The New York Liberty’s young pair of guards combined for 46 points to guide them to a win over the Minnesota Lynx on Wednesday night.
New York Liberty fans enjoyed the present and a glimpse of their possible future on Wednesday night at Westchester County Center.
The team’s most recent first-round picks took center stage against the Minnesota Lynx. Kia Nurse reached a season-high 26 points, while rookie Asia Durr scored an infantile career-best 20 in the Liberty’s 75-69 victory. Amanda Zahui B.complimented with a 13 point double-double that accompanied a career-high 13 rebounds.
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“(I’m) happy with the win. I thought lots of folks showed up and the energy was good again,” head coach Katie Smith said. “(Nurse) is able to function even when she’s a little tired. I thought she had a monster game and really came up big.”
Wednesday was the first game of the season where Tina Charles didn’t lead the team in scoring. The league’s leading scorer wound up with 12 points (5-of-17 FG) and eight rebounds in the win. Things didn’t go her way in her personal box score, but Charles was pleased with the way her team rose to the occasion to earn consecutive wins for the first time since July 11-15.
“It was a collective win,” Charles said. “I thought Asia Durr did a great job letting the game come to her. I thought Kia Nurse did a great job. But that’s something I know that Kia Nurse can do all the time. Zahui B did a great job getting on the boards.”
““It does speak a lot for us that we have other people knocking down shots and people being aggressive, you know reading the defense better and having those opportunities and finding those folks so again stuff that we want to instill in them and again, people hit shots, other people hit shots, and it’s gonna open other things for Tina,” Smith concurred. “The depth that we have scoring is huge, something that we want to continue to build off of and make sure that every single person has confidence in what they’re doing.”
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Making the Liberty’s win all the more impressive was the fact they went through Wednesday with a 10-woman roster. Guard Bria Hartley left on Monday for the FIBA Women’s EuroBasket tournament. Fellow reserve Rebecca Allen was likewise forced out with a hand injury.
The lack of reserves partially forced Nurse to play all 40 minutes. 2018’s ninth overall pick was more than willing to meet the challenge.
“I’m one of those people who whatever the team is going to ask me to do, I’m going to do,” she said. “For me, this year, (being a scorer) has been more of a role for me. We run plays where the first option is a shot coming off a stagger and I’ve learned to step into that and learned to understand that if I get better at shooting and get my feet set underneath me, I’ll be al right. It’s a different role, but it’s definitely a challenge that I like.”
Nurse was assisted by Durr, the second overall pick in April’s draft. The Louisville alumna returned to the starting lineup after missing Sunday’s victory over Las Vegas with an illness. She broke her previous career-best in scoring with 14 in the first half alone. Her second half was anything but quiet, as she hit two key baskets in the final minutes to help put the Lynx away.
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The pair’s instant chemistry was on display in postgame interviews, as they couldn’t stop singing each other’s praises.
“She plays hard all the time,” Durr said of Nurse. “Players who play hard the whole game, good things are bound to happen. She’s that one.”
“I love playing with a player who’s fiery, got that passion, wants to play on both ends of the floor. When you can create that chemistry off the court, it makes even greater on it,” Nurse retorted. “I’m really glad I don’t have to guard her. I’m glad to have her on my side. I think she’s a great player.”
In an eight-woman rotation, Tanisha Wright, Reshanda Gray, and Tiffany Bias came off the bench for New York. Though they didn’t score, the group did their part in the victorious effort. Wright had five assists and four steals and Gray grabbed five rebounds.
“(Gray) can guard anyone in the gym, she’s always crashing,” Smith said. “(When) you see Tanisha flying around, everybody else is getting in the action…She’s something else. It matters. she digs in and creates havoc.”
Minnesota (4-3) was paced in points by Sylvia Fowles with 16. They were able to cut a 15-point Liberty lead all the way down to two in the fourth quarter, but a comeback wasn’t meant to be. The Lynx were done in by shooting 30 percent (12-for-40) in the first half as they fell to their third loss over their last four games.
The Liberty are now one of three teams in the WNBA with an active multi-game winning streak. They’re once again making sure the potentially fleeting success won’t go to their heads.
“For me, I don’t consider it a streak. We just won two games,” Charles said. “It feels good to win a game. We’re not going to get too ahead of ourselves. We have a back-to-back coming up. I know Vegas. I know (Las Vegas head coach) Bill (Laimbeer) is looking to get us back.”
Extending it will be a challenge, as this weekend presents a Friday-Saturday road trip to Las Vegas and Los Angeles respectively. Friday’s visit to Mandalay Bay Events Center (10:30 p.m. ET, WNBA League Pass) features a rematch with the Aces, the first victim of this small streak.
The Liberty promised not to back down.
“We’re going to be ready. We’ll show up,” Smith said. “We’ll lock in. Opportunities are to be had by many. As long as (our team) is together and doing what they’re supposed to do, we’ll have a chance to win ball games.”
“Going into back to back games is tough, but you just have to really understand that this is part of the game, part of being a professional and getting your body right,” Nurse added. “It’s a long travel day to go to the West Coast, but just sleep, eat and stay up with it.”