2005-09-09 / Sports

Liberty Torched In Clean Sweep As Season Ends

By John J. Buro

Indiana Fever guard Tully Bevilaqua, left, of Australia, battles New York Liberty center La’Keshia Frett for a loose ball during the first half of a Libery defeat in Indianapolis (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)Indiana Fever guard Tully Bevilaqua, left, of Australia, battles New York Liberty center La’Keshia Frett for a loose ball during the first half of a Libery defeat in Indianapolis (AP Photo/Darron Cummings) Gone are the hopes the playoff series with the Indiana Fever could be extended one more game. Gone, too, are any thoughts of a championship season. Perhaps, they were gone the moment it was known that Ann Wauters had broken the fourth metacarpal in her right hand in Charlotte on August 12.

Since the WNBA was formed in 1997, the New York Liberty has been one of its crown jewels. They’ve made the playoffs in seven of nine seasons and have played for the championship four times.

In 2005, however, their fans wondered which team would show up –the winners of five straight, the last three of which were played without All-Star center Ann Wauters- or the team that concluded their regular-season with three consecutive losses, before losing to the Fever in two straight. If anything, they had become very unpredictable. On four occasions, they won three or more; on two others, they lost three ormore.

Given that, 18-16 isn’t a surprise. Their .529 winning percentage was sixth in the 13-team league. But, at 8-9, they were tied for the third best road record. The flip side, of course, is that their 10 home victories were tied for the third fewest.

New York wavered around .500 for most of the season. They were 0-2 in May; 5-4 in June; 7-5 in July and 6-5 through August 27. On that day, they were trounced by the Fever at Conseco Fieldhouse, 75-50, in the season finale.

That game, in particular was slated to be a momentum-builder as Games 2 and 3, if necessary, would be played in Indiana; the Liberty would require every ounce of momentum, as the 21-13 Fever were a second-best 14-3 on their home floor.

But, with injuries to Wauters and Elena Baranova [right ankle sprain], Head Coach Pat Coyle was forced to alter her “8-man rotation” and, therefore, abandon any hope of competing.

The playoffs opened with New York, seeded third in the Eastern Conference, meeting the No. 2 Indiana in a best-of-three series. The Liberty was, ultimately, beaten [two games to none] in a quarterfinal round for the first team in franchise history. But, in both games, the score was tied in the second half before the Fever broke away with late runs. It was a quiet and inauspicious ending to a mediocre campaign.

The season, however, was highlighted by a series of personal milestones. The more significant thrills featured Vickie Johnson, who tallied both her 3,000th point and her 1,000th rebound, and the 2,000 point from All-Star guard Becky Hammon.

While, in retrospect, the Washington Mystics had scored the most on Draft Day with their No. 6 pick, Temeka Johnson; New York’s claim of Oregon forward Catherine Kraayeveld proved to be one of the timelier steals.

Kraayeveld, whom the San Antonio Silver Stars had originally taken in the third round, was waived on May 17. Subsequently, she became a very effective role player for the Liberty. She scored seven points or better in six of her last nine regular-season games.

The 6’4” Wauters, who missed the last 17 regular-season games and the playoffs a year ago after breaking a bone in her right foot, was averaging 13.7 points and 6.6 rebounds in 28 games this season. She was second in the league with a 54.1 shooting percentage.

Her loss deprived New York of an inside game. And, without a consistent inside presence to keep the opposition honest, Indiana was able to closely cover the perimeter shooters. It had become evident that this was Wauters’ true value to the team.

While her absence created one less option in an already stationary offensive set, there were many other reasons the Liberty were ousted in two.

The breaks that were required for them to advance never materialized. They didn’t have an answer for Tamika Catchings’ athleticism or Natalie Williams’ strength.

Tully Bevilaqua, the one player they could match up with, had an exceptional Game One. But, that contest, played on the Madison Square Garden floor, set the tone for New York’s ultimate demise.

Game Two merely cemented it.

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