Chicago Sky roar back with dominant Game 2 win over New York Liberty

Kahleah Copper #2 of the Chicago Sky drives to the basket against the New York Liberty during Round 1 Game 2.
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The Chicago Sky stared down elimination by the New York Liberty on Sunday and replied with a resounding 100-62 victory in Game 2 of their first-round playoffs matchup, recording the largest margin of victory in WNBA playoffs history.

Kahleah Copper let the charge by the defending 2021 WNBA champions, recording 20 points, three rebounds and three steals in 22 minutes. Four other Sky players also scored in double digits, including starters Courtney Vandersloot (16 points, nine rebounds) and Candace Parker (12 points, 12 rebounds), while Azura Stevens and Rebekah Gardner added 14 and 11 points, respectively, off the bench.

“I think that was as a complete game as you probably have seen from us,” said Vandersloot, who added four assists and three steals. “I think it shows what we’re capable of; it shows us where our expectations should be of ourselves.”

The rebound performance came three days after the Liberty took Game 1, 98-91, in Chicago on Wednesday in the opener of their best-of-three, first-round series.

ALSO FROM ON HER TURF: 2022 WNBA Playoffs — Schedule, results, scores, TV details and more

“They woke us up,” said Sky head coach James Wade told reporters after the game Saturday. “[New York] let us know that we have to come out with the intensity that we need to actually match who we are. And that wasn’t the case in the first game.”

Copper led the Sky from the start, opening the scoring with a three-pointer and recording the team’s first five points. She dropped 10 points in the first quarter, showing no signs of a reported ankle injury reportedly suffered toward the end of practice Friday.

“I just want my team to be able to know that if they call on me for a switch, or a matchup, or whatever, that I’m going to respond,” said Copper. “It was just important for me to do what my team needed. So that’s just what I did.”

“The attention to detail was so great, and the intensity was so great,” added Wade. “I thought we executed at a level where we didn’t make many mistakes. And when we did, we had people to back us up. And that’s what we have to be. There was a lot of trust out there on the floor, and they executed at a high level.”

Chicago raced out to a 31-10 lead in the first quarter, and the extended the advantage in the second period, taking a 52-28 lead into halftime. New York failed to gain any ground in the second half, scoring just 16 points in the third quarter while the Sky dropped another 31, however the Liberty did manage to edge Chicago in the final period, 18-17.

“I’m happy it’s a series,” said first-year Liberty coach Sandy Brondello. “Obviously, they had their backs against the wall, and this is what I expected from Chicago. I didn’t think it would be such a butt-kicking, but this is a championship team from last year and very experienced. They played extremely hard, and we couldn’t combat anything.

“I just think we went away from what we wanted to accomplish here, playing together as a team. And so it’s disappointing, but we still got one game and we get to go home.”

The Liberty were paced by Han Xu and Michaela Onyenwere, who both came off the bench and each scored 10 points. But they were undone by turnovers, committing 19 (compared to 10 for Chicago), which led to 25 points for the Sky.

Chicago’s stats tell more of the story, as they led New York 60-24 in points in the paint, 20-5 in fast-break points and 15-0 in second-chance points. Additionally, the Sky went 14-for-14 from the free throw line and tallied a current season-high 14 steals.

“Our turnovers were just really silly, to be quite honest,” added Brondello. “I just didn’t think we played together as a team; we got too one-on-one. We’re not built like them, we don’t want to have a capo that can drive by anyone, but our one-on-one defense has to be better. We just allowed players to just drive right by us. So, you know, we can be better.”

The Sky will face the Liberty in the decisive Game 3 on Tuesday in New York.

“It’s do-or-die,” said Brondello. “That should be motivation enough in itself. … These are the playoff series, and they don’t always go according to plan, but it’s wonderful to have the three games, because it’s just who makes the tweaks and can execute on that day, and that was Chicago today.”

The Sky is now 4-2 against the Liberty this season, winning the regular season series 3-1 including going 1-1 on the road at New York’s Barclays Center.

