The Chicago Sky looked like they were the right team to end the Liberty’s five-game winning streak entering Sunday. They fought with the Libs in a see-saw battle that featured 11 ties and lead changes, apiece.
Then, the Libs flipped the switch. Sandy Brondello’s team opened the fourth quarter on a 22-0 run to silence the Sky and secure a 86-69 victory at Wintrust Arena. Former Sky guard Courtney Vandersloot spearheaded the run, hitting three treys in the fourth to contribute to the assault. The guard finished with 20 points, 10 assists, six steals, five rebounds and two blocks.
Vandersloot recorded her 500th steal in the win and her superstar teammate, Breanna Stewart, took note of the guard’s effort postgame.
“She brought energy and her ability to do multiple things and you see it with that stat line,” Stewart, who recorded her 19th double-double of the season, said about Vandersloot. “Defensively, she got her hands on a lot of balls and that helped lead us to a lot of fastbreak stuff.”
Stewart jokingly said she told Vandersloot to grab five more rebounds, which would’ve secured the guard a triple-double.
“I guess we’ll work on that later,” Stewart said.
The Sky were down just two points to end the third, then trailed by 20 points in a matter of minutes. It was the latest ridiculous outing highlighting the Eastern Conference’s newest superteam.
The Liberty were able to get their sixth straight win after starting the game with some lackadaisical play that threatened to ruin the win streak.
“I don’t know why we came out [slow]. It didn’t resemble anything that we’ve been doing lately. I don’t know if complacency or fatigued stepped in,” Brondello said postgame. Brondello added that she urged the team to be more aggressive and trust each other offensively. The demand was met.
“And we got back to it. This team is tough. And it’s way more when we got back to it, too. It wasn’t as much fun early,” Brondello said.
Both teams were unable to lock down defensively in the first half. They both got open looks — some were missed — after racing down the floor following defensive rebounds.
Vandersloot — in her second away game at Wintrust Arena after departing the Sky in the offseason — took advantage of the heightened pace and stuffed the stat sheet. She finished the first half with 10 points, five assists, four rebounds, four steals and a block while shooting 4-for-8 from the field. Her efforts led to the Libs entering halftime up five.
Before the Libs ran away with the game in the second half, the two teams opened the matchup like they were on the second game of a back-to-back.
Two minutes before halftime, Kahleah Copper dribbled past Jonquel Jones on the perimeter and felt no resistance while completing an easy layup.
Liberty guard Jocelyn Willoughby, who finished with 10 points in 16 minutes of action, then received the ensuing inbounds pass and made a straight line to the rim for an easy layup, too.
The same matador defense afforded Betnijah Laney with three easy layups in the first quarter. The easy points eventually led to a 17-point performance for Laney. Sunday marked the fourth straight game where she scored at least 15 points.
Stewart scored a game-high 26 points while shooting 10-for-22 from the field and grabbing 14 boards. She also dished five assists, blocked two shots and recorded a steal.
Copper attempted to carry her team knowing each game down the stretch is very crucial for the Sky. Chicago entered Sunday holding on to the eighth seed, owning the tiebreaker over the Los Angeles Sparks for the final playoff spot. The loss now put them in ninth place, with the Sparks set to take on the Washington Mystics in Los Angeles.
Copper already had two performances with at least 20 points against the Libs and she recorded her third Sunday while fighting for the team’s playoff’s lives.
She contributed 23 points while shooting 9-for-17 from the field. Unfortunately for her, she was neutralized in the final quarter and stood no chance against the Liberty’s 26-8 run to end the matinee matchup. All of Copper’s points came before the fourth period. She mustered just two field goal attempts in the fourth, a stark contrast to the offensive success she enjoyed beforehand.
“She a great player,” Brondello said of Copper. “You let her feel comfortable, she’s gonna really hurt us. She hurt us for 30 minutes and we locked down and really made it hard for her in the fourth.”