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Cubaj Returns to Atlanta with NY Liberty

Lorela Cubaj makes playing return to Atlanta for first time since graduating

The final Liberty possession as they ran out the clock on an 89-77 win
Photo by Taylor Gray

Tech women’s basketball still has a few months before it gets back up and running, but it didn’t stop the entire squad (at least those in the States) and then some to come out and support the Institute’s first WNBA draft pick since 2014. Lorela Cubaj was back in Atlanta playing for the first time since she joined the New York Liberty after getting picked 18th in this year’s WNBA Draft.

In section 108 where my friend and I sat turned out to be the Cubaj fan section. When we arrived, the whole GTWBB team was out in custom shirts just for the game. The shirts were black with the GT interlocking logo in white with the 404 crown (is that what you call it??) in Liberty blue, plus Cubaj’s name and number 18 on the back. I wore my new Cubaj replica “Equality” jersey the Liberty sported during the game. Tech band members and others in Tech gear were in attendance.

Lorela only was on the court for the last 22 seconds of the game while New York dribbled the clock out on their last possession. New York’s offense very much centers around Sabrina Ionescu and multiple shooters in a very similar fashion to Golden State and Steph, shifting Cubaj’s role when she does play to more of a Kevon Looney role. With how Liberty head coach Sandy Brondello had them playing last night, Cubaj was the only player on their bench third in line for a role. Section 108 very much came alive when she headed to the scorers table at the end.

The game itself was New York dominated from tipoff. There were up by at least 10 points most of the game. At a couple points in the second half Atlanta pulled within five but never getting a lead. Liberty superstar Sabrina Ionescu absolutely dominated when she needed to, putting the Dream away in the 2nd half with key 3’s and 10 second half points from Natasha Howard.

On the experience, this was my first every WNBA game and first game at the Gateway Center. It holds 3,500 during basketball, and because it’s such a compact fit inside, you get the gym feel while being a professional basketball game. The vibe felt much more focused on the game than at your standard Hawks game, which I’m crediting to the limited amount of other stuff to do in the arena. There’s only one level of seats making every bit of the arena very accessible.

Some of the in-game sizzle reels focused on the Dream being the Southside team in the city. I don’t remember any of the other pro teams in the city very much honing in on one area, but in the Dream’s case it makes sense. They don’t have the capacity to pull in a lot of folks from all over the city unless they played in State Farm Arena, but also none of the other top-flight teams in Atlanta are particularly close (with traffic of course) to the College Park area. I love that claiming that territory as their own to base a unique geographic identity around themselves.

While we didn’t get to see Lorela truly play, getting a chance to be in the building was complete fun and a delightful time. Seeing someone from my graduating class out there on a professional basketball court is an absolute joy to see, even while pulling for the other team in this case (one New York fan did mistake me for a Liberty fan, but then I was wearing her jersey). The Liberty will be back in Atlanta on August 12, two days before the regular season ends in a reciprocal matchup in Brooklyn. I’ll be there on the 12th, and I hope all y’all will be too! It’s one of the easiest ways we have in Atlanta to support women’s sports while also seeing world class talent. Cheers.