With special core, Chicago Sky make repeat WNBA title possible

Courtney Vandersloot dished out a game-high 10 assists in Chicago's win. (Evan Yu/NBAE via Getty Images)

Allie Quigley likes what she sees.

When the Sky guard locks eyes with fellow veterans Courtney Vanderlsoot and Candace Parker, she feels comfortable, confident. Ready for anything.

“When I see them on the court, I have so much trust in them,” she said. “I want to live and die with them.”

Together, the trio have 41 seasons of WNBA experience. They’ve won a championship, and now, with all three hitting free agency in the offseason, they want to win one more.

No WNBA team has won back-to-back titles since the Los Angeles Sparks in 2001 and 2002, and only two franchises have done it period, with the Houston Comets winning the first four WNBA championships from 1997 to 2000.

The repeat is elusive, and on Tuesday, with nine minutes left in regulation of the Sky’s win-or-go-home Game 3 against the New York Liberty, it was in danger of slipping away.

A minute earlier, Chicago held a 10-point advantage over the Liberty. But as Betnijah Laney sank a two-point shot — the latest in a 7-0 Liberty run — the lead was suddenly down to three.

In Barclays for an elimination game, the New York crowd was emboldened.

“I just saw all the towels flying,” Quigley said. “And I’m like, ‘All right, we’ve got to pick it up. We can’t let this crowd get into it.”

For the Sky, that “live or die” mode kicked in.

As for the Liberty, they didn’t score again for over six minutes.

Chicago secured a 90-72 victory, closing the game on a 22-7 run to advance to the semifinals against the winner of the Connecticut Sun-Dallas Wings first-round series and move one step closer to a second-straight championship.

“I think we all just kind of looked at each other and knew that we could do it,” Quigley said. “It’s going to come from all of us. That’s kind of how we’ve had our season this year is everyone stepping up in their moment. And I think that is what happened in the fourth quarter.

When Quigley says “all of us,” she means “all of us.” The Sky couldn’t have had a more balanced effort on Tuesday night.

Quigley and Kahleah Copper finished with 15 points each, Parker and Vandersloot had 14 apiece, and Emma Meesseman and Azurá Stevens each had 12. The Sky also assisted on 27 of their 75 field goals, an increase from their league-leading season average of 24.3 per game.

It was one of the most complete efforts the Sky have had this season. After a disappointing loss in Game 1, Chicago came back and dominated Game 2 in a record-breaking 38-point victory. As they demolished the Liberty, the Sky saw moments of near-perfection. They saw what they’ve been building toward all season, and they made it their mission to execute the same way in Game 3.

“Building on the last game, we saw a flash of a team that we really want to be consistently,” Copper said. “I think with the experience that we have, and what we felt in those moments, that is the team that we want to be, and that is the team that we want to continue to grow.”

The foundation of that team is Vandersloot and Parker, who each finished with double-doubles in the contest.

In addition to her 14 points, Parker grabbed 13 rebounds and dished out eight assists, coming close to the fourth triple-double of her career. Vandersloot had 10 assists to lead the Sky attack, while also grabbing five rebounds to go with her 14 points.

Then, there’s James Wade.

The fourth-year head coach was named WNBA Executive of the Year on Monday, and the proof of his qualification played a key role in knocking out the Liberty.

Beyond retaining Copper, Vandersloot and Quigley in the offseason, Wade made a number of franchise-defining moves. He signed Meesseman, who earned an All-Star bid in her first season with the Sky, helping to replace Stefanie Dolson and Diamond DeShields after they left in free agency.

Meesseman is no stranger to high-pressure situations like the one the Sky found themselves in on Tuesday. In 2019, the Belgian forward helped the Mystics to a championship, averaging 17.8 points off the bench and earning the Finals MVP award.

Wade also signed 32-year-old Rebekah Gardner, who spent a decade playing overseas before making her WNBA debut with the Sky this season. She made her presence Tuesday felt on the defensive end, disrupting Sabrina Ionescu and helping force the Liberty into 16 turnovers.

When you look up and down the Sky roster from starters Parker, Vandersloot, Quigley, Copper and Meesseman to bench players Gardner and Stevens, you see a complete unit that knows how to win.

“They are a great team,” Liberty coach Sandy Brondello said. “The chemistry that they have, they had poise. They just made plays.”

Allie Quigley hit a couple of big 3-pointers down the stretch to help Chicago close out the victory. (Evan Yu/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Sky’s maturity was obvious in their response to the Liberty run, and during a timeout with 9:34 left, Copper saw the same thing that Quigley did: a team that had it all figured out.

Copper watched as Wade drew up a play and Vandersloot and Parker dissected it, relaying to their teammates exactly how it was going to go down.

“I’m sitting there, and I’m watching this all develop,” Copper said. “And then we go out there and execute. Just to see them really connect, it’s just like, wow.

“That’s the experience, that’s the leadership we need. And it really just carried us down the stretch.”

Now, with one foe down, the Sky are hoping their experience can carry them through the semifinals, and then the Finals, all the way to a feat a WNBA team hasn’t accomplished in 20 years. Another WNBA title.

Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.