WNBA Wubble Edition: Opening Weekend Recap

Photo Credit: Ned Dishman/NBAE/Getty Images

Were we treated to some scintillating basketball from the Florida wubble? Or were we treated to some scintillating basketball inside the wubble? Of course we were.

The 2020 WNBA season began with a bang from the two courts in the Tampa-St. Petersburg suburbs. And while it still was a surreal environment in which sports were being contested in, the basketball which we were treated to via the comfort of our televisions was no less exciting.

All 12 teams were in action for this weekend’s tip, so there was a little something for everyone. And among that something was our first glimpse of a much-ballyhooed rookie drafted by the New York Liberty with eyes on taking over the WNBA.

That rookie, of course, was Sabrina Ionescu, donning seafoam green for the first time in her career after a storied career at Oregon where she wore a different, more emerald shade of green. Lost in all of the hype surrounding the Liberty star youngster was that its game with the Seattle Storm also featured the returns of Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart, both of whom missed all of last season due to injury.

The game itself – featuring a Storm team tabbed as favorites to win a championship and a young Liberty team in the throes of a rebuild – went the way many expected with Seattle topping New York 87-71. But the Lib gave the Storm a game through three quarters before the Storm pulled away in the fourth.

The Liberty’s performance as made even guttier by the fact that Kia Nurse left the game early in the second quarter with an ankle injury that has been described as a sprain.

Stewart finished with 18 points, eight rebounds and four steals. Jewell Loyd scored 14 and Bird added 11.

Layshia Clarendon led all scorers with 20 for New York. Ionescu’s debut went like this – 12 points, six rebounds and four assists in a game where she drew more than her fair share of contact from Seattle’s defenders.

But the result of the game was relatively irrelevant considering the message both teams and the league wanted to send regarding social justice.

The second game on the WNBA’s Saturday slate would have been the marquee matchup for that day if not for Ionescu’s debut and Stewie’s return given the Los Angeles Sparks and Phoenix Mercury are two teams that are on the top of many W power rankings.

For two quarters, Sparks vs. Mercury, which was another national telecast on ABC, went exactly the way many observers expected it to go – a closely played, tight game for the first half.

Then the third quarter happened – and what was a competitive contest featuring two veteran teams all of a sudden became all Sparks, all the time. That third quarter was a difference as Los Angeles outscored Phoenix 30-8 en route to a 99-76 victory over the Mercury.

In many ways, this was a statement win for Derek Fisher and the Sparks. The last time we saw Los Angeles on a basketball court, the Sparks were getting dominated in last year’s semifinals by the Connecticut Sun which precipitated all of the offseason drama we witnessed in Tinseltown, which included the Penny Toler firing (and her subsequent lawsuit against the team).

The Sparks, who will be without Chiney Ogwumike and Kristi Toliver for the entire season, showed the entire league why the team should firmly be seen as title contenders.

Six Sparks finished with a double-digit point output – including Ogwumike who led all scorers with 21 (plus seven rebounds). Seimone Augustus scored 14 in her debut with LA. Chelsea Gray and Candace Parker finished with 13 points each with Gray’s also coming with seven assists. Brittney Sykes and (rookie) Te’a Cooper each scored 10.

For the Mercury, Diana Taurasi scored 16 and Skylar Diggins-Smith chimed in with 14 plus six assists in her Phoenix debut. Bria Hartley scored 11 points off the bench. Brittney Griner, while she did haul in nine rebounds, scored only eight points.

Speaking of teams that made statements…

Apparently, the defending champion Washington Mystics read and heard about all of the slander from pundits and websites (including one that rhymes with Keyonna Wubble U) about how the team is not to be respected on-court given it will be without Elena Delle Donne and Tina Charles this season.

Washington to all of us: RINGS.

Anyone who had Storm-Liberty (all those rookies) being the most competitive matchup of the first day of WNBA action should get all the spaces on its Wubble Bingo card.

On paper, a shorthanded Mystics team up against a Fever team that is on the rise with a new coach could be a matchup that would be ripe and ready for an upset. Except basketball games are not played on paper – they are played on hardwood and the results spoke for themselves when the Mystics crossed the century mark in its 101-76 victory over Indiana.

The absences of the reigning league MVP and a franchise’s all-time leading scorer do not sting as much when Myisha Hines-Allen tallies a double-double in one’s stead – 27 points with 10 rebounds. It also does not hurt as much when Aerial Powers drops 16 points to aid the Mystics’ cause. It also does not hurt as much when last year’s Finals MVP – Emma Meesseman – adds 14 with five boards and three dimes.

Ariel Atkins and Shey Peddy each finished with 10.

