Long before she was even drafted, Sabrina Ionescu was marked for greatness. She dominated in high school, and at Oregon, and was quickly pegged as the type of player a future professional franchise could build an entire identity around.
For a while, though, that destiny was delayed: She injured herself just three games into rookie season in the bubble last year and played in only her sixth ever WNBA game Tuesday. Good thing she’s apparently very, very good at making up for lost time.
Days after hitting a buzzer-beater to give the Liberty a win in their home opener, Ionescu outdid herself, putting together the first triple-double in franchise history, as the Liberty turned aside the Minnesota Lynx, 86-75, at Barclays Center. At 23 years and 164 days old, she’s also the youngest player to record a triple-double in WNBA history.
"I'm just staying true to myself, the way that I train, the way that I approach every single game," Ionescu said of her ability to adapt to the WNBA. "It's not who I'm going up against, it's me vs. me."
It was the Liberty's third win in three tries, meaning they’ve already outpaced last year’s team, which went 2-20. Ionescu scored 26 points, with 12 assists and 10 rebounds, leading three other players in double digits. The Liberty went 12-for-27 from downtown, while holding the Lynx to 3-of-23 from three-point range. Ionescu went 4-for-7 from three. Betnijah Laney added 20 points. Sylvia Fowles led the Lynx with 26 points.
"She's really got a special mentality when it comes to her confidence in herself, her teammates, and her desire to win," coach Walt Hopkins said. "She's impressing me, and that's hard to do, because I know what she's capable of.
"Getting to see her behind the scenes... she puts the work in for these moments. She does the work in the offseason so she's prepared now. She has a special mentality when it comes to her belief in herself."
And, with an overhauled roster and Ionescu at the helm, these Liberty look like a team that can, at very least, be far more dangerous than it was last year.
After losing an 11-point first quarter advantage, the Liberty were finally able to wrest away a lead with 5:16 left in the third quarter, when Laney’s three made it 50-47. They then held tight down the stretch, and Ionescu’s three around two and a half minutes later eventually put them up 62-55 going into the fourth, their biggest lead since the first quarter.
The Lynx drew to within four with about six minutes left when three separate players hit threes to help seal the game. Sami Whitcomb kicked it off with a trey from the top of the key with 5:38 to go, and Ionescu and Michaela Onyenwere put them up 75-65 with 4:42 left. Another example of Ionescu stepping up when needed.
"I’m super proud of my teammates for helping me get that, my coaching staff," Ionescu said. "Those things are easy and never come without help from people on the court."