New York Liberty to hire Sandy Brondello as new head coach (Report)

Brondello previously worked with current New York Liberty representatives Bec Allen and Sami Whitcomb with the Australian national squad.

In a report from Khristina Williams of Girls Talks Sports TV and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN, the New York Liberty are set to name Sandy Brondello the ninth head coach in franchise history. Brondello spent the last eight seasons as the head coach of the Phoenix Mercury.

[[UPDATE: 1/7/21, 10:40 a.m. ET]]: The Liberty have confirmed the hiring of Brondello, who will speak at a 2 p.m. ET press conference alongside general manager Jonathan Kolb and team Governor Clara Wu Tsai.

“It is an honor to join the historic New York Liberty franchise and to coach and lead such a talented roster of players,” said Brondello in a team statement. “I owe immense gratitude to the team’s ownership and front office for entrusting me with this important role during such an integral time in the history of the organization. Alongside my family, I’m excited to move to New York City and begin preparations for our upcoming season.”

“Sandy brings a wealth of coaching experience and is a proven winner with a championship pedigree, both as a player and coach in the WNBA and internationally,” Kolb added in the same statement. “Throughout her longstanding professional coaching career, she has demonstrated her ability to build consistent and sustained success as a skilled leader and mentor on and off the court. We are thrilled to welcome her to New York as we move forward in our pursuit of winning a WNBA Championship.”

A native of Queensland, Brondello is one of the most accomplished players in Australian basketball history. Her accomplishments Down Under include the WNBL’s 1995 MVP Award (other previous winners include Lauren Jackson, Liz Cambage, and Kia Nurse) and standing as one of three players (alongside Robyn Maher and Rachael Sporn) to appear in at least 300 contests with the Australian national squad, commonly referred to as the Opals. Brondello was a part of the first Opals team to earn an Olympic medal (bronze at the 1996 Games in Atlanta) and would later earn silvers at the 2000 and 2004 Games at Sydney and Athens respectively. More recently, Brondello served as the Opals’ head coach at last summer’s Olympics in Tokyo.

Brondello, 53, would partake in five WNBA seasons on the court, entering the league as a fourth-round pick of the Detroit Shock (now the Dallas Wings) in 1998. She led the league in free throw percentage in 1998 (.923) and repped the Shock at the 1999 WNBA All-Star Game at Madison Square Garden. Detroit hosted Brondello for two seasons before two more with the Miami Sol (2001-02) and a final year with the Seattle Storm (2003). She finished second in three-point percentage in 1999 (.487) and 2003 (.438).

Coaching endeavors awaited Brondello shortly after retirement, serving as an assistant for the San Antonio Silver Stars (now the Las Vegas Aces) before heading the team for a single season in 2010. Each of Brondello’s nine seasons at the head coaching helm has ended in the postseason, including her final campaign in Phoenix this summer/fall. Her maiden voyage with the Mercury in 2014 featured 29 wins (a WNBA single-season record) and the team’s most recent championship. Brondello was named the league’s Coach of the Year for her efforts.

The accomplished Brondello was almost immediately linked to the Liberty after it was announced that Phoenix would not renew her expired contract on Dec. 6. New York parted ways with incumbent head coach Walt Hopkins after two years. Brondello’s final season in the desert ended in the WNBA Finals. Phoenix was seeded fifth on the playoff bracket and opened their championship trek with a thrilling 83-82 win over the Liberty in the opening round. They’d later get by Seattle and Las Vegas before falling to the champions from Chicago in four games.

The Liberty are coming off the cancellation of a three-year playoff drought. New York, fresh off its first season as full-time tenants at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, boasted one of the most attractive coaching vacancies in recent WNBA memory, as the team’s firepower is headlined by the services of 2021 All-Star Betnijah Laney (team-best 16.8 PPG in her first New York season).

Sabrina Ionescu, the touted top pick of the 2020 draft, is set to return for her second full WNBA season while the Liberty also expect to welcome back three-time WNBA champion Natasha Howard (16.2 PPG, 7.2 RPG in 13 games), whose metropolitan debut was marred by injury.