Kelsey Mitchell did have herself a game – 25 points. Tiffany Mitchell did as well with 15. Candice Dupree finished with 13. Interestingly enough – Teaira McCowan did not get the start for the Fever.

Day 2 of WNBA action at the wubble was brought to you by the word “comeback.”

Exhibit A – Connecticut Sun and Minnesota Lynx – a game that on paper could go either way given both teams’ particular statuses. Connecticut is a team that lost a lot of talent in the offseason and is without Jonquel Jones, but gained DeWanna Bonner in the offseason. Minnesota is transitioning out of its dynasty years of the 2010s but has yet to go full rebuild ala the Liberty.

Through three quarters, the Sun maintained a 57-50 advantage over Cheryl Reeve’s Lynx, but this turned out to be another one of those “not how you start, but how you finish” type of games. Minnesota outscored Connecticut 27-12 in the final frame, en route to a 77-69 victory.
We sometimes forget this Lynx team still has one major lynk to those glory days of the 2010s – and that is Sylvia Fowles. And she has yet to look like AN old Sweet Syl. She hauled in 18 rebounds and scored 17 points. Shenise Johnson scored 13 and last year’s Rookie of the Year – Napheesa Collier – scored 11 with eight rebounds.

Speaking of rookies, one of this year’s in Crystal Dangerfield, tallied 10 points off the Lynx bench.

Alyssa Thomas finished with 20 points, eight rebounds and four assists. Bonner also tallied eight rebounds plus 19 points in her maiden voyage with the Sun. Brionna Jones – 10 points, five boards.

One sort of has to wonder why this was not a slam dunk for the schedulemakers at the W before Mr. Covid decided this was his way of telling all of us he hates us.

(The feeling is mutual, Mr. Covid. We hate you too.)

Ever since Dearica Hamby’s miracle shot from last year’s playoffs, Skytown has been in its collective feelings about last season. A great step forward for a Chicago Sky team in the first year of the James Wade era where he won Coach of the Year and was within that very shot of advancing to the semifinals (and possibly the Finals).

This rendition of basketball between the Sky and Las Vegas Aces also had a game-winning trey … except we guess Chicago feels a bit better about this one.

Threes are like layups to the Quigs half of VanderQuigs – and Allie Quigley’s latest triple ensured the Sky began the 2020 season in the win column by virtue of a come-from-behind 88-86 win over Las Vegas.

In addition to Quigley’s trey – which gave her 10 points for the game (she also had four rebounds), where did Kahleah Copper come from with 18 points on seven of 16 shooting?

Also, Gabby Williams did Gabby Williams things by scoring 14 points with seven assists. Azura Stevens also chimed in with 10. Diamond DeShields did not start.

That same Hamby? 14 points, eight rebounds. If A’ja Wilson was beginning her MVP campaign, it started off on the right foot as she tallied 22 points and 11 rebounds. Angel McCoughtry’s Aces debut was not bad either – 25 points with eight boards.

Day two of WNBA play certainly had the advantage over Day one – and it is fitting that the Day two concluded with a contest featuring two teams that are not exactly high on lots of WNBA power rankings right now in the Atlanta Dream and Dallas Wings.

Both were teams that underwent major overhauls in the offseason. Dallas, of course lost Skylar Diggins-Smith to Phoenix and Atlanta lost Angel McCoughtry to Vegas, so both teams are in the process of rediscovering its identities after losing a couple of all-time great veterans that went west.

For the Dream, it was one of its 2019 draftees that went east from west that proved to be a major catalyst why Atlanta starts 2020 in the win column.

The Dream had the last-ranked offense in the WNBA in 2019. Atlanta scored the most points of any of the 12 teams that played this weekend with 105 – and those 105 were ten more than Dallas’ 95.

Thirty of those points came by way of Monique Billings. In addition, she was 10-14 from the field and also claimed 13 rebounds. Betnijah Laney also scored 19.

With all the attention rightfully bestowed upon Sabrina Ionescu with New York, we forgot that the Dream got themselves a rather impressive draftee as well in Chennedy Carter out of Texas A&M. Eighteen points, eight assists and five rebounds for Hollywood.

All five of the Dream’s starters had double-digit point outings. Atlanta’s starting five had to carry much of the way given it was without Courtney Williams, Kalani Brown or Glory Johnson. Elizabeth Williams scored 17 points and brought in seven rebounds while Shekinna Stricklen drained four out of her seven 3 attempts for a 16-point effort.

Arike Ogunbowale (starter) and Allisha Gray (bench) each scored 19 points. Isabelle Harrison concluded her first game of 2020 with a double-double (18 points, 10 rebounds). Ty Harris had an impressive debut in her first game with 13 points and four assists – as did Satou Sabally who got the start and contributed 11 points, five rebounds and five assists to the Wings’ cause.

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