Liberty outlast Sun to climb into first

Stewart makes history, Jones enjoys happy homecoming

June 28, 2023 John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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Breanna Stewart knows exactly how Jonquel Jones felt before paying her first visit to the team that drafted her seven years ago and watched her develop into a WNBA Most Valuable Player.

“Any time you go back home, to the team that drafted you, it’s a lot of memories, a lot of nostalgia,” Stewart remembered.

And a lot of continued success for the surging New York Liberty.

Stewart became the fastest player in league history to reach 4,000 points, Jones enjoyed a happy Connecticut homecoming with a double-double and the Liberty used a lock-down defense to pull out an 89-81 victory over the Sun Tuesday before a crowd of 7,344 at the Mohegan Sun Arena.

Stewart, a clear front-runner for her second MVP award this year, made her return to Seattle on May 30, playing against the Storm for the first time in her old arena after being selected first overall by the organization in 2016.

She put up 25 points and grabbed 11 rebounds to lead the Liberty to victory that night, a win she relished and recalled when talking about the normally stoic Jones’ return to the Nutmeg State.

“I think we played Connecticut early in the year, but it was at our place,” noted Stewart, referring to New York’s 81-65 win over the Sun in Jones’ initial reunion with her ex-teammates.

“She wants to play well. She’s a double-double machine.”

Jones lived up to that billing, scoring 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting, grabbing a game-high 11 boards and blocking a team-high four shots against the franchise that took her sixth overall in 2016 and watched her blossom into the 2021 WNBA MVP.

Stewart made sure her new teammate would walk out of Uncasville with a win. pouring in a game-high 24 points to go with nine rebounds.

The win lifted New York (10-3) percentage points ahead of the Sun (12-4) for the top spot in the East, and also gave it control of its own destiny to represent the conference in the annual Commissioner’s Cup.

“I don’t think we view (the Sun) as superior competition,” Stewart noted. “I think we viewed ourselves equally. And tons of respect to Connecticut. … It’s really hard to win on the road.”

Breanna Stewart became the fastest to 4,000 career points in WNBA history Tuesday as New York held off Connecticut. Photo by Brandon Todd/New York Liberty

Courtney Vandersloot scored 17 points and handed out nine assists and Betnijah Laney added 16 points for the Liberty, who have won four in a row and six of their last seven contests.

DiJonai Carrington had a career-high 23 points and Alyssa Thomas finished with 11 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists en route to her fifth triple-double of the season for Connecticut, which used an 11-0 fourth-quarter run to erase New York’s double-digit lead.

The Liberty refused to go meekly, finishing the game on a 9-0 run that saw them hold the Sun scoreless over the final 3:39.

Connecticut missed its last eight shots as its own four-game winning streak came to an end.

“We know we can be a great defensive team,” said New York coach Sandy Brondello. “We didn’t do it for 40 minutes, but when we had to, we did.

“That’s a great win for us. That’s a really dangerous team,” she added.

The Liberty will continue their three-game road trip Thursday night at league-leading and defending WNBA champion Las Vegas (13-1) before Stewart and her teammates re-visit Seattle Sunday evening.

It will be the latest set of tests for the league’s newly formed “Superteam”, which is finding ways to win despite an ongoing adjustment period.

“It shows their resiliency really,” Brondello said. “Just staying true to how we want to play, and supporting each other.”

Courtney Vandersloot helped New York climb into a tie with Connecticut in the WNBA’s Commissioner’s Cup standings. Brandon Todd/New York Liberty

GIVE ME LIBERTY: The Liberty climbed into a virtual tie with Connecticut in the Commissioner’s Cup standings with a 6-3 mark, but have won the first two meetings between the teams this year. They will meet the Sun again in Connecticut on Aug. 24, and host them at Barclays Center on Sept. 1. “We wanted to play in the Commissioner’s Cup. .. We beat two really good teams back-to-back,” said Vandersloot of New York’s victories over Washington and the Sun. “We still have another one. We have to go to Indiana (on July 12). … The job’s not finished.” … Liberty All-Star point guard Sabrina Ionescu, who had 31 points vs. Washington on Sunday, had six points, five assists and three rebounds against the Sun. She also became the fastest guard in WNBA history to reach 500 rebounds.

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