In the late 1970s, it was "Welcome Back, Kotter." On Tuesday night at the downtown Minneapolis basketball arena, for the Minnesota Lynx, it was welcome back, defense.
The hosts held New York to 37 percent shooting, out-rebounded them by three, 33 to 30, and allowed only 14 and 13 points in the first and final quarters, respectively, to defeat the Liberty 91-69. Tuesday's victory snapped a five-game losing streak and Minnesota improved to 7-6.
"The first five wins, we were outscoring people, but when we lost, we had trouble scoring," notes Lynx guard Navonda Moore. Minnesota is scoring almost 82 points a game, but allowing opponents almost 80 points. "I don't know how we got away from it but tonight we got back to that base of what we have been stressing since training camp -- defense, defense, defense."
As a result, the Lynx tied a season-low in points allowed -- Chicago only scored 69 against them in a May 29 game earlier this season.
Guard Seimone Augustus offered another reason: "We trusted each other on the defensive end. In our past games, (there) wasn't (any) help side (defense). We get penetrated on up the middle and nobody was there to help.
"Tonight, you would see three or four people in the lane, swarming the ball whenever a player get inside. We contested the shots tonight."
In addition to crediting the players for the win Tuesday, Lynx Coach Don Zierden also gave kudos to Assistant Coach Jennifer Gillom. "Jen did a great job challenging our post players to play better defense, and they responded to that," he points out.
This, along with perhaps locker room quotes attributed to New York's Janel McCarville. In a published story in Tuesday's StarTribune on McCarville's thoughts about the Lynx not selecting her when she was in the 2007 dispersal draft. "I don't know if I have anything else to prove as to how they should have taken me. They (Minnesota) just didn't have faith in me after two years," McCarville was quoted.
"The motivation for the post players was (from) the comment (McCarville) made in the papers," believes Augustus.
McCarville didn't do much Tuesday to helped prove that Minnesota was wrong: she shot 2-for-7, and finished with four points in 27 minutes. While on the other hand, Nicole Ohlde went 7-for-8 for 14 points; Kristen Rasmussen added 8, and Vanessa Hayden-Johnson chipped in six points.
"Our post players had a lot of energy," says Augustus, who led all scorers with 21 points and nine assists. "Thank you, Janel."
When asked what he said to his team before Tuesday's contest, Zierden disclosed, "My pregame talk was if it means that much to get this (losing) streak over with, then you will get it done."
Minnesota outscored New York 2-to-1 in the first quarter, but allowed the Liberty to twice try climb back into the contest with a couple of runs, which ironically took place when Augustus went to the bench.
Says Zierden,"I was upset at when we took (Augustus) out early, and (New York) went on a four-point run, then I took her out the last two minutes (before halftime) and they went on a 10-4 run."
"We cut it to eight twice," says Liberty Coach Pat Coyle. "We didn't execute the way we needed to execute. They (the Lynx) took us out of our stuff."
"My message at halftime," continues Coach Z, "when we take Seimone out of the game, we can't go down 6-8 points every time. You guys got to step it up."
Zierden was especially pleased with Rasmussen's play Tuesday -- she and Nicky Anosike tied with a team-high six rebounds in her 21 minutes of action.
"She (Rasmussen) is a coach's dream," notes Zierden. "She is that one player that you can count on for (either) four minutes or 20 minutes. She gives you energy, defense and rebounding."
Now that the five-game skid, can Minnesota resume its upward climb into WNBA respectability?
"Nobody thought we've be 7 and 6 right now," says Zierden, adding that his young Lynx aren't quite world beaters yet.
"They got it done today -- now we'll see what they will do on Thursday (against Sacramento, their next opponent," the coach concludes.
Lynx Lines --
Early rookie wall hitting? A sportswriter asked me during Tuesday's game what is wrong with rookie forward Charde Houston. She was scoreless in Saturday's 72-65 loss to Houston, and made only one of three shots against New York.
Zierden said afterwards that the first-year player is going through the normal ups-and-downs most rookies go through.
"I think when she knows our game plan, and follows it -- sometimes she gets out of it, and she reaches, makes a careless turnover or a careless foul," explains the coach. "When she does that, we want to bring her back in, sit her on the bench, and teach her what is going on."
Houston is not alone -- Nicky Anosike, and even Candice Wiggins, sometimes exhibit their down times as well, says Zierden. "Nicky is a little bit ahead of where Charde is, but as a rookie, you are going to go through 3, 4, 5-minute stretches when you are not playing well. You have to do something positive.
"She played well in Detroit," he says on Houston's 16-point effort last Friday, "and she had a couple of rough ones. Hopefully she will come out (better) Thursday night."
Minnesota also broke a six-game losing streak against New York with Tuesday's win -- the Lynx last defeated the Liberty 64-60 on July 15, 2005 at Madison Square Gardens. It was the home team's first win over New York since a two-point victory on July 17, 1999.