Together with her group of All-Stars huddled round and bouncing up and down, Group W.N.B.A. Coach Lisa Leslie urged the gamers to maintain up their vitality.
“We’re about to make historical past,” Leslie, a Corridor of Famer and four-time Olympic gold medalist, shouted. Then she added, “Rebound on three!” as they broke the huddle and made their manner again towards the court docket.
That pleasure and urgency permeated the Group W.N.B.A. bench all through the league’s All-Star Sport in Las Vegas on Wednesday. Leslie and Tina Thompson, additionally a Corridor of Famer, coached Group W.N.B.A. to a 93-85 defeat of Group U.S.A. in a high-energy matchup that felt extra like a regular-season recreation than an exhibition.
The individuals carried a special mind-set into this recreation than in All-Star Video games of the previous, mentioned Brittney Griner, the Phoenix Mercury heart and seven-time All-Star, who led Group U.S.A. with 17 factors. “We’re right here to organize to win gold,” she mentioned. “It’s not your typical, go, have enjoyable, throw up some pictures. We’re right here to work.”
After not holding an All-Star recreation in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, the W.N.B.A. deviated from its typical format this season. This yr’s recreation pitted the united statesA. girls’s basketball crew, which can head to Tokyo quickly for the Olympics, in opposition to 12 All-Stars who had been chosen by coaches from a pool of 36 gamers who had acquired votes from followers, gamers and the information media and weren’t on the Olympic roster. Although Group U.S.A. has confronted the All-Stars in tuneup matches forward of the Olympics earlier than, this was the primary time that the format was employed through the All-Star Sport itself, which can have led to the added depth.
“I by no means noticed a lot protection in an All-Star Sport,” W.N.B.A. Commissioner Cathy Engelbert mentioned earlier than handing the sport’s Most Priceless Participant Award to Dallas Wings guard Arike Ogunbowale.
Ogunbowale, with Group W.N.B.A. in her All-Star debut, had a game-high 26 factors on 10 of 18 taking pictures, hitting 5 3-pointers. “Simply characterize for twenty-four,” Ogunbowale mentioned afterward, referring to the jersey variety of the late Kobe Bryant, her favourite participant. “Relaxation in peace, Kobe.”
Ogunbowale additionally wears the No. 24.
She mentioned she felt “blessed” to be an All-Star. “There’s quite a lot of nice gamers on this league, and for us to be chosen as All-Stars, that signifies that we’re on the high of the league,” Ogunbowale mentioned.
Whereas she compiled spotlight after spotlight on the court docket, Ogunbowale made positive to maintain folks on Twitter up to date on the happenings of the sport each time she went to the bench.
And simply as thrilling as her All-Star efficiency is the season the third-year participant is having. She’s among the many league’s scoring leaders with 18.9 factors per recreation and has scored in double digits in each recreation this season. In a recreation in opposition to the Liberty this month, Ogunbowale reached 1,500 profession factors sooner than all however two different gamers in W.N.B.A. historical past.
One other All-Star having an important season is Connecticut Solar ahead Jonquel Jones, who picked the phrase “grateful” postgame to explain her emotions after making her third All-Star Sport.
Jones, an M.V.P. favourite this season, has helped the Solar to an Japanese Convention-best 14-6 document. She is main the league in rebounds per recreation (11.1) and is second in scoring with 21 factors per recreation. She had an 18-point, 14-rebound double-double for Group W.N.B.A. on Wednesday. She additionally practically gained the 3-point contest in an exhilarating showdown at halftime that ended with a 3rd crown for the Chicago Sky’s Allie Quigley.
Jones mentioned the objective going into Wednesday was to offer Group U.S.A. a recreation that may assist the gamers put together for his or her Olympic journey, but in addition to point out that the gamers on the All-Star crew might compete at that very same stage.
Earlier than Wednesday’s recreation, Jones mentioned that if Group W.N.B.A. gained, she would view it as her personal Olympic victory — if, Jones clarified later, Group U.S.A. additionally wins gold in Tokyo.
“I’m attempting to win as a result of that is the closest I’ll ever get to a gold medal,” Jones mentioned with amusing. “So I’m attempting to go on the market and get the W so I will be like, ‘Yeah, Grandma bought the gold again in 2021.’”
Now Group U.S.A., led by Daybreak Staley, a Corridor of Famer and the College of South Carolina girls’s basketball coach, will flip towards Tokyo because it prepares to hunt its seventh consecutive Olympic gold medal later this month.
The 12-player Olympic roster consists of the league’s profession main scorer, Mercury guard Diana Taurasi, who didn’t play on Wednesday due to a lingering hip damage; the profession assists chief, Seattle Storm guard Sue Fowl; and the profession rebounds chief, Minnesota Lynx heart Sylvia Fowles.
Taurasi and Fowl will attempt for his or her fifth Olympic gold medals, which no basketball participant, male or feminine, has but achieved.
The crew additionally has six first-time Olympians, together with Mercury guard Skylar Diggins-Smith, who might have made the 2016 crew if not for a knee damage.
After the loss to Group W.N.B.A. on Wednesday, Diggins-Smith mentioned the sport had taught the Olympians that they aren’t but a crew.
“We realized it’s by no means so simple as throwing 12 of the perfect on the market and it simply clicks. That’s by no means been the case,” she mentioned. “It was a great reminder of that. And it was additionally a great reminder that everyone is all the time going to wish to take us down. So we bought to be prepared for that.”