Liberty head to Vegas for Finals rematch

Seek season-high eighth straight win at slumping Aces

June 13, 2024 By John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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The New York Liberty are riding their longest winning streak of the season into Las Vegas on Saturday, hoping to send a message to the team that beat them in last year’s WNBA Finals.

The Las Vegas Aces are just trying to recapture a glimmer of the greatness that made them the league’s first back-to-back champions in just over two decades a season ago.

New York will be bidding for its eighth consecutive victory, fresh off grabbing home-court advantage in this month’s Commissioner’s Cup championship game, when they visit the Aces at Michelob ULTRA Arena.

“We have veterans and it shows late. We lock in and we take it to another level,” Liberty power forward Jonquel Jones said after New York pulled away late for a 93-88 win over league-worst Washington Sunday at Downtown’s Barclays Center.

The Liberty (11-2) began the season with four straight victories before a two-game slide from May 23-25.

They haven’t lost since, and will be coming off a much-needed break following their perfect 5-0 run during the Eastern Conference portion of the annual in-season tournament despite playing those games in only eight days.

New York also finished with an eye-popping plus-78 point differential in Cup play, and dropped previously unbeaten Connecticut, 82-75, last Saturday before outlasting the Mystics.

“We found some resiliency when we needed it,” Liberty coach Sandy Brondello said of her team’s resolve in the face of an unforgiving schedule.

New York grabbed its first-ever championship hardware in the Commissioner’s Cup Final last Aug. 15 in Sin City behind 16 points and 15 rebounds from Jones, who is coming off her first back-to-back 20-point plus performances since arriving in New York prior to last season.

It was Vegas’ first home loss of an historic campaign in which it established a new WNBA record for wins in a season. But the Aces (5-5), who split four regular-season encounters with the Liberty last year, still found a way to get past New York in four tough games in the WNBA Finals.

Thus far this year, however, Vegas has hardly looked title-worthy.

Las Vegas celebrated the first back-to-back championships in the WNBA in 21 years last October at Downtown’s Barclays Center. AP Photo by Frank Franklin II

After Tuesday’s 100-86 defeat to Minnesota, the Aces were off to their worst 10-game start since 2018, and had dropped three in a row for the first time since Aug. 23-27, 2019.

Former WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson poured in 28 points to extend her record streak of scoring at least 20 points to 15 games, but the star center was more concerned with the state of her team than her ongoing history-making efforts.

“It’s not going to get easier. It has never been easy for us,” said Wilson. “We’re going to continue to be us, continue to grind it out.

“This is a long, long, long season,” she added. “I’m not going to press the panic button. I’m still going to bet on us. I know exactly what’s in that locker room.”

Vegas will be hosting the much-anticipated Finals rematch after visiting Phoenix on Thursday night while the Liberty arrive fully rested.

New York also flashed some firepower off the bench last weekend as Leonie Fiebich contributed half of the Liberty’s 24 bench points with a quartet of 3-pointers while playing the entire fourth quarter.

“(I’m) just getting to know my teammates better. … And just kind of playing off of them,” said Fiebich, who signed with New York as a free agent this past offseason. “I just like to bring energy and I think that helps the team.”

Reigning league MVP Breanna Stewart will be riding her Eastern Conference Player of the Week award into Vegas along with Sabrina Ionescu, who received the honor a week before.

New York’s dynamic duo were both selected to Team USA for next month’s Paris Olympics on Monday.

Before they head to the City of Lights, however, Stewart and Ionescu would like to take care of business against the rival Aces and gear up for the June 25 Commissioner’s Cup title game on the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush.

Tip-off is scheduled for 3 p.m. Saturday and the game will be televised by ABC.

Liberty point guard Courtney Vandersloot has missed the last three games due to personal reasons. She is currently listed as out for Saturday’s game in Las Vegas. AP Photo by Frank Franklin II

GIVE ME LIBERTY: This will be the first meeting between the teams since Game 4 of last year’s WNBA Finals at Barclays Center. Vegas averted a fifth and decisive game on its home floor with the 70-69 victory behind series MVP Wilson, who had 24 points and 16 rebounds in the clincher. “It’s not easy, as you know. This is what it’s all about,” Wilson said that night before a crowd of over 17,000 in Brooklyn. “Not a lot of people get to do it. To be short-handed and win is amazing. It makes the win that much better. It’s hard to get back to the Finals to win again.” The Los Angeles Sparks were the previous back-to-back champions in in 2001-02. The Houston Comets won the first four league crowns from 1997-2000. … Both backup center Nyara Sabally (back) and point guard Courtney Vandersloot (personal reasons) were listed as out for Saturday’s game as of Wednesday night. Vandersloot’s teammates have been showing her support throughout her three-game absence. “We’re playing for her. She’s a part of this team. She anchors us,” Ionescu said of the 14-year veteran last weekend. “We’re not the same without her. I hope she knows, I know she knows and feels that, every time we’re stepping out on the floor, everything that we’re doing, she’s right there with us. We know she has that fire and we don’t want to let her down. So we were doing all that for her.” … After visiting the Aces, the Liberty will be in Phoenix Tuesday night.

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