Other notable New Yorkers include WNBA All-Rookie team reps Michaela Onyenwere (who won the overall Rookie of the Year Award) and DiDi Richards, as well as 2020 nominee Jazmine Jones. Brondello’s arrival sets up an Australian reunion with Opal stars Sami Whitcomb (career-best 11.7 PPG) and free-agent-to-be Bec Allen (career-best 9.2 PPG).

The report of Brondello’s hiring comes less than 24 hours after Las Vegas announced that former Liberty star Becky Hammon would take over as head coach in place of another ex-New Yorker, Bill Laimbeer. Phoenix now holds the only active coaching vacancy in the WNBA. A further report from Williams states that the Mercury plan to name Brondello’s successor no later than Jan. 15.

The New York Liberty will open their 2021 season on May 7 at home against the Connecticut Sun.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

BREAKING: New York Liberty, Walt Hopkins part ways

Hopkins spent two seasons at the helm of the New York Liberty, guiding the team to its first playoff appearance since 2017.

The New York Liberty announced on Monday afternoon that the team mutually agreed to part way with head coach Walt Hopkins Jr. New York has already begun the process of searching for the ninth head coach in franchise history.

Hopkins, previously an assistant coach with the Minnesota Lynx, spent two seasons at the New York helm, amassing a 14-40 record. His time in seafoam was defined by youth, notably working with seven rookies during the Liberty’s time in the Bradenton bubble in 2020. Under his watch, the Liberty produced three WNBA All-Rookie representatives (Jazmine Jones, Michaela Onyenwere, DiDi Richards) and one Rookie of the Year (Onyenwere in 2021). Others to make their WNBA debuts under Hopkins included Sabrina Ionescu, Megan Walker, Jocelyn Willoughby, Kyle Shook, and Leaonna Odom.

Though Hopkins’ first year (dominated by an Ionescu injury) saw the Liberty stumble to a 2-20 record, the team improved by 10 wins in 2021, their first as full-time tenants of Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Hopkins was named May’s Coach of the Year for his efforts and guided the Liberty to its first playoff appearance since 2017.

***THIS STORY WILL BE UPDATED***

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

ESM EXCLUSIVE: Liberty All-Star Betnijah Laney on NYC, charity, and the future

betnijah Laney, liberty

ESM sat down with New York Liberty All-Star Betnijah Laney, a metropolitan basketball star in more ways than one.

An All-Star’s work is never done, especially in New York. Fortunately, Betnijah Laney wouldn’t have it any other way.

Few WNBA stars have opened the 2020s on a higher note than Laney, a Rutgers alumna who’s back in the tri-state area to make an impact both on and off the court. The former endeavors have netted her the league’s Most Improved Player Award with the Atlanta Dream during the Association’s historic season in the Bradenton bubble. After going from the bubble to Brooklyn, Laney earned her first career All-Star appearance and helped push the Liberty to its first playoff appearance since 2017. She ended the year as the team’s leading scorer (16.8 points per game, 10th-best in the league) and also set a new career-best average in assists (5.2).

Laney, a Delaware native, has remained in the New York area with the WNBA offseason fully underway. She’s taken the time to further immerse herself in the Brooklyn community. Last week, Laney repped the Liberty in a battle against food insecurity, uniting with Empire BlueCross BlueShield, iHeartMedia, and Heart of America to open a custom-built food pantry at Walter Weaver Elementary School (P.S. 398).

Following the ceremony, Laney sat down with ESM to discuss her time in the city, her life on and off the court, and what lies ahead of the bearers of seafoam…

Photo by Allison Joseph/@shotsbyalliej

Q: What drew you to a project like this here, to be willing the represent the team on such an endeavor?

A: Just knowing that we, as a team, will be able to help the community, to be able to give back, to underserved communities, it just really means a lot to me. Coming up, it was something that my mother always instilled in me: to give back where I can. She’s been doing that for as long as I can remember, since before I was born, just giving back to the community. She’s always made sure that I put in the same thing, the same work and effort. So when I was afforded the opportunity to do this, I was all-in, all on board. So I’m just really happy.

Q: With the team back in the proper New York City area, having moved to Brooklyn from Westchester County, what does it mean to reconnect with the city and potentially inspire new fans in the process?

