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First meeting in more than month sees New York blast Las Vegas

Las Vegas guard Chelsea Gray being defended by New York guard Betnijah Laney. Photo Credit: Las Vegas Aces

In just the second meeting of the year and the first in more than a month, Las Vegas and New York stole nearly every headline in sports but this outcome was far different from the first.

The Liberty beat the Aces for the first time this season in dominant fashion with a, 99-61, win sending the team to just their third loss of the season with a little more than less. Back in June, Las Vegas took the victory by 17 points.

“It was a combination of a lot of things,” head coach Becky Hammon said. “In my one and a half years or two years here, that’s the worst outing of 20 minutes that I’ve ever seen.”

The 61 points by the Aces is by far a season-low for the defending champs while being beaten by the largest amount they have all season as well. Prior to tip, ESPN gave Las Vegas a 53.9% chance to win entering riding an eight-game win streak.

With its most recent loss to New York, Las Vegas is now 24-3 overall this season with three more meetings to go in this regular season series, all coming in the next 22 days.

“I don’t mind getting our ass whooped every once in a while,” Hammon said. “It’s a good reminder that you’re still human and you’ve got to prove it every moment you’re out there. Lord knows we’re going to see [the Liberty] plenty this year.”

Sunday’s matchup marked the beginning of a brief two-game road trip which concludes Tuesday, Aug. 8 against the Dallas Wings.

“There’s stuff to learn from,” Hammon said. “We didn’t do a lot of good things today, we just didn’t. We didn’t come to play, we didn’t show up – I don’t know if we thought we were just going to show up and beat a team like this. But like I said, we’re going to see them a few more times.”

On the way to victory, the Liberty won the second half 50-17 in front of more than 11,000 fans inside the Barclays Center which set the record for largest attendance for a women’s basketball game in New York.

The third quarter opened with another made three from New York guard Sabrina Ionescu followed by a layup from teammate Breanna Stewart pushed the lead to double-digits for the first time in the game.

Aces guard Kelsey Plum drives past Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu. Photo Credit: Las Vegas Aces

That would mark the beginning of an 8-0 open out of halftime. Soon after, Las Vegas would find itself down by 26.

“They jumped on us the first three or four possessions,” Hammon said. “It’s never good when I have to call a timeout two minutes in. The things we talked about leading up to this game and at halftime, we just didn’t do.”

Things got worse in the fourth starter after another 8-0 start. The Liberty won the third quarter 30-9 and the fourth quarter 20-8 and would eventually lead by as many as 42 points in the final frame.

“Like Becky said, ‘It was just a good ole ass-whooping,” forward A’ja Wilson said. “That’s what it was, that’s what it is. We just didn’t have it today. We’ve got to credit them, they shot the hell out of the basketball.”

Ionescu exploded in the first half for 23 points on 9-of-14 from the field including 5-of-7 from three-point range. In the first meeting of the season, she was limited to just seven points on seven shot attempts.

By the final buzzer, Ionescu ended the night with 31 points on 12-of-19 shooting. Stewart added 23 points after being held to just 1-for-8 from the floor in the first half.

“I thought we let them get hot,” Hammon said. “Sabrina had 23 at halftime. She’s somebody that you should basically be picking up at halfcourt. It’s easy to shoot when you’re up 20.”

New York dominated in nearly every facet of the game including rebounding and points in the paint. Las Vegas was outrebounded, 48-24, and were outscored, 36-26, in the key.

“Box out and do your job,” Hammon said. “They were up 14 on us at halftime rebounding wise and they basically doubled up again. That is completely on us, completely. If we were plumbers, there’d be a lot of people getting fired for not doing their jobs.”

Wilson went down about midway through the first quarter after taking an elbow behind the ear from former league MVP Jonquel Jones as she made a move in the post.

Las Vegas guard Jackie Young goes up for a layup during her 16-point outing. Photo Credit: Las Vegas Aces

After the blow, Wilson would leave the floor to be checked but would return to shoot her two free throw attempts.

“We checked her out, she was cleared and she was good to go,” Hammon said. “That’s why she went back in the game. We’re never going to put any player, let alone the MVP of the league, at risk for any one game.”

At the time of the incident, Wilson left the floor with four points, three rebounds and three blocks. She wouldn’t score her next points until the second half before finishing with nine points, which ties her career-low, on 2-for-14 shooting.

“At the end of the day, I’m going to always shoot,” Wilson said. “I don’t care, I don’t care. I’m going to always shoot the basketball because that’s what my teammates need [...] The Aces drafted me in 2018 to shoot that basketball and I’m going to continue to do that because that’s just who I am.

“This doesn’t validate me in this league at all so I’m not going to harp on this at all.”

As she walked off the stage after the press conference, Wilson again added, “I don’t need a stat sheet to validate who I am in this league.”

Guard Jackie Young led the Aces in scoring with 16 points followed by fellow guard Chelsea Gray’s 15 and teammate Kelsey Plum’s 11.


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