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Liberty Touch The Sky Again, With An Epiphanny

Liberty host Tulsa this Saturday at MSG

(Photo by Marlene Amaya-Vazquez / Double G Media, LLC)

(Photo by Marlene Amaya-Vazquez / Double G Media, LLC)

 

It was Breast Health Awareness Night at Madison Square Garden and the first place New York Liberty (15-6) rode another big scoring night from Epiphanny Prince and ruined the return of former Liberty star Cappie Pondexter and the top scoring team in the league, the Chicago Sky (14-10) for the second time in five days, 84-63. The Liberty are now three for three against their second city rivals this season. The Sky was without the services of Elena Della Donne tonight after suffering an ankle injury and after her 33 point performance against Phoenix last Sunday afternoon, the Liberty knew they held the advantage.

New York came out pretty in pink but played with dirty, gritty determination. And why not? After all, they led most of the defensive categories. But early on it was offense for New York as Tanisha Wright and Swin Cash showed with the tough baskets and Epiphanny Prince left Sky defenders in the dust on more than one occasion. She came out with ten first quarter points and the Liberty shot nearly 65% from the field and led 26-17 after one.

“I had to scold her to shoot more,” Laimbeer admitted. “I asked her if she was bored. The game is so easy for great players like Prince. She sees everything and has all the moves. But I want more, I want scoring and she’s picked it up.” Even the returning Pondexter, who outscored Prince by one, could feel the difference. “Epiphanny Prince set the tone for them,” Cappie added. “She made some crucial shots and everyone else kind of followed suit.”

If you were to say at halftime that Tina Charles would have only two points and Pondexter would heat up for eleven and New York would be up by nine, they would take it in a heartbeat. The Liberty continue to forge their identity through their defense and balanced attack. This time it was Cash and Wright along with Essence Carson contributing points or rebounding or making stops.

“We’re a solid defensive team, we take pride in that,” Laimbeer explained. “That’s who we are, that’s how we play, that’s how we win basketball games.” Swin in particular explained why the Liberty are not complacent. “It’s the veteran’s job to make sure we keep this team from getting complacent,” Cash shared. “I keep telling the team to stay in the moment. As long as we keep working hard everything else will take care of itself.”

The Liberty ball movement was superb and their defense harassed Sky shooters. But the Liberty seemed to be rushing a bit and were not able to sustain the point output as they attempted to match the Sky blow for blow. But Head Coach Bill Laimbeer saw something that needed to be corrected coming out of the half.

“I told them at the half we can’t try to outscore them,” Laimbeer pointed out. “They have a lot of shooters and we have to clamp down on defense and that’s what carried us.” The Liberty bigs did just that as Carolyn Swords, Kiah Stokes, and even Charles neutralized Erika De Sousa, who usually has double digit lines against New York. “There is no one on this roster that doesn’t play defense,” Laimbeer said. “Tina Charles is playing defense better than any time in her career because of the peer pressure in the locker room and that’s a great thing to have because it takes a load off me.”

The third would see Pondexter continue to pound at her former team as she got up to fifteen points and helped close the gap to three at one point. It’s at this point that Laimbeer called timeout and re-focused his unit.  “We came out with no emotion and no energy,” Laimbeer said. “I told them I’ll go to the bench and get energy players right away unless they pick it up.”

Bill Laimbeer is pushing all the right buttons these days. He found one energy player in Candice Wiggins, who had not played until the mid-point of the third. She hit a three upon entering and grabbed five rebounds in the space of five minutes. Sugar Rodgers came off the bench and hit two threes and eight points in total and Stokes added six of her thirteen points to go along with her six rebounds and two blocks making it 38 points for the bench this evening.

But it was Epiphanny Prince (22 points) who hit large shot after large shot and New York was now comfortably ahead 66-49 going into the fourth.

“They all stay ready. No one pouts. They all know I have a playing time problem finding everyone the minutes they want or the shots they want. Winning cures a lot of ills,” Laimbeer snickered.

“We keep working on us,” Epiphanny Prince added. “We feel like we are clicking and playing good basketball right now so we just need to continue to work hard and get better every day.”

The Liberty closed out the game in excellent fashion. They did not let up and made another statement why they are a winning team now. Laimbeer has only to keep the reigns tight and his star guard motivated and we may just be seeing the future of the WNBA. Jimmy Smits and Fat Joe, celebrities in attendance tonight were certainly impressed with the brand of ball New York is displaying.

“Everything came so easy in the first half and you don’t want to lose track of your identity,” Laimbeer shared. “You can lose it so fast even in the course of the game. Once you do it’s hard to get it back.”

The Liberty host Tulsa this Saturday at Madison Square Garden minus Skylar Diggins.

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