Betnijah Laney stayed hot on Sunday, scoring 20 points to lead the New York Liberty (2-0) to a second-straight win over the Indiana Fever (0-2), 73-65, at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
Sabrina Ionescu (12 points), rookie Michaela Onyenwere (11) and Jazmine Jones (10) also recorded double-digit scoring efforts for the winners.
“It does mean something, going a whole season to get two wins (last year) versus coming out the gate the way that they did,” said Liberty head coach Walt Hopkins. “One of the things I told this team (is) how far the sophomores have come, how much these new additions have helped really kind of establish the grit and toughness of this team.”
“It’s huge,” Ionescu said. “I think it speaks volumes about how much we’ve grown from last season and how much better we can get. Obviously it’s the first two games, the season’s a long season. So I’m just excited to see how we continue to progress every game.”
New York was 2-20 last year in a shortened season.
The Liberty led by at least seven throughout the fourth en route to the somewhat comfortable victory after they needed a game-winning three from Ionescu with 0.4 seconds left on Friday night.
On Friday, the story was New York’s inability to pull away. On Sunday, the story was the 19-point lead they squandered before regaining it to some degree.
The Liberty led 39-20 at the 8:01 mark of the second after a Sami Whitcomb 3-pointer. Indiana then went on a 17-2 run that featured nine points from Danielle Robinson (13 points, five assists, four steals), including a pretty reverse layup that cut it to 40-31. Victoria Vivians added five points during the stretch.
The score was 41-35 New York at halftime and Robinson opened the third with two free throws to cut Indiana’s deficit to four.
Jones then made a triple to push the Liberty’s lead back to seven. The Fever never got closer than within four in the second half and when they cut it to five with 2:57 left in the third, Onyenwere answered with a mid-range shot that also pushed the lead back to seven.
Five treys, including two from Ionescu, helped New York build its 19-point lead. The team scored an impressive 31 points in the first quarter.
Laney scored 30 points on Friday and appears to be the go-to scorer for the Liberty, especially with Natasha Howard still playing overseas.
“I just want to continue to get better,” said Laney, the 2020 Most Improved Player. “And that’s what I’m doing. I take my craft seriously and I’m continuing to build off of last year.”
Kelsey Mitchell led the Fever with 16 points and Jantel Lavender hauled in 15 rebounds.