Layshia Clarendon knows how to make an entrance.
Waived by the New York Liberty 10 days earlier, the former Cal guard signed a free-agent contract Sunday with the Minnesota Lynx then helped the team win its first game of the WNBA season hours later.
Clarendon hit a tie-breaking 3-pointer with 1:06 left in overtime and finished with 12 points, five rebounds and three assists as the Lynx (1-4) topped the first-place Connecticut Sun 79-74 at the Target Center in Minneapolis.
“Difference in the game, no doubt about it,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said.
Clarendon made what looked to be a game-winning shot from just inside the midcourt logo at the fourth-quarter buzzer, igniting the crowd. But a video review showed the ball was released a split-second late.
“I think it hyped the crowd and gave us the excitement that we aren’t losing in overtime in our house,” Clarendon said.
Clarendon, who is the WNBA's first openly nonbinary and transgender player and uses multiple pronouns, was signed by the Lynx to fill a spot left open when guard Aerial Powers was lost indefinitely to a hamstring injury.
The 30-year-old, in his ninth WNBA season, had played in just one game for the Liberty this season before being released because of a glut of players in the backcourt.
Minnesota was the WNBA’s only winless team entering Sunday, but Clarendon helped the Lynx deliver its best performance of the year.
“Far and away our best defensive game of the year,” Reeve said. ““Our communication was a season high, our collective will was at a season high.”
Clarendon admitted feeling a bit overwhelmed at stepping in to help a new team without even a practicing. “(Coach) was calling plays and I’m like, ‘I don’t know what that is,’ ” Clarendon said.
But new teammate Kayla McBride said Clarendon handled everything like a pro.
“She knows the personnel, she just knows how to play at the pace that we wanted to,” McBride said. “I thought she was great top to bottom, even defensively, just kind of being thrown into it. … That’s her being a vet and her being ready and staying ready.”
Clarendon helped Cal to a Final Four appearance as a senior in 2013 and was coming off a career-best WNBA season in 2020, averaging 11.5 points and 3.9 assists in 19 starts for the Liberty.
But with budding WNBA star Sabrina Ionescu healthy after a injury-lost rookie season, the Liberty didn’t really have a spot for Clarendon.
They played 27 minutes off the bench Sunday night for the Lynx and was team’s second-leading scorer behind Sylvia Fowles, who had 24 points.
Clarendon’s impact on the WNBA has extended beyond the basketball court. He is a vocal advocate for the LGBTQ community and the first vice president of the WNBPA as well as a leader on the league's social justice council.
The Lnyx returns to action Friday at home against the Atlanta Dream.
Cover photo of Layshia Clarendon by Ned Dishman
Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo