Spectacular clutch moments such as the one that brought the New York Liberty its first-ever home court win at Barclays Center in Brooklyn is what made Sabrina Ionescu the top pick in the 2020 WNBA Draft. The University of Oregon alumna was taken out by injury early in last year’s wubble season, but after months of rehab she came to training camp ready to fulfill her destiny.
A 3-point shot in the final second of last Friday’s game lifted the Liberty to a 90–87 win over the Indiana Fever. “We played her a lot tonight,” said Liberty coach Walt Hopkins after the win. “I thought she got a little tired down the stretch in the fourth, and so we went away from her for a few plays and let her rest, and it ended up working out. She has a pretty special way of rising to the moment.”
Ionescu contributed 25 points total; Rutgers alum Betnijah Laney had 30 points; and rookie Michaela Onyenwere had 18 points (the best rookie debut in Liberty history). Ionescu came to the post-game virtual press conference wearing the late Kobe Bryant’s Lakers jersey, in honor of her friend and mentor who was posthumously inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Saturday.
“I 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 had 100% envisioned hitting a game-winner. When we were tied and walking into the huddle, I was smiling.”
The Liberty defeated the Fever again on Sunday afternoon, 73–65 in Indiana, equaling the team’s total wins in 2020 in the first two games of 2021. Rebecca Allen joined the team for this game. Hopkins said he was pleased with the defensive effort. Although her efforts haven’t yet showed up in the box score, Hopkins noted the leadership of Sami Whitcomb, who comes to New York after winning WNBA Championships with the Seattle Storm in 2018 and ’20.
“We have the time to teach now, and we have the time to establish what we want and need and make adjustments,” said Hopkins. “We just didn’t have it last year, and we sorely needed it with a young team. One way you can create consistency with a group that doesn’t just have it via experience is to give them some really solid structures.”