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Aces high as Liberty visit reigning champs

Battle of conference leaders highlights New York's road trip

June 29, 2023 John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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You have to beat the champ to be the champ.

The old boxing adage played out in many fabled title fights over the decades in Las Vegas.

The New York Liberty are about to test their collective mettle against the reigning champions of their league in Sin City Thursday night.

The Liberty will shoot for their fifth straight victory and sixth consecutive road win Thursday night as they visit the Las Vegas Aces in a battle of the WNBA’s “Superteams” and conference leaders before what should be a raucous crowd at Michelob ULTRA Arena.

New York (10-3) jumped into the top spot in the East with an 89-81 triumph in Connecticut Tuesday, kicking off a three-game road trip.

Breanna Stewart scored 24 points, Jonquel Jones added 14 points and 11 rebounds and Courtney Vandersloot had 17 points and handed out nine assists as the Liberty’s Big Three continued its quest to bring the franchise its first-ever championship.

“It shows their resiliency really,” New York coach Sandy Brondello said after the Liberty held the Sun scoreless over the last 3 1/2 minutes after squandering a double-digit lead earlier in the fourth quarter.

“Just staying true to how we want to play, and supporting each other.”

The Aces (13-1) are looking to improve on their 7-0 home record against the only team that ranked even close to them among preseason oddsmakers predicting the 2023 WNBA champion.

Reigning MVP A’ja Wilson scored 24 points and grabbed 10 rebounds Monday night against visiting Indiana as Vegas made it six straight victories with an 88-80 win.

Reigning WNBA MVP A’Ja Wilson and the defending WNBA champion Las Vegas Aces will host Downtown Brooklyn’s New York Liberty Thursday. AP Photo by Jessica Hill

Spearheaded by Wilson, the backcourt tandem of Jackie Wilson and Kelsey Plum as well as WNBA legend Candace Parker, the Aces edged New York, 84-77, in a May 13 preseason tune-up for the much-anticipated big brawl.

This one, which will be televised locally on the Yes Network and nationally via Amazon Prime Video at 10 p.m., will be the first of four scheduled regular-season showdowns between the teams touted to meet in the WNBA Finals come October.

“I love these moments, these type of games when the lights are brightest,” Wilson told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “It’s a lot of fun to play these types of teams.”

Wilson is averaging a team-high 19.6 points per game and grabbing 9.4 boards per contest for Vegas while Stewart leads New York with 22.6 points and 10.3 rebounds.

“She’s one of the hardest workers I know,” Aces guard Alysha Clark said of Stewart, who is the MVP front-runner thus far this year. “She practices and works like she’s the 12th player on a 12-player roster.”

Wilson and Stewart were named captains for their respective conferences in the July 15 WNBA All-Star Game in Vegas.

It’s hard to imagine any more star power in that exhibition contest than this regular-season clash of the league’s titans.

Breanna Stewart and the Liberty will try to end Las Vegas’ perfect run at home this year Thursday night in Sin City. Photo by Brandon Todd/New York Liberty

GIVE ME LIBERTY: Liberty center Stefanie Dolson will miss her third straight game with a right ankle injury. … The Aces will visit Downtown Brooklyn on Aug. 6, New York will return to Vegas on Aug. 17 and the regular-season finale between the WNBA superpowers will be on Aug. 28 at Barclays Center. … The Liberty will cap off their trip in Seattle on Sunday. They will be back on the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush Wednesday night to host Phoenix.

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