Two huge upsets lead the agenda as Week 8 comes to a close in the West.
By Laura Fay
A weekend that looked to be going to plan was thrown off-kilter on Sunday, with the Aces and Storm both suffering massive upsets that put in question their championship credentials. Meanwhile, the Sparks snatch two victories to leapfrog into third place, and the Wings slide down the rankings.
Sparks Grit Out Victory Over Floundering Wings
The Los Angeles Sparks notched an important victory Friday evening, taking down conference rivals Dallas 97–89. While the Sparks trailed early, a pivotal third quarter pushed them to victory.
Dallas started well, rallying from six points down and putting together a nice run to end the first quarter up three. Arike Ogunbowale was important, splitting two defenders to get a clear shot and giving her team the advantage. The Wings held the lead through the second quarter, which was even at 22 points a piece, and took their momentum into the third. Down six with three minutes left, the Sparks pulled out three beautiful possessions, all finished by Nneka Ogwumike, to put themselves up two with a quarter to play. They wouldn’t relinquish the lead again. A Kristi Toliver dagger three with under 30 seconds left put the Sparks up seven, sealing a crucial win for the visitors.
All Los Angeles starters recorded double figures, but Liz Cambage was especially important with a 21pt/11reb double-double. Cambage’s production has dipped over the last month, but if she can consistently use her size and strength to out-contest defenders, it will be very good for the Sparks. Dallas was led by Arike Ogunbowale’s 23 points and a 12pt/10reb double-double from Teaira McCowan, who was incredibly efficient in just 22 minutes played. A meager 3–7 in their last 10 games, the Wings need to turn things around before meeting the Sun on Tuesday. The Sparks will get a chance to leapfrog Phoenix in the standings when they play the Liberty on Sunday.
Storm Hit Cruise Control in Fever Win
Seattle coasted to a comfortable 73–57 win over the Fever on Friday night, a much needed reprieve from last week’s intense schedule.
The Storm never looked like they were going to lose this one. Despite a poor offensive performance, Seattle stayed consistently ahead and simply put starters back in whenever they looked relatively threatened. The Storm went up early, pulling away after the first five minutes to lead by 19 at the half and 21 entering the last break. The early scoring was heavily thanks to Breanna Stewart, who had 18 of her 20 points in the first half to lead the team. Stewart was also adept at drawing fouls—her 20 points were on just nine shots, as 10 came from the free throw line. Gabby Williams was also impressive with 10 points, 7 of which came in the third after taking a flagrant foul from the Fever’s rookie forward Lexie Hull.
Defensive efforts were vital all night, limiting Indiana to just 57 points and holding star guard Kelsey Mitchell to just three. On a night where starters rested nearly half the game, defense was key in maintaining the margin. Tina Charles was important to the bench’s defensive efforts, pulling down 8 rebounds in her second game for the Storm.
The rookie-led Fever squad simply couldn’t keep pace. While they were impressive in scoring off second-chance points, only one player even reached double figures. Queen Egbo’s 14pt/12reb double-double led the squad, with fellow rookies NaLyssa Smith (9pts) and Destanni Henderson (7pts) backing her up. Seattle, 8–2 in their last 10 games, will look to keep up their run of good form against Atlanta on Sunday.
Aces Retain the #1 Against Lynx
It was a tight match all the way through, but the Las Vegas Aces emerged victorious on Friday, downing the Lynx 91–85 to retain their #1 spot for another weekend.
Vegas came out shooting, going on a seven-minute 15–2 run to open the game. Minnesota snatched some momentum back when the Aces bench checked in, stemming the bleeding to end the quarter 19–13 and pull within two halfway through the second. But when the Aces’ starters came back, it was clear who was the better team. Vegas ended the quarter on a 17–6 run, and despite a valiant 21-point second half from Rachel Banham, the Aces stayed well in control for the rest of the match.
Banham’s brilliant performance, while not expected, was a product of the Lynx’s roster rotation throughout the season. As coach Cheryl Reeve said to media members after the game, “Our bench puts us in a position where we don’t feel like we have to stick with somebody if they’re not bringing it…. Our bench has given us good opportunities to find combinations.”
While the Lynx have had stellar individual performances throughout the season (Jessica Shepard’s 22pt/19reb performance last time the Lynx and Aces played comes to mind), the team’s inconsistency is also the reason Minnesota is 6–15. Banham was one of just three Lynx players to hit double-digits on Friday, while all Aces starters got over 10. Chelsea Gray led the team with 21 points, while A’ja Wilson recorded another double-double, this time on 15pt/12reb. The two teams will rematch on Sunday.
Mercury Rally, But Fail to Overcome Deficit Against Sky
Phoenix tried their best but couldn’t overcome a 20-point deficit en route to a 91–75 loss at the hands of the Chicago Sky.
It was a game of momentum shifts in the first half, with both teams fighting to take control of the match. The Sky were seemingly unable to miss in the first quarter, jumping out to a staggering 32–12 lead capped off by a Dana Evans three at the first-quarter buzzer. Conversely, the Mercury started the second on a blazing 16–0 run, holding Chicago scoreless for 10 possessions before an Allie Quigley jumper ended the drought. While Phoenix doubled the Sky 28–14 in the second, they were unable to keep up the momentum. Whenever the Mercury went on little runs for the rest of the game, a Sky player was always there to shut them down. The loss snaps Phoenix’s three-match winning streak, their equal longest of the season, and also hands them their first loss since Tina Charles left the team last week.
