WSOU

WNBA power rankings (Week seven)

Date: July 9, 2019

By: Heaven Hill

Week six of the WNBA season has just finished up, and while we are nearing the dog days of the NBA offseason, post-draft and the big wave of free agency signings, the WNBA season is beginning to heat up. There’s teams that were viewed as unbeatable, unstoppable contenders that have started to stumble, like the Sun.

The teams that were at the bottom of the league last year in the Liberty and Fever have both matched their win totals from last year already, and we still have the old guard of successful teams like the Mystics, Sparks and Lynx beginning to distance themselves from other playoff teams.

Simply put, on any given night, anything can happen in the W. Case in point: what happened in the most important highlighted game. In the game last week, many fans looked forward to the game between the Mystics and the Aces, an actual earthquake rocked Los Angeles and tremors were felt at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas where the Aces play.

The game was cancelled at halftime, forcing a postponement in play. All in all, it was quite a bummer of a way for the game to end, but fans should look forward to the rest of the game when it resumes.

In another game that was enjoyable last week, between the Minnesota Lynx and Connecticut Sun, the Lynx eked out a close win to continue the Sun’s recent skid and cast even more doubt on their championship aspirations. Finally, in what could have been the biggest game of the week, the Los Angeles Sparks thoroughly handled the Washington Mystics after Elena Delle Donne left the game in the first quarter with a facial injury.

While this game wasn’t a complete assessment of the Spark’s capabilities against the Mystics, gaudy stat lines and exciting play were rampant throughout, making for a great contest. So, while earthquakes are caused by shifts in the Earth’s tectonic plates, which performances caused shifts in the rankings this week?

1. Washington Mystics, no movement (9-4)

While the official records show that the Mystics went 0-1 last week due to their game against the Aces being unfinished, this will be written as if they won against Las Vegas, since they were up 15 points heading into halftime.  

In their second game of the West Coast road trip this week, the ‘Stics took on the dangerous Los Angeles Sparks in a highly anticipated matchup, with the return of the Sparks’ previously injured players and the Mystics’ utter dominance league-wide of late going untested by most teams.

Unfortunately, this marquee game was ruined once Delle Donne left the game in the first quarter with a facial injury and did not return. Despite losing their best player so early on, the Mystics were able to keep it competitive, and entered halftime only down five points.

Once the third quarter started, however, the Mystics must have left their offense in the locker room as they mustered only 11 points in what contributed to the final result, a loss by 17 points. Kirsti Toliver flirted with a triple double, with 18 points, nine rebounds and eight assists, and Aerial Powers added a career-high 24 points off the bench.

The star backcourt of Ariel Atkins and Natasha Cloud struggled with inefficiency, combining for 4/16 from the field, and LaToya Sanders could not keep up her hot start from Vegas, only adding five points. All in all, a decent outing from the Mystics who were rattled by the loss of Delle Donne so early in the game. Hopefully, the injury isn’t too serious, and the Mystics can potentially increase their lead in the Eastern Conference.

2. Las Vegas Aces, no movement (9-5)

The Las Vegas Aces technically went 2-0 this week, as the official records show that the game against Washington is incomplete and cannot be counted. However, the two wins they picked up were against two solid teams in the Chicago Sky and the New York Liberty.

In their first game of the week, the win at home in Chicago, a late surge in the fourth quarter powered the Aces to victory 90-82. Liz Cambage dominated the offensive end with 16 points, nine rebounds and seven assists for a near-triple double. A’ja Wilson continued her solid sophomore season adding 16 points, but the backcourt of Las Vegas was what impressed. Kelsey Plum and Kayla McBride combined for 30 points on great efficiency, which simply hasn’t been the case this season.

In addition to them, Jackie Young added eight assists of her own, once her shot was not falling. The backcourt of the Aces must find ways to contribute whether it’s offensively or defensively for this team to reach their true ceiling. Unfortunately, this didn’t last into the next game.

