Liberty Hold Off Minnesota to Move Above .500
The victory lifted New York (5-4) above the .500 mark for the first time in 2008.
Up by 13 points heading into the fourth quarter, Minnesota came roaring back and outscored New York 26-14 to set up the season's most dramatic game-ending moment to date.
With just over 10 seconds left on the clock, the Lynx inbounded the ball in the front court down by just one point. They immediately got the ball to Candice Wiggins, who led all scorers with 26 points off the bench.
The Minnesota rookie looked to drive to the hoop, but was cut off by Shameka Christon. As she drove right, Essence Carson came over to help out Christon, and as the two converged, Wiggins was forced to throw up an off-balance, 15-foot jumper that clanged off the rim, giving the Liberty an inspiring win.
"It was a great effort by the team on that play," said Christon. "We talked about it during the timeout to switch everything, and I think we did a great job. Essence did a great job of recovering and switching out on Wiggins to make her try to make a tough shot."
The final dramatic moments occurred after a mental error by rookie Leilani Mitchell gave the Lynx a chance to pull ahead.
After Minnesota's Anna DeForge drove to the basket to cut the lead to one with 18 seconds to go, the Liberty inbounded the ball and called timeout while still in the backcourt with 13 seconds left. With the ball in her hands after the break, Mitchell was unaware that the clock doesn't restart, and she was charged with an eight-second violation with 10 seconds remaining in the game.
Although Mitchell has been spectacular since taking over for the injured Loree Moore, the eight-second violation was a gaffe for which she took full responsibility.
"I just wasn't aware of how much time was left," Mitchell said. "It's my fault, and I take full responsibility for it"
Liberty Head Coach Pat Coyle disagreed, saying she herself should have been aware of it and alerted her team.
"I take responsibility for that," Coyle said after the game. "They bailed me out. That's on me."
Still, taken out for defensive purposes, Mitchell was on the edge of her seat during the Liberty's final defensive stand.
"I was extremely nervous," she said. "It was at such a huge point, but they pulled it out at the end and covered for me."
The Liberty started the game strong, staking themselves to a 27-18 lead at the end of the first quarter behind Christon and Cathrine Kraayeveld. Christon scored eight points on 3-for-4 shooting, while Kraayeveld added seven on a perfect 3-for-3 from the field. New York was also perfect from behind the arc in the first quarter, knocking down all four of their attempts.
The Liberty finished the match with four players scoring in double figures for the fifth time this season, led by Christon and Kraayeveld with 13 points each. Christon, the Liberty's leading scorer on the season at 14.8 points per game, also chipped in three rebounds and four assists. Kraayeveld, meanwhile, finished the night with seven boards, three assists and one steal.
In the middle, Janel McCarville followed up her breakout game in Atlanta with another solid performance. She knocked down 12 points along with seven boards, four assists and two blocked shots, including a vicious rejection on a second-quarter Lynx fast break that electrified The Garden.
Coming off the bench, Tiffany Jackson continued her fine season. She scored 11 points in addition to pulling down seven boards and dishing two assists.
Lisa Willis also contributed off the bench, scoring eight points along with two steals and one rebound. She recorded the fourth four-point play in Liberty franchise history during the first quarter with 40.2 seconds remaining on a 22-foot jump shot. Nearly four years had passed since last time a New York player converted a four-point play -- Crystal Robinson on Sept. 2, 2004, vs. Charlotte.
At the end of the night, Coyle was ecstatic to have her team up over the .500 mark.
"I think playing with a rookie backcourt in a league that is very tough to win we are in a good position," said Coyle. "With Leilani at the point guard position we are 3-1. That's not to say we don't miss Loree Moore, but playing with a rookie backcourt and having a record above .500 says a lot about this team."
The players were equally happy.
"It feels great," said Christon. "Especially doing this at home. I think it was Erin Thorn's pregame speech, saying 'Hey let's just go out and get over .500 and do it at home.' It was inspiring."
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