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Elena Baranova: From Russia, with 3s

July 23, 1997

NEW YORK (AP) _ Here’s an idea for an updated WNBA marketing blitz commercial: Rebecca Lobo prances down the hallway, just like she did in those spots that ran endlessly last spring.

Her lips are pursed, her eyes focused, her glance steady. And then, boom! She runs into the path of a 6-foot-5 Russian, gets flattened and looks up.

``I’ve got nyext!″ the interloper scowls. ``You’ve got nyet.″

Such a scenario wouldn’t stretch the truth too far. In a way, that’s exactly what happened Tuesday night in the biggest upset to date in the WNBA.

Elena Baranova, a 6-foot-5 center who possesses the kind of all-around game that Lobo doesn’t, gave her better-hyped adversary a lesson in humility, hitting a league record seven 3-pointers as the Utah Starzz shocked the New York Liberty 78-71.

It was the first home loss of the season for New York, which still has the league’s best record (12-3) despite the loss to the last-place Starzz (4-11).

And Lobo _ one of three former U.S. Olympians on which the start-up league based its marketing campaign _ may have lost a bit of her aura.

New York, which beat Utah by 26 points and 13 points in the teams’ first two games, couldn’t pull away Tuesday night. The reason was Baranova.

With less than a minute left, New York needed a basket to tie and called a play for Lobo in the low post.

Up went her shot and back down it came, blocked by the big Russian. Up it went again and back it came. And again.

Baranova rejected three straight by Lobo, each swat as clean as the previous one.

``I thought they would call a foul,″ Baranova said through an interpreter.

But no whistle was forthcoming. The Starzz went up by five points, and the Liberty again called the same play for Lobo. This time, with Baranova in her face, Lobo threw an airball.

Another bad miss from 3-point range closed Lobo’s night. She missed eight of her final nine shots. Baranova finished with 23 points, six rebounds and five blocks.

``It was tough,″ Lobo said. ``Sometimes there was good defense on her and all she needed was a second to get that 3-point shot off. It was so quick that there was nothing we could do about it. She really put a stake through out heart.″

Baranova entered the game with just eight 3-pointers in Utah’s first 14 games. Utah coach Denise Taylor was asked if the Liberty showed any respect for her outside shot.

``No they didn’t,″ she said. ``Elena can hit the 3s, she did it last game, and I told her I wanted her to shoot from outside.″

Baranova, who has played professionally in Europe and was the leading rebounder (13.1) and second-leading scorer (20.3) at last summer’s Olympics, laughed when asked about being left alone at the 3-point arc.

``These players, my teammates, didn’t know I could shoot 3-pointers,″ she said.

``Oh no, we knew,″ countered her coach. ``At shootaround today she made nine of 10 from around the arc and I told her I wanted her to shoot them.″

Clearly, she’s got the shot. Now all she needs is a talent agent and the right script to make her big WNBA impression a little more lasting.

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