As stated above, this piece will feature the struggles that the Aces had against the Mystics, where they were down by 15 heading into halftime before an earthquake had other ideas. Before the tremors spoiled the night, the Aces were playing as if they just wanted to get on the plane to New York.

Outside of Cambage, who had 12 points on great efficiency in the first half, everyone in the Aces’ rotation struggled. Wilson, who just last week had a career-high performance against the Indiana Fever, shot 4/11 in the first half. Also, that vaunted backcourt of the Aces combined to shoot 2/10 in the first half. Even the bench players who got in couldn’t stop the bleeding.

Finally, to wrap up last week, the Aces pummeled the New York Liberty 90-58. Cambage dominated with a 21-point double-double and McBride finally looked like an All Star, adding 24 points with five-threes. To wrap this up, the Aces will only go as far this season as their backcourt takes them, and they need to show up with some regularity for this team to be a threat when it comes time for the playoffs.

3. Los Angeles Sparks, up one spot (7-6)

The Sparks only had one game this past week, but they made sure to make it count. Los Angeles took on the Washington Mystics, hoping to enact revenge for their previous 29-point loss to the ‘Stics on June 18 in Candace Parker’s return from injury. Unfortunately, Delle Donne left the game a minute into the first quarter with an unknown facial injury, scrapping for a rebound with a Sparks player.

This put a damper on what was going to be hopefully a great game, but once Delle Donne went out, Los Angeles knew this was a game they had to win. The starters, outside of Parker, came out firing on all cylinders. Nneka Ogwumike had a season-high 31 points with a career-high five-threes and added 10 rebounds to boot, Riquna Williams continued to solidify her status as a microwave scorer with 19 points, Tierra Ruffin-Pratt contributed 12 points in her return to the starting lineup.

 However, the star of the show was arguably the best point guard in the league, Chelsea Gray, with her first career triple double and the ninth ever triple double recorded in WNBA history. Gray stuffed the stat sheet with 13 points, 10 rebounds, and an amazing career-high 13 assists to only two turnovers. Simply put, this was one of the most inspiring performances of the season to this point, a true leader and captain willing her team to victory in a game that they simply needed to win to get over .500 and keep pace with the Aces and Lynx in the Western Conference.

The bench didn’t do much, outside of Sydney Wiese chipping in eight points with two-three pointers, but even those helped as Los Angeles set a franchise record for three-pointers made in a game as well. This was a crucial win for the Sparks, and it was a great way to pick up the 450th win in franchise history, becoming the first team to reach that benchmark.

In addition to this, the Sparks have yet to play the teams currently among the bottom three teams in the standings, and 10 of the last 15 games of the year are at home, so this game full of broken records could be the start of something special for the Sparks.

4. Minnesota Lynx, up five spots (8-6)

This season has been up-and-down for the Lynx, and this is evident by their frequent movement up and down the rankings. They began outside the top eight before skyrocketing to the top spot with an undefeated start and have shuffled everywhere since then. This week, they settle at the number four spot, after going 2-0 during their week six slate picking up wins against the struggling Atlanta Dream and the stumbling Connecticut Sun, snapping the Sun’s home win streak in the process.

In their first game last week, they defeated the Dream 85-68, in blowout fashion. However, early on the game was quite competitive until the third quarter where the Lynx outscored Atlanta 28-16.

In their next game, Minnesota faced their biggest challenge of the season, the Connecticut Sun who were then on a 13-game home win streak. The Lynx stepped up to the challenge and used a big fourth quarter to escape with a win over a team frantically trying to reset.

Fowles dropped an 18-point double double, and Danielle Robinson chipped in 13 points including four clutch free throws in the final minute. Odyssey Sims stole the show, however, with her 21 points and 8 assists to lead her team to victory.

In summation, this was a strong week for the Lynx, and it probably was a bit harsh last week moving them down the rankings despite going 1-1. Fact of the matter is, the Lynx are 4-1 in their last five games after a winless week three, so the Lynx are possibly starting to heat up again.

