Sky get first win of the season behind impressive WNBA debut performance from Rebekah Gardner
Gardner finished with 14 points on 6-for-9 shooting and added four rebounds and two steals in the Sky’s 83-50 victory over the New York Liberty.
Courtside chatter between coaches and opposing staffs and players happens before every game in the WNBA, but Wednesday night the conversation was different.
Two Sky champions made their return to Wintrust Arena as members of the visiting team, center Stefanie Dolson who signed with the Liberty as an unrestricted free agent in February and assistant Olaf Lange, who accepted a job on his wife Sandy Brondello’s staff.
Sky coach/GM James Wade greeted Lange with a hug and laughs at center court during pregame, but left Dolson to her routine.
“She had her game face on,” Wade said before the Sky’s 83-50 victory against the Liberty. “So I was a little intimidated.”
Without Allie Quigley, who is working through a right knee injury, it appeared the Sky would have a mismatch in the backcourt against the Liberty’s sizable guards. Wade tapped Rebekah Gardner to start and she sparkled in her WNBA debut.
Wade originally signed the 31-year-old guard to a training-camp contract, her first WNBA contract since going undrafted out of UCLA in 2012. But before she arrived to camp, Wade upgraded her to part of his 11-player roster. After seeing her play overseas against WNBA talents like Sky teammate Kahleah Copper and Phoenix Mercury guard Diamond DeShields, he knew she belonged on a WNBA roster.
During his pregame comments, Wade said he couldn’t wait for everyone to see what Gardner is capable of accomplishing in the WNBA.
On Wednesday night, she finished with 14 points on 6-for-9 shooting and added four rebounds and two steals.
“I’ve been playing overseas for 10 years,” Gardner said. “Every experience prepared me for this moment. So I was ready.”
The Sky had the Liberty beat with their size in the post, and they exploited the mismatch. They outscored them 22-10 in the paint in the first half. They also shot 45.5% from three-point range.
Dana Evans had a game-high 15 points. Candace Parker added 11 points and six rebounds and Emma Meesseman had 10 points and six rebounds.
The Liberty adjusted in the third quarter, attacking the rim more and were able to close that inside scoring gap, but they only shot 13.3% from three-point range. Han Xu (10 points) was the only Liberty player to score in double figures. Dolson finished with six points and six rebounds.
Along with Quigley, the Sky are without Copper, who is finishing up her overseas season with Perfumias Avenida in Spain. She is expected be back with the team by Tuesday.
Quigley’s target return date is Saturday against the host Minnesota Lynx. She said earlier this week that if this was Game 4 of the Finals, she would play.
In the season opener, the Sky looked like a team that was still searching for cohesion. On Wednesday night, they showed the danger of their depth.
“I don’t think our chemistry was there [in Game 1],” Wade said. “We’re still missing some players. We were really focused on building something tonight, setting our identity up a little bit.”