NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Liberty center Kia Vaughn received the WNBA’s most improved player award before New York faced Indiana in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Saturday.

Vaughn, selected by the Liberty eighth overall in 2009, was thrust into a starting role this season with the absences of the team’s top two rebounders from last year — Taj McWilliams-Franklin, who signed with Minnesota, and Janel McCarville, who sat out. Vaughn averaged 10.1 points and 6.7 rebounds — up from last season’s 2.1 and 1.4, respectively — as her minutes increased from 8.1 a year ago to 28.1. The former Rutgers star started every game this year after starting just one the previous two.

“That was the opportunity she had,” Liberty coach John Whisenant said. “Losing McCarville and Taj just opened the door for Kia and (Quanitra Hollingsworth) to step in and improve themselves in the WNBA, and Kia did a good job of that. She worked hard and listened to our post coach, Mo Ambers.”

Vaughn set a career high with 24 points against Tulsa on June 23, and had a career-best 12 rebounds in consecutive games against Los Angeles (June 21) and the Shock (June 23). She also had double-digit rebounds against Connecticut (11) on Aug. 18, and Phoenix (10) on July 30.

“I’m excited,” she said. “Just glad that my hard work actually showed out.”

Vaughn is the second straight New York player and fourth overall to be picked for most improved. Leilani Mitchell was selected last year, McCarville in 2007 and Tari Phillips in 2000. Liberty teammate Nicole Powell also received the award in 2005 while she played for Whisenant with Sacramento.


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