5. Connecticut Sun, down two spots (9-5)

The Connecticut Sun have now gone winless in back-to-back weeks, albeit only playing one game during week six, against the aforementioned Minnesota Lynx. Unfortunately, their most recent loss cost them their franchise record 13-game home win streak.

The Sun had a 58-54 lead entering the fourth quarter, but they couldn’t close out the game, and their offense fell apart, only scoring 13 points in the final period. Jasmine Thomas lead the team with 16 points and five assists, but the voracious Lynx defense forced her an appalling seven turnovers.

Courtney Williams and Alyssa Thomas joined her in double figures, but both struggled with shooting efficiency. Finally, MVP candidate Jonquel Jones had her worst game of the season, with five points and eight rebounds on 2/10 from the field. Bria Holmes added 10 points off the pine in the losing effort.

All in all, the Sun have been on a skid, but the Mystics and other teams in contention have dealt with a rough stretch this season. All the Sun can do now is put these last two weeks behind them and try to pick up some essential wins in week seven, as they face a tanking team in the Atlanta Dream, and two playoff hopefuls in the Phoenix Mercury and Indiana Fever.

6. New York Liberty, up two spots (7-8)

The New York Liberty have almost completely erased their rough start to the season, riding a four-game win streak before running into the Las Vegas Aces, and they’ve even matched their win total from last season. They went 2-1 this week, picking up wins over eventual playoff teams, on the road no less, in the Seattle Storm and the Phoenix Mercury.

Legend Tina Charles was also named Player of the Week for a record 30th time, signifying that her and the Liberty appear to be hitting their stride. The Liberty got their first win in week six on the road against the Seattle Storm in a great comeback victory, as they trailed by 10 points entering the fourth quarter before winning 84-83.

Charles and the Liberty’s standout sophomore Kia Nurse were simply unstoppable, combining for 50 points, scoring in a variety of ways. While Brittany Boyd struggled to find her shot, she added 10 assists to lead the team in what was a big win against a valiant opponent.

New York continued their road trip, traveling to Phoenix to take on the Mercury in what was another nailbiter of a game for the Liberty. Nurse and Charles were amazing yet again, this time combining for 49 points with Nurse starting to look like a great running mate for Charles. Charles also added 12 rebounds and 4 assists, giving her 3,000 rebounds for her career, becoming the seventh player in WNBA history to reach that feat.

Rookie Asia Durr struggled with efficiency but managed to join the women in double figures and lead the team in plus minus. Overall, a great win for the Liberty that snapped a three-game win streak for the Mercury.

In their last game of the week, New York returned home to take on the Aces, and the game was rough from the beginning, with Las Vegas racing out to a 14-point first quarter lead. The Liberty suffered a defeat by 32 points, as the Aces must still be angry for giving the Liberty their first win in 17 tries, back on June 9.

 Charles was the lone bright spot, as she was the only player in double figures but even, she struggled with efficiency, going 5/16 from the field in the loss. Despite the blowout decision, the Liberty shouldn’t let this impediment define their strong last two weeks of this season so far. Kia Nurse has come alive and is becoming a great sidekick for Charles as the Liberty continue their playoff push.

7. Chicago Sky, no movement (7-7)

The Sky went 1-1 during their week six slate, with a close loss against the Aces before decisively beating the Dallas Wings. In their first game, against Las Vegas, the Sky had a chance to pick up a huge win as Chicago only trailed by one point entering the third quarter. Unfortunately, the shooting struggles of Diamond DeShields reared their ugly head, as she shot 2/7 after halftime, and 3/14 overall on the game.

Allie Quigley had a strong all-around game, with 18 points, 6 rebounds and 8 assists. The leader in WNBA in assists, Courtney Vandersloot, added 12 more to her season tally but struggled to score. Kaleah Copper contributed 11 points off the bench in the losing effort. DeShields has a ton of potential, both in terms of scoring and athleticism, but she needs to show up in big moments consistently for this team to reach their absolute best.

