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The Sky are set to begin the WNBA playoffs Thursday.
The WNBA All-Star Game had a little bit of everything. From the pregame introductions (“Leading the league in drip … Courtney Williams!”) to Arike Ogunbowale icing the game for Team WNBA with 26 points, Wednesday night in Las Vegas was made for primetime.
Liz Cambage didn’t play because of a minor injury suffered in practice with the Australian national team. So, the four-time All-Star took the game in like the rest of us, with a bag of popcorn and a smirk.
Liz Cambage is eating popcorn and enjoying the show pic.twitter.com/GOHaUkVz2Q— CJ Fogler #BlackLivesMatter (@cjzero) July 15, 2021
Rebecca Lobo and Holly Rowe each picked Team USA to win the pregame show. So did most other women’s basketball pundits (not ours!). But Team WNBA was full of the best players in the league, too, and they showed why in a 93-85 win over a United States team going for its seventh gold medal in Tokyo later this month.
On Tuesday, Arike Ogunbowale said she wasn’t trying to prove anything in the All-Star Game.
“We proved what we had to to get to the All-Star Game,” she said. “I’m just looking at it as a regular All-Star Game.”
The 2020 WNBA scoring champion then treated it like anything but, leading all scorers with 26 points on 10-for-18 shooting from the field and 5-for-10 from 3-point range. Ogunbowale’s performance earned her the MVP Award in her first All-Star Game appearance.
Ogunbowale wasn’t named to this year’s U.S. Olympic roster despite being in the player pool and attending multiple training camps. She wouldn’t say afterward whether she was out for revenge, but her performance did all of the necessary talking.
Jonquel Jones added her two cents about Ogunbowale’s future with Team USA, as well. “She’s young,” Jones said. “She’s gonna have her opportunity.”
Some All-Stars played it down in the days leading up to the game, but it was clear Team WNBA wasn’t taking the opportunity against Team USA lightly. They had a chance to make history in the first official All-Star Game played during an Olympic year, and coach Lisa Leslie made sure to remind them of the stakes in the huddle.
“It was a different mentality,” Courtney Vandersloot said after the game. “It was an opportunity for us to compete against some of the best players in the world, so we didn’t really take it like an All-Star Game either. We were out there competing, we were trying to win the game.”
The WNBA All-Stars finished with more rebounds and steals than Team USA. A Candace Parker strip of Brittney Griner in the first half set the tone. Then, late steals and a Courtney Williams block on A’ja Wilson with 1:17 to play helped seal the win.
Leslie told her team that the key to beating Team USA was to create more possessions by out-rebounding them. At one point, ESPN caught Leslie on the mic yelling in the huddle, “Rebound on 3!” It wasn’t your typical directive for an All-Star Game, but the game plan and execution paid off for Team WNBA.
The best drama of the night might have come at halftime.
Jonquel Jones, a 6-foot-6 center/forward for the Connecticut Sun, was the obvious dark-horse candidate in the 3-point shooting contest based on position. But if you’ve watched her boldly knock down step-back 3s during an MVP-level first half of the season, you knew she would put up a fight.
JONQUEL JONES WENT OFF 🤯— WNBA (@WNBA) July 15, 2021
27pts for the 1st round 👌 pic.twitter.com/njytVWTPzq
Standing in her way was Allie Quigley, for whom this competition is practically named after she won it previously in 2017 and 2018.
Quigley barely edged Jones in the first round, scoring 28 points to Jones’ 27. The Sky guard started off slowly in the championship round before hitting nine of her last 10 shots to defeat Jones 28-24.
Quigley, the only three-time winner of the event in WNBA history, confirmed after the game she doesn’t plan on participating in the contest again.
“I told myself before, this is the last time I’m doing this so I’ve gotta go out on top,” she said.
Maybe her wife can convince her otherwise.
Who needs live TV commentary when you have athletes and Twitter?
Several players pulled double duty Wednesday night, competing on the court and narrating the game from the sideline. Arike Ogunbowale was the MVP in more ways than one.
I smoked that layup 🥲— Arike Ogunbowale (@Arike_O) July 14, 2021
Tied up going into the 4th. Who y’all got winning it 👀— Arike Ogunbowale (@Arike_O) July 15, 2021
I need to start live tweeting more often 😂— Arike Ogunbowale (@Arike_O) July 15, 2021
Yes, we’ll take more where that came from, please.
The last word of All-Star week goes to Candace Parker, the first woman to appear on the cover of NBA 2K, who talked about the importance of events like this for the growth of the sport. The All-Star Game aired on ESPN before Game 4 of the NBA Finals, giving the WNBA a chance to capture new fans who were tuning in.
“This was a great move. This was a great step forward for our league, because there are a lot of fans that support us and we’ve got to continue to grow,” Parker said. “I want my daughter, I want Dearica (Hamby)’s daughter to have the opportunity to play in a league like this.”
The Sky are set to begin the WNBA playoffs Thursday.
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