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Justine Wong-Orantes’ atypical path to becoming one of the best liberos in the world

Justine Wong-Orantes hits the ball in the women's semi-final volleyball match between USA and Serbia during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
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It’s been 20 years since the same nation held both the Olympic and world volleyball titles at the same time, but libero Justine Wong-Orantes is looking to help lead Team USA accomplish that very feat at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championships in the Netherlands and Poland. Competition began on Friday and the U.S. is currently 2-0 after group play wins against Kazakhstan and Canada.

“We’re trying to win, for sure,” Wong-Orantes told On Her Turf. “I think, especially with the new turn of the program and the new year of the quad, we just have a really nice blend of veterans and also newcomers on the team.”

The 14-woman roster for Team USA, which is ranked No. 1 in the world and won its first Olympic title last summer, features six players from that gold-medal-winning team. And while Wong-Orantes is among the 2021 U.S. Olympic team veterans, she’s still a relative newcomer to international play.

The Southern California native enjoyed a notable junior career – she was 12 when she became the youngest female to ever earn an AAA rating in beach volleyball – and was a standout collegian at Nebraska, where she was a member of the 2015 NCAA championship team. But Wong-Orantes followed a different path upon graduation, initially choosing not to go overseas to play professionally.

While she was first selected for the U.S. national team in 2016 and played a handful of international tournaments in the following years, it wasn’t until she started playing professionally in Germany in 2019 that she saw the potential to elevate her position on the roster. In particular, the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Olympics gave her an additional year of overseas experience, which she calls “a blessing in disguise.”

“I just felt like I was still in that developmental stage,” she said. “And a whole year postponement allowed me to go overseas and really get all the touches, all the repetitions, and just kind of expose myself to international volleyball another year. So I was, in hindsight, pretty thankful for that COVID season because I got an extra year under my belt, and I think that just gave me a ton of confidence.”

Ahead of the Olympics, Wong-Orantes earned “best libero” honors at the 2021 FIVB Volleyball National League in Rimini, Italy, which helped secure her spot on the Olympic roster. In Tokyo, she followed up with another standout performance and was named best libero of the Olympic tournament.

As to how the Wong-Orantes transformed into one of the world’s top liberos, she points to her background as a beach volleyball player. She began competing at age 8, and her first partner was Sara Hughes, a star on the AVP Pro Tour who also won two NCAA titles with USC.

“I think having that background and just the court awareness that beach volleyball forces you to have allowed me to really have a good read on the game,” said Wong-Orantes. “I think that’s what makes a great libero is just reading and always being reactive towards the ball.”

Wong-Orantes also credits the assistance of mental coach Sue Enquist, a former UCLA softball coach and U.S. national team coach, who now helps teams work on their culture and relationships. Enquist began working with the U.S. volleyball team during the pandemic and has continued in her role ever since.

“We just worked on a lot of stuff within ourselves, within our program, how to communicate with each other off the court, and I think that honestly propelled us into such a high, high level with how we worked with each other, and then that transferred onto the court,” explained Wong-Orantes, who noted the team has Enquist on speed dial while at the World Championship. “I really commend Sue. I just really give a lot of praise to her because I think our culture was never bad, but I think [she] just transformed into a different level.”

2022-09-26 - FIVB Volleyball Womens World Championship 2022 - Day 4
ARNHEM, NETHERLANDS – Justine Wong-Orantes (far right) poses for a photo with her U.S. teammates after defeating Canada at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship on September 26, 2022. (Photo by Rene Nijhuis/Orange Pictures/BSR Agency/Getty Images)

Wong-Orantes said she and her U.S. teammates are on their toes for the world championships, which features twice as many teams (24) as the Olympics and a “more grueling” format.

“It’s going to be a long tournament, and I think we’re really going to need all 14 of us that are here. I’m pretty certain that, at any given moment, someone’s going to be called on and someone’s going to need to step up in big moments.”