In their game against the Dallas Wings, where they won 78-66, two unlikely contributors came forward to push Chicago to victory. Jantel Lavender had a season-high 20 points with 10 rebounds as well, and Copper scored a season-high 16 points off the pine to lead the team to victory.

Vandersloot chipped in 11 assists but had six turnovers as she struggled with ball security. Chicago experienced a mediocre week as they failed to close out the game against the Aces, where a win would’ve been huge for their season. Chicago started out 6-3, but have gone 1-4 since then, so let’s see if in week seven they can get back on track.

8. Phoenix Mercury, down two spots (6-6)

The Phoenix Mercury, like the Chicago Sky, went 1-1 in their week six slate. However, the Sky received the edge in the rankings simply because they won their game by more. Also, the Sky’s loss was on the road to a title favorite in the Las Vegas Aces, while the Mercury dropped a game to the New York Liberty 80-76, at home no less. Brittney Griner dominated with 30 points and eight rebounds, but DeWanna Bonner, who came into the game as the leading scorer in the WNBA, finished with nine points on 3/13 from the field.

Leilani Mitchell was a great addition to the starting lineup, and she joined Griner in double figures with 14 points, but everyone else in the rotation struggled badly. Briann January and Sophie Cunningham combined for 7 points on 2/11 from the field in the backcourt. This was evident once again in the next game, albeit a win over the despondent Atlanta Dream 65-63.

Griner was unguardable as she finished with a 31-point double-double, with three blocks and the game-winning free throws. Bonner struggled from the field yet again, but she contributed 11 points, 14 rebounds, and her usual smothering defense. Mitchell added 13 points despite a rough shooting night. The Mercury head coach, Sandy Brondello, shifted the starting lineup yet again, inserting Essence Carson in place of Cunningham, just for her and January to combine for four points on 1/7 from the field.

Simply put, this is a team that sorely misses Diana Taurasi and her consistent scoring bursts. Once she returns from injury and shakes off the subsequent rust, I believe the ceiling of this team will be raised exponentially, especially in a wide-open Western Conference with the injuries to the Seattle Storm and other changes league wide.

9. Seattle Storm, down FOUR spots (8-8)

The Seattle Storm suffered a winless week six, dropping home games to the New York Liberty and even worse, the Atlanta Dream. In the loss against the Liberty 84-83, the entire rotation, outside of Mercedes Russell who had an efficient 19 points and Sami Whitcomb who added 13 points with three-threes, struggled. Alysha Clark and Natasha Howard combined to shoot 10/27 from the field with nine turnovers. Jordin Canada, now forced to step up her scoring outputs with the injury to Jewell Loyd, scored 10 points on 40% from the field.

In the loss to the Dream 77-66, which allowed Atlanta to get their first road win all season, the offensive output was horrendous until a high-scoring fourth quarter made the final margin close enough. The Dream entered the fourth with an 18-point lead, which is astonishing considering how bad they’ve been. Howard bounced back well, scoring 20 points with seven rebounds.

Clark and Canada joined her in double figures, with 12 points and 15 points respectively. This is a team that has been decimated by injuries, sidelining their MVP Breanna Stewart for the season and Sue Bird for a few more weeks. That was bad enough, but then they lost locker room leader Loyd for a few weeks with a ligament sprain and bone bruise after a freak injury on a fast break layup.

 Because of this, the Storm need some sort of contribution from their bench, namely Crystal Langhorne, Blake Dietrick and Shavonte Zellous. If they can help out somehow, offensively or defensively, this team will be in much better shape, especially once Bird and Loyd return from their ailments.

10. Indiana Fever, up two spots (6-9)

After a winless week sic, the Indiana Fever went undefeated this week, albeit 1-0, and matched their win total from last season. They got a big blowout win on the road over the Dallas Wings 76-56. The Fever held a 37-30 lead heading into halftime, before turning the clamps on and shutting down the Wings to only 26 second-half points. Rookie center Teaira McCowan had a strong game off the bench with nine points, 12 rebounds, and three blocks.

