- The Washington Times - Monday, July 16, 2007

Entering yesterday’s WNBA All-Star Game, Detroit’s Cheryl Ford was thinking her left knee could use some rest and she might not play many minutes.

That didn’t exactly pan out in the East’s 103-99 victory at a sold-out Verizon Center. Instead, the forward, who had missed six games because of a sprained left knee, finished with 16 points and 13 rebounds in more than 26 minutes and was named All-Star MVP.

The Eastern Conference has won for the second straight year after losing six in a row. Yesterday also was the second time in six years the District played host to a sold-out All-Star Game.

“I probably was only going to play [Ford] about 10 or 12 minutes unless she got off to a hot start,” said East coach Bill Laimbeer, who also coaches Ford with the Shock. “If she got off to a hot start and had a chance to be one of the stars of the game, we’d play her more.”

That’s what happened. As her production increased, so did the rest of the East’s.

After Ford made a 3-pointer with 5:09 left in the first half to reduce the West’s lead to 42-34, she knew she was in for a big day. Suddenly she wasn’t worried about her nagging injury. After the game, trainers wrapped bags of ice around her knee before she conducted interviews, but during the action she felt fine.

“After I made the 3-pointer, I think then I was like, ‘Whoa,’ ” Ford said. “I surprised myself. I know my mom was out of her seat.”

Before halftime the East closed the gap even more. Chicago Sky forward Candice Dupree made a 16-foot jump shot to tie the game 53-53 — the final points of the first half — with 15.9 seconds left.

The only question that remained was whether the East could cope with the West’s outside shooting. But Laimbeer wasn’t worried.

“They’re going to run out of power,” Laimbeer told his team in the locker room. “Just let them keep shooting.”

The Indiana Fever’s Tamika Catchings, who had 15 points, said the strategy worked.

“In the second half, they missed a lot of their shots,” she said. “Instead of driving to the basket, they kept settling for 3s.”

At the end of the third quarter, the East was up 78-67 and on its way to a victory.

The West shot 37 percent for the game to the East’s 44.9. The East also outrebounded the West 56-51. The East closed out the third quarter with six unanswered points for a 78-67 lead.

In addition to Ford and Catchings, the East had double-figure scoring from four others. Connecticut’s Katie Douglas scored 18 points, Washington’s DeLisha Milton-Jones and Detroit’s Deanna Nolan had 11 apiece and Connecticut’s Asjha Jones finished with 10. The Mystics’ Alana Beard led the team with eight assists and added eight points.

The East maintained a double-digit lead for most of the fourth quarter, but San Antonio’s Becky Hammon made two free throws with 4:12 left to cut the margin to 93-85. Then the West made it a four-point game with 33.4 seconds remaining when Hammon made one of two free throws to close the scoring.

“I thought for the first time [the East] kind of just thought they were the better team, and [they were] going to go out there shooting the ball just for the sake of shooting the ball and not really to compete to go win the basketball game,” Laimbeer said. “We didn’t have that luxury.”

On the West’s final possession, Hammon missed a 3-pointer with 19 seconds left, and Houston’s Tina Thompson missed a jumper with eight seconds to go. Ford grabbed the rebound on Thompson’s miss.

Thompson led all scorers with 19 points. Seattle’s Lauren Jackson added 14, while Hammon and Phoenix’s Diana Taurasi each scored 13. Taurasi also had nine assists.

The four-point margin was the closest in the history of the WNBA All-Star Game, topping the 2002 game in the District, won 81-76 by the West.

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