UNCASVILLE, Conn. — It has been 21 years since the Liberty made their fourth and last trip to the WNBA’s title round. But they now stand one win away from another admission ticket, from another chance to claim first prize for the first time.
After splitting the first two games of their best-of-five semifinal series with Connecticut at Barclays Center, the Liberty went to Mohegan Sun Arena for Game 3 on Friday night and made themselves right at home.
They began by recording the most points in a postseason quarter in franchise history, scoring 37 and going up by 21 after the first 10 minutes en route to a wire-to-wire 92-81 win.
Breanna Stewart contributed 25 points and 11 rebounds for the Liberty, who can advance via Game 4 at 3 p.m. Sunday in Connecticut. If they can’t close it out, they will face a tense Tuesday night with a Game 5 in Brooklyn.
The Liberty’s mindset goes like this:
“One game and we’re putting ourselves into the Finals,” Stewart said, “focusing on that idea, not looking any further than that, and also just realizing this one put momentum back on our side and continuing to be confident in what we did.”
Betnijah Laney also had a good night with 20 points and eight rebounds. Sabrina Ionescu scored 16 points and Courtney Vandersloot had 12 points and seven assists. Jonquel Jones posted her fifth double-double in five postseason games with 10 points and 11 rebounds.
Alyssa Thomas nearly delivered a triple-double for Connecticut with 23 points, 14 assists and nine rebounds. The Sun played without Rebecca Allen, who had a non-COVID illness.
They also were shorthanded in the energy department at the outset, according to coach Stephanie White.
“I’m proud of our group from the second through the fourth quarter,” White said. “But that’s not good enough when you’re playing for an opportunity to go to the Finals.”
Stewart, the 2023 WNBA MVP, made only 27.8% of her shots through the first four postseason games. Thomas, a close second in the MVP voting, had been sticking close to her. “Just making it tough,” Thomas said before the game. “I think when you look at the players in the league, they can’t pick her up at halfcourt like I can.”
Stewart, however, shot 5-for-6 in the first quarter and scored 12 points. She finished 11-for-19.
“Stewie, she’s missed a few shots,” Liberty coach Sandy Brondello said. “But she was at her very best tonight, and that really got us off to a great start.”
Ionescu was locked in early on, going 3-for-3 on three-pointers to give the Liberty a 13-8 lead.
It was 13-10 when the Liberty floored it, turning in sensational work at both ends. They closed the first quarter with a 24-6 run to go up 37-16.
Besides being a Liberty postseason record, it matched the second-best point total for a postseason quarter in WNBA history.
“I think it was huge to really set the tone,” Stewart said. “We wanted to run in transition whenever we could. And we were mixing up the defenses to make it tough on them.”
The lead expanded to 22 in the second quarter, although Connecticut got it down to 12 late in the period and trailed by 14 at the break.
The margin shrunk to nine at 70-61 when Olivia Nelson-Ododa made a layup late in the third quarter.
Then Stewart scored seven and Jones hit a three-pointer to cap a 10-2 burst. The lead was 80-63 with 8:19 left.
“I loved the start,” Brondello said. “When you’re up so much in the first quarter, you know they’re going to make a run.”