Year in Review: 1997


Re-rank the list of top sports stories of 1997


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Tiger Woods takes
golf world by storm

Pedro Martinez signs
record deal with Sox

Latrell Sprewell
assaults coach, gets ax

Rick Pitino becomes
Celtics coach, president

Bill Parcells quits after Patriots' banner year

Martina Hingis
rules women's tennis

Florida Marlins win World Series

Women's pro hoop
meets with success

A Patriots surprise:
Super Bowl XXXI berth

Wil Cordero charged
with assaulting wife

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Check out the top news stories of 1997

Comets shine brightest in first WNBA title game

By Joe Burris, Globe Staff, 08/31/97

HOUSTON -- When the New York Liberty got off to a fast start this season, much of their success came at the expense of the Houston Comets. Three of the Liberty's victories in a 7-0 start came against Houston.

After that, Houston began with its payback.

The Comets improved play to overtake New York in the Eastern Conference standings. That first-place finish gave Houston home-court advantage in the playoffs. And that, in the end, played a great part in the Comets' ultimate conquest: beating the Liberty for the Women's NBA championship yesterday.

League and playoff most valuable player Cynthia Cooper scored a game-high 25 points as Houston led from start to finish and blew open a close game in the second half to defeat New York, 65-51, before a boisterous sellout crowd at the Summit. The Comets took advantage of their quickness and outside shooting ability to remind many here of the Houston Rockets' NBA title run in 1994.

That triumph came at the expense of the New York Knicks.

``When we lost those three games to New York, we went back to the drawing board, we defined roles, started working harder, and stayed focused on our goal,'' said Cooper. ``Our goal was to first make the playoffs, then the conference championship, then the eventual WNBA championship.

``I've always said we aren't the same team New York beat at the beginning of the season. We have matured and jelled together, and that showed on the court.''

Did it ever. In those first three regular-season meetings, Houston had at least 16 turnovers in each game and struggled to stop New York from converting them into baskets. Even when the Comets finally beat New York Aug. 17, they had 22 turnovers. But yesterday the Comets protected the ball better against New York's stiff defensive pressure.

Yet New York, which shot 36 percent from the floor in the first half, trailed by just 28-24 at halftime and cut its deficit to 30-28 early in the second on consecutive baskets by Kym Hampton (a team-high 13 points). Then Houston put together its best run of the game.

Attacking the interior, the Comets outscored New York, 12-0, to go ahead, 40-28, with 13:35 left. Leading the way was forward Tina Thompson, who scored 4 of her 18 points during the burst. She also did an exceptional job of containing New York forward Rebecca Lobo, who finished with 9 points on 3-of-8 shooting.

``Tina's the kind of person where if you tell her she can't do something, it's like pouring gas on fire,'' said Rockets coach Van Chancellor. ``Before the game, I said to her, `Do you think you can just keep Lobo from killing us?' I knew she was going to play well then.''

``I thought Tina played well offensively, taking the ball to the hole, something I haven't seen her do a lot of,'' said Lobo, the former University of Connecticut star from Southwick, Mass. ``She had a good defensive game . . . but our offense was kind of stagnant.''

With 3:05 left in the game, Lobo sank two free throws to cut the Comets' lead to 50-43. But Houston responded. After having missed its first five free throws since the start of the second half, it sank 8 of 8 attempts over the final 2:16.

``A lot of people had counted us out -- we didn't have Sheryl Swoopes at the beginning of the year,'' said Cooper, referring to the team's most celebrated player, who missed most of the season because of her pregnancy. ``They said we might be a .500 team. We worked hard. We had two- to three-hour practices. This is the payoff.''

Right from the start, the Comets were too quick and on target for the Liberty to handle, scoring the game's first 7 points. They were leading, 15-9, with 12:34 left in the half when the Liberty changed the complexion of the game.

New York, taller and more physical inside, began dominating the offensive glass to get baskets on fourth and fifth chances. That eventually opened up the Liberty's perimeter game, and forward Vickie Johnson took advantage. At the 8-minute mark she scored buckets on consecutive possessions, then scored on a putback with 6:12 left to pull New York to within 19-16.

But in the end the Comets got their payback.

Prior to the game, WNBA president Val Ackerman announced that the league will expand to 12 teams and add games next season.

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