A: I think it’s just more about serving our community. Being back in Brooklyn, that makes it r really easy for us. It’s great for our new community to see us and know that we’re not just athletes, we’re not just basketball players, we’re not just here to do that. We’re here to help and to give back and make a difference, to continue to inspire people, continue to help people grow in a positive direction. I think it’s more so about that.

Q: You’ve remained in the NYC area since the Liberty’s season ended. Without the burdens of practices and games, it appears you’ve taken advantage of what the city has to offer. What are your impressions of the city and how comfortable are you with NYC as your new home both as an athlete and activist?

A: I love it. I grew up coming to Brooklyn in particular, I had a great aunt who lived here, we would come up here for the holidays and everything. Although she’s she’s not around to see me I know that she’d be really proud of me and what I’m doing.

This offseason just really presents me with the opportunity to be able to give back to this community. Without the pressure of having practice and games, there’s no time to put in that off-court work.

Q: As a league, the WNBA reach unprecedented heights in popularity and viewership this year. As one of the faces of the New York franchise, what’s going to be the key to establishing a larger Liberty footprint in a city that truly appreciates basketball?

A: I think just us continuing to grow, continuing to stay true to who we are, just taking on that Brooklyn, that New York identity, and get some wins. That’s what people want to see and that’s our goal. I think that that with this time, with a few players that are in market who are continuing to work to get better, and then the players that are overseas playing their game, I just truly believe that, when we all come back and reconvene, we’ll be a force to be reckoned with. I think that that’s what the city wants us to be.

Q: Do you have any international plans for the WNBA offseason? If not, what do you want to work on at home?

A: I don’t have an international plans. But, on the court, I just want to continue to grow, to continue to get better in every area of my game. I want to continue to increase my percentages, do different things to continue to grow, to help myself along with my team to get to that ultimate goal.

Off the court, I’d love to continue my community work. This is what I’m here for: to just continue to give back, to make an impact in the community, to just be a positive role model for people to look up to inspire others.

Q: This city is know for its diversity and its causes. Is there any particular cause or off-court endeavor that stands out to you, a place or issue where you’d like to and truly believe you can make a positive impact?

A: My passion has always been kids. Once I finish playing, maybe even while I’m playing, I’d like to apply myself and work with them, particularly those in underserved communities, because those that’s where you need the most building, the strongest foundation. Anything that’s dealing with kids, where I can help kids, continue to foster them into growing, healthy adults being that someone that they can look up to. That’s what drives me.

Q: The arrival of you, Natasha Howard, Sami Whitcomb, and others, as well as the move to Barclays Center, was meant to provide this team some stability. Yet, you overcame several obstacles, including weather and NBA playoff reschedulings to make a playoff push. What can you say about the resiliency of the 2021 Liberty?

A: I think it just shows just how strong we are, that we are capable of weathering storms, and coming out better for it. Exceeding expectations. I think that we did that this year, especially coming off the 2-20 season (in 2020). To be able to do that, and turn it around and make it to the playoffs, I don’t think a lot of people foresaw that coming. We just want to keep pushing, we want to just continue to get better. That’s our goal, and our focus going in going into these next year is to just be better than we were last year.

Photo by Allison Joseph/@shotsbyalliej

Q: You recently celebrated your 28th birthday. It was a year of change, a year of triumph. What did you learn about yourself, both as a ball player and as a human being?

A: Through everything that I’ve been through, I think that I’m stronger. Whatever I put my mind to, I can I can do. I’m just going to continue to get better, continue to want to be better in just every facet of my life.

Q: What have the conversations been like amongst the Liberty this offseason and what can fans expect on the road ahead?

A: We’re really excited. We’ve already talked about different things that we want to do for next year. We were excited seeing the results of the WNBA finals and talking about how that’s our goal, that’s where we want to be. This offseason, we have to make sure that we’re all doing everything that we can to get there.

We’ve had our players do really, really well overseas. Jocelyn (Willoughby) is coming back, she just started jogging, which is really good to see. The people that are here, still in the market are continuing to work to get better. As long as everyone’s doing their part, and we come back and we really are exhibiting everything that we’ve worked on, I think we’re in really good shape.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Liberty rookies Onyenwere, Richards honored by WNBA

Michaela Onyenwere and DiDi Richards’ efforts toward the New York Liberty’s playoff run were rewarded by the WNBA on Tuesday.