2022 Ascendant LPGA: How to watch, who’s playing in Texas’s annual signature event

Atthaya Thitikul of Thailand hits her second shot on the 16th hole during the final round of the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.
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The LPGA make its annual stop in The Colony, Texas, this week for the 10th edition of the Ascendant LPGA benefiting Volunteers of America, where Thailand’s 19-year-old rookie Atthaya Thitikul comes in hot off her second career win and second playoff victory this season at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.

Leading the 132-player field at Old American Golf Club, located at Golf Clubs at The Tribute, are Texas residents and past champions Cheyenne Knight and Angela Stanford. They’ll compete for the $1.7 million prize purse alongside major champions Nelly KordaLydia Ko and Brooke Henderson. Last year’s Ascendant LPGA champion, world No. 1 Jin Young Ko, will not be defending her title after announcing earlier this month she would be missing several weeks due to a nagging wrist injury.

This past weekend in Arkansas, Thitikul took the lead with a 10-under 61 in the second round and shot 68 in the final round to finish regulation tied with Danielle Kang at 17-under 196. Thitikul, who won the JTBC Classic in March in a two-hole playoff vs. Nanna Koerstz Madsen, drained an 8-foot birdie putt on the second playoff hole to secure the win over Kang.


How to watch the 2022 Ascendant LPGA 

Coverage of the 2022 Ascendant LPGA from Old American Golf Club in The Colony, Texas, can be found on Golf Channel, with streaming options available any time on any mobile device and online through NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

  • Thursday, Sept. 29: 12:30-3:30 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Friday, Sept. 30: 12:30-3:30 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Saturday, Oct. 1: 1-4 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Sunday, Oct. 2: 1-4 p.m. ET, Golf Channel

Who’s playing in the 2022 Ascendant LPGA

Six of the top 10 players in the Rolex World Rankings are among the field in Texas, including:

  • No. 2 Nelly Korda
  • No. 4 Lydia Ko
  • No. 5 Atthaya Thitikul
  • No. 6 Brooke Henderson
  • No. 7 Lexi Thompson
  • No. 10 Nasa Hataoka

A number of local Texans also are in the tournament, headlined by past champions, Angela Stanford (2020) and Cheyenne Knight (2019), and two junior champions of the Volunteers of America Classic Girls Championship, who are playing on a sponsor exemption: Yunxuan (Michelle) Zhang (2022), a freshman at SMU, and Avery Zweig (2021), a high school sophomore from McKinney, Texas.


Past five champions of The Ascendant LPGA

YEAR WINNER SCORE MARGIN RUNNERUP
2021 Jin Young Ko (South Korea) 16-under 268 1 stroke Matilda Castren
2020 Angela Stanford (USA) 7-under 277 2 strokes So Yeon Ryu, Inbee Park, Yealimi Noh
2019 Cheyenne Knight (USA) 18-under 266 2 strokes Brittany Altomare, Jaye Marie Green
2018 Sung Hyun Park (South Korea) 11-under 131 1 stroke Lindy Duncan
2017 Haru Nomura (Japan) 3-under 281 Playoff Christie Kerr

Last time at The Ascendant LPGA

South Korea’s Jin Young Ko carded a final-round 69 to maintain her 54-hole lead at Old American Golf Club and held on for a one stroke win at the 2021 Volunteers of America Classic, her eighth career LPGA tour title. Ko finished regulation at 16-under 268, edging Finland’s Matilda Castren by one stroke.

It kicked off a five-win season for Ko, who had just lost her No. 1 ranking to Nelly Korda the week prior after holding the top spot for 100 straight weeks. She regained the No. 1 ranking back in October 2021, after earning her fourth win in seven starts at the BMW Ladies Championship.


More about Old American Golf Club

Opened in 2010, the Old American Golf Club is one of two clubs at The Tribute, a lakefront resort community on Lewisville Lake in The Colony, Texas. Designed by Tripp Davis and 12-time PGA Tour winner Justin Leonard, Old American plays as a Par 71 and stretches to 6,475 yards on the tournament scorecard.