Long Beach sizzled, Portland flamed out.
That’s what happened in Game 1 of the ABL’s Western Conference semifinals at the Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim Friday night, the StingRays defeating the Power in a tough, physical game, 72-62.
The StingRays can advance to the league championship series with a victory Sunday in Portland, site of Game 2 in the best-of-three series.
The StingRays, in their second consecutive outstanding effort (they beat Colorado, 92-61, Wednesday), took Portland guards Molly Goodenbour and Elaine Powell out of the game and outscored the Power in all but the final quarter.
Afterward, Portland Coach Lin Dunn called the 10-day break her team got for winning the Western Conference title punishment, not a reward.
“We were flat,” she said. “We had no consistent effort, intensity or hustle. We’d lost our edge. I’m not sure our players realized how intense Long Beach would come out for this game.”
An announced crowd of 3,711 watched an intense duel between the ABL’s two best post players, Natalie Williams and Yolanda Griffith.
With Portland’s starting guards committing nine turnovers and scoring only 18 points, Williams had to shoulder an unbalanced burden. She scored 25 points and had nine rebounds.
Griffith bested her, with 26 points (making 12 of 13 free throws) and 14 rebounds. Her teammate in the low post, Venus Lacy, had 18 points and 11 rebounds, after frightening everyone when she crumpled to the floor gripping her right knee in the first minute of the second half.
She returned two minutes later, however, and helped lead a late third-quarter charge that secured the victory.
Long Beach, ahead 35-31 at the half, put a 10-5 run on Portland to close the period.
The StingRays continued that surge early in the final period, which Portland began with a 3 1/2-minute scoreless stretch while Griffith and Lacy increased the StingRays’ lead to 62-44.
“Our guards played great defense,” said Long Beach Coach Maura McHugh.
“Natalie [Williams] is so great in the post, she can catch even the bad passes. So our guards really had to pressure their guards and they did. We did a solid job on the boards too.”
Long Beach outrebounded Portland, 45-37.
“We gave ‘em something to think about for Sunday,” Lacy said. “But we need to keep this focus, not fall back, like we did against Colorado in Denver.”
Said Long Beach point guard Andrea Nagy: “We made sure we played the same kind of defense we did against Colorado Wednesday.”
The victory evened the season series, 4-4, and was Long Beach’s first by double digits.
With the Friday resignation of Colorado’s Sheryl Estes, seven of the eight coaches hired when the ABL began play in the fall of 1996 are gone. Only Columbus’ Brian Agler remains. Estes, under fire from her players, quit after going 21-23 and losing to Long Beach in the playoffs. The Xplosion was 25-15 a year ago.
Should Long Beach reach the five-game championship series against Columbus, Games 1 and 2 would be in Long Beach March 8 and 9 and the final three in Columbus March 11, 13, 15. Series dates involving a possible San Jose-Long Beach championship series have yet to be determined.
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Semifinals at a Glance
Portland vs. StingRays
* Game 1: Long Beach, 72-62
* Sunday: at Portland, 4 p.m.
* Tuesday: at Portland, 7 p.m*