The New York Liberty used a big run at the end of last season to return to the playoffs, where they almost pulled off a major upset. This year, they are looking to return the proud franchise to its glory days.
The Liberty open their 2008 season on Sunday at Madison Square Garden when they take on the Connecticut Sun.
New York went 16-18 a year ago, but won six of its final nine games to get back into the postseason after a one-year absence. The Liberty beat top-seeded Detroit by 22 points in Game 1 before suffering two tough road losses to lose the series.
The Liberty gelled late because of the emergence of Janel McCarville, who was named the league's most improved player. She started the final 21 games for New York, which has even greater expectations after nearly advancing in the playoffs last year.
"The expectation for this organization every year is to win a championship," Liberty coach Pat Coyle said. "Who knows what is going to happen, but we want to be better than we were a year ago."
New York has never won a WNBA title, but reached the finals in four of the league's first six seasons. The Liberty have been through some painful rebuilding since, including a franchise-worst 11-23 record in 2006, but they believe those days are over.
"I see the blue-collar mentality of this group like I did the Liberty of old," said general manager Carol Blazejowski, a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame. "I see the competitive spirit of a lot of these players that I did of years ago. Different day, different age, different athleticism and players, but it's those intangibles that get you closer to the championship."
While New York will again count on stalwarts such as Shameka Christon and Loree Moore, it has added a pair of talented rookies to the mix. Rutgers guard Essence Carson and North Carolina forward Erlana Larkins were both selected in the first round, adding even more depth to one of the league's strongest benches.
The Liberty and Sun (1-0) split four meetings last season after New York lost the previous four matchups. The Sun have won four of their last five games at Madison Square Garden.
Connecticut opened its season with a 100-68 home win over expansion Atlanta on Saturday. Tamika Whitmore, who played her first five seasons with New York, had 22 points and 10 rebounds while Asjha Jones added 18 points.
Rookie Amber Holt had just four points in her Sun debut. Holt has been installed as the new starter at shooting guard with the free-agent departure of Katie Douglas - the Sun's leading scorer last year - to her hometown Indiana Fever.