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Struggling Liberty limp into Seattle

Look to snap five-game skid against reigning WNBA champs

September 1, 2021 John Torenli, Sports Editor
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After questioning his team’s effort during this ongoing season-high slide, Liberty head coach Walt Hopkins finally saw something that had been sorely missing Tuesday night in Minnesota.

“Tonight for most of the game, (our level of effort) was a nine or 10. Execution wasn’t always there, but the effort was,” Hopkins noted hopefully after New York dropped its fifth game in a row with a 72-66 defeat to the Lynx in front of 3,331 fans at Target Center.

“Our energy was real good. … I thought their togetherness was really good tonight.”

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After opening the season with five wins in their first six games, the Liberty (11-17) have gone a dismal 6-16, including the opener of this four-game road trip, which resumes Thursday night in Seattle against the defending WNBA champion Storm.

New York, which is clinging to the league’s eighth and final playoff spot by mere percentage points over Washington (10-16), was outscored by a combined 41 points during a two-game series vs. the Storm at Barclays Center last week.

The Liberty have lost eight of their last nine games overall and have heard Hopkins’ pleading to show more energy and effort in an attempt to resurrect what suddenly appears to be another lost season after New York finished with the worst record in the league the previous two years.

“There’s a lot of room for improvement, but hopefully this sets the standard for what we are capable of doing (going forward),” said Liberty point guard Sabrina Ionescu after amassing 17 points, eight assists and seven rebounds.

All-Star Betnijah Laney also had 17 points and WNBA Rookie of the Year candidate Michaela Onyenwere added 11 points and 10 rebounds for New York, which shot a dismal 5-of-23 from 3-point range.

Despite their shooting woes, the Liberty were right there with the red-hot Lynx (16-9), who have won three straight and nine of their last 11 contests.

Though the effort was better, Sabrina Ionescu and the Liberty dropped their season-high fifth straight game in Minnesota Tuesday. AP Photo by Noah K. Murray

Ionescu knocked down a 3-ball to cut the deficit to 65-63 with just over a minute and a half remaining and Onyenwere hit three free throws to pull New York within two points again with 23.3 ticks left on the clock.

But Kayla McBride and Aerial Powers combined to make six free throws down the stretch, ending any hope of a stirring Liberty comeback.

“Down the stretch we got a little stagnant,” said Hopkins, who now has the tall task of motivating his team for a trip to the northwest against a team that ran over the Liberty in Brooklyn on Aug. 20 after suffering an 83-79 loss at Barclays two nights earlier without Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart.

Kayla McBride poured in 25 points and Napheesa Collier added 21 points and 14 boards for Minnesota, which won despite giving the Liberty 26 points off 15 turnovers.

With only four regular-season contests remaining, including a potentially crucial finale vs. Washington at Barclays on Sept. 17, the Liberty have to finish just as strong as they started this campaign if they hope to avoid watching the playoffs from home again.

Rookie of the Year candidate Michaela Onyenwere posted her first career double-double in Minnesota Tuesday. AP Photo by Adam Hunger


GIVE ME LIBERTY: Onyenwere’s double-double was the first of her budding career. But the Liberty’s first-round pick in last year’s draft endured a tough shooting night in Minnesota, going 3-for-12, including 2-of-7 from long range. “She was just really locked in on rebounding tonight,” Hopkins said of the 22-year-old forward. “Sometimes shots don’t fall, but she was getting to the rim. For the most part, she took shots that we would like her to take. We just didn’t shoot the ball well as a team.” … Ionescu has reached double figures in scoring in seven straight games since the Olympic break. … WNBA All-Defensive Team candidate Rebecca Allen finished with seven points, eight rebounds, a career-best five steals and three blocked shots vs. Minnesota. … After visiting Seattle on Thursday, the Liberty will be in Dallas Saturday and Connecticut next Wednesday before heading home for the finale against the Mystics.

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