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It’ll Be New York, Houston in the WNBA’s First Final

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In its dash to Houston for Saturday’s championship game, the WNBA--after a 28-game season of better-than-expected attendance and sometimes entertaining basketball--finally hit a pothole Thursday night.

The New York Liberty, in a surprise, hammered the Phoenix Mercury, 59-41, but it wasn’t the kind of basketball the WNBA had in mind when it signed those three national television contracts last year.

There’s no way around it, this was a stinker.

Phoenix was so bad that it turned a boisterous, rollicking crowd of 16,751 at America West Arena into a silent, late-game parade to the parking garages.

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This one should have been blacked out, played in a YWCA gym with a “no admittance” sign on the door.

Cheryl Miller’s team set league season-lows for poor shooting and fewest points. The Mercury was 15-for-67, 22.4%. The previous worst-shooting WNBA game was Utah’s 25% night against New York on July 25.

And Phoenix’s 41 points (it had 18 by halftime), was the lowest output since Cleveland scored 43 on July 12.

“Sometimes, you have nights like that, when you get open shots and they just don’t fall,” said New York Coach Nancy Darsch.

After a 15-4 start this season, the Liberty came into the playoffs having lost seven of its last nine, but Darsch, asked about playing at Houston in 48 hours, said her team may have recaptured the winning rhythms of June and July.

“Yes, it felt like it tonight--we had a lot of poise and confidence out there, like when we were 15-4,” she said.

New York’s pacesetters were 6-foot-4 Rebecca Lobo (16 points, nine rebounds) and 6-2 Kym Hampton (14 points, 14 rebounds).

They compounded Phoenix’s poor shooting by blocking out the Mercury’s big players, 6-3 Jennifer Gillom (nine points, seven rebounds) and 6-1 Toni Foster (seven points, five rebounds).

Gillom was 4-for-11, Bridget Pettis 2-for-15, Michele Timms (1-for-11) and Umeki Webb, 2-for-9. By halftime, Phoenix had made seven of its 37 shots.

Even Miller’s sideline histrionics couldn’t raise the performance level of her team.

Houston 70, Charlotte 54--Cynthia Cooper, the league’s most valuable player, scored 31 points as the Comets rallied to rout the Sting at Houston after teammate Wanda Guyton was injured.

The Eastern Conference champions trailed, 33-29, at halftime and the score was tied, 48-48, with 8:17 left when Guyton collided with teammate Tina Thompson and was hospitalized with a sore neck.

The Comets then went on a 10-0 run and outscored the Sting, 22-6, the rest of the game.


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