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Kahleah Copper spurs Sky’s second-half comeback to beat Liberty


NEW YORK — The Sky appeared to be circling the drain.

It was only the second quarter, but as they trailed by 19, the Sky looked tired, lost and outmatched against the Liberty. An early scratch of Dana Evans with a non-COVID illness brought the Sky’s already-depleted roster to eight available players.

In the second half, they proved that was plenty to get a win, beating the Liberty 86-82.

“Our sense of urgency [changed in the second half],” Kahleah Copper said. “Our true belief in each other, and we just said, ‘We’re going to have some pride in this second half.’ ”

The second half opened too similar to the first for coach/general manager James Wade’s liking. After two missed jump shots by Copper and Courtney Williams were followed by a Liberty field goal, he had seen enough and called a timeout.

“He was pissed,” Copper said. “And then he pissed me off.”

Wade opted not to go into details about what he said. Whatever it was, it worked. Coming out of it, Copper went on an 8-0 scoring run herself, cutting the Liberty’s 19-point lead to 11.

Copper had seven points in the first half and finished with a game-high 27 to go with seven rebounds and three assists.

“When the moment comes, I’m ready and I’m built for it,” Copper said. “But I have teammates around me, so I don’t have to do it by myself.”

All eight of the Sky’s available players contributed scoring. Marina Mabrey finished with 17 points, Elizabeth Williams added 11 and Courtney scored 10 of her 12 points in the fourth quarter.

“[The fourth quarter is] win time for me,” Courtney said. “Not saying I try and coast through the first three, but when it’s win time, I just get into a different mode.”

Sunday’s game was a night and day difference from the Sky’s one-point loss to the Liberty Friday night. The difference was a physicality the Liberty brought that forced the Sky onto their heels.

Former Sky guard Courtney Vandersloot had a near triple-double with 18 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists. Breanna Stewart led the Liberty with 20 points.

The Sky went into the locker room at the half and watched film of themselves getting beat repeatedly in transition and decided they weren’t going to go out like that. They ended up outscoring the Liberty 21-19 in fastbreak points.

“We’ve been confident like this the entire season,” Wade said. “[A win like this] doesn’t add anything. It just reinforces sentiments, but it doesn’t add confidence for us.”

While the Liberty looks like a team that’s still struggling to find an identity, the Sky have theirs well established. They may not have the flashiest roster or even enough available players to play five-on-five, but they are being led by a commitment to defense. Their execution of that commitment comes from pure grit.

All of Wade’s starters, aside from Mabrey, played close to a 40-minute game.

When the Liberty tied the game at 76 with less than two minutes to play, the Sky tapped into their identity. They made key defensive stops, got themselves to the free-throw line and finished it.

The biggest takeaway from this Sky win, improving them to 4-3, might be another lesson in leadership for Copper. This team has already shown it’s prone to adversity, but Copper provided a valuable takeaway that will help them continue to navigate it.

“When you’re down 18 or 19 points and somebodies telling you something,” Copper said. “And you have to have that difficult conversation in the flow of the game, that’s where true leadership is. We were able to communicate and get through so much.”


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