The WNBA named New York Liberty forward Michaela Onyenwere its official 2021 Rookie of the Year on Tuesday. Onyenwere also appeared on the league’s All-Rookie team alongside teammates DiDi Richards. Through their efforts, the Liberty reached the WNBA playoffs for the first time since 2017.

Onyenwere (pronounced On-yen-way-day) was a near-unanimous choice for the award, earning all but two of the 49 necessary votes. The lone outliers went to Richards and Aari McDonald of Atlanta.

“I’m so honored to be the 2021 WNBA Rookie of the Year,” Onyenwere said in a team statement. “To say that I am blessed to be in this position would be an understatement. Since I was drafted, I’ve always said that I couldn’t have been placed in a better situation. The people, the culture, and the organization have all been second to none and my experience so far has been so fulfilling.”

Onyenwere was chosen sixth overall in last spring’s draft and was one of two New York representatives (along with Betnijah Laney) to appear in all 32 games this season. The UCLA alumna started the first 29 contests and led all WNBA freshmen in scoring (8.6 points per game) and minutes (22.5). She also ranked second in rebounds (2.9) behind Charli Collier of Dallas.

With the honor, Onyenwere becomes the first player in Liberty history to earned the league’s Rookie of the Year title. She also joins an illustrious list of players to take home all of the Rookie of the Month honors in a single season, appearing alongside Tina Charles, Elena Delle Donne, Breanna Stewart, A’ja Wilson, and Crystal Dangerfield.

“I truly couldn’t have done this without God, my family, my teammates, my coaches, and support staff who have all had a part in my development and growth this season,” she said. “Understanding the magnitude of the legacy of New York basketball and the trailblazers who have come before me, it means that much more that I’m able to be the first in Liberty history to win the Rookie of the Year Award. I’m so grateful to be here and so excited for what’s to come.”

Richards was likewise nominated to the league’s All-Rookie squad, as she and Onyenwere become the first New York teammates to appear on the honor roll since Kiah Stokes and Brittany Boyd in 2015 (teammate Jazmine Jones also appeared on last season’s edition). The Baylor alumna was chosen 17th overall in April for her defensive prowess. Richards gained a large following as one of the most inspirational stories of the draft: she returned for her senior season at Waco after a devastating injury suffered in an accidental collision at practice left her temporarily paralyzed.

Though Richards struggled to carve out a role for herself in the early going, she became one of the Liberty’s most talked-about stars in the second half of the season thanks to newfound shooting talents. After attempting over a single three-pointer over her four years with the Bears, Richards converted 9-of-15 tries from deep over the last 10 games of the regular season. She became one of the Liberty’s most trusted reserves as the season went one and partook in all but one game in her rookie year.

As she became one of the team’s most fearless shooters, Richards was also a reliable source of energy, constantly diving for loose balls and engaging in raucous bench celebrations with Jones.

“It’s an honor to be named to this year’s All-Rookie Team alongside some amazing athletes who are the future of the WNBA,” Richards said in another team statement. “Thanks to my teammates, coaches, support staff, and my family for all of their support. I’m excited to continue working on my game this offseason and look forward to 2022.”

Joining the New York pair on the All-Rookie team are Collier, McDonald, and Dana Evans of the Chicago Sky.

The WNBA Playoffs’ semifinal round continues on Wednesday night with a pair of fourth games: Evans and the sixth-seeded Sky will look to close out an upset of top-ranked Connecticut (8 p.m. ET, ESPN) while the fifth-seed Phoenix Mercury will look to do the same against No. 2 Las Vegas in the nightcap (10 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

New York Liberty playoffs: 3 stars from Thursday’s loss at Phoenix

A valiant effort by the New York Liberty fell just short on Thursday night, as they dropped a heartbreaking postseason decision in Phoenix.

The New York Liberty’s Cinderella story surprisingly began at midnight. Alas, it came to an end shortly after.

Brianna Turner’s free throw with 0.4 seconds remaining gave the Phoenix Mercury just enough of a margin to escape Grand Canyon University with an 83-82 win over the Liberty in the opening round of the 2021 WNBA Playoffs. It was New York’s first playoff contest since 2017.

