Ionescu could return ‘real soon’ for Liberty

Superstar listed as day-to-day as New York heads to Vegas

June 15, 2021 John Torenli, Sports Editor
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The New York Liberty snapped their season-high three-game losing streak in dramatic fashion Sunday in Phoenix, Arizona.

Now, the only drama surrounding Brooklyn’s WNBA franchise is when star point guard Sabrina Ionescu will be able to rejoin her teammates as they begin a two-game series in Las Vegas this week.

“I think putting a ton of load on that (left) ankle after a long recovery process, I think it just was a lot for body to handle,” New York head coach Walt Hopkins said before announcing that Ionescu would miss the team’s eventual 85-83 win over the Mercury Sunday with left-ankle tendinitis.

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“We just need to get her a little rest and hopefully she’ll be back real soon,” Hopkins added wistfully.

While Ionescu rested the surgically repaired ankle that cost her all but three games during her much-anticipated rookie season at the WNBA bubble site in Bradenton, Florida last year, the Liberty (6-4) finally found a way to get back in the win column for the first time since May 24.

Betnijah Laney, the team’s top scorer, put up 23 points and handed out 10 assists as New York never trailed after taking the lead in the first quarter. But the Liberty did need a steal from Rebecca Allen in the final seconds to preserve the victory.

Betnijah Laney helped the Liberty snap a season-high three-game skid in Phoenix Sunday. AP Photo by Adam Hunger

To make up for Ionescu’s absence, the Liberty used a balanced attack.

Jazmine Jones scored a season-high 16 points off the bench, including 14 in the fourth quarter. Sami Whitcomb added 14 points and Kylee Shook finished with 10 for New York, which was slated to visit the newly formed Aces Tuesday with a quick return match on Thursday.

Whether or not Ionescu manages to lace up her sneakers for either contest, the Liberty have proven throughout this strong start to their first full campaign in Brooklyn that they are not a one-woman show.

Nor will they ever be.

Laney, Allen, Jones, rookie sensation Michaela Onyenwere, Ionescu and fellow injured teammate Natasha Howard have collectively helped to transform New York from last-place finishers to postseason contenders through the season’s first 10 games.

Laney also had seven rebounds in Sunday’s win, leaving her three boards shy of the second triple-double of the season for New York, which is three games behind league-leading Seattle.

Ionescu, the NCAA record holder in that category, posted the first earlier this year.

When she’ll get a chance to do so again is anyone’s guess.

“I think, you know, we could have done more of a minutes restriction, but really it’s she needs to practice, she needs the reps,” Hopkins told the New York Daily News.

“And so it’s this mixed bag of she needs the rest and she also needs the reps. And so I think it’s just going to be kind of a back and forth, you know for parts of the season.”

Here’s to hoping Hopkins’s “real soon” prognosis proves to be the correct one.

Las Vegas Aces star A’ja Wilson torched the Liberty for 30 points in Brooklyn earlier this month. AP Photo by Elaine Thompson

GIVE ME LIBERTY: The Aces (8-3) beat the Liberty at Barclays Center on June 3 behind 30 points from A’ja Wilson. … Laney has scored at least 20 points in nine of the Liberty’s first 10 games. … New York is 1-1 on its five-game trip, which concludes Sunday in Los Angeles. The Liberty will be back at Barclays Center on June 22 to open a two-game set vs. Chicago. … The Liberty should be well-represented at next month’s WNBA All-Star Game, which will also take place in Sin City on July 14 at Michelob ULTRA Arena at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. Fan voting for the event began Tuesday and will end on June 27. Those interested in selecting their favorite players can do so via WNBA.com/vote and the WNBA App voting platforms. This year’s game will feature the top 12 WNBA stars vs. the U.S. women’s Olympic team.


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