NEWARK, NJ - Cappie Pondexter could actually manage a smile. Not easy under the situation.
She sat in the New York Liberty locker room following Atlanta's 74-64 win over the Liberty Sunday at the Prudential Center. As determined and fierce a competitor she is, Pondexter saw a bit of irony in the situation, the reason for a smile.
"I wanted to come out aggressive and wound up fouling out," she said. "It was kind of weird; actually, the way the game went was weird is some cases."Pondexter had emotions of both disappointment and concern. Not simply for her performance but that of her team. On the afternoon she managed just 12 points on 4-of-17 shooting from the floor.
"They made some adjustments since we played them on Tuesday," Pondexter said of Atlanta.
Five days ago the Liberty knocked off the Dream 73-60 in Atlanta. Pondexter scored 14 points while handing out 13 assists. On Sunday, Atlanta coach Marynell Meadors of Atlanta was determined that if someone on the Liberty would beat them it would not be Pondexter.
The Atlanta defense exerted constant ball pressure. If Cappie beat a primary defender off the dribble, a seconday one stepped up. Pondexter had rare open looks or chances in transition. Beside the subpar shooting, the Liberty guard was forced into a seven turnover afternoon.
Leilani Mitchell took up the slack leading the Liberty with 16 points on 5-of-6 shooting from downtown. But as Liberty coach John Whisenant noted, Mitchell is 5-5 and relies on ball reversals and screens for shots. Simply, the Liberty did not have another threat besides Mitchell in the backcourt. And with Pondexter in check the Liberty managed a paltry five points in transition.
Plenette Pierson is a reliable player but unfortunately for the Liberty she will be out 2-6 weeks with a calf injury.
"She (Pierson) rebounds, is a good post defender and runs the floor," Whisenant said. "Losing her definitely hurts."
Kara Braxton (14 points 13 rebounds) and Kia Vaughn (12 rebounds) contributed but Pierson's absence was noticeable. But while Whisenant was lamenting the loss of Pierson, his Atlanta counterpart was thrilled over the return of Angel McCoughtry.
The 6-1 forward out of Louisville paced all scorers with 23 points while adding eight rebounds.
"We had difficulty without her," Meadors said of McCoughtry. "She played a really good game scoring and rebounding for us. I am proud of her effort."
Sancho Lyttle also turned in a solid performance scoring 19 points. The 6-4 forward showed versatility by grabbing 6 rebounds, knocking down a pair of three pointers and coming up with five steals for Atlanta, which improved to 5-7.
The Liberty fell to 4-9. Beside injuries and a defense neutralizing a very productive player, Whisenant has added concerns. The game itself was a microcosm of the Liberty season to date: inconsistent.
They outplayed the Dream in quarters two and four. On the other side, Atlanta owned the first and third.
"We gave up 26 points the first quarter," Whisenant said. "We have a defensive goal of 15-16 points allowed each quarter so that first one hurt."
The Liberty outplayed Atlanta the second half taking a 40-38 lead into intermission. As noted, it was all Atlanta in the third as the Dream came out the aggressor.
"We have struggled," Whisenant admitted. "But we as a team have not given up."