Facing the heavily-favored Mercury, the Liberty fell behind 17-8 in the early going, but fought their way back in a game that featured 13 lead changes. Betnijah Laney tied the game with a triple with 2.4 ticks remaining before a foul sent Turner to the foul line, where she hit one of two.

Skylar Diggins-Smith led the way with 22 for Phoenix while Sophie Cunningham had 21 off the bench for the victorious Mercury. They’ll now face the fourth-seeded defending champions from Seattle on Sunday afternoon (3 p.m. ET, ABC).

ESM has metropolitan game balls to bestow from a respectable final effort…

Honorable Mentions

  • Natasha Howard: 16 points, 10 rebounds
  • Bec Allen: 11 points, 4 rebounds, 3 blocks

3rd Star: Reshanda Gray

8 points, 2 rebounds

The Liberty’s modern fortunes have been defined by their youngsters, but the veteran Gray came up huge for the Liberty in the fourth quarter, helping them keep pace on the inside as Phoenix tried to pull away, forcing the opponents to rely on outside endeavors. Gray set new playoff career-bests after missing the last two games with a non-COVID illness. Through four different tenures this season, Gray became a relied-upon leader and spark off the bench as she seeks to establish a permanent WNBA residency.

2nd Star: Sabrina Ionescu

14 points, 11 assists, 5 rebounds

The Liberty’s brief playoff appearance carries a special weight and reward in the sense that they made their postseason return after enduring a two-win season in the Bradenton bubble. Her first “playoff” action since 2020’s Pac-12 tournament proved she has what it takes to lead at the WNBA level.

She believes the chemistry and camaraderie, particularly such contents built during a final stretch that included a vital win over Washington in Brooklyn, will allow the Liberty to get a head start in 2022 as their “hybrid rebuild” continues.

“We’re going to start training camp at this level,” Ionescu said. “Everything’s going to change drastically. We know each other a lot more.”

1st Star: Betnijah Laney

25 points, 4 rebounds

Laney wouldn’t let the Liberty’s season end without one more double-decalogue, taking full advantage of her first major playoff minutes, having spent two minutes on Chicago’s playoff run in 2015. The Rutgers alumna missed her first two shots as the Liberty fell behind early, but she hit 10 of her final 20, including a jaw-dropping triple that tied the game with 2.7 seconds left.

Laney’s postseason ascension further drives home her status as a leader and vital part of what’s to come. She left a dire warning for those willing to discount the Liberty after a single nationally postseason loss.

“It gives us momentum. Even if things didn’t go our way, the way we played as a group, there is a sign that we belong,” Laney said. “So we’re going to this offseason to continue to be better…come back mature next year. We’re here to stay.”

“I think there was a lot of questions in how we were going to come out, what kind of team we (were),” Laney said. “But I think that throughout the season, especially in our last game against the Mystics…I think it says a lot about this New York Liberty team. We’ll be back and we’re going to be really good.”

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Liberty clinch final spot in 2021 WNBA playoffs

The New York Liberty are playoff-bound for the first time since 2017 thanks to Sunday losses in Washington and Los Angeles.

The New York Liberty’s 25th anniversary celebration isn’t over just yet.

For the first time since 2017, the Liberty (12-20) will partake in the WNBA Playoffs. Placed in the eighth and final slot of the tournament, New York will take on the fifth-seeded Phoenix Mercury in the opening round’s single-game elimination on Thursday night (10 p.m. ET, ESPN2). The game will be held at Grand Canyon University Arena as the Mercury’s regular home of Footprint Center is occupied for a concert.

Though the Liberty’s season wrapped on Friday night, Sunday’s results allowed the team to punch its ticket. The wearers of seafoam needed losses from both the Washington Mystics and Los Angeles Sparks to extend their season. Fortunately for New York, the Minnesota Lynx and Dallas Wings were happy to provide an assist.

Minnesota topped Washington 83-77 in the nation’s capital (allowing them to move past defending champion Seattle for the No. 3 seed) while Dallas narrowly defeated Los Angeles by an 87-84 margin to finish things off. The Liberty set up the Sunday scenarios with a 91-80 win over Washington on Friday night at Barclays Center, a win that snapped an eight-game losing streak.

