Jocelyn Willoughby tallies career-best for New York Liberty

Another loss awaited the New York Liberty on Tuesday night, but rookie Jocelyn Willoughby made team history from beyond the arc.

The New York Liberty failed to play spoiler on Tuesday night against the Los Angeles Sparks, but Jocelyn Willoughby made some metropolitan history.

In New York’s 96-70 loss to Los Angeles, the rookie Willoughby scored an infantile career-best 21 points. The 10th overall pick from April’s draft shot 7-of-8 from the field and sank all five of her three-point attempts. Her latter mark was good enough to tie the Liberty record for most triple attempts without a miss. Becky Hammon achieved the mark twice, while Crystal Robinson, Nicole Powell, and Candice Wiggins also achieved the mark.

Willoughby returned to the starting lineup for the first time since August 5. The Liberty (2-17) experimented with different lineups during Tuesday’s showdown, reinserting both Willoughby and Kia Nurse into the opening five. Amanda Zahui B and Jazmine Jones were each held out of the game while Megan Walker played a season-high 22 minutes. Joyner Holmes played 20 minutes for the second consecutive game.

“We’re trying different things…it’s exciting. It keeps other teams on their toes. As we grow individually, the different lineups will continue. It will be a challenge for other teams. That’ll be something to look forward to,” Willoughby said of the new lineups and rotations. “Change is hard. I don’t think anyone grows without going through hard things. As a team we’ve had so much adversity. Sabrina (Ionescu) going out, the circumstances of the bubble. I think we’ve had growth.”

On the other side of the ball, Willoughby was given the unenviable task of guarding Candace Parker. The two-time WNBA MVP shot 6-of-10 from the floor in a 14-point performance, but Willoughby still earned a strong review on defense from Nurse, who had 13 points and seven rebounds.

“It’s awesome for her. Jocelyn’s one of the best defenders we have on our team,” Nurse said of her rookie teammate. “She’s a great person…she shoots really, really well in practice. That’s just translating into the games.”

Things got away from the Liberty in the latter stages, but they earned the trademark brand of growth Hopkins has sought all season with a strong sequence at the end of the first half. Los Angeles (15-5) built a 40-20 lead with three minutes to go in the second quarter but went on a 12-3 run to close out the stanza and go into a locker room with a respectable 11-point deficit.

Alas for New York, the Sparks pulled away with a dominant second half. Five players reached double figures, with Nneka Ogwumike and Riquana Williams leading the way with 20 points each. The Sparks are in the midst of a battle for the top seeds in the WNBA playoffs. They currently sit in third, a game-and-a-half behind the leaders from Seattle.

The Liberty have three games remaining on their slate at the WNBA’s bubble in Bradenton continues its final sessions. They’re next game comes

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

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