WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — Bill Laimbeer took his seat on the bench Wednesday night, ready to coach at the Liberty game. Only this time he was guiding the Las Vegas Aces and facing his former players for the first time since departing last October after five seasons in charge.
He had groomed an assistant to become the Liberty’s head coach. So Katie Smith squared off against her mentor for the first time.
Laimbeer’s Aces thoroughly outplayed Smith’s Liberty in the second half. Dearica Hamby paced a balanced offense with 17 points in Las Vegas’ 78-63 win at Westchester County Center.
“We just could not get in any offensive flow and knock down shots,” Smith said after a 4-for-24 showing from three-point range.
Smith won two WNBA titles playing guard for Laimbeer in Detroit. Laimbeer brought her to the Liberty to finish her Hall-of-Fame career in 2013 with the understanding she would join his staff in 2014.
“I have an appreciation for Bill,” Smith said.
The feeling is mutual. Laimbeer praised her knowledge and competitiveness.
“That’s two great traits for a good coach,” he said.
He’s also the president of basketball operations for the rebuilding Aces, who relocated from San Antonio. The Liberty posted the best record in the East in his final three seasons. It made the 2015 conference finals, but was one-and-done in the 2016 and 2017 playoffs.
“We got there and we couldn’t get over the hump,” Laimbeer said. “It was time for somebody else to have a chance, especially Katie. I brought her in here to take my place. And my wife said it got a bit stale for us. It was time to do something different.”
His Aces (3-7) won in overtime at Indiana Tuesday night, but they still had energy. They opened the third with a 9-2 burst for a 46-35 lead.
The lead swelled to 62-47 early in the fourth. Epiphanny Prince, playing her first game of the season for the Liberty (3-5) after a concussion, hit a three. But Las Vegas countered with a 10-0 run.
Tina Charles had scored 13 of her 19 in the opening 6:11. The Liberty led, 17-12. But the Aces responded and owned a 37-33 halftime advantage.
“The past few games, we’ve just been getting lucky,” Charles said. “We’ve just been getting by. I believe we needed this. We needed to get smacked around to know what it feels like.”