UConn injuries: Ducharme close to return, Fudd further out
UConn has struggled with injuries all season.
Happy WNBA All-Star week! Eight weeks into the regular season, the reigning WNBA champion Chicago Sky are on a five-game win streak and have secured sole possession of first place at 15-5.
The Las Vegas Aces held the No. 1 slot for the majority of the first half of the season, but have since fallen to second in the standings with a 15-6 record. After storming out to a 13-2 start, the Aces have lost four of their last six games, including a 31-point defeat Sunday to the 11th-place Minnesota Lynx.
It feels like the Connecticut Sun are still putting all the pieces together, and yet the third-place team is finding ways to grind out wins. The Sun have come from behind multiple times this season, but no comeback was more notable than their 74-72 overtime win over the Washington Mystics on Sunday, in which they trailed by as many as 17 points.
Success in the WNBA is all about peaking at the right time, and the Sun have the tools and veteran experience to dominate in the second half of the season. After reviewing film and statistics, here is what else I noticed around the WNBA this week.
After a tumultuous start to the season riddled with roster cuts, injuries and losses, the Lynx had their biggest offensive night of the year in a 102-71 win over the Aces on Sunday. Minnesota, now 7-15 on the season, has won four of its last six games.
For the first time this year, the Lynx have been able to play a consistent rotation. Moriah Jefferson is healthy; Sylvia Fowles may not be 100 percent, but is still able to give them 20-22 minutes per game; and Damiris Dantas has returned and given Minnesota a major boost offensively and defensively.
The difference between the Lynx’s numbers at the start of the season and those from the last six games is shocking. Minnesota went from the worst offensive team in the WNBA to leading the league in scoring over the last two weeks at 91.3 points per game. This is a completely different Lynx team, whose current record doesn’t reflect what it’s capable of down the stretch.
Take a look at the glaring comparisons through the first half of the season:
First 16 games vs. Last six games
PPG: 78.4 — 91.3
FG%: 43.0 — 48.2
3-pt%: 31.0 — 40.1
RPG: 36.1 — 40.2
APG: 19.6 — 23.2
TO per game: 15.6 — 13.7
PPG allowed: 84.9 — 78.8
One of the best moments of the past week was Moriah Jefferson earning her first career triple-double. The 5-foot-6 guard put up 13 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds in Minnesota’s 92-64 win over the Dallas Wings, the same team that waived her back in May. The kicker? Dallas is still paying Jefferson nearly three times the amount she is making with the Lynx.
The Wings’ move to waive Jefferson did not include a buyout or contract divorce, so they are still responsible for her $180,200 salary for the 2022 season. The Lynx, meanwhile, have her on the books for $67, 141.
While the Lynx continue to gain confidence and improve night in and night out, the Wings are a very different story.
As a high-octane, young franchise that has the potential to beat any team on any given night, the Wings have hit a roadblock in recent weeks, losing three in a row and eight of their last 11 games. It is not necessarily the losses that are most concerning, but rather the way they’re competing. That was glaringly apparent in their 28-point loss to the Lynx last week.
Dallas currently ranks seventh in the league at 81.4 points per game and sixth in points allowed at 82.3. In their last 11 games, the Wings have conceded an average of 86.2 points to their opponents.
After starting the season 6-4, Dallas has gone 3-8 in the last month. Here is a look at the Wings’ production during each of those spans.
First 10 games vs. Last 11 games
PPG: 80.2 — 82.5
FG%: 41.2 — 42.5
TO per game: 14.5 — 14.5
APG: 17.6 — 18.4
Pace: 93.78 — 97.85
Opponent PPG: 78.9 — 85.4
Opponent RPG: 33.6 — 34.5
Opponent FG%: 44.9 — 45.4
Opponent 3-pt%: 31.6 — 34.3
The Wings have actually put up more points in their last 11 games, but they are allowing close to seven extra points per game and are not rebounding the ball as well. They are also playing at a faster pace, which is not a good thing for every team. Overall, Dallas is ninth in the league with 95.59 possessions per game, but that number has increased significantly from 93.78 to a fifth-highest 97.85 in the last month.
Without their second-leading scorer, Allisha Gray, for two of their most recent losses, including the blowout defeat to Minnesota, the Wings have had a hard time adjusting on offense and in defensive assignments. Gray returned for their most recent game against the Los Angeles Sparks, playing 30-plus minutes in the 97-89 loss and showing how this Wings team transforms when she is consistently on the floor.
On Friday, Dallas also welcomed back 2021 All-Star Satou Sabally, who missed three weeks with a knee injury. The Wings’ fourth-leading scorer scored just seven points in 16 minutes against the Sparks, but she was averaging close to 22 minutes per game before the injury.
The Wings will have an opportunity to right the ship before the All-Star break when they host the Sun on Tuesday.
WNBA All-Star festivities begin later this week in Chicago, with the WNBA 3-Point Contest and Skills Challenge on Saturday and the All-Star Game on Sunday. The full rosters were revealed on June 22, and captains A’ja Wilson and Breanna Stewart drafted their teams this past weekend.
One of my biggest takeaways from the All-Star proceedings of the past few weeks is that if Sue Bird is an All-Star, then Diana Taurasi should be. While the Phoenix Mercury have dealt with plenty of adversity this year, the 10-time All-Star is doing her part at 40 years old, averaging 15.6 points per game and as many as 22.3 points in the month of June. She has scored 20-plus points in seven games this year for the shorthanded Mercury.
I predict Team Wilson to win and Kelsey Plum to be named MVP. The key to All-Star games is offensive firepower in the backcourt, and Team Wilson has plenty of that in Plum, Rhyne Howard, Courtney Vandersloot and Ariel Atkins. Not to mention, their backcourt also features hometown superstar Candace Parker.
Taking place directly across the street from the All-Star festivities at Wintrust Arena is one of the largest grassroot girls basketball travel tournaments in the country. The Nike Tournament of Champions and Blue Star Nationals will run simultaneously at McCormick Place. The WNBA has long had to do a better job of building its audience at the grassroots level, and All-Star weekend is a perfect opportunity to bridge the gap, with thousands of youth athletes playing just steps away from the biggest WNBA fan event of the year. Downtown Chicago this weekend will be the place to be for every women’s basketball fan, coach or player.
Rachel Galligan is a basketball analyst at Just Women’s Sports. A former professional basketball player and collegiate coach, she also contributes to Winsidr. Follow Rachel on Twitter @RachGall.
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