Brooklyn, NY — The former Oregon star, the No. 1 draft pick in the 2020 WNBA Draft, only played three games last year as a rookie before spraining her ankle and missing the rest of the season.
Sabrina Ionescu is back and in full swing of things.
The Liberty did not take the floor for the national anthem at its season opener Friday at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY.
Both teams stayed in the tunnel, off-court, while the song played in the Barclays Center.
Ionescu drilled a 3-pointer from the right wing with 0.4 seconds left to give the New York Liberty a 90-87 victory over the Indiana Fever on Friday night in their season opener.
Sabrina inbounded the ball to Kylee Shook and used a Shook and pass near the left wing to hit the deep shot to give NY the lead with 0.4 seconds left.
She finished with 25 points, 11 assists, and six boards in her home opener.
“So when we were tied and walking into the huddle, I just was smiling because it was almost like too good to be true. I was like ‘I’m gonna hit this.’ The coaches drew up a play for me to get the ball. My coaches believed in me, my team believed in me. I was just ready for the moment, you know, I’ve been waiting a while to get back on the court. So just so happy we were able to get this win.”
Indiana had a chance to go up two and leave very little time left on the clock when they took over possession with 21.8 ticks left in the game, Kelsey Mitchell (team-high 23 points) traveled with 5.8 remaining, turning the ball over to New York.
The Fever were up four points with 47 seconds to go before Ionescu made a three to trim the lead to one with 39.7 remaining.
The Liberty led by four heading into the fourth quarter, but the Fever used an 11-2 run halfway through the final quarter to go up 86-82.
Tiffany Mitchell scored 23 points and Teaira McCowan chipped in 22 points and 16 rebounds for the Fever.
It was a back-and-forth game with no big leads, but the Liberty’s leads were bigger and they just could not put Indiana away. NY led by seven points with 7:17 remaining and by eight at the 8:14 mark of the fourth.
Ionescu scored the final five points of the game and the Liberty’s last eight.
Free agency acquisition Betnijah Laney, who was 2020’s Most Improved Player, led New York with 30 points (20 in the first half) and was 4-of-5 from down town. The Liberty, who love to shoot three’s, were 13-of-26 as a team after finishing last season dead last in the league at 27.7 percent.
“It was something that I focused on in the offseason and had been able to excel at in training camp,” Laney said her distance shooting. “So for it to show up on the court when the lights are on is real good.”
Ionescu was 4-of-8 from deep and rookie Michaela Onyenwere, who finished with 18 points, was 3-of-6. Onyenwere hit a three early in the game to help the Fever’s defense honest on the wings.
“There was a lot of question about (her 3-point shot) when we drafted her,” Liberty head coach Walt Hopkins said of Onyenwere. “We knew from watching her shot that we had no concerns. I’m not saying she’s going to shoot 3-of-6 every single game, but she’s more than capable of having nights like this.”
Onyenwere scored more points in a WNBA debut than any Liberty player ever.
“I actually, not gonna lie at all, dreamt about it last night,” said Ionescu. “I try and not think about basketball too much the night before a game because I get nervous and don’t sleep. But I 100 percent had envisioned hitting a game-winner.
The game was knotted at 47 at the break.
The game went back and forth before New York started find spacing on the court halfway through the second. Laney three made it 36-33 New York. Kelsey Mitchell answered to make it 36-36 with 3:50 to go before the half. The largest lead the remainder of the second was two and it was 38-38, 40-40 and 45-45.
“She has a pretty special way of rising to the moment. You get to see it every day in practice,” Liberty coach Walt Hopkins said. “Those big time situations is where she shines, it’s what she lives for. I’m pretty excited she’s on my team.”
Howard, who they acquired from Seattle in a trade in the offseason. She is finishing up her overseas season in Italy. New York was also missing Kiah Stokes and Rebecca Allen, who are playing overseas as well.
The game tipped off the WNBA’s 25th season and was the Liberty’s second regular season game ever at their new place, the Barclays Center. They played a game against Seattle in the 2019 regular season at the arena.
“Everyone has a little bit of jitters tonight. It’s an exciting time, it’s the 25th year. we’ve invested a lot in this process and our team and what we’re trying to accomplish,” Fever coach Marianne Stanley said before the game. “Once the ball is tossed for the opening tip people will be able to settle in.”
Both teams will play again in Indianapolis on Sunday.