New York Liberty: 3 stars from Wednesday’s loss at Connecticut

The New York Liberty’s WNBA playoff hopes were dealt a major blow after a tough second half in Uncasville.

The New York Liberty’s playoff bid came up snake eyes at Mohegan Sun Arena.

Outscored by a 54-22 margin in the second, the Liberty dropped its eighth consecutive contest, falling by a 98-67 final to the Connecticut Sun on Wednesday. New York (11-20) will now need a win over the Washington Mystics in Friday night’s regular season finale in Brooklyn (7 p.m. ET, YES) and some help from their friends to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2017.

The Liberty jumped out to a 16-5 lead in the early stages of the first quarter, which they won by a 24-20 advantage. However, the wheels fell off in the second half, drawing the ire of head coach Walt Hopkins.

“We gave up. I think the team gave up in the second half, they got punched me four or five times turned the ball over a few times and Connecticut showed why they’re the best team in the league and we showed why we’re having trouble closing games,” Hopkins bluntly declared in the aftermath. “We have to get tougher. You got to want it more, and we gave up.”

New York can still reach the postseason through a win on Friday, plus a further loss from Washington on Sunday afternoon and a Los Angeles Sparks defeat over their final two games.

Six players reached double-figures for Connecticut (25-6), which not only won its franchise-record 13th game in a row but also clinched the top seed in the playoffs.

ESM looks back on three silver linings from this latest defeat…

3rd Star: Sabrina Ionescu

12 points, 5 assists, 2 steals

Ionescu has reached double-figures in all ten games of the post-Olympic slate. She vowed to help the Liberty re-establish its never-say-die identity that they’ve carried and lived up to for most of the season.

“We’re going to play our heart out, regardless of whether it’s a must-win for us,” Ionescu said. “It’s about figuring out what we need to do to win, and how to finish this year on the right note.”

 

2nd Star: Michaela Onyenwere

14 points (5-of-6 FG)

Onyenwere has come off the bench over the last two Liberty games after spending most of the year in the starting lineup. The Rookie of the Year frontrunner has responded well to the new role as a second unit energizer, hitting 7-of-9 from the field in the last couple.

The UCLA alumna provided a moment of levity in the somber aftermath when she declared the only difference between her starter’s mindset and reserve mindset was her lack of a pregame dance routine.

“We didn’t respond the way we wanted to,” Onyenwere analyzed. “We know at this point we have a lot to fight for. We didn’t necessarily show that in the best way.”

1st Star: Natasha Howard

25 points, 8 rebounds, 3 blocks

Howard continued her decent return from injury, sparking the Liberty’s hot start with 10 points in the first quarter. While Hopkins pointed out that she was one of the few New Yorkers that kept her energy going throughout the game, he did that the 18 turnovers between she and Ionescu were “unacceptable”.

“Second half, we kind of gave in,” Howard said. “We stopped doing the things we were doing in the first half…we weren’t being tough. That’s the difference…that’s what we’ve been preaching: we’ve got to be tough.”

Howard briefly left the game in the final quarter with an ankle injury that forced her to go to the locker room under the supervision of trainer Terri Acosta. She said after the game that it was merely a “tweak” and she was able to finish things off without incident.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Liberty: 3 stars from Sunday’s loss vs. Connecticut

A one-sided third quarter doomed the New York Liberty in their last showing before the WNBA’s month-long All-Star/Olympic break.

The Connecticut Sun shined a little too bright for the New York Liberty on Sunday afternoon, particularly in the third quarter.

Paced by 17 points and 17 rebounds from Jonquel Jones, the Sun held off the pesky Liberty to the tune of an 18-9 advantage in the third quarter, allowing them to roll to a 71-54 victory at Barclays Center. Despite the loss, the Liberty (10-11) are among the league’s eight playoff teams as the WNBA embarks on a month-long hiatus to allow its players to partake in both the WNBA All-Star Game and the Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

Thus ends a New York odyssey that featured several changed commercials flights and hours of delays due to heavy rains brought about by Tropical Storm Elsa. Liberty owner Joe Tsai has vowed to fight the travel problems.

