Ionescu puts up 33 in Liberty loss to Wings
Rookie's talent shines through following shaky debut
Sabrina Ionescu readily admitted that she needed to be “more of a scorer” after struggling mightily with her shooting touch during her WNBA debut last weekend.
So the Liberty’s highly touted rookie did just that Wednesday night, pouring in 33 points on 11-of-20 shooting, including a 6-for-10 effort from 3-point range, in New York’s 93-80 loss to the Dallas Wings at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.
“She had a heck of a game; she did everything she could to get our offense going,” Liberty head coach Walt Hopkins said after watching the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft show off the talent that garnered her a pair of Wooden Awards as the nation’s best player at the University of Oregon.
“She saw we needed a boost offensively and she went out and created one,” added Hopkins. “The shots fell tonight and she did a great job getting to [the] rim and had an efficient game.”
After being flustered by a swarming defense throughout her much-anticipated first game as a pro vs. the Seattle Storm on Saturday, Ionescu was determined to shake off a porous shooting effort that saw her go 4-for-17 from the field and a putrid 0-for-8 from 3-point range.
Not only did the NCAA’s all-time leader in career triple-doubles find the range from in close and beyond the arc Wednesday, she also handed out seven assists and grabbed seven rebounds, making her the best player on the floor, albeit in the Liberty’s second straight defeat.
“I think my shot was a little bit rushed and I didn’t have that much confidence,” Ionescu said of her shaky debut against the Storm.
“Went back to practice and worked on speeding up my shot and getting it to where I want. I think that definitely helped a lot.”
It certainly did, but it couldn’t help the Liberty get win No. 1 of the Ionescu era.
The Wings (1-1), spearheaded by Arike Ogunbowale’s 20-point effort, took command with an 11-2 run to open the second quarter, bursting out to a 15-point advantage at the half.
Though the Liberty (0-2) outscored Dallas, 19-13, in the fourth quarter, it wasn’t nearly enough to overcome a more-balanced Wings squad, which placed five players in double figures in scoring.
Layshia Clarendon, who paced New York with 20 points in Saturday’s season-opening loss to Seattle, managed 11 points against Dallas, but was the only other Liberty player with more than nine points.
Ionescu, hailed as a potential transformational player for the league upon her selection by the Liberty during April’s first-ever virtual draft, admitttedly was a bit more at ease on the world’s top professional women’s circuit following the second-highest scoring effort ever by a Liberty rookie.
“I definitely felt a little more like myself, more comfortable and more confident,” said the 22-year-old Walnut Creek, California native after falling just one point shy of Kia Nurse’s 34-point performance in 2018.
Surrounded by fellow first- and second-year players, Ionescu has already taken a leadership role on the new-look Liberty squad, which underwent an offseason facelift before the novel coronavirus forced the league into this 22-game, bubble-site campaign.
She was one of five rookies on the floor for New York in the loss, marking the first time that’s happened in a WNBA game since 2017.
“It’s awesome to be able to see all the rookies in this league,” Ionescu said. “Hopefully we can continue to grow this league.
Though her game vastly improved Wednesday night, the new face of the franchise wasn’t satisfied with the ultimate result.
“Obviously not happy because we didn’t win,” Ionescu emphasized as the team turned its attention to Friday night’s game vs. the Atlanta Dream.
“We’re still getting used to each other, we’re still a team with a lot of new faces. It’s just going to take some growing pains. My teammates know it took some growing pains at Oregon as well.”
Growing pains are a part of any rookie’s experience in any professional league.
But for Ionescu, quickly getting past what many deemed a poor pro debut is a great sign of her resilience and the Liberty’s judgement in choosing her to lead this Brooklyn-bound team out of the darkness following the worst two seasons in franchise history.
In other local pro sports news, the Liberty’s Brooklyn brethren, the Nets, will finally kick off their NBA restart Friday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. vs. the Orlando Magic at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida.
The Nets (30-34) hold a half-game lead over the Magic for the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference playoff race and will carry a three-game winning streak into the contest though they haven’t hit the hardwood in earnest since knocking off LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers on March 10.
Also, the New York Islanders will begin their best-of-five Stanley Cup qualifier series against the Florida Panthers in Toronto on Saturday at 4 p.m., marking their first game on the ice since a 5-4 shootout loss in Vancouver on March 10.
The Isles tuned up for Saturday’s re-opener by topping the arch rival New York Rangers, 2-1, in exhibition play on Wednesday as Anthony Beauvillier and Devon Toews scored and Semyon Varlamov and Thomas Greiss combined for 26 saves.
New York head coach Barry Trotz still hasn’t decided which one of the two goalies will take the net in Game 1 vs. the Panthers, whom the Isles beat in all three regular-season meetings this year.
“I have the luxury of starting either one,” Trotz said. “I could throw a little bit of a dart to the dart board and I’d feel pretty comfortable. … Our defense is deep and our forwards, I liked the pace they played at today.”
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