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With tough defense, Wings grab season’s first win

Arike Ogunbowale led the Dallas Wings to their first win of the season with a career-high 17 points. NBAE/Getty Images photo.
Arike Ogunbowale led the Dallas Wings to their first win of the season with a career-high 17 points. NBAE/Getty Images photo.

Arlington, Texas – The Dallas Wings used lockdown defense to power past the Atlanta Dream Saturday, 71-61, and earn their first win of the season.

Dallas forced a season-high 21 turnovers for a season-high 29 points. Their 1-5 record now matches Atlanta, who haven’t won a game since they beat them on opening day.

Rookie Arike Ogunbowale scored a career-high 17 points to lead the Wings, while Allisha Gray added 16 points and eight rebounds. Ogunbowale said it felt great to get over the losing hump.

“A lot of players made a lot of big defensive stops, (and) I think we played really well as a team,” she said.

It was a battle of two teams looking to get on track, and early on, both struggled to find an offensive flow. Dallas shot 17 percent in the first quarter on 3-17 shooting, but were able to hold the Dream to 13 points in the frame on 35 percent shooting.

The Wings stayed within striking distance going into the half, down 32-28. Coach Brian Agler said he knew exactly what needed to happen in order to be successful offensively in the second half: to be more aggressive inside. He said his team wanted to run their offense through the post, but their opponents were good at defending that strategy, so his team settled for jump shots earlyl on.

“On the flip side, every time we got the ball into the lane or into the tunnel first, we scored eight out of 13,” Agler said. “As you can see, we were much more aggressive in the second half taking it to the basket. Kaela [Davis], Arike, Allisha, did that multiple times and we got to the free throw line more. So there’s a lot of bonuses there when you play that way.”

Dallas doubled their points in the paint putting up 20 in the second half – 11 of which were second chance opportunities. They are currently second in offensive rebounding, averaging just over 13 per game, but they pulled down 17 against the visitors.

Elizabeth Williams led Atlanta with 16 points and eight rebounds, while Tiffany Hayes added 15 points and grabbed five boards. Atlanta coach Nicki Collen said her team shot the ball better in the game, but turnovers killed them.

“We were really guarding, but you’re just not going to win games in this league turning the ball over 21 times,” she said. “When the other team gets 16 more shots than you; when you look at the stats outside of that, they had more offensive rebounds, but we shot it better. The free throws were the same. We shot it better from the arc, but you can’t give them 21 possessions – extra possessions.”

Though shining on defense at times, the Wings have lacked offensive consistency this season. No doubt continuous lineup changes have been a factor, as no one on the team has started all six games this season. Glory Johnson has started five times, while Kayla Thorton, Gray and Isabelle Harrison have started four times.

“The one thing you have probably seen with me is that if we get a group that is playing well, I am going to leave them in there, because I want them to start feeling how it is to play well,” Agler said.

Harrison is out with a concussion, and Johnson left right after the win for the 2019 Eurobasket Tournament to fulfill her commitments with Team Montenegro. Dallas re-signed rookie Megan Gustafson, and Agler said she could see her first action in the final game of the team’s three game home stand.

“We thought about putting her in at one time and then we started to play well and we did not want to rock that boat,” Agler said. “We want to give her time to get acclimated again, she had one practice. She will not have Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday so we will see.”

With the impending return of Moriah Jefferson and Skylar Diggins-Smith, there will be more changes in the starting lineup.

Johnson said getting the first win before her departure was encouraging.

“We were more aggressive, we were denying lanes, we were getting steals at half court,” Johnson said. “We had each other’s back, there was rotation.”

Next up for Dallas is Phoenix, who rank eleventh in the league in defense. The Dream head home to take on the Indiana Fever.