New York’s Betnijah Laney will appear alongside the rest of the Association’s All-Stars as they battle the United States Olympic unit on Wednesday (7 p.m. ET, ESPN) while Sami Whitcomb will partake in the three-point contest on that same night. In Tokyo, Rebecca Alen will represent Australia while overseas holdover Han Xu is set to appear on China’s squad. The Liberty return to action on August 15 at Minnesota (7 p.m. ET, YES/Facebook).

ESM has three game balls to send the Liberty into the break…

3rd Star: Reshanda Gray

8 points, 5 rebounds

Adding Gray for the remainder of the season could be huge for the Liberty, who have come to adore her physicality in the paint. Though Gray posted  relatively pedestrian numbers in her final pre-break showing, she set some personal history by sinking each of her two attempts from three-point range after sinking only 1-of-8 over her first four WNBA seasons.

2nd Star: Michaela Onyenwere

12 points, 4 rebounds

As one of only two New Yorkers in double figures, Onyenwere did her best to keep the Liberty in the game by getting to the foul line, hitting five of her six visits. At the break, Onyenwere is the runaway favroite for the league’s Rookie of the Year, leading all first-years in scoring (9.8 per game entering Sunday) and posting a runner-up finish in rebounding (2.9).

1st Star: Kylee Shook

16 points, 2 assists, 1 block

Shook set a new career-best in scoring for the second straight game. Thrust into the starting lineup for all but one game this season thanks to Natasha Howard’s injury, Shook’s development has been one of the most promising storylines of the first half. Alas, her development was the brightest…and perhaps only…the Liberty could’ve taken from Sunday. Taking away Shook’s 6-of-8 showing, the Liberty shot 11-of-48 (23 percent) from the field.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Liberty: Three Stars from Saturday’s loss at Connecticut

The New York Liberty were dealt their third straight defeat in Connecticut, as they were unable to stop All-Star Jonquel Jones.

Jonquel Jones tallied a career-best 31 points for the Connecticut Sun, who rolled to an 85-64 victory over the New York Liberty on Saturday night at Mohegan Sun Arena.

Rebecca Allen tallied 14 points to lead the Liberty (5-4) who have now lost three in a row heading into a week-long break. The sour New York feelings further manifested with Betnijah Laney being held to eight points, ending her streak of 20-point game to open the season at eight (tied for second-longest in WNBA history).

ESM has three stars to highlight from another tough New York effort…

Third  Star: Rebecca Allen

14 pts. (5-10 FG), 2 steals, 2 rebs.

Fresh off a season-best 16 against Las Vegas on Thursday, Allen was the only New Yorker who reached double figures in scoring. Between her rediscovered shooting prowess (Saturday was the third time she reached double-figures this season) and tenacious defense that ha assisted a defense sorely missing Natasha Howard, it may be time to put Allen on the Sixth Woman of the Year Award’s shortlist.

Second Star: Michaela Onyenwere

7 pts. (3-4 FG), 4 rebs. 1 blk.

The trial by fire continues for Onyenwere, who has been forced to deal with the powerful interiors of Las Vegas and Connecticut in her first contests after winning the league’s Rookie of the Month Award. Early foul trouble presented an issue in the early going, but Onyenwere still managed to earn some respectable numbers before things got out of hand.

First Star: Jazmine Jones

8 pts, 3 assists, 3 rebs. 

The second-year pro was, alas for New York, overshadowed by Connecticut’s representative of the same surname, but Saturday was a remarkable showcase for the last pick of the 2020 draft’s first-round.

Jones had a starring role in the Bradenton bubble but the spotlight has moved with the return of Sabrina Ionescu and several newcomers. She has kept the energy rolling through energetic bench celebrations and introductions, however, and she finally got to share the power on the court in an extended showing. Contributions all over the court allowed the Liberty to stage a late run on the lead in the first half and even hold a brief lead.

The Liberty return to action on Sunday, June 13 against the Phoenix Mercury (6 p.m. ET, YES). 

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags