Liberty Sun [600x400]
Liberty Sun [600x400] (Credit: Getty Images)

USWNT avenges Mexico loss in Olympic tuneup

UNCASVILLE, Conn. -- The New York Liberty strengthened their grip on the top spot in the WNBA standings Wednesday with a 71-68 win over the second-place Connecticut Sun at Mohegan Sun Arena.

The Liberty improved to 18-4, including 2-0 against the Sun (17-5), with both meetings in Uncasville; the teams face each other again Tuesday in Brooklyn, New York, in their final game before the Olympic break.

"I think that we're in a great place," reigning WNBA MVP Breanna Stewart said. "We're at a place where we're playing high-level basketball, but we know that we haven't played our best. We haven't peaked and we also don't want to peak too soon, and we just want to continue to learn and grow."

New York's Sabrina Ionescu, the 2020 No. 1 draft pick, had her 20th career game with a least 20 points (she finished with a team-high 21 Wednesday), five rebounds and five assists. After the teams traded leads in the final minutes, Ionescu's basket with 4.5 seconds remaining in the fourth proved to be the game winner, and she then sealed the deal on the Sun's last possession with a block on Ty Harris' 3-point shot attempt. Ionescu also hit a floater at the 1:58 mark to put the Liberty ahead for good.

New York's 71 points were their fewest in a win since Aug, 3, 2022, before the team's "superteam" era with the arrival of Stewart (18 points and 14 rebounds Tuesday), Jonquel Jones (8 points, 11 rebounds) and Courtney Vandersloot (11 points) in early 2023.

"Not a real high-scoring game, but we found a way to win and we got stops when we needed it," coach Sandy Brondello said. "And obviously Sabrina made a really massive shot."

"Block!" Stewart interjected.

The Liberty's 13 3-point attempts marked a drastic difference from their 42 on Sunday in an upset loss to the Indiana Fever, but on Tuesday they bested Connecticut in the paint 40-26, even leading by as many as 14 in the second quarter before the home team's run made it a one-point game at halftime.

"I think that's just the evolution of this team," Ionescu said. "It's not being one-dimensional and knowing we're going to go in every single day and do the same thing, but be able to read what defenses are giving us and attack in different ways."

New York is 13-0 when leading at the half this season, the league's only team that's unbeaten in those situations.

"I think it's a testament to just our commitment," Ionescu said of the pivotal fourth quarter, where the Sun outscored the Liberty 14-12 but didn't score in the final 2:11. "They went on runs, we went on runs, and we really stayed poised. And I think that's a huge part as to why we won."

The Sun -- who doubled up the Liberty from the 3-point line with six treys -- were led by DeWanna Bonner's 22 points and Brionna Jones' 17.

The Liberty were without Betnijah Laney-Hamilton because of a knee issue, but they are hopeful she can take the court Thursday when New York hosts the Chicago Sky. They then travel to Chicago for a rematch Saturday.

"This is a team that continues to get more connected every single day," Brondello said. "I think all these experiences that we go through, in the end, are positive. Even when we lose, we learn from it. Chemistry is important for us. You have to make sure you go out there, look at the next person and know that you can trust them. We've got to execute to the best of our ability."