Pondexter, Pierson lead Liberty past Dream 76-67

VIN A. CHERWOO (AP Sports Writer)
The Associated Press

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) -- Just two days after losing by 19 points at Atlanta, the New York Liberty were determined to make up for their poor performance.

Cappie Pondexter and Plenette Pierson scored 17 points each to lead the Liberty past the Dream 76-67 on Sunday, handing Atlanta its first loss this season. Kara Braxton added 14 points to help New York (3-2) improve to 3-0 at home. Leilani Mitchell, the Liberty's 5-foot-5 reserve guard, had a team-high seven rebounds, Pondexter added six boards and six assists, and rookie Kelsey Bone also had six rebounds.

''We were all disappointed as a unit in Atlanta,'' Pondexter said. ''The way we played there was no excuse. We were not happy. They got going earlier there and this time we definitely wanted to take that away from them. I thought Kara Braxton, Plenette Pierson, Bone, (Toni) Young, they all came out and did a collective job as posts to neutralize their two bigs. Kudos to them, they did awesome.''

Pondexter, 3 for 13 from the field through the first three quarters, scored 10 points on 4-for-6 shoting in the fourth.

''I just kept telling myself, 'No matter what, everybody struggles, just keep finding a way to get it done,''' she said. ''Inside, I kind of got going. I made a basket and things opened up offensively for me with my jump shot.''

Trailing by four points at the start of the fourth quarter, New York outscored Atlanta 25-12 over the final 10 minutes.

Young's jumper in the final minute of the third quarter pulled the Liberty to 55-51. Pondexter had a three-point play and Alex Montgomery made a layup with 8:10 remaining to put New York ahead one.

Thomas' bank shot gave Atlanta its last lead, 59-58, with 7:15 left. Braxton followed with a layup to put New York back ahead, Mitchell hit a 3 and Pondexter scored on a jumper to stretch the lead to 65-59 with 5:15 to go.

The Dream didn't get closer than four points again. Braxton made back-to-back layups and Pondexter hit a 3 to increase the Liberty's advantage to 72-61, their largest lead of the game.

''I thought we were a pretty sound defensive ball club,'' Laimbeer said. ''We cut off all the drives, took care of business with second shots in the second half. First half kind of hurt us, second half we got most of the rebounds.''

New York played without forward Essence Carson, who is out for the season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee late in the second quarter of the 75-56 defeat at Atlanta on Friday night. An MRI exam Saturday revealed the tear. The former Rutgers star, in her sixth season in the league, was averaging a team-high 17.7 points and 6.3 rebounds through the first three games.

Sancho Lyttle had 18 points and 11 rebounds to lead the Dream (4-1), who were off to their best start since opening the 2010 season with six wins. Angel McCoughtry scored 15 points, Tiffany Hayes added 13 and Jasmine Thomas 11.

Atlanta was missing head coach Fred Williams because of a dental procedure. Assistant Joe Ciampi took over.

''It starts with your offensive expectations and your offensive success. In that game, we got run-outs, we got easy baskets from breaking them down on turnovers and run outs, we rebounded the ball and got the ball to our hot hands. We had 20 assists in that game,'' Ciampi said. ''Today, we just didn't get it done, and credit New York - they took us out of our rhythm.''

After shooting 41 percent in the win on Friday, Atlanta was just 36 percent this time.

''We didn't make our shots,'' Lyttle said. ''We played the same defensive game, but we didn't make our shots tonight. ... We know better next time if we're not making shots we have to step up on defense.''

Katie Smith started in Carson's place and finished with five points on 1-for-6 shooting. Young, one of the team's three rookies, benefited from some extended playing time off the bench and finished with a season-high eight points on 4-for-5 shooting in about 10 1/2 minutes.

Laimbeer was pleased with Smith's defense on McCoughtry, who was limited to 4-for-16 shooting to go along with five of Atlanta's 18 turnovers.

''That's one of the reasons I got Katie Smith,'' Laimbeer said. ''She can guard anybody from the 1 to the 5. She wants to do that, she wants to get out there and stop their best player. She also sets the tone defensively for the rest of the players. If a 39-year-old plays that hard every minute she's on the floor, mentally and physically, that's going to demand that of the rest of the players also.''

After Pierson's finger roll layup gave the Liberty a 34-33 lead 29 seconds into the third quarter, the Dream scored the next seven points. Lyttle hit a 3, MccCoughtry had a jumper and Thomas added a layup to put Atlanta up six with 8:38 left in the period.

New York pulled to 42-40 on Pierson's layup 2 minutes later. However, the Dream pulled away again as Lyttle hit another 3 and then a jumper. After Pondexter hit 1 of 2 free throws, Armintie Herrington's jumper gave Atlanta its biggest lead, 49-41 with 4:16 left in the third.

Veteran forward Cheryl Ford, recovering from an injured knee, did not play again. Laimbeer said he expected her to make her season debut Friday when New York hosts Connecticut.

McCoughtry, Thomas and Hayes each scored seven points in the first half to help Atlanta take a 33-32 lead at the break. Pierson led the Liberty with seven points.

dental procedure. Assistant Joe Ciampi.

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