Dallas – Strong play by Sylvia Fowles and Seimone Augustus propelled the Minnesota Lynx past the Dallas Wings Saturday, 89-87.
Augustus scored a tie-breaking basket with 4.3 seconds remaining to give the visitors the momentum to close out the back-and-forth match up, as Allisha Gray’s three-point attempt at the buzzer fell short for Dallas.
Fowles posted 27 points and 13 rebounds for Minnesota, while Maya Moore added 21 and Augustus had 18. Rebekkah Brunson’s 11 rebounds put her over the 3,000 career mark – only the fifth WNBA player to achieve that mark.
The Lynx went up by as many as 15 points in the first half, but the Wings made a run to close the gap. The turning point was the third quarter when Dallas stepped up defensively and only allowed three Lynx field goals. Whenever the hosts were down they attacked the paint in order to get to the line instead of settling for outside shots. There were 47 fouls called in this game, and 15 lead changes.
Moore called it “a game of runs,” and said the Lynx had to step up.
“We just stayed with it,” she said. “They made some runs and….our offense wasn’t exactly what we wanted it to be, or as consistent as we wanted it to be. Our post players were huge for us.”
Dallas couldn’t stop Fowles and Brunson on the boards, as they allowed 17 offensive rebounds and 25 second-chance points. Wings coach Fred Williams appreciated his team’s efforts.
“Like I told the team, we just have to play through when the teams have a lead on us, and I felt like we fought through that and made some big plays and almost came up with a victory,” Williams said. “We came up a little short tonight.”
Skylar Diggins-Smith lead Dallas with 22 points eight assists and five rebounds. She missed the first of two free throws that could have tied the game with two seconds left. She said her teammates have her back and it’s just about them all getting better as a team.
“We are saying it’s a process so we are just going to keep grinding, it’s our second game together,” Diggins-Smith said. “We have a lot of potential and I think we made some noise tonight.”
Rookie Gray had a season-high 15 points, and the team saw some good minutes from rookies Kayla Thornton and Kaela Davis, as well, who had nine and seven points respectively.
Williams the play of his rookies has been sensational.
“They are just a month away from collegiate play, and I think they defended well but they made some mistakes,” Williams said. “Now they know what it is like to go against Moore and Augustus.”
The Wings are now 1-1 and will face a San Antonio Stars team on the road Thursday that is looking to get their first win of the season.
Los Angeles – The Los Angeles Sparks bottled momentum from their pre-game Championship ring ceremony Friday to top the visiting Mystics, 99-89.
Reigning league MVP Nneka Ogwumike led five Sparks in double figures with 23 points, while rookie Sydney Wiese scored 22 points, including six three-point shots.
Los Angeles stretched an 11-point halftime lead to a 74-53 advantage halfway into the third quarter, but Washington forward Elena Delle Donne sparked a 17-4 run for her team with eight of those points. Tayler Hill’s buzzer-beater trimmed the host’s lead to 78-70 at the end of the period.
The Sparks hung tough in the fourth quarter, using defense when their shots weren’t falling, to stop the Mystics. Delle Donne led the visitors with 27 points, while Hill added 20.
It was the first game back for Candace Parker, Essence Carson and Jantel Lavender, who all finished up their playing seasons in Turkey a few days ago, got on a plane to Los Angeles and suited up at what was the middle of the night in Turkey, where they had been all winter. Parker scored 18 points, Carson three, and Lavender didn’t play.
Sparks coach Brian Agler was especially impressed by Parker’s performance.
“It’s like she didn’t miss a beat,” he said. “I’m just really impressed with her ability to play after a 15-hour plane ride and playing in a tough series two days ago, then walking in today for shoot around and doing that.”
“She said she wanted to play, so we played her.”
A revamped Mystics have been scrambling to develop chemistry after adding Delle Donne and former Los Angeles guard Kristi Toliver over the winter, as well as bringing back a few other players. Coach Mike Thibault said he was pleased with his team’s fight in the second half.
