Looking to create some defensive consistency and win back-to-back games for only the second time this year, the New York Liberty open a road-heavy stretch of schedule Sunday against the Atlanta Dream.
New York (4-7) is far and away the worst team in the WNBA defensively, yielding a league-worst 85 points per game while ranking last in the league in defensive field goal percentage (43.8). The Liberty have held only two teams below 70 points, but the second instance took place Friday night in defeating the Dallas Wings 69-68.
Reshanda Gray's tiebreaking free throw with 24.4 seconds to play proved to be the game's final point as New York's defense forced Wings rookie Arike Ogunbowale to miss two potential game-winning shots in the closing seconds. The Liberty hounded the No. 5 overall pick into a 2-for-23 effort - the worst of any player to take at least 20 shots in league history according to STATS - as they limited the Wings to 32.8 percent shooting.
Gray finished with 13 points and a career-high 11 rebounds to lead a balanced scoring effort from New York's starting five, who accounted for all but three of the team's points. It was also a bittersweet win of sorts for Gray as Liberty assistant coach Charmin Smith - who coached her as a collegian at Cal - is returning to her alma mater as Bears head coach.
''Go Bears!'' Gray told The Associated Press. ''Charmin saw me from when I was a freshman to playing in this league. I wanted her to go out with a win.''
Channeling this kind of defensive effort on the road would be beneficial for the Liberty, who are 1-3 outside New York while yielding 91.5 points per game and play eight of their next 11 on the road. Their lone back-to-back wins came at home over Las Vegas and Minnesota on June 9 and 12.
Atlanta (2-7) is on the other end of the spectrum as one of the league's worst offenses, ahead of only Dallas in scoring at 71.4 points per game and overall shooting at 38.1 percent. The Dream continue to sorely miss guard Angel McCoughtry as she recovers from a torn ACL suffered last season and have dropped back-to-back contests against the league's best following an 89-73 home loss to Washington last Sunday.
Tiffany Hayes scored 18 points and Monique Billings added 10 and 14 rebounds off the bench, but the Dream's offensive woes caught up with them in the third quarter - they were outscored 28-7 as a three-point halftime lead became an 18-point deficit as they made only one basket.
"We won three of the four quarters today," Dream coach Nicki Collen told the team's official website. "If you eliminate one bad quarter, I thought we played really good basketball. … Disappointed with the result. We can't forget there's four quarters in a game, and three isn't good enough to win in this league. It's a matter of us continuing to get better and turning three good quarters into four."
Hayes did hit a career-high four 3-pointers as Atlanta shot 42.9 percent (9 for 21) from beyond the arc, well above their season mark of 30.4 percent. Hayes is 10 for 20 from deep in her last three games and has averaged 19.3 points in that span.
Atlanta won the final two meetings between the team's last year as Renee Montgomery totaled 54 points in the victories, including 30 in an 86-77 victory at New York in the most recent matchup Aug. 12.