The Sky returned to Wintrust Arena on Sunday for the first time in 620 days, playing before a pandemic-restricted sellout crowd of 1,257. But without Candace Parker and Allie Quigley, they fell to the Liberty 93-85 for their first loss of the season.
Sky coach and general manager James Wade announced just before tipoff Parker would sit out with a sprained ankle. He’s uncertain when she’ll play.
Both teams shot over 70% in the first quarter, but that came down as the defense picked up. For the third straight game, the Sky (2-1) created scoring opportunities in transition from their defense. They forced 22 turnovers but weren’t able to put together a complete defensive game.
Missed rebounds combined with a few key turnovers in the fourth quarter left the Sky clawing back from a deficit they ultimately weren’t able to close.
“We have to play 24 seconds of defense,” Courtney Vandersloot said. “They were able to get a couple of long rebounds for threes. We were out of position early.”
Vandersloot finished with 14 points and 16 assists. It marked the sixth time she has posted more than 15 assists. She and Sabrina Ionescu shared competitive moments throughout the game.
Ionescu had 11 points in the first half and came out firing in the second with back-to-back threes. Diamond DeShields was able to lock her down the rest of the third quarter, holding her to those two baskets. Ionescu finished with 19 points, 12 assists and five rebounds.
The Liberty (4-1) led 76-72 heading into the fourth after Jazmine Jones knocked down a three from the corner at the buzzer.
Turnovers were a problem for the Sky in their first two games of the season and against the Liberty. They had two in the first half but finished with 12. Their problems were late turnovers and defensive breakdowns. The Liberty finished shooting 50% from three-point range.
“It was a lack of defense, for sure,” DeShields said. “They have good shot-makers. You can’t leave people wide open that are capable shot-makers. We were overhelping on some plays. In turn, they were able to get open threes.”
DeShields struggled to score late. She finished shooting 8-for-17 with a game-high 22 points. She said in those late-game situations, she’s confident to take the shot, regardless of her percentage.
Wade said playing without Parker and Quigley (hamstring) wasn’t the issue, but rather the lack of execution. He didn’t think the Sky were disruptive enough.
Azura Stevens made her season debut and finished with six points and five rebounds on a minutes restriction. Wade is looking for her to be more decisive and let the game come to her as she gets more time.
The Sky were exposed by the Dream on Wednesday in Atlanta, watching a 20-point lead fall to one in the fourth quarter. As the Sky look to the rematch against the Dream on Tuesday, their focus is once again on playing a complete defensive game.
“We have to keep their guards in front of us and make them make difficult shots,” Vandersloot said. “We’re expecting them to come after us in the second game.”