“We were not good in the first quarter and we had a lot of sloppy turnovers, but we stayed in the game,” he said. “They were on the verge of blowing us out and we kept playing and all of a sudden, we got it close.”
“There’s a reason they’re really good, and it’s scary that Lavender didn’t even play.”
Thibault said Washington’s continued progress will be measured by their defense and physicality.
“The chemistry is great,” he said. “They talk throughout the game and in the locker room. There’s a lot of positivity there.”
The Sparks received their 2016 WNBA Championship rings in a ceremony before the game, which ironically included Toliver. League president Lisa Borders presented rings to players, and then Finals MVP Parker said a few words to the crowd. It was emotional for all.
“The group from last year is really special, and it means so much to be able to share this last day with them and wrap up the 2016 season and to go forward into this season with a lot of memories because we were a close-knit group,” Parker said.
Toliver, whose rolling floor hug with Parker after the title win was played repeatedly afterward, said she was struck by the moment.
“The whole ring ceremony obviously was emotional for me, just kinda reflecting on the past year and all the memories I made with my friends,” she said.
For Wiese, seeing her teammates get their rings gave her added motivation for her first season.
“I defiantly want to make sure that we are put into a [playoff] position,” she said. “Our team is working hard right now.”
The 2-0 Sparks hit the road now to face Indiana on Wednesday, while Washington continues north to face the Storm on Sunday.
Rosemont, Ill. – Friday night was a night that Tiffany Hayes could not be stopped as she scored 23 points to lead the Atlanta Dream past the Chicago Sky, 91-83.
It was Chicago’s first home opener loss since 2012, and it was the first meeting between the two teams this year. The Sky were responsible for ending the Dream’s 2016 season with a 108-98 victory in the second round of the WNBA Playoffs.
Friday’s contest proved to be a tightly-contested game, as the score was tied at 43 going into halftime. The difference was the 14-4 run the Dream went on right at the midpoint mark of the fourth quarter.
Cappie Pondexter paced the Sky with a 22 point and seven assist performance, putting in a solid performance as she played the point guard spot in the absence of Courtney Vandersloot, who is just returning from overseas play.
Although this is Chicago’s second loss in as many games, first-year coach Amber Stocks said building a team is a process.
“Thirty-four games are quite a few games, and we have 32 still ahead of us,” she said. “Consistency wins in this league, and there are going to be ups and downs, highs and lows. Iff we continue to apply the pillars of our defense and are consistent with that, then the results will take care of themselves.”
The Sky hit the road to face Atlanta again on Sunday.
When her former Phoenix Mercury teammates invade the AT&T Center on Friday night, San Antonio center Isabelle Harrison will take the floor dressed in a Stars uniform with no chip on her shoulder.
In January, Harrison was shipped to San Antonio in a two-way swap with Phoenix – where she had spent her first two WNBA seasons – in exchange for embattled guard Danielle Robinson.
Harrison, a University of Tennessee phenom, routinely posted double-doubles as a Vol during her senior season in 2014-15 before an ACL tear prematurely brought her college career to a grinding halt.
After sitting out a season to recover from that injury, Harrison averaged 3.1 points and 1.8 rebounds in only 7.5 minutes in her lone season on the court in Phoenix. Still, the trade was something the 23-year-old never saw coming after she was selected as the Mercury’s 12th overall pick in the WNBA draft.
She could have easily viewed it as a setback, but fortunately she remained positive and has used it as motivation entering her first season in San Antonio. During her stint in Phoenix, Harrison soaked up everything that Olympians Diana Taurasi and Britney Griner tried to teach her and remains grateful for the opportunity to play alongside two of the league’s marquee players.
“I learned a lot in Phoenix because they have great veteran leadership,” Harrison said. “I will always be grateful for what those two did for me while I was there in Phoenix. Watching the way they worked and handled themselves as professionals was a blessing.”
“Leaving an organization that has so many proven vets and experience was difficult, but I am definitely excited to be a part of an organization like San Antonio that has a lot of exciting, new young players. The potential on this team is amazing and I am excited to be a part of it all.”
