NEWARK, NJ - The whiteboard in the New York Liberty locker room outlined ten points of emphasis. The first one as written by assistant Lady Grooms, came as no surprise. 'Contain (Sue) Bird, A. Find her and B. keep her on the side'. In the waning seconds with Seattle inbounding after a time out and the Liberty clinging dearly to a two point lead, it was no mystery who would have the ball.
The pass came to to the the former UCONN star and one of the league's outstanding talents. Bird began to penetrate then pulled up for a foul line jumper. Essence Carson of the Liberty blocked the attempt. The ball was loose and the buzzer sounded before anyone could secure possession. The Liberty emerged a 58-56 winner.
Following the game, Carson relaxed in the Liberty locker room and discussed those final seconds . "I knew Sue (Bird) would get the ball," she said. "She hit a game winner recently. I thought I could get a steal (on the inbound pass) but wasn't able to. I knew they were down two so they didn't need a three point attempt. I knew she (Bird) would go for a two. I tried to stay in front of her and when she released gave her a little space so I could reach around and get a hand on the shot."
Carson did a great job maintaining a good defensive position yet allowing space to get between her and Bird so she could reach over the Seattle shooter and get a block without contact. The block was so clean not even Bird looked for a call.
Bird paced Seattle with 17 points, but none in the fourth quarter. "Essence Carson," Liberty coach John Whisenant answered as to why Bird was scoreless the final ten minutes. "Throughout the game we put different people on her (Bird). She's an outstanding player, an Olympic gold medal winner, but by keeping fresh bodies on her maybe her legs would tire in that last quarter." Getting the call was Carson, who rose to the challenge in the waning moments of the game. Maybe the Seattle star did tire a bit. In fairness though, she was defended extremely well and forced into a 0-for-5 performance from the floor that last quarter. A four point scorer on the night Carson blocked three shots. None bigger than the one that sealed a win improving New York to 13-9 as putting the visiting Storm at 12-10.
Carson starred at Rutgers under C. Vivian Stringer, a defense-first mentor in her own right. She has no problem buying into Whisenant's philosophy. "He (Whisenant) emphasizes defense every day in practice," Carson said. "We have gotten better defensively and he always tells us shots may not fall and when they don't your defense will be there for you."
The Liberty is sold on the coach's approach. As Whisenant said in post game interviews, Cappie Pondexter said to her teammates during one of those last time outs, "this is why we work so hard on defense in practice." The Liberty have gotten Whisenant's defensive message. Recently weeks and especially last night's win over Seattle are valid proof.