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Liberty hitting stride heading into final month of season

By DOUG FEINBERG
AP Basketball Writer

NEW YORK (AP) — The New York Liberty are hitting their stride after capping off a brutal stretch of their schedule with a convincing win over the Las Vegas Aces.

“They got us at their place really good, and we wanted to come in ready, to show our fans and ourselves how much we’ve improved over the last few months,” said New York guard Sabrina Ionescu after the 99-61 win over Las Vegas on Sunday.

The 38-point win over the Aces came at the end of a 10-game in 18-day stretch that included contests on both coasts. The team went 8-2 in that span and has won four straight. The Liberty sit 2 1/2 games behind the Aces in the standings for the top seed.

“We just proved to ourselves what we’re able to do,” Ionescu said. “We’ve set the level of how we need to play every single game in order to be at our best … we’re not sitting here jumping for joy that we beat them. It’s just a wake-up call of how good we can actually be, and that’s the standard of New York basketball. Now we have to continue to get better throughout the next month.”

The top two teams in the league will meet three more times this month, including twice in Las Vegas next week. The first of those meetings will be for the Commissioner’s Cup championship.

New York’s win moved the team closer to Las Vegas near the top of the AP WNBA power poll. The Aces received only eight first place votes this week while the Liberty got the other four. Las Vegas had been the unanimous top choice for every week except the first one.

AP WNBA POLL

While New York closed the gap on Las Vegas, Connecticut, Dallas and Atlanta remained third, fourth and fifth in the poll. Chicago jumped up two spots to sixth after two wins in Dallas. Minnesota and Washington were seventh and eighth. Los Angeles, Seattle, Phoenix and Indiana rounded out the poll.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK

Diana Taurasi became the first player to reach 10,000 points in the WNBA, doing so in outstanding fashion with a 42-point effort in a win over Atlanta last Thursday. Taurasi did all she could to try and help the Mercury win, averaging 33 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists, but Phoenix went 1-2. Other players receiving votes included Ionescu and Breanna Stewart of New York, Kahleah Copper of Chicago and Alyssa Thomas of Connecticut.

GRINER WATCH

Brittney Griner returned after taking three games off to focus on her mental health. Phoenix’s All-Star center returned in a home loss to Seattle on Saturday.

The 6-foot-9 center — who became an international story during her 10-month detainment in Russia last year — said that she needed a break.

“You can’t plan for when you might need some time,” said Griner. “I just want to shout out the Phoenix Mercury organization. From the jump, they were there for me, making sure I was good, letting me know that at any moment if I needed some time off, I could do that.”

CHIPPY WEEKEND

Four players were ejected over the weekend in a pair of games and the WNBA levied its penalties Monday. Chicago’s Ruthy Hebard received the only suspension and she’ll have to sit one game for leaving the bench area during an on-court altercation in the Sky’s win over Dallas.

Hebard left the bench when teammate Dana Evans and Dallas’ Odyssey Sims got involved in a dust-up on the court in the third quarter.

While neither player was ejected, Dallas’ Arike Ogunbowale was tossed for contact with an official with 52 seconds left. In the Los Angeles-Washington game, Brittney Sykes and Layshia Clarendon were both ejected for an on-court tussle.

GAME OF THE WEEK

Washington at Las Vegas, Friday. The Mystics have been beset by injuries lately and hope to have at least a few of their player back soon. Elena Delle Donne (ankle), Ariel Atkins (ankle) and Shakira Austin (hip) have been out for about a month and the Mystics have struggled.

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AP sports: https://apnews.com/hub/sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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