Harrison recalls how Griner would remain after practice to tutor her on post moves, while Taurasi instilled in her the advantages of making the weight room a priority. As a result, when she became healthy again, Harrison preceded to score 10.5 points per game in Poland during the offseason while shooting better than 54.7 percent from the field.
Then, a few days after her overseas team wrapped up, she hit the ground running after only three days in San Antonio.
Harrison scored a team-high 22 points and snatched seven boards in a preseason loss to Los Angeles after only two practices, and then a week later would score 15 points in the Stars’ season-opening loss to New York.
“Harrison has been a great fit for us because she is really aggressive on defense and her mindset is always trying to get better,” San Antonio coach Vickie Johnson said. “She has overcome a lot and I think she is slowly starting to get back into the form that she was when she got drafted.”
Although she will be on the other sideline tonight in the first meeting of the year between the two teams, Harrison feels as though she left the Mercury organization on good terms, so the match-up will be anything but a revenge game.
“I have nothing but positive things to say about the Phoenix organization so there won’t be any bad blood or anything,” Harrison said. “I will be excited to see all of my old teammates but I am sure they would agree that it will all business when the game starts.”
Together as coaches they combine for eight championships, two of which were won together while working for the Detroit Shock. But on Thursday, it was Cheryl Reeve and the Minnesota Lynx doing the one upping, as Minnesota defeated Bill Laimbeer’s Liberty, 90-71.
“We were very engaged today,” Reeve said. “We knew how New York felt about the game, what they were looking to do, and we responded to that and had great energy from start to finish.”
Maya Moore led the way for the 2-0 Lynx, notching the 29th double-double of her career with 16 points and 11 rebounds. Sylvia Fowles and Lindsay Whalen each finished with 12 points, while Seimone Augustus and Rebekkah Brunson rounded out Minnesota’s double-digit scorers, each tallying 11.
Following a back-and-forth opening half, the Lynx took a three-point lead into the halftime intermission. That lead soon disappeared as the Liberty went on to score the next five points, unanswered, taking control of the game with a 45-43 advantage.
Minnesota then proceeded to go on a run of their own. Lindsay Whalen’s jump shot at the eight-minute mark initiated an 8-0 Lynx scoring run, with Minnesota eventually stretching that into a 17-2 run as the scoreboard read 60-47.
New York attempted a small comeback late in the game, but they were only able to narrow to deficit to seven points as the Lynx proved to be too much.
Moore said defense was the key to the win.
“We just had to get stops,” she said. “We try to make it hard for them to run their offense and we had to rebound the ball. When we share the ball like we did, we’re going to get some good stuff.”
Moore said Minnesota improved from their first game last weekend to their second.
“Once we put some stops together in the fourth quarter, we were able to defend the lead,” she said. “We played with great poise and we were able to open up the lead at the end.”
Thursday marked yet another time Minnesota was able to hold their opponent to under 40 percent from the field. Laimbeer blamed his team’s poor offensive execution.
“We didn’t run our plays the way we’d been working on all week in practice,” he said. “We have to be more disciplined and we weren’t tonight. And against a good team, you have to execute every time or you’re going to get beat.”
Intensity wasn’t the only thing New York lost Thursday, as Brittany Boyd suffered an Achilles injury midway through the fourth quarter. Laimbeer said he will have more information regarding the injury on Friday, following an MRI.
The Liberty’s offensive effort was led by Sugar Rodgers, who scored a game-high 20 points. However, all but one came in the first half of play, adding to New York’s second half woes. Rodgers’ double-digit output was accompanied by Boyd, who despite leaving late into the contest still managed to record 16.
“They just outplayed us tonight,” Rodgers said. “We didn’t do the little things like defending, rebounding, just going out there and having fun. We know they’re a great team. We’re trying to get on that level. We’ll take everything from this game and go into practice and say ‘this is what we have to do.’ We’re holding people accountable across the board.”
The Lynx continue their two-game road trip Saturday as they visit Skylar Diggins-Smith and the Dallas Wings. The Liberty will embark on a road trip of their own, paying a visit to Brittney Griner and the Phoenix Mercury on Tuesday.