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Liberty, Sun battle for WNBA’s top record

League-best New York and Connecticut battle for No. 1

July 10, 2024 By John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Liberty power forward Jonquel Jones beat triple teams and her former Connecticut teammates last fall in the Eastern Conference finals. Photo by Brandon Todd/New York Liberty
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Following Saturday’s loss in Indiana, New York Liberty All-Star guard Sabrina Ionescu described the game as the host Fever’s Super Bowl.

“We knew they were going to come into this game really hungry and it’s tough to beat a team four times (in one season),” Ionescu ceded after New York suffered its first loss in its last six regular-season contests.

“I didn’t think we came out with the necessary urgency to compete,” added Liberty coach Sandy Brondello.

Neither Ionescu nor Brondello will worry about the Liberty’s hunger or urgency Wednesday, when New York visits Connecticut at Mohegan Sun Arena for the right to call itself the team with the WNBA’s best record.

Connecticut’s DeWanna Bonner will be hungry for revenge when the Sun host the Liberty Wednesday in a showdown for the league’s top record. AP Photo by Eduardo Munoz

New York (17-4) held that distinction entering the weekend before Caitlin Clark made history as the first WNBA rookie ever to post a triple-double with 19 points, 12 rebounds and 13 assists in Indiana’s 83-78 victory in front of 17,274 fans at Gainbridge Fieldhouse.

Ionescu did her best to help the Liberty offset the league’s first-year phenom, finishing with a game-high 22 points.

However, the fourth-ranked 3-point shooter in the best women’s basketball league in the world misfired from beyond the arc with a chance to give New York the lead with 17 seconds remaining, denying the Liberty their 14th win in 15 games.

‘They executed better than us down the stretch,” noted Brondello, who watched her squad go 10-for-42 on 3-balls. “So we’ve got to, you know, it’s anyone can beat anyone in this league.”

Betnijah Laney-Hamilton scored 20 points and reigning WNBA Most Valuable Player Breanna Stewart added 14 for New York, which was outscored 28-16 over the final 10 minutes.

Liberty power forward Jonquel Jones only managed six points and went 0-for-3 from long range. Though she pulled down a team-high 12 caroms, Jones failed to reach double digits in scoring for the third time in four games.

The 2021 league MVP as a member of the Sun also went just 2-of-6 at the line.

“You know, her missing those three free throws is uncharacteristic for her,” Brondello said of Jones, who spent her first six seasons in Connecticut before powering New York to its first WNBA Finals since 2002 last year.

“So it was just, you know, wasn’t at her best today, but we know that she’ll bounce back,” Brondello added.

The Sun (17-4) aren’t worried a bounce-back.

Connecticut has reeled off three straight victories and has won four of its last five to pull into a deadlock with New York.

On Sunday, DeWanna Bonner was on fire from outside the arc, knocking down a career-high seven 3-pointers en route to 23 points as the Sun beat visiting Atlanta, 80-67.

Connecticut was even hotter when it began the campaign 9-0. But that was before New York earned a spot in the Commissioner’s Cup Final with an 82-75 win over the Sun at Downtown’s Barclays Center on June 8.

Ionescu led the way with 24 points and Jones burned her former teammates for 22 in the first meeting between the teams since last year’s Eastern Conference finals.

The Liberty won that series in four tough games after dropping the opener at Barclays.

Now, they’ll try to leave Connecticut as the leauge’s top team, a title they took from the Sun for the better part of the last month.

“Yeah, it looks like we have to make sure we bring the same focus for every opponent,” Brondello insisted.

Sabrina Ionescu hopes to help New York rebound from last weekend’s loss in Indiana Wednesday at Mohegan Sun Arena. AP Photo by Darron Cummings

GIVE ME LIBERTY: In five career regular-season meetings against her ex-team, Jones is averaging 14.8 and 8.6 rebounds per contest. She had 25 points and 15 rebounds in the Game 4 clincher at Mohegan Sun Arena last Oct. 1 to propel New York into the Finals, which it lost to reigning back-to-back champion Las Vegas in four games. … In other local pro hoops news, the Nets announced Tuesday that they have re-signed swingman Trendon Watford. Signed as a free agent in 2023, Watford averaged 6.9 points, 3.1 rebounds and 1.3 assists in 63 games while serving mostly as a reserve last season. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, as per team policy.

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