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West Wins WNBA All-Star Game


A basketball All-Star game that had some defense.

How original.

The first-ever WNBA All-Star game included that unique element Wednesday night as the Western Conference defeated the Eastern Conference 79-61.

"Our defense was about 300 percent better than I ever dreamed it would be in an All-Star game," said Van Chancellor of Houston, who coached the West team. "We were switching on screens. We looked like we had been working on defense for a long time."

Playing with purpose, the West limited the East to 35.1 percent shooting from the floor and led from start to finish. The task was made easier when the East stars lost Chamique Holdsclaw of the Washington Mystics, who broke the index finger on her left hand.

Holdsclaw was injured in the first half and did not return to the game after X-rays revealed the fracture. She will be re-evaluated by team doctors on Thursday.

"I think it was within the first three minutes," Holdsclaw said. "It was the first time I went in. Theresa Weatherspoon passed me the ball and Michele Timms tried to steal it and the ball just hit me dead on, on the tip of my finger."

Holdsclaw said she was in pain after the game but thought she would be able to play when Washington visits Charlotte on Saturday.

The game was a sellout and Madison Square Garden was packed with celebrities, from courtside regular Spike Lee to five members of the women's World Cup soccer championship team.

The West had a size advantage inside and made the most of it, outrebounding the East 48-36.

"There wasn't much we could do to combat that when you don't have size on your bench," said East coach Linda Hill-MacDonald of Cleveland. "The tallest player on our team was 6-foot-3. Next tallest after that was 6-2. We had three post players; they had five. There's not much you can do."

That left the West's Lisa Leslie, at 6-foot-5, free to roam. She scored 13 points and was the game's most valuable player.

The game included a full supply of layups and breakaways, 3-pointers and no-look passes.

But sorry, still no dunks.

There never has been one of those basketball exclamation points in the three years of the WNBA and even with the league's best players assembled, that didn't change.

Leslie had one in warmups, but nobody seemed to notice.

"I was pretty surprised," she said. "No one noticed because they weren't paying attention. It was a good one, wasn't it?"

The players were there to have some fun and there were plenty of grins all around. And a few floor burns, too, as the women lunged madly after loose balls.

The West led from the start, opening the margin to as much as 20 points and seeing it shrink to a few as two but never yielding to the East stars.

Leslie and Sheryl Swoopes led a 10-0 spurt at the start of the game. After a basket by Holdsclaw interrupted that run, the West upped its ealy lead to 17-2.

Holdsclaw's basket was the only one the East scored in the first 6 ½ minutes. Once the East got going, it cut the West lead to a single basket as Taj McWilliams and Shannon Johnson led the comeback.

"I've been down before," McWilliams said "I play for the Miracle. We tend to get down a lot. We don't believe in giving up. When we came in, it was two points at a time and we came back. We knew we were going to come back."

With 4 ½ minutes left in the half, the lead was down to a single basket at 31-29. Then the West took off again, as Yolanda Griffith and Leslie led a 12-0 spurt that included a breakaway by Swoopes with 17 seconds left in the half.

As she closed in on the East basket, it seemed she might try for that elusive first dunk. But she settled for a layup instead.

After a steal by two-time league MVP Cynthia Cooper, the West called a timeout with 0.9 seconds left on the clock.

"I thought we'd get a play set up for Lisa," Chancellor said. "If we had more time, maybe 1 ½ seconds, maybe she could get a dunk."

Michele Timms tried a length-of-the-court pass with Leslie poised underneath. But the pass went awry and Leslie had no chance for that bit of history.

In the second half, the West opened its lead to as many as 20 points and wasn't seriously threatened.

Natalie Williams of the West led all scorers with 14 points. Swoopes had eight rebounds and McWilliams had seven.

Notes:

  • The players received what league president Val Ackerman described as "modest bonuses" for participating in the game. "The proceeds of the game help us pay for the game," she said.
  • The league closed a city block adjacent to the Garden for a day-long interactive street fair.
  • Sears made a contribution of $25,000 to the March of Dimes and UNICEF in honor of Sheryl Swoopes, top vote-getter in fan balloting. Swoopes received 85,632 votes and joked that she thought the donation was going to the Jordan Foundation, a reference to her son.
  • The game was televised to 125 countries in 20 languages.

    ©1999 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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