Sharing is caring for red-hot Liberty
Shoot for season-high seventh straight win Tuesday in Dallas
The New York Liberty have established a new WNBA standard for ball-sharing in a single season.
It may just help them share in the glory of the franchise’s first-ever championship next month.
Coming off their record-setting 33rd game of the year with at least 20 assists, the Liberty will visit the Dallas Wings on Tuesday night at College Park Center in search of their season-high seventh straight win.
New York (30-7) reached the 30-win plateau for the first time ever during Sunday’s come-from-behind 86-69 triumph in Chicago, using a 22-0 fourth-quarter run to put the Sky away.
The Liberty finished with 23 helpers, spearheaded by team assists leader Courtney Vandersloot.
The veteran point guard poured in 20 points, handed out 10 assists, grabbed five rebounds, picked up six steals and blocked a pair of shots.
She became the first player in league history to have a game with at least 20 points, 10 assists, five rebounds, five steals and five made 3-pointers.
“I said that she should have got five more rebounds,” jabbed Breanna Stewart, who led New York with 26 points and 14 rebounds on a night All-Star Sabrina Ionescu sat out with a sore calf.
“To see Sloot like this, to see her comfortable and in her element. That’s what we all want,” Stewart added.
Vandersloot leads the league with 8.1 assists per game during her first year in Brooklyn after 12 seasons with Chicago. She also ranks second in WNBA history in that category.
But the Liberty’s penchant for finding the open shooter didn’t happen overnight as the league’s newly constructed “Super Team” took a while to find its rhythm.
They are currently dancing to the tune of a 13-1 record since the end of July, including a Commissioner’s Cup championship game victory over league-best Las Vegas on Aug. 15.
“It was built over time,” Vandersloot noted. “Assists came naturally to us because we have so many playmakers on this team. … We all came together and decided we wanted to do this. We needed everybody.”
Betnijah Laney scored 17 points in Sunday’s win and Jocelyn Willoughby added a season-high 10 off the bench. The veteran reserve helped make up for Ionescu’s long-range shooting by going 3-of-4 from the floor, including 2-of-3 from beyond the arc when New York needed it most.
“When Jocelyn hit that 3 on the wing (during the fourth-quarter run), I think that was a big turning point for us,” said Vandersloot.
Ionescu, who ranks second on the team with 5.4 assists per contest, is expected back against the Wings (20-17), who rank fourth in the league standings and are coming off Sunday’s 97-84 overtime loss to visiting Indiana.
Kelsey Mitchell drained seven 3-pointers en route to 30 points and NaLyssa Smith added a career-high 30 as well for Dallas, which had a two-game winning streak snapped.
The Wings have split their first two meetings with the Liberty, dropping a 103-92 decision at Barclays Center on June 11 before getting revenge in Brooklyn on July 19 with a 98-88 triumph behind 25 points from Arike Ogunbowale.
Stewart scored 25 points and Ionescu added 22 for New York, which saw Dallas win the assists battle, 25-21, and only forced two turnovers by the Wings while committing 13.
“I think we were locked in, slipped away from us last time we were here,” said Ogunbowale, who leads Dallas with 21.1 points per game. “It was a big game and they are a top four team. We wanted to prove a point to ourselves, we really did that.”
“They did a good job keeping their composure. Two turnovers is pretty incredible,” Stewart added. “It shows that we weren’t the aggressors on defense, and we need to be better.”
They have been since, going a league-best 16-2 since that loss to move within 1 1/2 games of the defending WNBA champion Aces (32-6) with three contests remaining.
Though they aren’t likely to overtake Vegas for the top overall seed, the Liberty know they won’t be the least bit interested in measuring themselves against anyone else as the postseason approaches.
“We set our own standard every single night,” Stewart insisted.
Tuesday’s game tips off at 8 p.m. ET and will be televised on CBS SportsNet.
GIVE ME LIBERTY: New York took three of four meetings from Chicago during the regular season and may see the Sky in the opening round of the playoffs. “I don’t think we learned just one thing tonight,” Stewart responded when asked what the Liberty gleaned from Sunday’s victory. “We learned it over playing them four times this year. They have tons of offensive firepower. They don’t stop.” … Willoughby’s first double-digit scoring performance of the year wasn’t a suprise to coach Sandy Brondello. “Joc just stayed ready for her moment,” she said of her sharp-shooting reserve. “That’s what we expect of her.” … After finishing off the road portion of their regular-season schedule in Dallas Tuesday, the Liberty will return to Brooklyn for their final two games, beginning with Thursday night’s game vs. Los Angeles.
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