Short-handed Sky prepared for rematch against Liberty

One-point home loss Friday doesn’t diminish team’s confidence heading into matchup in New York

SHARE Short-handed Sky prepared for rematch against Liberty
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Sky star Kahleah Copper (shown against the Mercury) played through a sprained ankle Friday against the Liberty.

Ross D. Franklin/AP

NEW YORK — Alanna Smith had an unequivocal message for the Liberty after her career night in the Sky’s 77-76 loss to them Friday at Wintrust Arena.

‘‘If I were them, I’d be worried to play us again,’’ Smith said, referring to the rematch Sunday at Barclays Center.

Smith had her second perfect shooting game of the season Friday, going 7-for-7 from the field for a career-high 18 points. On opening night against the Lynx, she shot 5-for-5 from the field.

Liberty coach Sandy Brondello previously coached Smith on the Australian national team and took notice of her development. What stood out even more was her ability to seize the moment.

‘‘She really improved a lot, obviously . . . back playing in the WNBA,’’ Brondello said. ‘‘Took her game over to Europe and was really strong in the EuroCup over there against tough, physical players. I think she always had the ability, but now she has the confidence. It’s easier when you know you’re going to get minutes to play freely.’’

There is no shortage of minutes for the Sky’s nine available players.

Coach/general manager James Wade has had to navigate the loss of three major contributors on his roster. After Isabelle Harrison was ruled out indefinitely after having meniscus surgery on her left knee, Rebekah Gardner and Morgan Bertsch suffered significant injuries.

Wade said Bertsch only is expected to be out for up to two weeks with an ankle injury. She has been participating in light activities, including riding an exercise bike.

But Gardner is expected to miss an extended period after having surgery to repair a broken bone in her left foot. Since she signed with the Sky last season, Gardner’s impact has been crucial, especially defensively. In three games this season, she averaged seven points, 3.7 rebounds 2.3 assists and two steals.

To make matters worse, Kristine Anigwe will leave the Sky to compete with Great Britain’s national team in Eurobasket after the game Sunday.

The Sky have been approved to sign a player under the emergency hardship exception, allowing Wade to pick up another contract temporarily, but he’s in no rush.

‘‘There’s no sense of urgency,’’ Wade said. ‘‘I like the group that we have. We just have to be better in certain things.’’

On Friday, the Sky nearly suffered a catastrophic blow when Kahleah Copper went down clutching her right ankle in the waning minutes of the first half. She had to be helped off the court but returned in the second half and finished with 20 points.

After the Sky’s one-point loss, Copper told the Sun-Times she was feeling sore as the adrenaline wore off but said it was just a sprain.

The Sky will play with nine players again Sunday, but that’s of no concern to them. Wade has equipped his shortened roster with an invaluable quality: confidence.

‘‘We always had this confidence in ourselves,’’ Smith said. ‘‘We knew before the season started that whatever the rankings were, they didn’t really mean anything. We can compete with anyone.

‘‘[The game Friday] proves what we already had in our mind: We can compete. Teams shouldn’t count us out.’’

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