Skylar Diggins-Smith continued to prove the worthiness of her All-Star selection, finishing with 25 points to lead all scorers. Diamond DeShields flirted with a double-double, scoring 21 points and pulling down 9 rebounds in a solid return to Chicago. Meanwhile, Diana Taurasi had a torrid shooting night, ending with a season-low 2 points—a performance one of the leagues’ greats will surely find unacceptable. Taurasi and the Mercury will aim to turn around their fortunes when they play the Sparks on Monday.
Storm Overrun By Dream in Shock Upset
Seattle couldn’t get it done on the road, falling 90–76 to an inspired Atlanta team that has pulled off one of the upsets of the weekend.
Atlanta started out stellar, forcing Seattle to play uncomfortably fast and pressuring them into poor shots. The Dream leaned into the rapid pace, knocking down a season-high 32 points in the first quarter while shooting lights out at 76% to the Storm’s 39%. While Seattle’s defense kicked in to pull the margin back to six at the main break, Atlanta promptly responded by doubling the Storm, 26–13, in the third. Seattle failed to find consistent offensive rhythm throughout, as Breanna Stewart was the only player in double-digits and Jewell Loyd, who came up huge against the Dream last month, was quiet with 9 points.
Atlanta, who entered this weekend of matchups 2–8 in their last ten games, have now won two in a row. The Dream have played without their full lineup so far this season, but the return of key players has lifted them into playoff contention. Tiffany Hayes, who had 21 points against New York on Friday and 10 tonight, has been stellar in her return. The development of promising young players—Rhyne Howard of course, but also AD Durr and Naz Hillmon, has given the Dream a deep bench that are all capable of contributing.
Conversely, Seattle’s bench has been a weak point all year, even with the acquisition of Tina Charles. Charles alone also doesn’t seem to be able to turn the bench around—she has yet to record double-digits since joining the Storm despite averaging 17ppg with Phoenix. Today though, it was Seattle’s starters who played poor, scoring a meager 49 points all game. Stewart was once again consistent with 19, but nobody else stepped up. Seattle will look to right the ship against Indiana on Tuesday.
Sparks Make it Two-Straight Against Liberty
Los Angeles backed up their win over Dallas on Friday, winning a close battle over the New York Liberty, 84–74. While the game was close throughout, the Sparks’ deep and productive bench eventually gave them the edge over an undermanned Liberty squad.
It was a back and forth battle, with LA pulling out a four-point advantage after one quarter that flipped to a three point Liberty lead at the half. Though neither team was able to break away, Nneka Ogwumike’s layup midway through the third quarter gave LA a slim 53–52 lead that they kept for the rest of the contest. Their advantage was stretched to eight points with a Chiney Ogwumike jumper to end the quarter. The Liberty came out with an 8–0 run to start the fourth, but back-to-back Liz Cambage buckets silenced them for good.
Nneka Ogwumike led LA’s scoring with 22 points, while her sister Chiney tacked on a 12pt/10reb double-double. Cambage had 16 points, a positive sign for the Sparks as she appears to be finding her form again. The only damper for LA will be Kristi Toliver, who had to exit the game with a calf injury after just seven minutes. Now third in the west, the Sparks will look to continue their run against Phoenix on Tuesday.
Full-Powered Lynx Demolish Unsteady Aces
The Lynx lived up to their carnivorous namesake on Sunday, feasting on a disappointing Aces side to win 102–71.
Minnesota started the game on a 13–0 run, and it never really got closer from there. The Lynx got ahead early and never looked back, pulling off a complete reversal of their performance Friday night. The Aces’ Dearica Hamby and Riquna Williams hit back-to-back threes with about three minutes left in the first half, but a Sylvia Fowles layup pushed the margin to double-digits, where it stayed for the rest of the game.
NEW CAREER-HIGH FOR AP 😤 pic.twitter.com/YoAsFYCUKD— Minnesota Lynx (@minnesotalynx) July 4, 2022
It seemed the Lynx could do no wrong—they shot a fairly efficient 50% from the field, including 12 three-pointers, and doubled the Aces in rebounds, 53–35. Aerial Powers had a fabulous night, putting up 32 points and 6 rebounds in the best performance of her career to date. While only two other Lynx hit double-figures, nobody played more than 28 minutes and every player scored. For a team that has suffered three single-digit heartbreakers against the Aces this season, a blowout win on the day of Rebekkah Brunson’s jersey retirement ceremony is the sweetest revenge.
Las Vegas will have more questions than answers heading into the All-Star break. The most dominant team early in the season, Vegas has now lost four of their last six games, and looked very shaky when their starters aren’t performing. Today, the Aces were led by Kelsey Plum, who had just 12 points. A’ja Wilson and Jackie Young each had 10. When this offense is firing, they are one of, if not the most dangerous in the league. If they’re not, it’s a prime opportunity for deeper teams, like Minnesota, to strike.