Erica Wheeler added 11 points and seven assists, and Natalie Achonwa scored 13 points from the starting lineup as well. The Fever defense was swarming, as the Wings shot 32% overall on the game. Lastly, Tiffany Mitchell lead the team in scoring with 16 points to help the Fever get a much-needed win on the road. This win was very necessary, looking ahead on the Fever’s schedule.

Although the Fever’s next four games are at home, they will be playing some heavy hitters in the Las Vegas Aces, Los Angeles Sparks and Connecticut Sun. In other words, three of the best teams will be coming to the Fever’s arena looking to leave a message and pick up some wins heading into the All-Star break, so this win against the Wings was crucial as the Fever might have a losing streak ahead.

11. Atlanta Dream, no movement (3-10)

The Atlanta Dream had a somewhat decent sixth week by their standards at least. They went 1-2 and picked up their first road win of the season. In their first game of the week, a blowout loss to the Minnesota Lynx 85-68, the game was hotly competitive until a rough third quarter where the Dream were outscored by 12 points.

Elizabeth Williams was the sole bright spot of the Atlanta rotation, as she scored 14 points on good shooting from the field. However, everyone else struggled in what was a forgettable game for the Dream. Their next game was much better as they took advantage of the reeling Seattle Storm and picked up the win, 77-66.

The Dream defense had Seattle in a straitjacket, allowing only 38 points through three quarters. Tiffany Hayes scored 21 points despite early foul trouble, and Brittany Sykes had a strong all-around game with 11 points, eight rebounds and five assists.

The Dream needed this win because they have been in a season-long nightmare to this point, decimated with injuries that derailed what was supposed to have been a big year. Unfortunately, Atlanta could not begin a win streak as they dropped their next game, a nailbiter to the Phoenix Mercury 65-63.

Despite the low scoring outputs from both teams, it was an exciting contest that featured a late 10-0 run from the Dream to tie the game in the fourth quarter 63-63. Then, Atlanta proceeded to foul Griner who sunk the game-winning free throws.

Sykes had a tremendous game, with a season-high 29 points and 10 rebounds. Unluckily, only Hayes joined her in double figures, and she shot poorly as well. All in all, a missed opportunity from the Atlanta Dream, as they faced a team that also struggles to score and has dealt with devastating injuries. Hopefully the Dream can continue to add wins as the season goes on.

12. Dallas Wings, down two spots (4-9)

Dallas harbors the bottom spot in the rankings this week, after suffering blowout defeats to the Indiana Fever and the Chicago Sky. In their first loss of the week to Indiana 76-56, the offense was simply abysmal. The team failed to score more than 16 points in a quarter. Forward Theresa Plaisance and June’s WNBA Rookie of the Month Arike Ogunbowale were the only bright spots across the lineup, with Plaisance dropping 15 points and seven rebounds and Ogunbowale adding 15 points of her own.

This was a game the Wings would like to forget, especially with Kayla Thornton’s rough 2/14 shooting performance and Allisha Gray’s terrible play on both ends. Dallas’ next game against the Chicago Sky was actually competitive, as the Wings actually had a two-point lead entering the fourth quarter.

Unfortunately, their offense stalled out and Chicago outscored them 26-12 to steal the win. Thornton and Gray struggled again, combining to shoot 6/21 from the field. Isabelle Harrison had a strong game in the starting lineup, with 12 points and eight rebounds. Ogunbowale, Dallas’ star rookie with the ultimate green light, may have to start reeling her game in, however, as she scored 21 points… on 7/21 from the field, which included her missing all five attempts from the floor in the fourth quarter.

Simply put, Ogunbowale, despite being the best scorer on the team, needs to have better shot selection so that she doesn’t shoot her team out of games. This isn’t to say that the Chicago loss is strictly on her shoulders, especially since Gray and Thornton couldn’t hit the side of a barn. Going forward, Ogunbowale can be miles more effective on the floor if she recognizes what shots are good shots to take, and with this development, the Wings can potentially reach new heights in the years to come.

Heaven Hill can be reached at heaven.hill@student.shu.edu.

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