop, Shameka Christon cut the score to 52-40 with a series of nice moves that put Connecticut on its heels.
The Liberty started the fourth quarter in equally impressive fashion, with McCarville scoring on a pretty move going up and under the hoop for a lay-up. After forcing an eight-second violation, Battle scored on a similar move before McCarville's jumper on their next possession brought New York to within four at 56-52.
Unfortunately, that was as close as the Liberty would come in a game they never led. While they came up short on Sunday, New York has many reasons to be excited for the coming season.
The Liberty's defensive presence was outstanding, forcing 20 rebounds while recording nine steals to go with three Connecticut shot-clock violations and one eight-second violation.
Second-year player Jackson, coming off a leg injury suffered during the off-season, was in top form on Sunday, scoring 12 points, grabbing three rebounds, making two steals and adding an assist in 24 minutes of play.
Christon, who averaged 14.7 points per game in 2007, equaled that total with 14 points on the afternoon and a trio of rebounds. Meanwhile, Moore played a solid overall game, scoring six points while dishing out six assists and six rebounds.
Because of the fouls, McCarville did not have an opportunity to establish herself as the force she will undoubtedly be this season. Although she was limited to just two boards, she still came away with 10 points, a pair of steals and a blocked shot in limited court time.
Three impressive rookies, first-round picks Essence Carson and Erlana Larkins, as well as Leilani Mitchell, all got a chance to experience their first basketball action as professionals.
"I was excited to be out there," said Carson, who had played for Rutgers. "We had a great crowd. They were very encouraging throughout the entire game, but unfortunately, we didn't come up with the win."
Mitchell said Sunday was a day she will never forget.
"It's always been my dream to play at the highest level," said Mitchell, "and this is definitely it. So I'm really just very excited about the opportunity."
New York gets a chance to even its record on Thursday, when the Liberty host the Washington Mystics at Madison Square Garden.
To score tickets, click here to purchase online, visit The Garden Box Office or call 877-WNBA-TIX.