NEW YORK (AP) — Sabrina Ionescu has already left her mark in this young season, becoming the fastest player in WNBA history to record a triple-double.
Ionescu had 26 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds to help New York beat the Minnesota Lynx 86-75 on Tuesday night, giving the Liberty their first 3-0 start in 14 years.
“Obviously getting a triple-double in a win is important,” said Ionescu, who had an NCAA record 26 triple-doubles in college and now has her first pro one in just her sixth career game. “Super proud of my teammates, my coaching staff for helping me get that. … I’m super grateful. It’s definitely pretty cool (getting the first one in franchise history).”
The No. 1 pick in the 2020 draft had the 10th triple-double in league history and first since Chelsea Gray did it in 2019. The Liberty’s young star did it in her second season — the earliest in a career that it had ever been done. Sheryl Swoopes, who had the league’s first triple-double, accomplished the feat in her 59th career game — the previous fastest mark.
Liberty coach Walt Hopkins wasn’t surprised by his young star’s success.
“She puts the work in for these moments. Does the work in the offseason, so she’s prepared now. She’s got a special mentality in her belief in herself, her teammates and her desire to win,” Hopkins said. “It’s matched by her teammates. We’re getting off to this hot start because they all have that mindset of being hungry.”
Ionescu has now had a game-winning buzzer beater in her first home game Friday and a triple-double in her second game at Barclays Center to help the Liberty to their best start since 2007, when they won their first five games.
“The 3-0 start is a big deal for one, there have been some really great Liberty teams throughout history,” Hopkins said. “That’s pretty special to get out to this. This team getting to see what they are capable of early is a big deal for us. ”
New York trailed 45-43 at the half before outscoring Minnesota 19-10 in the third quarter to go up 62-55 heading to the final period.
The Liberty expanded on that lead and Ionescu reached the triple-double, corralling her 10th rebound with 5:24 left in the fourth. She then nailed a 3-pointer at the other end to extend the advantage to 75-65. Minnesota couldn’t get closer the rest of the way.
Sylvia Fowles led the Lynx (0-2) with 26 points and 11 rebounds. Kayla McBride scored 16 points and Jessica Shepard had 12.
“We’re still trying to figure out who we are,” Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve said. “Syl was really good for us. Knew she’d have opportunities on the inside.”
The Lynx are 0-2 for the first time in Reeve’s 11 years in Minnesota.
The Liberty welcomed back Kiah Stokes, who was playing her first game with New York after completing her overseas season. She checked in midway through the first quarter receiving a nice hand from the crowd.
Both teams were missing key players because of COVID-19 protocols. New York’s Natasha Howard and Minnesota’s Napheesa Collier finished their overseas seasons and needed a few more negative coronavirus tests to rejoin their teams. They both are expected to be back later this week.
Minnesota was without Natalie Achonwa because of a knee injury. The Lynx were also missing rookie Rennia Davis, who has a stress fracture in her left foot.
Tuesday night’s game marked the return to New York for Lynx assistant coach Katie Smith, who was the Liberty’s head coach before getting let go after the 2019 season. … The first quarter was full of runs as New York scored 15 straight after trailing 4-0, and then Minnesota had 12 in a row to make it a two-point game after one period. Neither team had more than a five-point lead before the half. … Minnesota was just 3-for-23 from behind the 3-point arc.