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Liberty credit poise, composure to overcome foul trouble in win over Sky

Tuesday’s game between the Liberty and the Sky was a physical one. Well, at least that’s what you would think after officials called 39 fouls between the two teams -- 17 on Chicago, 22 on New York

Despite that lofty number, Breanna Stewart -- the reigning WNBA MVP -- felt differently about Tuesday’s contest. 

"Honestly, I don't know how physical it was because they were just calling a lot,” Stewart said with a grin after the game.

Unfortunately, the “physicality” between the two teams overshadowed what was a great game. The Liberty took an early lead before the Sky stormed back to get close to even at halftime. Chicago then took a slim lead heading into the fourth quarter, threatening to hand the Liberty their third loss of the season -- second to them. 

However, Stewart wasn’t having any of it. She scored eight points on 4-of-7 shooting in the third to get New York close, and then another six points on 3-of-5 shooting to help New York close out the 88-75 win.

“I was getting great looks when I was getting downhill,” Stewart said of her aggressiveness. “Knowing it was so back-and-forth, really wanted to do everything I could do to bring the game to the next level… Just continuing to be aggressive. Whenever there’s a small on me, I have to finish that.” 

Stewart finished with 33 points and 14 rebounds.

Jun 4, 2024; Chicago, Illinois, USA; New York Liberty forward Jonquel Jones (35) drives to the basket against the Chicago Sky during the first half of a WNBA game at Wintrust Arena.

The Sky (3-5) have the honor of handing the Liberty their first loss of the season -- at Barclays -- when the two met in May. The combination of the Sky’s post-play and Jonquel Jones’ foul trouble, played a big role in New York’s defeat.

Jones, who picked up five fouls on Tuesday, could not be on the court as much as she usually is. She finished with five points but did come down with 12 rebounds and dished four assists in 25 minutes of play.

Despite her foul trouble, the Liberty said they could not have closed out the game without her.

“We all know JJ is a scorer and the fact through it all through the foul trouble…she continued to be a force for us defensively,” Stewart said. “And offensively, finding one another. She’s looking for me a lot, especially in transition. Just being able to have that post chemistry is really important and we want to continue to build on that.”

Coach Sandy Brondello credited the win to her team’s change in mentality, especially Jones, when they got into foul trouble, something they didn’t do in their first meeting with Chicago.

“They stayed more composed and poised, even JJ,” Brondello said. “She knew how she could help us when she got back on the court. Your body language can change and I felt we stayed in the moment. She really anchored the zone in that fourth quarter and that’s what you have to do. Some days you’re not sure what [the officials are] going to be calling and it could take you out of your rhythm but you can still contribute to the team and she did that well.”

As Brondello alluded to, the Liberty changed their defense to a zone in the final frame. That resulted in Chicago scoring just nine points on 12.5 percent shooting and allowing the Liberty to take over for good. 

“Our zone really helped us,” she explained. “Keep the guards out of the paint, keep an eye on [Marina] Mabrey. The post players got going a little bit in the third but we contained them once we changed the defense up here. If we can actually score, that’s going to help our defense cause it’s going to help us get set. It was good to keep them to nine points.”

But 39 fouls is a lot, and with the WNBA in the news because of its perceived over-physicality towards certain players, Stewart was asked about that perception after the game.

Entering her eighth year in the league, Stewart has experienced a lot and offered this answer to the WNBA’s physicality and how new fans should view the product.

“To anybody, this is the best league in the world and no one is going to go give you anything easy and understanding that and learning how to play through it,” she said. “At this level, there’s the fastest, the strongest the quickest and that’s why this is the WNBA. Continue to pay attention to what we do. Understand that we’re trying to bring our best basketball. When we’re playing against other teams, we’re trying to win. But knowing that as a collective, we’re trying to bring this league to a better place altogether.”

The Liberty will take their four-game winning streak and their 2-0 Commissioner’s Cup record to Atlanta when they face the Dream on Thursday.