Betnijah Laney continues stellar start to 2021 in second Liberty win over Fever

There’s a reason Betnijah Laney was voted the WNBA’s Most Improved Player last season.

Laney, now with the Liberty continued her intriguing 2021 campaign in the team’s 73-65 win over the Indiana Fever, their second game and win of the season Sunday at the Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

“I didn’t think last season was a fluke,” Laney said after the game. “I take my craft very seriously.”

After declaring she wanted to continue to be unguardable on Friday, Laney dropped 30 points, five rebounds and two assists the first game against the Fever at Barclays Center. Sunday, she pulled up for 20 points, four assists, two rebounds and one steal over almost 33 minutes of play against the team that cut her following the 2019 season.

“Betnijah’s a bucket,” rookie Michaela Onyenwere said.

Much like she did on Opening Night in Brooklyn, Laney got the party started for the Libs in Indiana, dropping 12 points in the first half. That run helped the Liberty grow a 19-point lead over the Fever, with Sabrina Ionescu putting up six and Onyenwere netting eight in the first half.

After taking that biggest lead, their offense seemed to fall apart and the Fever unnerved the Liberty, who went on a cold streak, missing every shot for the final eight minutes of the second and the first two minutes of the third quarters. Ionescu, who last season showed off her sharp shooting skills last season in her debut, shot 50% from arc and an uncharacteristic 33% from the field on the day.

Ionescu said the most important aspect of the day was the Liberty getting the win and explained her off performance was not a focus issue, but that she had a long and late commute back to the team from the Naismith Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony on Saturday night, when her mentor Kobe Bryant, was posthumously named to the new class.

“Obviously no excuse, but I will say my head was a little bit out of it with what was going on in what I was attending and with everything going on,” Ionescu said. “I obviously have to clean that up, but at the end of the day, we got to win, that’s all that matters.”

Hopkins said after the game that it was just the Liberty’s offense that went cold, not an issue with their defense. In any case, it was just those 10 minutes.

“I just can’t say enough about the grit of this team and their ability to apply the things that we talked about, you know, in a walkthrough yesterday, not even a regular practice,” Hopkins said. “It’s pretty fun.”

The Liberty remembered their offensive identity to pull away for a more comfortable win as compared to Friday when the teams went tied in to the final minute of the game. The Liberty have officially netted as many wins as they got all of last season and have their first 2-0 start since 2016.

“Now it’s about continuing to build,” Hopkins said. “Obviously we’re not going to rest on our laurels after two wins to start the season so we’ve got a lot of work to do.”