Credit: WNBA photo

Things didn’t look in the New York Liberty’s favor when the team kicked off its West Coast road trip against the Phoenix Mercury on Sunday. Not only were two key players out with injuries—Natasha Howard with a knee injury and Sabrina Ionescu with ankle tendonitis—the Mercury roster included four former Liberty players who know some of the team’s weaknesses. The Liberty pulled out an 85–83 victory.

“Road wins are so hard in this league,” said Liberty head coach Walt Hopkins. “To be shorthanded and find a way, it’s big.”

Neither Kia Nurse nor Megan Walker, both of whom played with the Liberty in 2020, were particularly impactful for the Mercury. Bronx native Kia Vaughn was only on the court for a few moments and Long Islander Bria Hartley is still on the sidelines. The Mercury’s strength on offense came from veterans Brittney Griner, who had 29 points and 14 rebounds, and Skylar Diggins-Smith, who contributed 25 points, six rebounds and five assists.

Four Liberty players were in double figures. Kylee Shook had 10 points and five rebounds. Sami Whitcomb had 14 points and six assists. Coming off the bench, Jazmine Jones had 16 points and seven rebounds, for which Hopkins lavished praise.

“Jaz really put us on her back in that fourth quarter,” said Hopkins. “She kept the offense going, played some great defense. The spark that she is, it’s really remarkable. The times when our offense would break down or things really locked up…and slowed us down a little bit, Jaz just seemed over and over again to create a shot for herself. She was really tremendous. I’d say she was the player of the game for us.”

Rutgers alum Betnijah Laney continues to dominate with 23 points, seven rebounds and 10 assists. “We’ve been working a lot defensively, making sure that we were more aggressive,” said Laney after the win over the Mercury. “We all talked about us being down, what can we do to pitch in a little bit more to hold each other up.”

The road trip continues as the Liberty takes on the Las Vegas Aces tonight and then head to Los Angeles for a game against the Sparks on Sunday. The team returns to Barclays Center next week with two games against the Chicago Sky. Tuesday night’s game will celebrate Juneteenth and Thursday will be Pride Night.