PHOENIX, AZ — Liberty guard Epiphanny Prince finally found her groove behind the arc in New York’s 69-67 road win over Phoenix on May 23.
Prince shot 71.6 percent from the field and went 4-6 from downtown despite not making a single three in New York’s first five games this season.
Prince and center Tina Charles combined for more than half of Liberty’s points. Prince tallied a team-high 24 points, while Charles recorded a double-double with 22 points and 11 rebounds.
From the very beginning, this game belonged to New York. Although the Liberty were without veteran guard Brittany Boyd, who has been ruled out this season with an Achilles injury, New York has players to fill the void.
The Mercury’s starting line-up was obviously shortanded, after guard Diana Taurasi had to sit out of the game against the Liberty, to serve a one-game suspension after elbowing Stars forward Dearica Hamby in the back of the head.
Phoenix needed a playmaker, and they turned to veteran center Brittney Griner, to get them going. However, no one was able to accumulate any sort of vital signs for the dormant Mercury team.
The Liberty set the tone in the first half and after the game, and Charles said that was the team’s goal.
“The first few games, you know, I wasn’t really a factor, and my presence wasn’t really felt,” said Charles. “So I just wanted to go out with a mindset to just set the tone early, open things up for my teammates and just keep going.”
At the end of the first half, the Liberty led 44-34, and was shooting 41.7 percent from the field — and 44.4 percent from beyond the arc. The Mercury were shooting about half that accuracy, going 12-36 from the field and a paltry 2-10 for three.
The Mercury was unable to find the range from deep — it seemed Phoenix’s opportunities were endless, but the ball wasn’t falling in its favor.
However, the tables turned in the third quarter.
Griner and guard Yvonne Turner took their proverbial ice picks, and chiseled away the 15-point deficit, that the Mercury brought upon themselves from their abysmal shooting.
Turner’s right hand reverse shot immediately sparked a 10-0 run for Phoenix’s struggling offense. The Mercury began to take advantage of Liberty’s transition defense, which is still in the works, due to it being so early in the season and the team is still working on its rhythm.
In the final minute of the third quarter, Turner, who went 6-11 from the field, sank a tricky shot after going left and shooting with her right hand. The Liberty worked fast to get the ball back into their territory, and at the buzzer, Prince took a shot that was destroyed by Griner.
The Liberty led 55-52 leading into the final quarter. And the final stanza was full of action, as the two teams battled back and forth, working their magic in the paint.
New York center Kia Vaughn sank an easy right-hand hook in the lane to tie the game up with 1:30 remaining in regulation.
With the game knotted up, the Liberty’s royal star made the play of the night. Prince rose up and hit a jumper with 4.5 seconds remaining.
With their backs against the wall, Phoenix head coach Sandy Brondello called a timeout to formulate a play. But as her team set up for position, and the ball was inbounded to guard Leilani Mitchell, Brondello’s play didn’t go according to plan, as Liberty guard Sugar Rodgers negated Mitchell’s shot.
The Liberty barely escaped 69-67, ending the Mercury’s two-game winning streak. Despite Griner stepping up in the second half, it wasn’t enough for Phoenix. Griner finished with a team-high 19 points and six rebounds, six blocked shots and three steals on the night.
After the game, Brondello said she knows what Mitchell is a capable player and sees her becoming a major impact player for Phoenix this season.
“Obviously Leilani is a crafty player; she’s good at what she does,” Brondello said. “She can shoot the ball. She still impacted the game as well as all the other aspects.”
Although Liberty head coach Bill Laimbeer was proud of his team’s win, he said his team needs to get better at taking care of the basketball.
“[Boyd] was the person that we were counting on to really be our lead guard position. Now we got a lead guard, [Prince] did a very good job tonight but it’s something we’re going to have to keep working on all season long,” Laimbeer said.
New York continues its road trip in Seattle and is scheduled to face the Storm May 26 at 9 p.m. CT.
Phoenix will look to bounce back from this loss when it hosts the Dallas Wings on May 27 at 9 p.m. CT.