New York now returns to the playoffs after enduring a two-win showing in the Bradenton bubble, one that forced the team to rely on the services of seven rookies, including touted top overall pick Sabrina Ionescu. The Oregon alumna partook in only three games before an injury erased most of her freshman campaign. She returned to a revamped Liberty squad that brought in Bradenton’s Most Improved Player and Rutgers Betnijah Laney, as well as WNBA champions Natasha Howard and Sami Whitcomb through a trade.

This Liberty season, their first as full-time tenants in Barclays Center, began with wins in five of its first six games, the first of which ended in a game-winning buzzer-beater from Ionescu. Though things cooled down in terms of wins and losses, the Liberty made several proud strides throughout the season.

Laney was invited to her first WNBA All-Star Game while Ionescu earned the 10th triple-double in WNBA history in a May victory over Minnesota. Paced by Whitcomb’s 76 (second-best in the league behind Arike Ogunbowale of Dallas), the Liberty also set a new WNBA record with 321 successful three-point attempts. Bec Allen finished third in the league in steals (1.6 per game) while Michaela Onyenwere (8.6 points, 2.9 rebounds per game) is considered a front-runner for the league’s Rookie of the Year Award.

The Liberty and Mercury, two of the WNBA’s three remaining original franchises that remain situated in their original markets (Los Angeles is the other) have met twice in the WNBA Playoffs. New York took the first matchup to advance to the inaugural WNBA Finals in 1997 while Phoenix upset the Liberty as an eighth seed in 2016. Phoenix won two of the three matchups between the teams this season, the most recent being an 80-64 triumph on August 27 in Brooklyn. Two members of the Liberty’s bubble squad, Kia Nurse and Megan Walker, currently reside on the Mercury roster as they were dealt out west in the Howard/Whitcomb deal that also involved the Seattle Storm.

Full WNBA Playoff Schedule

Date Game Time (ET) TV
September 23 No. 7 Dallas @ No. 6 Chicago 8 p.m. ESPN2
September 23 No. 8 LIBERTY @ No. 5 Phoenix 10 p.m. ESPN2
September 26 TBD @ No. 3 Minnesota TBD ABC or ESPN2
September 26 TBD @ No. 4 Seattle TBD ABC or ESPN2
September 28 TBD @ No. 1 Connecticut (Game 1) 8 p.m. ESPN2
September 28 TBD @ No. 2 Las Vegas (Game 1) 10 p.m. ESPN2
September 30 TBD @ Connecticut (Game 2) 8 p.m. ESPN2
September 30 TBD @ Las Vegas (Game 2) 10 p.m. ESPN2
October 3 Connecticut @ TBD (Game 3) TBD TBD
October 3 Las Vegas @ TBD (Game 3) TBD TBD
October 6 Connecticut @ TBD (Game 4)* TBD TBD
October 6 Las Vegas @ TBD (Game 4)* TBD TBD
October 8 TBD @ Connecticut (Game 5)* TBD ESPN2
October 8 TBD @ Las Vegas (Game 5) TBD ESPN2
October 10 WNBA Finals (Game 1) 3 p.m. ABC
October 13 WNBA Finals (Game 2) 9 p.m. ESPN
October 15 WNBA Finals (Game 3) 9 p.m. ESPN2
October 17 WNBA Finals (Game 4)* 3 p.m. ESPN
October 19 WNBA Finals (Game 5)* 9 p.m. ESPN2
*-If Necessary

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Liberty: Three stars from Friday’s win vs. Washington

Time will tell if the playoffs await, but the New York Liberty ended its season on the right note at Barclays Center on Friday.

This week’s metropolitan endeavor against the Washington basketball team was far more lucrative than the matchup against the football squad.

The New York Liberty ended its regular season on a strong note on Friday night at Barclays Center, topping the Washington Mystics by a 91-80 final. New York (12-20) snapped an eight-game losing streak with their triumph and will now await results from the weekend games. New York needs both Los Angeles and Washington to lose on Sunday to clinch its first playoff berth since 2017. The Mystics (12-19) return to the nation’s capital to battle the Minnesota Lynx (3 p.m. ET, ESPN3) while the Sparks battle the Dallas Wings on the road (5 p.m. ET, NBA TV).

Even if the playoffs aren’t to be, the Liberty set a WNBA record on Friday night, sinking their 317th three-pointer of the season, passing the 2019 Mystics. New York led by as many as 24, withstanding a 29-point effort from Ariel Atkins. Tina Charles, the all-time leading scorer in team history, was held to 10 points in defeat.

