The Las Vegas Aces have been labeled a super-team. They entered Sunday having lost just two games this year, the clear favorite for the WNBA title.
Apparently, Sabrina Ionescu and the Liberty didn’t get the memo.
A national TV audience, a sold-out Barclays Center crowd of 11,418 and a date with a historically dominant Las Vegas team didn’t faze the Liberty, who blew out the Aces in a 99-61 statement victory behind Ionescu’s 31 points and scorching 17-for-38 3-point shooting as a team.
In the first of four meetings during what should be a telling month of August for both the Liberty and the Aces — the league’s two best teams — the Liberty wrote the story of this clash of titans and potential WNBA Finals preview, posting the largest victory of the season in front of a franchise-record crowd for a game at Barclays.
“We need to just appreciate the amount of people that came out tonight and continue to support us and realize that, as we continue to get more chemistry and more experience together, realizing that great teams — they use home court advantage a lot,” Liberty star Breanna Stewart said.
After taking a five-point lead into halftime, the Liberty had an electric third quarter in which they outscored the Aces 30-9 and sank a barrage of five 3-pointers to put the game firmly out of reach.
The Liberty led by as much as 42 during the fourth quarter, during which the Aces scored just eight points.
The Liberty avenged their previous loss at Las Vegas, when the Aces — who now stand at an unreal 24-3 and are routinely blowing out teams — defeated the Liberty in a comfortable, 98-81 win on June 29.
“[It’s] really important to build rivalries, because then you have games of consequence,” WNBA commissioner Cathy Englebert said before the game. “And again, you do need household names along with them.”
The Liberty’s household names made their presence felt Sunday, while the Aces’ two-time MVP A’ja Wilson had a noticeably quiet night.
After Wilson took an elbow to the face from Liberty center Jonquel Jones that was ruled a Flagrant 1 penalty in the first quarter, she finished with just nine points on 2-of-14 shooting.
Ionescu caught fire from deep during a brilliant second quarter, nailing five deep 3-pointers en route to 23 first-half points, igniting an energetic crowd while helping power the Liberty to a 49-44 lead after the first 20 minutes.
“I come out every game with the same mentality, and that’s just to do my job and to do it to the best of my ability,” Ionescu said. “Tonight, obviously understanding that we’re going up against the best team in the league, and there’s no room for error.”
Jackie Young finished with 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting to lead the Aces. Stewart posted 23 points, six rebounds and five assists in a characteristically great all-around day as the Liberty improved to 22-6.
The Liberty and Aces will meet again on Aug. 15 to play for the WNBA Commissioner’s Cup title in Las Vegas.