WASHINGTON (AP) - Currently outside of playoff position in the Eastern Conference, the New York Liberty needed a strong start to the second half of the season. They used a strong inside game to get a much needed victory.
Kara Braxton scored a season-high 22 points, Cappie Pondexter had 11 of her 19 points in the fourth quarter and the Liberty again dominated the Washington Mystics in an 88-78 victory Wednesday night.
Plenette Pierson added 16 points, and Kelsey Bone had 15 points and 11 rebounds for the Liberty (8-11), who had lost four of five games.
Braxton made her first 10 shots from the field, including six in the first half, and finished 11 of 14 overall. Bone sank 7 of 9 shots.
``We played very well, but this game was about our center position,'' Liberty coach Bill Laimbeer said.
New York held a 56-26 points-in-the-paint advantage and outrebounded Washington 43-34.
``That's by far (Kara's) best game of the year along with Kelsey,'' Laimbeer said. ``Both of those players really stood up for us today in a game that was very important to us.''
Though Braxton modestly denied her importance to the outcome, she backed her coach's take on her performance compared to others this year.
``I concur,'' said a smiling 6-foot-6 center, sitting in the Liberty's locker room with ice packs draped on her knees. ``I feel like I tried to do everything I could do. If I messed up, I tried to do a 100 percent mess up. I'm proud of the team and the way we played today.''
Trailing 62-61 early in the fourth quarter in the back-and-forth game, the Liberty took the lead for good on Bone's jumper with 8:59 remaining. The basket started a 13-2 run, capped by Pondexter's 3-pointer with 5:59 remaining for a 74-64 lead. She also had nine assists in the game, which was watched by Wizards' star John Wall, who was sitting courtside..
Matee Ajavon had a season-high 20 points for the Mystics (9-9).
New York won four of five against Washington last season, including the last three. In the first of four meetings between the two teams this season, All-Star Ivory Latta and Emma Meesseman each scored 11 for Washington.
The Mystics stayed close from the free throw line, making 18 of 20, but shot an unsightly 4 of 21 from beyond the 3-point arc.
They also stayed a little close to last season's five-win form according to their coach.
``I thought tonight we saw some of the symptoms of the past a little bit,'' Washington's Mike Thibault said. ``Hopefully that's not true, but I thought we got out-physicaled tonight.''
The Liberty held a 12-point lead in the fourth as they improved to 3-7 on the road. Washington closed within six points in the final 16 seconds, but would get no closer.
``We can't continue to go back and forth with teams like that,'' Latta said. ``It's all about the defensive end. We have to do a better job of boxing out their post players.''
New York led after each quarter and 35-33 entering the second half. Braxton continued her interior domination with three field goals as the Liberty pulled ahead 45-38.
Ajavon scored seven points in the quarter to help Washington cut it to 59-58 entering the fourth, but New York stayed resolute.
``I think we came with a purpose today,'' said Laimbeer, whose team sits one-game behind idle Indiana for the fourth and final playoff berth. ``I don't think we came with a purpose last week for whatever reason. ...We took care of the ball in the second half and got some things done.''
Both teams played their first game since the All-Star break. Braxton feasted inside quickly, scoring New York's initial five baskets and the Liberty started 6 of 6 from the field for a 12-2 lead.
``That's just something we focused in on,'' Braxton said of the interior looks. ``We just needed more inside presence. I've been getting drilled on it the last couple of weeks. I just tried to do whatever I could.''
Washington, which only shot 28.9 percent in the first half and 36.4 overall, countered with a 10-2 run as the margin stayed within five points for the remainder of the half.