One of the narratives entering this WNBA season has been shaped by the New York Liberty and Las Vegas Aces forming what are being called super teams as both made significant acquisitions this past winter, including the Liberty signing two-time Finals MVP Breanna Stewart and the Aces adding two-time league MVP Candace Parker.
All five Liberty starters—Stewart, Betnijah Laney, Jonquel Jones, Courtney Vandersloot and Sabrina Ionescu—have been a WNBA All-Star at least once. They are coached by Sandy Brondello, who is in her second season with the Liberty and guided the Phoenix Mercury to their 2014 title. While the Liberty have the pieces to win a championship and some prematurely see a potential dynasty, personal accolades cannot fast-track team chemistry. Their 80-64 season opening loss last Friday to the Washington Mystics’ on the road is evidence.
The Mystics’ disruptive perimeter defense and transition game drove them to a comfortable win and exposed the Liberty’s need for defensive toughness. It also showed the WNBA’s 11 other teams will be prepared for the challenge. The Aces opened their 2023 season with a dominant 104-65 win against the Seattle Storm. The Liberty did not have the same outcome.
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On Sunday, the Liberty gave a glimpse of why they have so much hype. Facing the Indiana Fever at the Barclays Center in their first home game of this season, New York dismantled Indiana by 90-73, displaying the level of defense that will be consistently required to reach their goal of being the last team standing when all is said and done.
Stewart provided the offense. She was sensational in setting a new single-game franchise record, scoring 45 points on 15-21 shooting, including 6-9 on 3-point attempts. The Liberty led by 36-14 after the first quarter on 65% shooting from the field. Stewart outscored the Fever by herself, posting 19 to the opponent’s collective 14. As the game moved on and her points kept piling up, the former University of Connecticut star said she was unaware of her record pace.
“I didn’t know I broke any record. I looked up at the scoreboard at one time and had 37,” said Stewart. “I was like ‘I didn’t know what just happened.’ I wanted to be more aggressive after [the] last game.”
Stewart added she wanted to “set the tone and be confident.” Against the Mystics, she was 3-10 overall and 0-5 on threes for just 12 points.