By Justin “Say Say” Rivers
Fresh off snapping a three-game skid with their win against the Phoenix Mercury on Sunday, Betnijah Laney and the New York Liberty (6-4, second in the Eastern Conference) enter Tuesday’s matchup against A’ja Wilson and the Las Vegas Aces (8-3, second in the Western Conference) looking to avenge their June 3rd. home loss to Vegas and even up the season series.
Last game, the team got a dominant double-double from Laney, who finished with 23 points, ten assists, and seven rebounds on an efficient 47% shooting from the floor. Laney and Sami Whitcomb – who added six dimes of her own – provided crucial playmaking that not only got their teammates involved, but also keyed New York’s victory. Also, Jazmine Jones came off the bench and provided a season-high 16 points (14 points in the fourth quarter) and a season-high seven boards. Whereas Mercury’s star duo each had 20-point nights, the Liberty limited others and relied on clutch play from Laney and Jones down the stretch to secure the dub. The team will look to carry this momentum into their game against the Aces.
ABOUT A WEEK … AND A HALF … AGO:
The last time the Liberty faced the Aces, the team was fresh off a month of well-deserved accolades that included a Coach of the Month nod for Coach Walt Hopkins, a Rookie of the Month award for Michaela Onyenwere, and Player of the Week honors for both Sabrina Ionescu and Betnijah Laney.
With the Aces’ talented front line of 3x WNBA All Star and 2x All-WNBA performer Liz Cambage and reigning WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson, Vegas poses a matchup problem for any team; however, New York did a solid job in keeping Cambage below her season averages, limiting her to a pedestrian 12-point, six-rebound outing in their last matchup. Kiah Stokes spearheaded that defensive effort versus the 6-foot-8 Australian. With Stokes now overseas, Kylee Shook and Reshanda Gray will draw this assignment.
New York got great output from their leading-scorer Laney, who put up 23 points and five boards on 9-21 shooting. With a stat line that included nine rebounds and nine dimes, Ionescu put her all-around game on full display flirting with an unconventional double-double. Three other Liberty players hit double digits in scoring, too: Rebecca Allen dropped 16 points off the bench, Sami Whitcomb had a 14-point night, and Michaela Onyenwere chipped in 11 points of her own.
Thanks to Rebecca Allen getting hot and scoring fourteen-straight points for New York, the Liberty overcame a 19-point deficit to eventually whittle the Aces’ lead down to one with just under four minutes left in the final period; however, A’ja Wilson did MVP things and keyed a Vegas run late that put the game out of reach.
MORE OLD FACES:
Tuesday night’s game against the Aces will see the Liberty take on their former coach, Bill Laimbeer. Laimbeer is a 3x WNBA Champion as a coach and spent five seasons in New York, during which he took home the WNBA Coach of the Year award in 2015 and led his team to twenty-plus wins in three consecutive seasons.
Tanisha Wright and Sugar Rodgers are also familiar faces that can be found on Las Vegas’ coaching staff. Wright is a former Liberty guard who played three seasons in New York, and Rodgers, another former guard for the Liberty, spent four seasons in the Big Apple.
Joyner Holmes started 2021 with the Liberty and played for the team last season. During her rookie campaign in 2020, she saw 19 games of action and averaged 2.9 points and 2.7 rebounds per game in over ten minutes a night. After pulling down 13 rebounds against Phoenix last September, she also tied the franchise’s single game rookie rebound record.
AT THE END OF THE DAY:
Despite a slow start and a lopsided disparity in free throw attempts, New York contained Cambage and was in the game with a chance to win down the stretch. If the Liberty can make the Aces’ stars work on the inside and limit their supporting cast, then Head Coach Walt Hopkins has a royal flush at his disposal with more than enough firepower between his stars and the rest of the roster to win big in Sin City.