Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - The 18th WNBA season is underway, and
the elite ladies provided plenty of riveting action on the opening weekend.
Although no team played more than twice this past weekend, only four remain perfect in the league standings. Elena Delle Donne tallied 23 points in each of Chicago's victories to help the Sky to a 2-0 start. Michael Cooper's debut on Atlanta's bench went well, as the Dream earned a four-point win over San Antonio before surviving a double-overtime battle in Indianapolis. Cooper threw rookie guard Shoni Schimmel into the mix right away, and the eighth overall pick in the draft did not disappoint.
Schimmel tied the WNBA record for most assists (21) in her first two games. The Louisville product came up in the clutch, as she hit a jumper at the 50.7 mark of the first extra session to even the score and found Angel McCoughtry for the game-winning 3-pointer late in the second overtime. Thanks to Schimmel's dynamic distribution, McCoughtry (24.0 ppg) and Erika de Souza (20.0 ppg) are ranked third and seventh, respectively, in the league in scoring.
The defending WNBA champions are also 2-0, but the Lynx needed to rally from a 13-point halftime deficit to defeat Connecticut in overtime on Sunday. Maya Moore was sensational and as a result, currently leads all players in scoring (33.5 ppg). Brittney Griner was a force for Phoenix in its first two games, scoring a game-high 19 points on Saturday versus Seattle and recording a double-double with 13 points and 10 boards in a road win over the Sparks the following afternoon.
The Mercury's one-two punch of Diana Taurasi and Griner will be almost impossible to defend for most teams. Griner's rare combination of size and athleticism pays dividends on both ends of the floor for Phoenix. The 6-8 center is shooting 66.7 percent from the floor and averaged 4.5 blocks per contest, but her discipline needs to improve as her eight fouls in two games forced coach Sandy Brondello to sit the former Baylor star for more than she would have liked. Taurasi's pinpoint accuracy from beyond the arc made the difference in Phoenix's win at the Staples Center, but the solid play of DeWanna Bonner (16 points, 11 rebounds) and Candice Dupree (18 points, 7-of-10 FG) kept the Mercury in the game.
Minnesota's three-headed monster of Moore, Seimone Augustus and Lindsay Whalen combined for 68 points in the hard-fought win over Connecticut on Sunday. The Lynx's inability to defend on the interior was exposed by the Sun's rookie forward Chiney Ogwumike, who posted 25 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks in her second career game.
Chicago's offense lives and dies with Delle Donne, but the Sky operate as a cohesive unit on the other end of the floor. Chicago held both Indiana and New York under 38 percent efficiency from the field and used tremendous defensive pressure to force the Liberty into 17 turnovers. Jessica Breland has compiled 26 points and 20 rebounds through two games for Chicago, which appears to be the favorite to come out of the East in the early going.
The Sparks are already facing adversity. The first pick of the 2012 WNBA Draft, Nneka Ogwumike, clocked just over nine minutes before leaving the team's opener and sat out Sunday's bout with the Mercury. Candace Parker did her best to will the Sparks to victory without Ogwumike available, but her 23- point and 11-rebound effort was not enough to get the job done. While Los Angeles has received solid play out of 10-year veteran Alana Beard (16.5 ppg), it is clear coach Carol Ross will need to identify a third scorer to alleviate the load for Parker.
Washington's Ivory Latta began the campaign with a splash, pouring in 25 points with a 7-of-9 clip from 3-point range and handing out five assists in her team's loss to Minnesota. The rest of the Mystics' starting five combined to go 8-of-32 from the floor in the contest.
San Antonio narrowly avoided a loss to Tulsa due to the clinic it put on at the charity stripe on Saturday. The Silver Stars made up for their 36.1 percent shooting from the floor by converting 21-of-23 attempts at the free- throw line en route to the four-point decision. Jia Perkins bounced back from a four-point outing at Atlanta, as she netted 20 points and sank all four of her shots from behind the 3-point line against the Shock.
Tulsa will not stay winless for very long if Skylar Diggins continues to rack up MVP caliber numbers. The second-year guard out of Notre Dame led all players in the preseason with 26.0 ppg, while shooting 56.3 percent overall. To start the regular season, Diggins led the Shock with 20 points, nine assists and three steals, while Courtney Paris registered a double-double of 13 points and 14 boards.
1. Phoenix (2-0)
2. Minnesota (2-0)
3. Chicago (2-0)
4. Los Angeles (1-1)
5. Atlanta (2-0)
6. Indiana (0-2)
7. San Antonio (1-1)
8. Washington (0-1)
9. New York (1-1)
10. Tulsa (0-1)
11. Connecticut (0-2)
12. Seattle (0-2)
THIS WEEK'S KEY MATCHUPS
Friday, May 23
Minnesota at Tulsa - Diggins will go head-to-head with the Lynx's dynamic backcourt of Augustus and Whalen. The Shock, like everyone else in the WNBA, lack a player capable of shutting down Moore, but Minnesota showed it is not invincible on Sunday against Connecticut.
Saturday, May 24
Atlanta at Chicago - If Chicago gets past Connecticut on Wednesday, only one Eastern Conference team will stay undefeated through the weekend. Schimmel's capability of running a pro offense will really be put to the test by the Sky's uncompromising defense.
Sunday, May 25
San Antonio at Los Angeles - Silver Stars coach Dan Hughes does not have a great deal to work with in his 14th season guiding a WNBA team. However, Hughes is known for his top-notch game plans and Los Angeles will be hindered by the injury to Ogwumike. If rookie guard Kayla McBride, who is shooting just 20 percent from the field, snaps out of her shooting slump, San Antonio could push the Sparks to the limit.