Bria Hartley returned to New York on Sunday. But the Liberty put a bit of a damper on her welcome home party.
Led by Cappie Pondexter, who shot 10-for-11 from the field and had 21 points, the Liberty cruised to an 81-64 win over the Washington Mystics at Madison Square Garden.
The inside-out game envisioned when the Liberty paired Pondexter with Tina Charles worked to perfection. Charles was active in the post, drawing the defense in. Pondexter was lethal from the outside, drawing the defense back out. Add some tremendous spacing and ball movement -- they assisted on 21 of 30 field goals -- and the Liberty, which had been struggling, showed what it's capable of.
"This is a game we needed very badly," Liberty coach Bill Laimbeer said. "The energy level was phenomenal in the first half and that's what carried us. When you're that locked in, good things happen."
Hartley, a North Babylon product who was the seventh pick in the 2014 WNBA draft, shot 0-for-4 and had only two points in 21 minutes. She has led the Mystics in scoring three times this season, including a 20-point performance in a win over Los Angeles on June 1.
"There are going to be games where you do well and games where you don't do so well," she said. "I don't dwell on it and I just try to get better every time."
Hartley, Newsday's 2010 girls basketball player of the year and a two-time national champion at UConn, said she's still adjusting to the pace and physicality of the pro game but has used her speed to help compensate. Despite Sunday's struggles, the experience was memorable.
"It was cool to be back at home," she said. "To play in the WNBA at Madison Square Garden in front of friends and family was a dream come true."
Charles had 14 points and eight rebounds and Alex Montgomery hit three of four three-pointers and finished with 13 points and seven rebounds. Kara Lawson led the Mystics with 17 points.
The Liberty (3-5), which shot 66 percent in the first half, opened a 50-28 lead with 1:48 left in the second quarter after threes by Anna Cruz and Montgomery capped an 18-4 run.
"You could feel it, we had energy tonight," Pondexter said. "If we bring that kind of energy with our talent level, we have a chance to beat anybody."