East aims to notch first All-Star win

Updated: July 9, 2005, 5:16 PM ET
Associated Press

UNCASVILLE, Conn. -- Alana Beard is brimming with confidence and doesn't mind telling anyone.

The second-year player for the Washington Mystics will make her first WNBA All-Star Game appearance Saturday (ABC, 4 p.m. ET) and fully intends to be on the first East squad to win the showcase game. The West has won all five previous meetings.

MORE ALL-STAR COVERAGE
The 2005 WNBA All-Star Game will be played at Mohegan Sun Arena at 4 p.m. ET (ABC) on July 9.

Click on the following links for more coverage:

• ESPN.com's complete coverage
• Mystics' Beard promises East's first win
• Thibault, Sun seek respect
• Voepel: And along came loyal fans
• Midseason awards: Lieberman | Voepel
• Lieberman: Whalen omission 'absurd'
• Lieberman: Popularity vs. productivity
• Starters | Reserves
• Lieberman: My All-Star ballot
• WNBA.com's All-Star coverage
• Rosters | History | Tickets
"We're definitely going to make it 1-5. They don't have anything on us,'' said Beard, the former Duke All-American. "The West has great players but we have better players. You just tell them that.''

Did you hear that Lisa Leslie? Yo, Yolanda Griffith, is this finally the East's year?

"We don't like to lose,'' Griffith said Friday.

The Sacramento forward is in her fifth All-Star Game, and while Griffith acknowledges the league continues to grow more competitive, she's not about to concede the All-Star crown anytime soon. Especially not before a partisan East crowd at the Mohegan Sun arena, home of the 2004 Eastern Conference champion Connecticut Sun.

A few hundred fans showed up Friday afternoon to watch practice and an East vs. West skills conference.

"It's about having fun, but we also take it very seriously and tomorrow, I'm going to say it's a must win,'' Griffith said.

She and Leslie are two of the biggest reasons the West has dominated the midseason game. Leslie, of Los Angeles, is the league's leading career scorer (4,448 points) and rebounder with 2,398 boards. Griffith is No. 2 in career rebounds with 1,772. Add Seattle center Lauren Jackson, who averaging 10 rebounds a game and can hit from the perimeter, the West is daunting inside.

Chamique Holdsclaw has been on the losing end of that All-Star trio the past five years. But an offseason trade sent her from Washington to Los Angeles and now Holdsclaw, since she couldn't beat 'em is ready to join 'em.

"The West had Lisa, Yo and Lauren. They were very versatile. They could play inside and out,'' Holdsclaw said. "In the East we didn't have that in the past.''

Holdsclaw and Leslie will come off the bench for the West, chosen as reserves by the conference coaches. Griffith and Jackson will start along with leading vote-getter Sheryl Swoopes (Houston), Sue Bird (Seattle) and Diana Taurasi (Phoenix). The other West reserves are Marie Ferdinand (San Antonio), Katie Smith (Minnesota), Michelle Snow (Houston) and DeMya Walker (Sacramento).

"I think it will be pretty competitive,'' West coach Anne Donovan said. "Now, we have even more competition within the league, so I think in the 'old days,' the West has dominated this league, but that's obviously not the case any longer.''

Tamika Catchings, the three-year All-Star from Indiana couldn't agree more. Consistently ranked among the top 10 in several statistical categories, Catchings has grown tired of losing every year to the West.

"This is it. We've got a lot of new people,'' Catchings said. "The West would pretty much murder the East but now it's even.''

New York guard Becky Hammon is making her first start in the East backcourt and will be partnered with four-time All-Star Dawn Staley, whose 1,134 assists are third best in league history. Other East starters voted on by the fans are Catchings, Ruth Riley (Detroit), and Swin Cash (Detroit), who just returned to action this week following offseason knee surgery.

Reserves Nykesha Sales and Taj McWilliams-Franklin, who have led the Connecticut Sun to a league-best 12-3 record, made the shortest trip this weekend. They are joined on the bench by Beard, Cheryl Ford (Detroit), Deanna Nolan (Detroit) and Ann Wauters (New York).

East coach Mike Thibault, who has taken the Sun from mediocrity to the WNBA Finals in just two years, will see if this group of All-Stars can finally break the West stranglehold.

"That's all I heard all day is the East has never won,'' he said. "We're just going to try to make it an entertaining game. But if it works out, it works out.''

But it's a serious matter to Beard, whose rookie season didn't include an All-Star Game because of the league's month-long Olympic hiatus last August. The veteran Staley likes the youngster's attitude.

"Well, I've got to get her the ball now,'' Staley said. ``She's young, she's athletic and she can back it up.''


Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press