For three quarters, the Sky looked like a playoff team. Taking it a step further, they looked like a team that could force a Game 3 in a best-of-three first-round series against one of the league’s top teams.
But in the final 10 minutes, the Liberty and, more specifically, former Sky guard Courtney Vandersloot exposed just how unprepared the Sky are for the postseason. A 26-8 run by the Liberty to close out the game led to a 86-69 Sky loss on Sunday at Wintrust Arena.
“We couldn’t execute this game,” interim coach/general manager Emre Vatansever said. “They really turned it up and we just couldn’t respond to it. We should have but we couldn’t.”
The Sky trailed the Liberty by just two points after outscoring them 21-18 in the third quarter. Kahleah Copper scored 10 of her team-high 23 points in the third.
They went on to commit five of their 17 turnovers in the fourth quarter, ultimately allowing 20 points off of those turnovers for the game. Vandersloot finished with a double-double, scoring 20 points to go with 10 assists and five rebounds. MVP candidate Breanna Stewart finished with a game-high 26 points.
Copper was held scoreless in the fourth quarter. As a team, the Sky were outscored 27-12 in the final 10 minutes. Midway through the fourth, the Sky gave up three consecutive three-pointers by Vandersloot, Jocelyn Willoughby and Betnijah Laney to give the Liberty a 16-point advantage.
“They started making a run,” Vatansever said. “We talked about it. They made a couple of mistakes on that one and they made the run. We couldn’t respond to it.”
The Sky’s inability to facilitate also was a problem. They had just 15 assists on 27 made field goals.
Marina Mabrey, the Sky’s second leading scorer, finished with 12 points. Robyn Parks added 10 points off the bench, Courtney Williams added five points, seven rebounds and six assists. Elizabeth Williams totaled four points, seven rebounds and three assists.
As a team, the Sky were outscored 42-32 in the paint and outrebounded 40-31.
The Sky (15-22) hold the tiebreaker over the Sparks in the race for the eighth and final playoff spot after beating them 3-1 in head-to-head matchups.
Two road game remain on the Sky’s schedule, Tuesday against the Fever and their finale Sunday against the Sun. In between, they play the Lynx at home Friday.
“We play better with our backs against the wall,” Dana Evans said. “I remember at the beginning of the season when people were counting us out we went on a run and at one point were fifth [in the league.] It’s a little better when we feel like we have something to prove.”
The Sky n eed to prove that they are qualified to compete in the postseason. If they are able to secure that spot a likely meeting with the top-ranked Aces awaits.
Note: Coach Emre Vatansever said before the game that forward Alanna Smith (concussion protocol) is progressing and should be available for the Sky’s road game against the Fever on Tuesday.