East aims to notch first All-Star win

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.

"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

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

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