ESM has three standouts from the victorious finale…

Honorable Mentions

  • Sami Whitcomb: 13 points, 7 rebounds
  • Bec Allen: 9 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists

3rd Star: Betnijah Laney

10 points, 11 assists

It was a tough shooting night for Laney (3-of-13 from the field) but served as a facilitator all night with her passing and ability to contribute on double-teams. Laney also continued a growing role as a face of New York basketball by addressing the crowd on Fan Appreciation Night prior to tip-off, thanking them for the season-long support and encouraging them to get loud for the big contest.

2nd Star: Sabrina Ionescu

22 points, 9 assists, 5 rebounds

The Liberty’s first full-time Brooklyn ledger ended as it began: a Sabrina Ionescu buzzer-beater.

This edition wasn’t as dramatic…her shot clock-beating tally simply created the final 11-point margin…but served as one final crowd-pleaser to end Ionescu’s de facto rookie season on a high note. Ionescu ended the year with double figures in her final 11 games of the year. She also shot at least 50 percent in three of the final four. After the game, the California native and Oregon alumna said that New York was “starting to feel like home for a lot of us”.

“We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished, but this is just the beginning. I’m so excited for the future of this team,” Ionescu said. “We’ve talked about, that feeling of growth and unity is really what this team’s about and why they put us all together…the fans were amazing…we heard them, felt them, it was electric.”

1st Star: Natasha Howard

24 points, 10 rebounds

The Liberty’s Natasha Howard sample size was small thanks to an injury that cost “Flash” most of her debut year in New York. She saved the best for last, scoring 11 points in the first quarter en route to an 11-for-13 performance on the evening. Howard began to resemble her dominant self in the latter stages of the Liberty’s season, shooting 64 percent from the field over her last four games.

New Yorkers were most impressed with Howard’s leadership in the final game. Along with Whitcomb and Laney, Howard was one of those who took charge during a third-quarter timeout called and organized by players when Washington trimmed the Liberty’s 24-point lead. Howard herself admitted she isn’t the loudest motivator, but believed that had to change if the Liberty were to end the season the right way.

“Tonight I was talking a lot…it was time for me to step up to that plate, be more vocal,” she said. “When game time came, we were locked in…our growth came, we called stayed together, fought, and came out with a win.”

Head coach Walt Hopkins described Howard as a “sneaky vocal leader”, one who wanted to lead by example. Concerning the aforementioned timeout, Hopkins was further pleased with his players’ willingness to hold each other accountable.

“They needed to hear from each other,” he said. “I can yell until I’m blue in the face…your teammates, you’re not going to (ignore) your teammates. I was really proud of them.”

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

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: Three stars from Saturday’s loss at Dallas

The New York Liberty’s playoff dreams were dealt a major blow in their penultimate road game of the season in Dallas.

Thrilling September matchups between New York and Dallas are no longer limited to the gridiron. These, in fact, bear greater importance on their respective league’s playoff picture.

Alas for the metropolitans, however, another loss built on development has dealt a sizable blow to their postseason aspirations.

The Dallas Wings took advantage of a 21-10 advantage in the fourth quarter, paced by a combined 34 points off the bench from Marina Mabrey and Satou Sabally, to earn a narrow 77-76 victory over the New York Liberty on Saturday night in the Lone Star State. Dallas (13-17) clinched its first WNBA playoff berth since 2018, leaving only one spot up for grabs as the end of the regular season approaches.

The Liberty (11-19) are one of three teams fighting for that eighth and final seed with two games left on their regular season schedule. That pair starts Wednesday against Connecticut (7 p.m. ET, CBSSN) and concludes with a matchup against their fellow fighters from Washington on Friday. New York has lost control of the final seeds through a 1-8 stretch in the post-Olympic slate.

ESM has three stars from the latest defeat…

3rd Star: Sabrina Ionescu

18 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists

In the midst of some brutal defeats, Ionescu is posting Ionescu-esque numbers again. She has reached double figures in scoring in all nine post-Olympic games to date, averaging 14.3 points and 6.0 rebounds and assists in the first nine games back. Head coach Walt Hopkins was quick to point out the silver lining of Ionescu’s return to form, calling her “strides” a major pillar of the long-term picture.

