Liberty 93, Mystics 88
NEWARK, N.J. (AP)
New York reserve guard Alex Montgomery was feeling a little down about her play after scoring just two points in a recent lopsided loss to the Connecticut Sun.
So Liberty coach Bill Laimbeer offered some advice.
''I told her to just shoot the ball and be instinctive out there,'' Laimbeer said.
Montgomery listened and scored a career-high 21 points to help New York rally for a 93-88 win Tuesday against the Washington Mystics.
''When I'm not knocking down my shots, I tend to put my head down and get down on myself,'' said Montgomery, a second-year pro from Georgia Tech. ''When he told me that, I just wanted to do anything I could to help the team. He told me to knock down my shots and be aggressive. That's what I did.''
Montgomery, who scored 13 points in the second quarter, helped the Liberty (9-12) overcome a 14-point deficit early in the fourth quarter. She finished 8 of 15 from the field with five rebounds.
Montgomery's previous career high was 13 points.
''She's still learning what she can do in this league,'' Laimbeer said. ''Maybe this can be a breakthrough performance for Alex.''
Cappie Pondexter, who also scored 21 points, agreed.
''She can be a good scoring threat for us,'' said Pondexter, who had 10 points in the fourth, when New York outscored Washington 31-17. ''It's what we need if we're going to make a playoff push. As long as Alex is aggressive, she's going to make those shots. She definitely came in focused.''
New York trailed 79-65 in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter. Kara Braxton, who scored 16 points on 7-for-7 shooting, gave the Liberty the lead for good, 85-84, on a layup with 2:43 left.
The Liberty moved ahead of Washington into fourth place in the Eastern Conference and snapped a three-game home losing streak.
Crystal Langhorne scored a game-high 24 points and had 11 rebounds for the Mystics (9-13), while Matee Ajavon added 13 points. Washington lost for the fourth straight game, including an 88-78 home loss to the Liberty on July 31.
Mystics coach Mike Thibault, who took over this season after 10 years and eight playoff appearances with the Connecticut Sun, was angered by his team's performance down the stretch.
''I've been coaching for 40-something years and I never saw that many bad plays in a short period of time,'' Thibault said. ''I'm at my limit right now. We went a whole year last year in Connecticut without losing two in a row. I'm not used to this. It's all mind boggling to me.''
Pondexter cut Washington's lead to 46-45 at halftime by driving the length of the court.
The Mystics scored the last eight points of the third quarter for a 71-62 lead, capped by a jumper by former Liberty player Kia Vaughn.
Then New York rallied in the fourth to overcome a 14-point deficit. The Liberty went on a 9-0 run, helped by a 3-pointer from Pondexter, to trail 79-74 with six minutes left. Langhorne, who finished 10 of 14 from the field, interrupted the spurt with a basket.
Montgomery and the Mystics' Ivory Latta traded 3-pointers, and the Liberty's Plenette Pierson, who finished with eight points and 10 assists, added a basket to cut the deficit to 84-79. She fed Braxton for a basket and the 85-84 lead.
Pierson added a left-handed layup to give the Liberty a three-point advantage, and Pondexter helped seal the win by making four free throws in the final minute.
The top four teams in the East advance to the WNBA playoffs. The win gives New York a half-game lead on the Mystics.
''I think we can turn things around,'' Pondexter said. ''Instead of taking our anger out on each other, we made big plays down the stretch. When we have that kind of mentality, we can play with anyone.''