Pondexter leads Liberty past Fever for 1st win
By VIN A. CHERWOO
NEWARK, N.J. (AP) The New York Liberty were fired up after a 23-point loss at Indiana the previous night gave them the longest winless start in franchise history.
Cappie Pondexter scored 25 points to lead the Liberty to an 87-72 victory over the Fever on Sunday night. Essence Carson had 16 points, Plenette Pierson added 14, Leilani Mitchell 13 and Kia Vaughn 10 for New York (1-5).
"We were extra motivated, everybody was angry," Pondexter said. "We finally got a win under our belt. ... We're happy about it. Winning changes everything."
The Liberty, who shot 44 percent (31 for 70), led by double digits from late in the second quarter until the Fever made a run down the stretch in the fourth.
After Vaughn's jumper with 6:20 to go put the Liberty ahead 75-58, matching its largest lead of the game, the Fever used a 12-2 run to pull within seven with 3:20 to go.
However, Pondexter scored nine points as the Liberty outscored the Fever 12-6 the rest of the way to seal the victory.
"I knew we weren't going to lose," Pondexter said. "We made a lot of mistakes in our previous five games, where we knew we had the game and then lost it down the stretch. ... But today we stuck together. I think that's a real positive. ... I think any (opposing) team would have lost tonight."
New York was 9 for 19 (47 percent) from beyond the arc and finished with 20 assists and 12 steals. After getting outscored by an average of 17.4 points in their first five games, the Liberty finished with their highest total of the season.
"We got back to what gives us a chance to compete with anybody in the league, and that is our defense," New York coach John Whisenant said. "Everyone learned from last night. ... We had even distribution of our scoring. When we play defense harder, our offense is better."
Tamika Catchings scored 19 points and Katie Douglas had 15 for the Fever (4-1). Briann January added 12 points and Shavonte Zellous 10.
Indiana shot 40 percent (23 for 57), including 7 for 19 on 3-pointers. The Fever also committed 22 turnovers, which led to 27 points for the Liberty.
"Give New York all the credit in the world," Indiana coach Lin Dunn said. "I thought they responded to the loss last night in Indiana. They came out very intense, very aggressive. Played probably the best defense we've seen all season, got in our passing lanes, jammed our cutters and we didn't respond well to their defensive intensity."
Trailing by 10 points after one quarter, Indiana pulled within three twice in the second. Catchings' 3 cut the deficit to 30-27 with 5:51 left in the period. Pondexter then made three free throws 17 seconds later.
January hit a 3 with 4:51 remaining in the second to cut the deficit in half, but Pierson made two free throws and Pondexter had a layup to push the Liberty's lead to 37-30 a minute later.
Carson made two 3s sandwiched around two free throws by Pierson to extend New York's advantage to 50-37 with 1:24 to go in the first half.
Zellous' two free throws with less than 2 seconds to go in the half cut the Fever's deficit to 53-42 at the break.
"They came out really aggressive and we didn't handle the pressure well," Catchings said. "As we continue to build on becoming a better team, every game matters. We went through our runs, they went through their runs, but they were able to fight through it the whole game."
The Liberty shot 50 percent (18 for 36) in the first half, including 6 for 11 on 3s. The Fever shot 42 percent (13 for 31), including 6 for 15 from beyond the arc.
Indiana committed eight turnovers in the third quarter as they failed to cut their deficit below 10 points. Vaughn's jumper with 1:51 to go in the period extended the Liberty's lead to 66-51.
DeMya Walker's driving layup with 6:47 remaining put New York ahead 73-56.
"(The win) feels awesome but it's a long season ahead of us," Pondexter said. "We just got to continue to keep going, staying positive with each other and just keep working."
Carson made a 3-pointer and Pierson had a layup to give the Liberty a 13-7 lead with 5 1/2 minutes left in the first quarter. New York then closed the period with a 9-3 run, taking a 24-14 lead on Pondexter's fastbreak layup with 2 seconds to go.
Updated June 3, 2012