2nd Star: Natasha Howard

16 points, 11 rebounds

Though some turnovers at the worst possible team clouded the metropolitan progress, Howard earned her third double-double in the post-Olympic slate in the midst of defeat. She’s shooting 60 percent of the floor (15-of-25) over her past two contests.

 

1st Star: Betnijah Laney

19 points, 6 assists 

If anyone knows about the proverbial “process” of WNBA success, it’s Laney. The Rutgers alumna endured spent four seasons in professional purgatory before a breakout campaign in the Bradenton bubble netted her last season’s Most Improved Player award. Laney has kept the momentum up in her return to the tri-state area, topping the Liberty in scoring. She took on a verbal role in Saturday’s postgame comments, citing “simple” issues that lead to losses amidst the progress away from the scoreboard.

“We’re not really dwelling on it, but learning from it…We see it, we know it, but we just got to get over the hump of just the little things that have just been holding us back,” Laney said of the losing streak and the hidden silver linings. “Once we really focus in and are able to control those things we’ll be in good shape, we just have to marry that with the progress that we’ve been making…We’ve had progress, so we keep that, going into these games, we just tweak the things that have been holding us back. I think that the progress in the detail that we’ve been making these past few games flow will hopefully show up and give us the results that we want.”

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Liberty: Three stars from Thursday’s loss at Seattle

The New York Liberty controlled Thursday’s game for three quarters, but they still couldn’t steal one from the defending champions.

Facing an increasingly dire situation in the WNBA’s playoff standings, the New York Liberty needed to steal one from the defending champion Seattle Storm on Thursday night at Angel of the Winds Arena.

For three quarters, they seemed well on their way. But Breanna Stewart unleashed her personal brand of Seattle storm on the reeling New Yorkers.

The MVP candidate tallied a game-best 33 points, helping the Storm fully reverse a 10-point deficit against the Liberty en route to an 85-75 triumph at home. New York (11-18) has now lost six in a row as they’ve fallen out of the WNBA’s current playoff bracket. The idle Washington Mystics now hold the eighth and final seed as the WNBA season enters its final stages.

New York has three games remaining as they’ll next play on Sept. 11 in Dallas (8 p.m. ET, WNBA League Pass).

ESM has three stars from this latest defeat…

3rd Star: Natasha Howard

15 points, 6 rebounds, 2 steals

A vital piece from the Storm’s victorious endeavor in the Bradenton bubble, Howard made her return to her former Seattle stomping grounds and was bestowed a championship ring alongside Sami Whitcomb (who played 12 minutes in her second game back from injury). She shot a season-best 64 percent from the field (7-of-11). Making Thursday’s loss even tougher to bear was the fact the Liberty were unable to secure Howard a special birthday gift: the three-time champion’s return to the Pacific Northwest coincided with her 30th celebration.

2nd Star: Bec Allen

17 points, 2 steals

Allen’s streak of earning at least eight rebounds stopped at three games, but she fell just two points short of her season-best in scoring. The Australian Opal has become one of the most productive New Yorkers since returning from Tokyo, averaging 12.7 points and 5.3 rebounds over the past seven games. Thursday marked the fifth time in that span that she has reached double figures in scoring. Head coach Walt Hopkins referred to Allen’s contributions as “tremendous” in the aftermath.

“Her energy has been so consistent,” Hopkins said. “Bec somebody who has a tendency to be hard on herself. She has not let herself get out of the game in a long time. She’s not let herself get frustrated and take herself out. She’s been really resilient and really proud of the way that she’s grown in terms of her emotional and mental approach to what she’s doing.”

1st Star: Sabrina Ionescu

20 points, 7 assists

In the midst of some tough New York efforts, Ionescu is starting to put up Ionescu-esque numbers against. A return to the PNW area did the ex-Oregon Duck some good. With former collegiate head coach Kelly Graves in attendance, Ionescu helped the Liberty build a consistent lead in the first half. She was mostly held in check in the second half, but she still managed to facilitate and set up metropolitan opportunities. Ionescu has reached double-figures in scoring in all eight post-Olympic games and has averaged just over six assists in that span.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags