- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 16, 2002

The balance of power in the WNBA hasn't shifted just yet.

Despite trailing at points late in the second half, the Western Conference won its fourth straight All-Star Game 81-76 last night before a sellout crowd of 19,487 at MCI Center. Lisa Leslie, who had the game's only double-double with 18 points and 14 rebounds, won her second consecutive All-Star MVP award and third in four years.

A surprise appeared in store momentarily when the East took a 76-75 lead on a fastbreak layup by Charlotte guard Andrea Stinson with 1:02 left. But on the next trip down the floor, Houston forward Tina Thompson drew a foul off Eastern center Tari Phillips and, despite being treated to a loud chorus of boos, converted both free throws to retake the lead at 77-76.

After two more free throws by Thompson's Houston teammate, Sheryl Swoopes, pushed the West's lead to 79-76 with 19 seconds remaining, the East had a chance to tie, but Stinson turned the ball over with a poor inbounds pass.

Earlier in the half, the East rallied back from an 8-point deficit, earning late-game ties at 70 on a 3-pointer by Washington forward Stacey Dales-Schuman and again at 72 on a pair of free throws by Stinson.

But the East's valiant effort only delayed the inevitable, as Leslie made the big plays down the stretch. Before Stinson's layup, Leslie hit two free throws that gave the West a 75-74 lead. She then blocked two shots by Phillips on the East's next possession.

Later, when Stinson's jumper rattled out with 35 seconds left and the rebound bounced off a West player, Leslie tied up Indiana's Tamika Catchings to earn a jump ball. She won the tip, setting up Swoopes' clutch two free throws.

"At that particular point in the game, she was the most dominating [player on the floor]," Western coach Michael Cooper said. "The thing about [Leslie] is she doesn't just get it done on offense, she gets it done on defense, too. She made some key blocks."

Said Catchings, who led the East with 12 points: "Until you get on the floor with her, you can't appreciate how good she really is."

Leslie scored 13 of her points in the second half and finished with four blocks. Thompson finished with 20 and Swoopes added 11 as the league's old guard dominated the younger, much improved East squad when it counted.

"All of a sudden this year, everyone's calling us 'old school,'" Leslie said. "Just because a young class is coming in, we're old? C'mon, we're just getting started."

Leslie's performance didn't win over the partisan MCI Center crowd, who booed her as she was handed the MVP trophy.

"I know how Kobe feels right now, playing in Philadelphia," Leslie said, referring to the ugly reception Bryant usually receives in his hometown. "I think they were just upset about the East losing."

Even if last night's result came as no surprise, the close finish at least helped erase the memory of the game's inauspicious beginning. Phillips airballed the opening shot and the two teams combined for eight turnovers in the first five minutes.

Only Houston's two star forwards brought grace to the messy start, as Swoopes and Thompson fed each other for nine of the West's first 13 points.

Thompson finished the first half with 12 points, second only to the West's surprise scoring leader, Seattle forward Lauren Jackson. In just seven minutes of action, Jackson exploded for 13 first-half points. Her 15-foot jumper at the 12:27 mark pushed the West's lead to 13, its largest of the game.

That finally awoke the East, which started the game at a miserable 4-for-21 clip from the field. Orlando's Nykesha Sales scored eight of the East's next 10 points, sparking a 14-5 run that narrowed the score to 25-21.

Sales led the East at the break with nine points, despite shooting just 3-for-9 from the field.

The East tied the game at 40 with less than a minute to play. When Leslie bobbled a pretty pass from Sacramento guard Ticha Penicheiro, she gift-wrapped the half's final possession for the East, giving it a chance to take its first lead.

But, in an unsurprising twist that would foreshadow the game's ending, the East turned the ball over.

Dales-Schuman, who was named to the East squad to replace teammate Chamique Holdsclaw, started out quietly in her All-Star debut. She missed her first three shots, including two that missed the rim. But she made her presence felt in the second half, hitting the game-tying 3 her only basket of the game with 6:39 left. She also had three rebounds.

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