Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Development of role players key for Liberty during eight-game win streak

Lindsay Allen may not be Liberty's leading scorer, but Notre Dame alum is one of several integral role players for head coach Bill Laimbeer as New York pushes toward postseason. (Photo by Ray Floriani/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

By Ray Floriani (@rfloriani)

NEW YORK -- Bill Laimbeer would have a restful night Sunday. A 30-point victory will do that, not that the New York Liberty coach expected as much.

Laimbeer believed his team would defeat the Chicago Sky at Madison Square Garden. The expectations, though, were not of a superlative 92-62 dismantling of a team that gave them their last home loss back on July 14. The thing that has Laimbeer in a serene state of mind is the play of his bench.

Laimbeer knows as well as anyone how important bench play becomes as a team attempts to advance through the playoff rounds. Having good players in reserve is a key. Having those players buy into your philosophy and accepting their roles is an undeniably special trait. The Liberty have it.  
In the aftermath of their eighth straight win and 20th overall, Liberty players were asked what they may improve on with the playoffs on the horizon. To a player, they spoke not of offense, understandable after racking up 92 points. Rather, the focus; in typical Laimbeer fashion, was defense and rebounding, how they continue to get better day to day in both areas. The term “lockdown defense” was used quite a bit.

The Liberty players could not help making reference to the bench play that Laimbeer spoke of during his postgame meeting with the media. “The takeaway from today’s game is we can give a lot of people good minutes,” he said. “Every one of our bench players is ready every minute when they get the call.” For the game, the Liberty bench scored 43 of the team’s 92 points. Rebounding-wise, the reserves outdid the starters on the boards by a 30-16 count.

Bria Hartley has been a starter at guard. She has energized an uptempo attack, playing no small part in the team’s recent turnaround and winning streak. Her insertion into the lineup has moved Sugar Rodgers to a reserve role, a role the former Georgetown star relishes and fulfills in an excellent manner. On the afternoon, Rodgers scored seven points, grabbed seven rebounds, and handed out six assists. She played no small part in limiting the Allie Quigley- Courtney Vandersloot backcourt of Chicago to just eight points on 3-of-13 shooting. Kiah Stokes produced a 10-point, 10-rebound double-double. Rebecca Allen added nine while a pair of bigs, Amanda Zahui B. and Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe, added eight and seven, respectively. The contributions are impressive, yet exceed mere numbers.

“Our bench does their weight lifting and condition,” Laimbeer said. “They work hard in practice on a daily basis. It was great to give them minutes today. They genuinely had fun out there and played well.”

The experience could also pay dividends in the WNBA second season.

“Your bench is so important,” Rodgers reiterated. “In the playoffs, someone could get hurt, you could have foul trouble -- a number of things can happen. If you have players that are tested in reserve, that’s big.”

Lindsay Allen, a second-round draft pick out of Notre Dame this spring, scored two points with four assists and two steals in a 16-minute performance. She provides Laimbeer with yet another backcourt option. Allen spoke of sharing the ball on offense, working on defensive assignments, and getting better at the little things. The 5-foot-8 guard agreed on the importance of bench play throughout the season and its vitality in the playoffs. For her part, Allen is just going out, playing hard as she can. The same can be said for all the Liberty players waiting in the wings and enthusiastically answering Laimbeer’s call.

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