NEW YORK (AP) — Sabrina Ionescu and the New York Liberty turned a close game against the Las Vegas Aces into a rout with a dominant third quarter.
Ionescu scored 31 points, hitting six of New York's 17 3-pointers and the Liberty held the Aces to nine points in the third quarter en route to a 99-61 win Sunday in a matchup of the top two teams in the WNBA.
“I think the statement we made was we’re a team that plays hard and when we lock in and are all on the same page defensively and offensively it’s hard to stop,” said Breanna Stewart, who added 18 of her 23 points in the second half.
The Liberty have won four straight and snapped the Aces' eight-game winning streak, handing Las Vegas (24-3) only its third loss of the season in front of a raucous sellout crowd of 11,418.
The Aces were bidding to match the 1998 Houston Comets for most wins before suffering a third defeat. These two squads will play three more times this month, including for the Commissioner’s Cup championship on Aug. 15 in Las Vegas.
In the first meeting between the teams in June, the Aces used a dominant third quarter to blow open the game. The Liberty did it this time, outscoring Las Vegas 30-9 in the period. The Aces came into the game leading the WNBA in scoring at 94.4 points.
“It was one of our best defensive games all season long,” Liberty coach Sandy Brondello said. "We’ve been preaching a way we want to play. ... Everyone was on the same page. Great defensive teams aren’t just one player, sometimes it’s just playing harder."
New York (22-6) led by five at the half and scored the first eight points of the third quarter to extend the advantage to 57-44. Ionescu had six of the eight. A'ja Wilson finally got the Aces' on the board in the second half, hitting two free throws 3:45 into the third quarter. But it was all New York for the rest of the quarter as it extended the lead to 79-53.
Wilson had a tough game, she was 2-for-14 from the field for nine points. She also had a scare late in the first quarter when she caught an elbow to the face from Jonquel Jones on a post move in the lane with 53.4 seconds left. It was the first foul of the game.
The reigning MVP stayed down for a few seconds before getting up and going back to the locker room as the play was reviewed and eventually upgraded to a flagrant foul. Wilson returned to hit the two free throws before returning to the locker room briefly.
“I’m feeling good,” Wilson said. “For league protocol I had to take the concussion test. We'll see how it goes in the morning, but right now I'm straight up.”
New York trailed by three after one before the Liberty scored the first 10 points of the second quarter, thanks in large part to Ionescu, who had eight of them including two deep 3-pointers. The Liberty led 49-44 at the half as Ionescu had 23 points.
Courtney Vandersloot hit two of them as well as having six assists to move into second place all-time on the league's career list by passing Ticha Penicheiro's mark of 2,599. Vandersloot has 2,600 in her career now. Sue Bird is the all-time leader with 3,234.
The Liberty announced before the game that they would donate $500 for every assist Vandersloot had Sunday to raise support and awareness for the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation. Vandersloot's mom has cancer. New York will also give $100 for every home assist that the star guard has throughout the remainder of the season.