A WNBA-record 10 rookies partook in Wednesday night’s showdown between the New York Liberty and Dallas Wings.
Rook @sabrina_i20 WENT OFF!
— WNBA (@WNBA) July 30, 2020
A return to form for Sabrina Ionescu wasn’t enough for the New York Liberty to get back in the win column.
The top pick in April’s draft was part of a performance that featured the contributions of ten rookies, the most to partake in a single WNBA game. Ionescu led the way with 33 points but five Dallas Wings reached double-figures en route to a 93-80 victory in the WNBA’s IMG Academy bubble in Bradenton, Florida.
“I thought Dallas was the tougher team. I thought they wanted it more. I think our players will tell you the same thing,” head coach Walt Hopkins said in a postgame Zoom call. “These are growth points. This is a young group and we’re all looking how to put together 40 minutes of consistency. As you can see, Rome wasn’t built in a day. It’s one of these losses that you learn from.”
While Ionescu had her moments in her professional debut on Saturday against Seattle (12 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists), some negative reviews focused on a tough shooting performance (4-of-17 FG, 0-for-8 from three-point range). Ionescu was a silver lining for New York on a tough off night, sinking 11-of-20 shot attempts, including 6-of-10 from deep. Her 33 points are one short of the Liberty’s rookie record set by a current teammate, Kia Nurse, in 2018. Ionescu also put in seven assists and rebounds each.
The improved personal marks were of no consolation to Ionescu.
“Coming in, it’s going to be a process. Piece-by-piece, we’ve just got to keep building every single game, every single day in practice,” she said. “Obviously, I’m not happy because we didn’t win, so that part still isn’t up to my standard, our standard as a team and an organization. We’re still getting used to each other as a brand new team with a lot of new faces, so it’s just going to take us some growing pains. My teammates know it took us some growing pains at Oregon as well. It’s going to take time, but hopefully, we just keep building and getting to know each other.”
The Liberty (0-2) jumped out to a small, but early, lead in the first quarter. But the frame ended with a buzzer-beating triple from Kayla Thornton, one that gave Dallas a permanent lead. The Wings (1-1) pulled away with a 34-21 advantage in the second quarter, creating a 58-43 lead at the half despite 11 points over the final 90 seconds from Ionescu. Arike Ogunbowale led Dallas scorers with 20 points.
Both the Liberty and Wings are the youngest teams in the WNBA, with Dallas holding the title by mere decimal digits. The teams held nine of the most recent draft’s first 15 picks in April, and the Liberty added former Seattle draftee Joyner Holmes (7 points, 4 rebounds) after several veterans opted out of the 2020 season. Second overall pick and Ionescu’s fellow Oregon alumna Satou Sabally was among those who reached double-figures for Dallas (12 points). On the New York side, Megan Walker and Jazmine Jones each made their WNBA debuts. The pair were respectively chosen in the ninth and twelfth slots of the draft and missed the Saturday opener due to illness and injury.
“It’s awesome to be able to see all the rookies in this league especially playing against them in college and now being able to see them at the next level. Hopefully, we can continue to be able to grow this league and keep having more and more viewership and learning through the veterans that played here before us,” Ionescu said. “I think it was awesome to see all the young faces out on the floor. It was awesome to see Satou on the floor, definitely really weird not having her on my team. I definitely miss playing with her. She did great, I think. She stayed composed, she made the right plays, she’s going to fit into that team really well. I was really excited to see her, to play against her, to kind of talk some smack to her at the free throw line.”
Layshia Clarendon (partaking in the 200th WNBA game of her career) was the only other New Yorker to earn double-figures in scoring (11 points) while Amanda Zahui B led all participants with 11 rebounds. The Liberty and Wings will meet for a grudge match in Bradenton on August 27.
New York will return to action quickly, battling the Atlanta Dream on Friday night (7 p.m. ET, NBA TV).
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags