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Liberty continues playoff push by beating Sparks

During pregame introductions before the Liberty's 88-79 win over the Los Angeles Sparks Friday night at Madison Square Garden, Sparks coach Jennifer Gillom allowed herself a quick giggle when the Liberty's children's version of the Knicks City Dancers started busting a move.

But when Cappie Pondexter put the Liberty ahead for good at 71-70 with two free throws with 5:59 remaining in the fourth quarter, Gillom was scowling. When those freebies turned into a 12-2 Liberty run to put the game out of reach, Gillom was downright angry, slamming her hand down on the scorer's table.

The home crowd of 14,307 sure was pleased, though. And Liberty coach Anne Donovan held her fist high when her defense forced a quick turnover after Janel McCarville's jumper made it 73-70.

Pondexter scored 20 points and McCarville added 15 to lead the Liberty, which had five players in double figures. The Liberty (13-11) has won six of eight and moved into a tie with Connecticut - a 94-62 loser at home to Atlanta on Friday - for the fourth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with 10 games to play. The Liberty hosts Connecticut Sunday afternoon.

"This was one of of those games where you have to grind it out," Donovan said. "We allowed them to play with us for three quarters, and in the fourth quarter, we really stepped up defensively."

Though the Liberty bench wasn't as big a factor as it was Tuesday, when it scored 41 of the team's 77 points, it still outscored the Sparks' reserves 18-15. Plenette Pierson spearheaded that charge with 14.

Every bucket counts during the playoff push, according to Leilani Mitchell, who scored 12 points. "Everybody knows the East is going to be a battle," Mitchell said. "We know we have to win our games, but we try to take it one at a time."

Said Donovan: "This is shockingly tight in the East. Some are gradually fading away, some are making their strongest push."

Count the Liberty among the latter group.

Notes & quotes: Former Liberty All-Star Sue Wicks, a Center Moriches product, sat in a front-row seat next to former teammate Teresa Weatherspoon.

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