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Recap: Stewart takes over at key moment, Vandersloot dishes 10 assists in super-team Liberty’s first quality win

The New York Liberty trailed for a little over half of their Saturday contest against the Connecticut Sun, but were led to a comfortable victory by Breanna Stewart, Courtney Vandersloot and Sabrina Ionescu.

Indiana Fever v New York Liberty
Breanna Stewart (left) and Courtney Vandersloot
Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

The New York Liberty have a big five, but they only needed a big three to defeat the Connecticut Sun 81-65 Saturday afternoon at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

With Jonquel Jones in foul trouble and Betnijah Laney playing unselfishly, Breanna Stewart, Courtney Vandersloot and Sabrina Ionescu took over.

Jones played 16:27 and scored just seven points, while Laney played a more solid 26:52, but attempted just three field goals, with her only basket coming in the form of a no-brainer-to-attempt layup off her own steal. Meanwhile, Stewart (3-of-6 from three) had 21 points, six rebounds, five assists, six steals and four blocks, Vandersloot (7-of-10 from the field, 2-of-3 from three) had 18 points, six boards, 10 helpers and two swipes and Ionescu (4-of-9 from three) had 17 points, seven rebounds and three assists.

The Sun (3-1) led by as much as eight and from 6:03 in the first to 6:48 in the third, at which point a Vandersloot three made it 43-41 Liberty. With the Liberty (2-1) up 46-45, Stewart began to take over. She got a steal and passed it to Ionescu for a transition layup that made it 48-45. Not long after she made a three that made it 53-45 and a deep three that made it 56-47. At the very end of the third she was hit in the eye; she sported a bruise for the rest of the game. NY led 57-51 entering the fourth.

The Sun struggled with turnovers in the fourth, with a backcourt violation, a Liberty steal and a shot clock violation happening on consecutive possessions early in the frame. A Vandersloot three at 7:24 remaining made it 64-52. NY led by at least nine the rest of the way, with two threes from Ionescu leaving no doubt.

With under two minutes to play, the fans at Barclays started chanting “We want Han!” Han Xu came in a scored the final basket of the contest off an offensive rebound.

NY held the red-hot Alyssa Thomas to five points (0-of-5 from the field) and two assists, though she did have eight rebounds.

Nyara Sabally of the Liberty made her WNBA debut, scoring six points and hauling in three rebounds. She was the No. 5 pick in the 2022 draft.

New York looked good early, leading 5-2 after a deep Ionescu three and 7-4 after a J. Jones layup. But a Brionna Jones block of an Ionescu shot was followed by a DeWanna Bonner three that gave Connecticut the lead at 9-7.

New York cut it to one (28-27) on a Kayla Thornton layup assisted by Stewart. Before that, Connecticut led by eight twice and by seven five times. A Tiffany Hayes three made it 14-7 and gave her seven points at the time. A nice offensive rebound turned layup from B. Jones made it 16-9. B. Jones then hit from mid-range to make it 18-11. A Sun steal was followed by a Natisha Hiedeman three from the left corner that made it 21-13. The Liberty would cut it to four (23-19) on a Thornton layup, but a Tyasha Harris three pushed the Sun lead back to seven (26-19).

New York cut it to 28-27 with a 6-0 run that began with a Vandersloot steal turned beautiful Vandersloot assist to Sabally. Stewart then got in on the assist fun, dishing it to Vandersloot for a reverse layup and then dishing it to Thornton.

The Sun refused to give up the lead though, as Bonner rattled home a deep desperation three at the buzzer of the shot clock to make it 31-27. Later, another Hiedeman three from the left corner made it 38-30; CT would lead 38-32 at the break.

J. Jones played the first six seasons of her career with the Sun; this was her first game playing against them.

Hayes (three assists) led CT with 16 points, while B. Jones added 12 points, eight boards, four swipes and two rejections and Bonner had 14 points, seven rebounds and two blocks.

NY won field goal percentage 47.1 to 34.9, points in the paint 40-22, second chance points 17-9 and fast break points 11-1. It had committed four more turnovers than Connecticut at the break, but four fewer at the end of the contest.

The Sun started off 3-0 with two wins coming over a Washington Mystics team that beat the Liberty and that some considered to be the second-best team in the league at the start of the season. With the Liberty’s only other win coming against the Indiana Fever, this was their first quality win. Stewart’s career- and franchise-high 45 points against the Fever was special, but Saturday’s victory, which saw Stewart, Vandersloot and Ionescu working together beautifully against one of the best teams in the league, is even more promising.