By GERRY deSIMAS, JR.
Connecticut Sports Online
HARTFORD, May 24, 2001 -- Seconds after the final buzzer blared across the floor of the Hartford Civic Center and as the players from the New York Liberty and Washington Mystics shook hands following Thursday's WNBA exhibition game, former UConn All-American Rebecca Lobo looked up into the stands.
With a white Liberty towel over one shoulder and a large black brace on her left knee, she smiled, waved and soaked up the moment. The friendly faces brought a smile to her face. Lobo's play brought a smile to her coach and her teammates.
Lobo had four points and six rebounds in New York's 70-60 win at the Hartford Civic Center. Teammate Vickie Johnson had 14 points to lead the Liberty while guard Becky Hammon added 13 as New York finished the exhibition season undefeated (3-0).
Former UConn foil Chamique Holdsclaw (Tennessee) had 18 points for the Mystics while Vicky Bullett had 19 and Nikki McCray added 14. But Washington got little else offensively. The Mystics (1-1) trailed by as much as 22 points in the first half and never got any closer than six points.
New York, the two-time defending Eastern Conference champions, received a little bit from everyone. Speedy guard Grace Daley had nine points while forwards Crystal Robinson and Sue Wicks each added six points.
The crowd of 11,389 was boisterous in its support of the Liberty but saved its loudest cheers for Lobo, who missed the last two WNBA campaigns thanks to a pair of anterior cruciate ligament tears in June and December 1999. She received a standing ovation when she entered the contest midway through the first half.
"It felt amazing," said Lobo, playing in her first-ever game at the Civic Center. "What really touched me was seeing all the fans here to support our team and a lot of familiar faces that have been supporting me."
She scored her first basket of the game on a rebound basket in the lane, less than 20 seconds after she entered the contest. She had five rebounds in the second half. She had only three total rebounds in New York's other two exhibitions. She was 2-of-4 from the floor.
"Each performance has been a little better. This was her best performance so far," Liberty coach Richie Abubato said. "We need her inside to rebound. That has always been a problem for us. If she can rebound and play defense, we know she will score some points for us."
Lobo will work off the bench to begin the season. The interior rotation of Wicks, Tamika Whitmore and Tari Phillips carried New York to the Eastern Conference title and a spot in the WNBA finals a year ago.
"I take a lot of joy every time I get on the court, in every possession and in every minute I am out there," Lobo said. "I'm having a lot of fun with it."
"But it's time for me to get past just being happy to be out there and get myself to the be the player that I know I can be," she added.
Hartford was well known for its supportive crowds for the New England Blizzard in the ABL from 1996-99. However, only five Blizzard crowds were larger than last night's 11,389 attendance.
"I expected it," Liberty general manager Carol Blazejewski said. "We have a great following and this state has a great history for following women's basketball with the UConn women and the history with the ABL. So I'm not surprised."
What does this mean for a possible team in Hartford?
"That's a league matter," Blazejewski said. "I know they have talked to Boston in the past but that's a league issue."
The Liberty were second in the WNBA a year ago in attendance, averaging 14,498 a game while Washington was first in the league, averaging 15,000 fans a game.
New York opens its fifth WNBA campaign on May 31 at Miami.
"I relish these opportunities," Lobo said.
RIM DUST -- Washington's shooting was dreadful outside of Holdsclaw, Bullett and McCray. The rest of the team was a combined 1-of-15 from the floor. Still thanks to Holdsclaw and McCray, Washington cut the lead to six points with 8:01 left in the contest helped in part due to a technical foul called on Adubato for arguing about a call.
But Hammons sank a jumper at the top of the lane and buried a three-point shot in a span of 1:33 to reestablish New York's lead. Johnson added six points in a span of two minutes. ... Holdsclaw had a game-high 10 rebounds.
Liberty 70, Mystics 60
Washington (60) Page 1-5 2-2 4, Holdsclaw 6-14, 6-9, 18, Bullette 8-12 1-1 19, McCray 5-13, 2-2, 14, Burgess 0-2 1-2 1, Lewis 0-1 0-0 0, Washington 0-0 0-0 0, Mills 0-1 0-0 0, Miller 0-2 1-2 1, Anderson 0-0 0-0 0, Luz 0-2 0-1 1, Aldridge 0-0 0-0 0, Stocks 0-2 2-2 2. Totals 20-54 16-21 60
New York (70) Robinson 2-6 0-0 6, Wicks 2-7 2-2 6, Phillips 2-9 0-0 4, Weatherspoon 1-7 2-2 5, Johnson 7-11 0-0 14, Daley 3-5 3-6 9, Radunovic 1-1 0-0 2, Ferragut 0-1 0-0 0, Nagy 1-4 0-0 3, Ford 2-5 0-0 4, Hammons 5-8 0-0 13, Lobo 2-4 0-0 4. Totals 28-68 7-10 70
Halftime: New York 37-21
Three-point goals: Washington 4-15 (Bullett 2-3, McCray 2-4, Page 0-1, Holdsclaw 0-1, Burgess 0-2, Lewis 0-1, Miller 0-1, Luz 0-2; New York 7-16 (Hammon 3-5, Robinson 2-5, Nagy 1-2, Wesatherspoon 1-1, Johnson 0-1, Daly 0-1, Lobo 0-1). Rebounds: Washington 36 (Holdsclaw 10, Page 6); New York 42 (Wicks 8, Lobo 6). Attendance 11,389