WNBA's East stars lose again, but win respect

19,487 watch underdogs take lead with 1:10 left before West rallies, 81-76

July 16, 2002|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - All the Eastern Conference wanted in last night's WNBA All-Star Game was to keep things close enough to make the Western Conference nervous. After all, the West had won all three previous games without managing to break a sweat.

With a sellout MCI Center crowd behind it, the East's players finally pushed the West hard - dictating the tempo, flexing their muscle and grabbing a lead with 1:10 to play.

But the Western stars, with a little moxie, some generous officiating and another Most Valuable Player performance by Lisa Leslie, wriggled off the hook, winning, 81-76, before 19,487, a league All-Star record.

The West, which has won all five league championships, called upon its big-game experience as Houston forwards Tina Thompson and Sheryl Swoopes, who have combined to win four titles, sank six free throws, all in the final minute, as the West held the East scoreless during that time.

"It was fun. I'm glad it was a close game, so we could give the fans exactly what they wanted." Swoopes said.

Not exactly. The fans wanted an Eastern win, and in a fashion more akin to All-Star games played in Philadelphia, booed Leslie, the star center of the league champion Los Angeles Sparks, who won her third straight Most Valuable Player award with 18 points and an All-Star Game record of 14 rebounds.

The fans thought they had just that, when, with the East leading 76-75, New York Liberty center Tari Phillips was called for a foul on a block of Thompson. Replays indicated that Phillips, who later fouled out, got a clean block.

"You know how it is." said Teresa Weatherspoon, Phillips" New York teammate. "Calls down the stretch. Calls down the stretch, man. That was a good block man. That was a good block. I'm mad they took my teammate's block away. But I had a wonderful time."

For a change, the Eastern stars seemed to be on the way to achieving the measure of respect that a win could give. After falling behind by as many as 15 points in the first half, the East forged a 40-40 tie at halftime.

"The West just came out from the get-go." said Indiana rookie forward Tamika Catchings, who led the East with 12 points. "We turned the ball over way too much at the beginning, but once we were able to settle in, we pulled the ball back. We were tied at halftime, after being down 15. We came back and we could have won it, but the turnovers killed us in both halves."

But what the East couldn't do offensively, it achieved defensively, forcing 17 turnovers and taking the West out of the run-and-gun style it wanted to play.

"They [the East] played very well." said Leslie. "They decided that they were going to play physical. They were not trying to do any show-time moves. They played hard and executed. When they got fast breaks, they selected and finished their shots. We were happy it was a competitive game, because we"ve blown them out so many times."

Said Weatherspoon: "We climbed out of the hole and we got the lead. We were fine. We wanted to win. All the desire to win, defense, stops, it all came out. It got physical."

But ultimately, the East was unable to convert in the final 1:08 after Charlotte guard Andrea Stinson's lay-up. Swoopes, who missed a free throw at the 3:05 mark, hit two foul shots with 18.7 seconds and Thompson, who had a game-high 20 points, hit her final foul shots with 4.1 to go to ice the win.

"I had missed one prior to that, and when I went to the line, I said I am not going to miss this one, because if I do, everyone's going to come to me and say, "Sheryl, what happened?" I just stepped up there and knocked it down."

Said Catchings: "That's what you want. Those are the games that you want to be in, where it comes down to the wire and you don't know what's going to happen. Unfortunately, we couldn't pull it out, but it was good to be in that situation."

West All-Stars 40 41 - 81

East All-Stars 40-36 - 76

WEST-Swoopes 4-12 3-4 11, Thompson 7-16 5-6 20, Leslie 6-13 6-10 18, Penicheiro 1-1 0-0 2, Bird 1-8 0-0 2, Dixon 2-6 0-0 5, Jackson 6-11 1-1 15, Smith 2-4 0-0 4, Goodson 0-2 0-0 0, Mabika 1-5 0-0 2, Marie.Ferdinand 1-3 0-0 2. Totals 31-81 15-21 81.

EAST-Catchings 4-12 2-2 12, Stinson 3-10 2-2 9, Phillips 1-9 2-2 4, Weatherspoon 2-3 0-0 4, Staley 2-5 0-0 4, S. Johnson 2-7 0-0 6, Sales 3-11 3-3 9, Sam 3-9 0-0 7, Sutton-Brown 3-5 3-4 9, Taylor 4-8 1-1 9, Dales-Schuman 1-5 0-0 3. Totals 28-84 13-14 76.

3-point goals-West 4-22 (Jackson 2-3, Thompson 1-3, Dixon 1-3, Leslie 0-1, Swoopes 0-1, Goodson 0-1, Smith 0-2, Mabika 0-3, Bird 0-5), East 7-27 (Catchings 2-5, S. Johnson 2-6, Dales-Schuman 1-3, Stinson 1-4, Sam 1-4, Weatherspoon 0-1, Sales 0-2, Taylor 0-2). Fouled out- Phillips. Rebounds-West 64 (Leslie 14), East 49 (Phillips 10). Assists-West 18 (Bird 7), East 16 (Staley 5). Total fouls-West 13, East 20. A-19,487.

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