New York Liberty: What’s ahead (week of May 17th)

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The New York Liberty look to build on their first 2-0 start since 2016 as they enter the first full week of the 2021 season.

Three days into the 2021 WNBA campaign, the New York Liberty have earned the right to check a box on their season’s to-do list.

The Liberty (2-0) matched their win total from all of the woebegone 2020 season in the Bradenton bubble, sweeping the Indiana Fever in a home-and-home set on Friday and Sunday. Sabrina Ionescu’s game-winning triple in the final seconds allowed them to earn a 90-87 win in their full-time debut at Barclays Center before they held the lead all the way through the rematch at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, a 73-65 triumph.



“It does mean something, going a whole season to get two wins versus coming out the gate the way that they did,” head coach Walt Hopkins said after Sunday’s win. “To have two wins and to come in on a back to back, for them to make the adjustments and to be able to still win on the road, it says a lot about them.”

ESM looks backward and onwards as the Liberty and the WNBA prepare to move forward on their respective 25th anniversary seasons…

Player of the Week: Betnijah Laney

Friday: 30 points (11-of-18 FG, 4-of-5 3-pt. FG), 5 rebounds
Sunday: 20 points, 4 assists

Ionescu might’ve stolen the show with her Friday heroics, but Laney was by far the most consistent shooter the Liberty had to offer. The Rutgers alumna is once again making metropolitan basketball magic, pacing the Liberty in the early going with 25 points a game (second in the league after the first three days of action). Laney is proving that the successful Most Improved Player campaign she staged in the bubble was no fluke.

“I just want to continue to get better. That’s what I’m doing, I take my craft seriously. I’m continuing to build off of last year,” Laney said on Sunday, remarking on her first two games in the New York system. “It’s a pretty free and open offense, which I think works well. For me, it’s a lot similar to the offense that I saw last year (in Atlanta). “y teammates encouraged me and they find me and allow me to, you know, get to my shots and everything.”

Number of the Week: 18

Fresh out of UCLA, Michaela Onyenwere has made an instant impact in the New York lineup. She has appeared in the Liberty’s opening five in each of her first two contests and has tallied double figures in both appearances. The 18 she had on opening night in Brooklyn set a new team record for most points in a freshman debut, breaking a three-year mark held by Kia Nurse.

They Said It

“Simply put, she’s a bucket. In the first game, she did a pull-up and I was like, she is so good. Nobody came, nobody can guard Betnijah. She’s just so versatile, and her pull-up is always on, and even if it’s not, she finds other ways to get to the basket and facilitate…It’s just so cool. She’s definitely a vet that I can look to and ask questions, tell me where I need to be…She’s hard to guard and she’s just all around just a great teammate.”Michaela Onyenwere on Betnijah Laney

“I think already having two and a half games under my belt from last season, I think that was what I needed, being able to see play against some top teams. I think that kind of gave me some confidence coming into this season and just understanding my role on this team, what we’re trying to accomplish, what I can do to help others, and what all of us can build together. So I’m definitely not taking that for granted.”-Sabrina Ionescu on how her brief time last year helped in her 2021

Standings

WLGB
1. Connecticut20
2. LIBERTY20
3. Dallas100.5
4. Chicago100.5
5. Seattle100.5
6. Phoenix111
7. Minnesota011.5
8. Atlanta011.5
9. Las Vegas011.5
10. Washington011.5
11. Los Angeles011.5
12. Indiana022

The Week Ahead

Tuesday vs. Minnesota

(7 p.m. ET, YES App/ESPN3)

The first Walt Hopkins Bowl in Brooklyn stages the head coach and assistant Shelley Patterson against their former colleague and Minnesota head coach Cheryl Reeve. This game will also mark Minnesota assistant coach and Hall of Famer Katie Smith’s first visit to a New York basketball arena since she was relieved of her duties as Liberty head coach after two seasons in 2019.

The Lynx (0-1) are coming off a narrow loss to Phoenix on Friday night, as Diana Taurasi’s buzzer-beater negated an 18-point showing from Aerial Powers, who made her Great Lakes debut after parts of three seasons in Washington. Minnesota (14-8 last season) swept both matchups from the Liberty last season by a combined 56-point margin.

Friday @ Washington

(7 p.m. ET, YES)

The Liberty will face off against Tina Charles for the first time since the franchise’s all-time leading scorer was dealt for picks that eventually became Jazmine Jones and Michaela Onyenwere. Washington (0-1) played their first game in DC since they clinched the 2019 championship on Saturday, falling to Chicago 70-56. They welcomed in Charles but are still without 2019 MVP Elena Delle Donne, who is recovering from back surgeries.

Last season’s pair in Bradenton was split evenly, with the Liberty earning their first win of the year on August 7. Layshia Clarendon put up 14 points and six assists in the victory.

Sunday @ Chicago

(1 p.m. ET, ESPN)

A battle between New York and Chicago will have a strong Oregon feel to it, as Eugene gamechangers Ionescu and Ruthy Hebard will do battle for the first time. A showdown with the Sky produced the other of the Liberty’s Ionescu-free wins last season, as Clarendon put in 17 points, ending with the game-winning free throws, en route to a 101-99 win. Jocelyn Willoughby shot a perfect 5-for-5 from the field in the same game.

Chicago is one of the WNBA favorites this season with Windy City native Candace Parker in tow. She tallied 16 points and eight rebounds in the opening win over the Mystics, aided by 19 more from Kaleah Cooper.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

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