Brooklyn, NY—The New York Liberty kicked off its season opener against the Connecticut Sun and it was a good one. But, it wasn’t pretty.
The Liberty looked a little sloppy in the first quarter. They managed to slow the high powered Connecticut Sun (0-1) to pull off an 81-79 home opener win at the Barclays Center on Saturday night in front of 6,829.
Sabrina Ionescu had 25 points and six assists to spark the late run in the fourth along with the defensive prowess of Natasha Howard helped seal the victory.
With the win, the Liberty snapped a nine game losing streak against the Sun. The Liberty’s last win against Connecticut came on July 11th, 2018, in a 79-76 victory at Mohegan Sun.
“She’s quick to recover. Her IQ is on another level, she can execute what we want, and she plays tendencies well so she made it really, really hard on Jonquel. She got a few there, but it’s not because of a lack of effort. It was the result of a really good player making plays.” Liberty coach Sandy Brondello said about Howard’s defense.
It didn’t look good for the New York Liberty (1-0) trailing by 8 points from the inception of the game, but Sabrina Ionescu and Natasha Howard got hot in the quarter with 15 and 13 points respectively. The Liberty was able to slow down reigning WNBA MVP Jonquel Jones in that frame to take 38-30 lead into the break. Jones had nine points going into the locker room.
NYL shot 33.3 percent from downtown (5-15) which helped trimmed the Sun’s lead in the second quarter.
“It’s the first game of the season, it’s a long season,” Connecticut Alyssa Thomas said. “We got a lot different pieces right now, so it’s a learning process and we have nothing to be disappointed in. We got a lot of great shots that we missed. And we’ll watch film, get better and be ready for the next game.”
The game went back and forth in the fourth before the Liberty went ahead for good on an Ionescu right elbow 3-pointer with three minutes to play.
New York Liberty got the win, thanks to a fourth-quarter rally and amped up defense.
Connecticut only had 10 players available with Courtney Williams and DeWanna Bonner both away from the team. Williams was serving the first of a two-game suspension from an incident over the offseason, while Bonner is still playing overseas in Turkey with her timeline to return to the team unclear.
NYL extended their lead in the third quarter, up by 11 with around four minutes left in the contest. But it was Alyssa Thomas time. The power forward led the Sun on a 16-4 run to end the frame, scoring 11 points herself. She had 14 points in the third quarter alone, at the end of the frame Connecticut had 59-58 lead.
Ionescu was fouled as she hit a 12-foot jumper in the lane and made a free throw to give the Liberty a 71-70 lead with 3:51 left in the game. Jasmine Thomas drained a three from downtown to put the Sun back in front 10 seconds later, but Ionescu followed with a 3-pointer and a driving layup to make it 76-73 with 2:31 remaining, Connecticut trailed the rest of the contest.
Alyssa Thomas led the Sun with 25 points, seven boards and four steals. Jonquel Jones had 15 points, Jasmine Thomas chipped in 13, Brionna Jones added 11 points and DifJonai Carrington had 10.
“Our focus was on moving the ball. We struggled early because we went back to 2021, not moving the ball. That’s not how we play, it’s ugly to watch, too. We just gotta keep moving the ball, we gotta trust each other and get from side-to-side, but making sure we’ve got two feet in the paint if we can.” Brondello said.