NEWARK, N.J. (AP) After the New York Liberty lost their first five games of the season, All-Star guard Cappie Pondexter found herself in totally unfamiliar territory.
”Being 0-5, I never experienced that before anywhere in any part of my career,” Pondexter said. ”It was awful. I knew we had to turn things around.”
Pondexter scored 26 points to lead the Liberty to their second straight win, a 79-74 victory over the Atlanta Dream on Tuesday night.
Pondexter took it upon herself to carry the Liberty to the victory, making clutch shots in the fourth quarter. Her driving goal with 8:29 left gave the Liberty the lead for good and her three-point play with 4:36 left pushed the lead to 70-66.
”We had to refocus the last couple of days after we lost five in a row,” said Pondexter, who had nine points in the final period. ”It was just a case of me being aggressive. The important thing for us is to focus on what we need to do to win.”
Leilani Mitchell added 18 points in the victory.
”Of course, we knew we were a better team than 0-5,” Mitchell said. ”But it’s a long season and the league is so good. Any game could go either way. It was very frustrating to lose those five games, but we had to remain positive.”
Atlanta dropped to 2-4 after losing its second straight contest
Liberty head coach John Whisenant believes that the difference in his team is on the defensive end. Atlanta routed the Liberty 100-74 on May 25.
”We knew we had to defend better,” Whisenant said. ”We surrendered 26 points less than when they hammered us. We struggled with our defense in the first five games, but we were better tonight. This is the way we have to play to be successful.”
Angel McCoughtry had 21 points and 14 rebounds to pace Atlanta, while Aneika Henry had 14 and Sancho Lyttle 12 points for the Dream.
New York held Atlanta to just six points over the final 4:53 to secure the win.
”It was a tough loss for us,” Atlanta head coach Marynell Meadors said. ”We missed a lot of shots in the fourth quarter. Give the Liberty credit for playing hard. Our shots were there. They just didn’t fall. I also thought they shot the ball better with Cappie and Mitchell.”
The Liberty also received 15 points and eight rebounds from Kia Vaughn.
The two teams traded leads over the first three quarter. Atlanta led 62-61 heading into the final period. Pondexter hit a jumper in the lane after putting on a dribbling exhibition to give the Liberty a 63-62 advantage with 8:29 remaining and Mitchell made a long 3-pointer to push the lead to 66-62 with 5:56 left.
The Liberty lost their first five games before beating Indiana at home on Sunday to end the longest winless streak to start the season in franchise history.
”We’re playing harder now and with more confidence,” Mitchell said. ”We’re getting strong contributions from everyone. I think we’re a better team now.”