Photo by Christine Troyke
NEWARK, N.J. — 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 Tuesday night against the Atlanta Dream (2-4) — a team that’s also struggling to find wins early in the season.
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.
Atlanta, meanwhile, lost its second straight contest. This loss, however, was shocking after Atlanta routed the Liberty, 100-74, on May 25.
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.”