The WNBA finally returned to the floor and our screens this past weekend and at Focus Hoops will be covering the league all season long.
The W is in a state of flux with five of the ten all WNBA players from last season not starting the season, through a mixture of serious injuries to marquee players and players taking time for personal and family reasons.
Reigning MVP Brianna Stewart will miss the season with a torn achilles she sustained in the Euroleague final. Her teammate, the legendary Sue Bird, will miss much of the season after being forced to undertake knee surgery. Missing these two players, the reigning champions Seattle Storm are tipped to struggle to even make the playoffs this season, let alone retain their title.
Dianna Tourasi, one of the greatest players in league history, will miss roughly a third of the season with a back injury hurting the Phoenix Mercury’s shot at glory and Liz Cambage, last year’s MVP runner up and the focal point of the biggest trade this spring missed the opening week of the season with an achilles injury.
Minnesota Lynx are without their standout forward Maya Moore for the season as she is out with personal reasons and the Dallas Wings, reeling from losing Cambage, are without their star guard Skylar Diggins-Smith as she is on pregnancy leave.
With all of these stars out the WNBA has been shaken up and has opened the door for different teams and different talent to come to the fore.
Friday night saw the league return with a bang with both games going down to the wire.
The curtain raiser was in Atlanta as the Dream hosted the new look Dallas Wings, with Imani McGee-Stafford on her old home floor with the Wings for the first time. The Wings had the game in their hand leading with under two minutes left in the game.
An inspired fightback from the Dream and a turnaround jumper and an and-one from Jessica Breland with just over a minute to go gave the Dream a 2 point lead, and a foul with just under a minute left sent her back to the line to make one of two. The Wings, down three, went to the hero ball and started taking and missing three point shots and that did for their chances in the game.
Dallas was led in scoring by Allisha Gray who finished with 14-3-8 whilst the Dream was led by 17-6-2 from Jessica Breland who hit the winning buckets in crunch time.
The other game on opening night was even tighter at the Westchester County Center as the Indiana Fever took the win at the buzzer over the New York Liberty, thanks to an incredible buzzer beating layup from rookie Teaira McCowan. The whole final play was perfect from the Fever, the entry pass from Erica Wheeler to a cutting Candice Dupree whose assist was perfect for the tough under the basket score for the third overall pick McCowan.
The Liberty were led by Tina Charles who finished with an amazing 32-12 and the Fever were led by 22 points from Tiffany Mitchell.
The Las Vegas Aces will look to capitalise on the good fortune of weakened rivals and their incredible trade coup of the spring as the GMs have them tipped to win the title. The Aces made light work of the LA Sparks, who have the Ogwumike sisters back together but were without Candace Parker on Sunday night, in front of a packed out Mandalay Bay Center.
The Aces smoked the Sparks 83-70 thanks to a 21-11 night from A’Ja Wilson, 20 points from Kayla McBride and an invaluable 12-14-3 from Dearica Hamby from the bench. The hardworking Hamby was the difference maker on Sunday contributing good points, cleaning up on the glass and defending hard all night taking away looks from the Sparks.
The standouts for the Sparks was 20-year-old Maria Vedeeva, who bagged 24 points but just 5 rebounds highlighting the disparity between the sides. Nneka Ogwumike had a big night finishing with a 17-11 double-double but her side was out of the contest from early. A huge run in the second quarter, with Kelsey Plum controlling the action held the Sparks scoreless from the floor for over 6 minutes, as they grew the lead to 14 points at halftime and throttled the second half to maintain their lead.
The other standout fixture from the opening slate of games was the Semifinal rematch between the Phoenix Mercury and Seattle Storm in front of a packed house at the Angels of the Wind arena, on ring ceremony night for the Storm.
The contest went the same way as last year’s playoff clash with the Storm coming out on top, despite missing key players. An incredible 31-8-4 from DeWanna Bonner and 18-4 from Brittney Griner wasn’t enough for the Mercury as an under strength Storm balled out with four players scoring in double digits led by 21-16 from Natasha Howard and 17 points from Jewell Loyd who is putting the burden on her shoulders to carry the team and expected by many to have a standout season.
The Storm-Mercury clash was the highest rated WNBA opening game since 2012 and was up 25% on last season according to ESPN. This is great news for the league as they’ve looked to refresh things for 2019.
- The Rest of the scores from around the WNBA in weekend one:
- Washington Mystics 69 @ 84 Connecticut Sun (25/5/19)
- Chicago Sky 71 @ 89 Minnesota Lynx (25/5/19)
- Indiana Fever 77 @ 88 Connecticut Sun (28/5/19)