One more. One more win is all the New York Liberty need to make it into the playoffs after beating the Atlanta Dream in the ATL on Friday night. New York enters the day eighth in the standings and a win punches their ticket into the dance.
Tiffany Hayes left to go join the Azerbaijani 3×3 team in Turkey. There are conflicting reports as to whether she informed the Dream of this arrangement, but either way, she’s out for this contest. AD is out due to a hip injury. Kristy Wallace is in COVID protocols and out. Nia Coffey is out with a knee injury.
It’s Fan Appreciation Weekend, and the Liberty have been showing love to folks at Barclays Center. On Saturday, they held a yoga session for fans on the main court and a skills camp for the kids in the practice court. After the game, they’ll be hosting a meet and greet for season ticket holders. A win would be the cherry on top of a fun, interactive weekend.
In pregame on Friday evening, Sandy Brondello mentioned that they need to win both games and not have to rely on anyone else. She wants the team to have fun with this game and enjoy the journey here.
Brondello also mentioned that she wants the team to have better foul discipline. Atlanta won the free throw battle by six and took nine free throws in the fourth quarter as they fought back. If the Liberty can keep the Dream off the foul line and complete possessions, they’ll be able to get out on the run and get buckets in transition.
Sabrina Ionescu will look to put together another great all around performance this afternoon. The 15 points, eight rebounds, and six assists on 50 percent shooting from the field and only one turnover was good enough. However, her defense was just as good, if not better. Sandy Brondello noted Sab’s effort on that end and how she didn’t allow many opponents to get by her. She spent a lot of time guarding Erica Wheeler, and made things tough on the 2019 All Star. She’ll need to do it again if the Liberty want to win.
This might be the end for a former University of Rutgers, Liberty player, and well respected veteran. Earlier in the summer, Dream big, Kia Vaughn, strongly hinted that this might be the final season of her 14 year career. Vaughn had two tours of duty with the Liberty and has earned praise and respect across the W. Sandy Brondello spoke to Gabriella Lewis of The Next about her former player and said:
“One of my favorite players, Kia Vaughn, because she’s the ultimate professional. She really stepped up and was a great leader and just a really good person and very selfless. She fits into any kind of system and does what she needs to do.”
The Liberty have talked a lot about sisterhood and accountability, and Ionescu recently expanded on that in a postgame conversation with Jackie Powell of The Next:
“We’ve all accepted holding each other to that standard because it’s for the betterment of the team and so I think once everyone is on that same page, and we’ve all gotten to that same page of we’re holding each other to that high standard because we all want to win and we all have a common goal. It helps you stay connected through times when the score is 24-8 in the first quarter and we’re out there sleepwalking. And we stayed together and we found a way to win.”
Crystal Dangerfield led the team in minutes on Friday night, and they’re going to need her again this afternoon. CD led everyone in points, assists, and minutes played on Friday night. Her quickness, agility, and wits on defense helped her match up with Aari McDonald. McDonald went 0-9 from the field when Dangerfield was the primary defender on her.
This game will be won on the inside. Atlanta has been the third best rebounding team in the W this season, but the Liberty won that matchup by one on Friday. They also outscored Atlanta by eight points in the paint. Friday was a picture perfect example of trading in good shots for great shots and attacking the basket is when the Liberty are at their best.
The future is bright in the ATL. Howard was taken first in the 2022 Draft and has lived up to all of the expectations placed upon her. She’s the real deal and one of the future faces of the WNBA. Although she took six free throws on Friday night, the Liberty kept her on the perimeter for the entire night. Only one shot came inside the paint, and that was heavily contested by Natasha Howard and Betnijah Laney. The Liberty’s defensive principles will be tested again today and with Howard having to do even more now that Hayes is gone, the pressure will be on the youngster.
Betnijah Laney was reinserted into the starting five on Friday night, and looked fantastic. Queen Bee scored 17 points and got busy in every area of the court. One great thing about her is when the shot clock is running out and you need someone to get a bucket, you can give it to Laney and she’ll make something good happen. Now that she’s back in the starting five, the Liberty have another shot creator and an elite scorer from all three levels. Laney being back and being healthy will push the Liberty to new heights.