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Defense Keeps Comets in Running

Women's basketball: Effort hailed by coach as the best ever puts Houston in position to win second consecutive WNBA title.

September 01, 1998|EARL GUSTKEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

HOUSTON — A week ago, as his team prepared to play the Charlotte Sting in the WNBA semifinals, Houston Comet Coach Van Chancellor spoke of the real reason his team was 27-3.

And he didn't mention the prodigious offensive skills of Cynthia Cooper or Sheryl Swoopes.

"The thing I'm most proud of about this team is that they play so darn hard on defense," he said.

But he acknowledged Sunday even he was surprised by the Comets' intensity Saturday, when an inspired Houston comeback overtook the Phoenix Mercury in overtime, 74-69, evening the WNBA finals at a game each and setting up tonight's deciding game at Compaq Center.

After a light practice on Sunday, Chancellor described his view of the comeback from the bench.

"When we were down, 62-50, with 7:24 to go, we weren't dying, we were dead," he said.

He paused and held up seven fingers.

"Then they get but seven more.

"I wasn't aware of it at the time, but after watching the game tape, I believe that was the best defensive basketball I've ever seen.

"Folks, there was a miracle here yesterday. I believe God takes extra care of preachers and country boys, so I got up and went to early church this morning."

From its 12-point deficit, Houston finished regulation with a 16-4 run to tie the score, then pinned an 8-3 overtime on the exhausted Mercury.

Chancellor gave much of the credit to Janeth Arcain. She's a two-time Brazilian Olympian and an international star, but in Houston, she's the first player off the Comet bench.

She proved to be the defensive stopper on Phoenix's Michele Timms, who scored 21 points and seemed to be on her way to the series' most valuable player award. But Timms had nothing in the last 7:24 of regulation (her free throw made it 62-50) or in overtime, largely because of Arcain.

"Janeth made the big defensive plays on Timms, tying the ball up, one big play after another," Comet point guard Kim Perrot said.

But whether you want to call Saturday's game an epic Phoenix collapse or a Houston comeback, Mercury Coach Cheryl Miller had this to say:

"This team always learns from its mistakes. Beware."

Cooper, who scored 27 points Saturday, said she wants a jump-start from the Comets tonight.

"We need to do what we do best and haven't done yet in the playoffs--we need to jump on Phoenix quick, get into a good early rhythm, then make it a long game for them and a short one for us."

WNBA Finals

HOUSTON VS. PHOENIX (Series tied, 1-1)

* Game 1: Phoenix 54, Houston 51

* Game 2: Houston 74, Phoenix 69 (OT)

* Tonight: at Houston, 5 p.m. (ESPN)

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