A week after losing No. 1 draft pick Sabrina Ionescu to an ankle injury, the New York Liberty finally broke through for their first victory this WNBA season. The Liberty, who started the season 0-5, beat Washington 74-66 Friday in Bradenton, Florida.
"I'm really, really proud of how they responded to a very long, emotional meeting yesterday," first-year Liberty coach Walt Hopkins said. "We had one of those everybody-get-it-out-on-the-table meetings. It's a credit to their focus and their resilience."
New York has seven rookies and was picked to finish last this season. Things got more difficult when Ionescu rolled an ankle on July 31 vs. Atlanta and suffered a Grade 3 sprain. She left the WNBA bubble on Wednesday to go to New York and see an ankle and foot specialist.
New York had its season low in points that night in a 92-66 loss to Minnesota. Hence, the meeting. Connecticut beat Dallas on Thursday for the Sun's first victory, which left the Liberty as the only winless team. But New York led throughout Friday's game, and held the Mystics, 3-3, to their lowest point total this season. And the Liberty's three veterans came through for them.
Center Amanda Zahui B., in her sixth WNBA season, had 14 points and 14 rebounds. Guard Layshia Clarendon, the oldest Liberty player at 29 and in her seventh season, had 14 points and six assists. Guard Kia Nurse is in just her third season, but that counts as very experienced on this team. She led the Liberty in scoring with 17 points.
"We just played a lot better; we played a lot more together," Clarendon said. "Our offense flowed a lot better. But I think the biggest thing that came out of that meeting was we realized we just need to believe in ourselves ... there was a lot of doubting."
Even down the stretch Friday, the Liberty didn't get rattled despite the nerves over trying to get their first win.
"It's so easy for people to get tight, and mistakes to happen, and people to play not to lose," Hopkins said. "The one thing if I had to make a criticism was our turnovers. Because we were able to control so many other aspects that we were working on controlling, we were able to be a net positive tonight."
Two of the Liberty's rookies, No. 10 draft pick Jocelyn Willoughby of Virginia and No. 15 pick Leaonna Odom of Duke, each scored nine points for New York. The Liberty next play Sunday against Las Vegas.
"I don't think we did anything crazy-crazy that we're not capable of doing night in and night out," Clarendon said, "in terms of our level of play, our energy, how we execute our offense and defensive schemes. I was just really proud we finally got that much-needed victory."