The Las Vegas Aces picked up their second loss, responded with their highest point total of the season, clinched their berth in the Commissioner’s Cup Final and are looking forward to hosting WNBA All-Star Weekend.
Despite falling to the Dallas Wings 80-78 on Friday, the Aces remain where they’ve been since preseason: No. 1 in ESPN’s weekly WNBA Power Rankings. The Aces are averaging a league-best 93.6 PPG, so scoring less than 80 points was downright weird. But it wasn’t surprising that they beat the Minnesota Lynx 113-89 on Sunday. This is how Aces roll.
But it should be noted that the Aces were not the winningest team of the week. That was the Atlanta Dream, which went 3-0 and returned to the top half of the Power Rankings.
In the four games since the All-Star reserves were named on July 1, Atlanta’s Rhyne Howard has averaged 26.8 PPG, including a career-high 43 points on July 2. Howard was an All-Star last season, when she was also Rookie of the Year after being the No. 1 pick. Howard wasn’t selected this year, but she’s playing like an All-Star.
— ESPN (@espn) July 8, 2023
Her Dream teammates Allisha Gray and Cheyenne Parker head to Saturday’s All-Star Game (8:30 pm ET, ABC/ESPN app). But that same day, a woman dear to Gray and many in the basketball world will be eulogized in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Nikki McCray-Penson, the former Tennessee Lady Vols star who won two Olympic gold medals and played in the WNBA and ABL before becoming a college coach, died Friday at age 51. She had been first diagnosed with breast cancer nearly 10 years ago. .
McCray-Penson was a three-time WNBA All-Star. She was part of the 1996 US Olympic team that helped dramatically change the sport paving the way for the launch of the WNBA in 1997.
“She always protected me; she made my job really hard,” recalled New York Liberty coach Sandy Brondello, who played for Australia against McCray-Penson and Team USA in the 1996 Summer Olympics. and 2000. “It’s tragic, very sad. She was very young. I also trained her in San Antonio. So I really knew her.”
“Just working with her, how competitive she was, how badly she wanted to win. She was a great defensive player, a great slasher. It’s a huge loss to our community.”
McCray-Penson coached several current WNBA players, including Atlanta’s Gray, Las Vegas’ A’ja Wilson, Minnesota’s Tiffany Mitchell and Connecticut’s Tyasha Harris, as an assistant to Dawn Staley as they built the South Carolina Gamecocks into a program of national championship. .
That 2017 NCAA title meant a lot to Staley and McCray-Penson, who played in the women’s Final Four but didn’t win a national championship in college. They were best friends who shared many memories together. McCray-Penson’s death has elicited great emotion from all those who had the chance to interact with her over the years, including on 1996’s “Dream Team.”
The All-Star Game will be a celebration of the WNBA, but McCray-Penson was a big part of helping make the league what it is today.
1. Vegas Aces
Previous classification: 1
This week: vs. Phoenix (Tuesday), in Los Angeles (Wednesday)
After beating Dallas at home, the Aces fell to the Wings on the road. But while that was legitimately a big problem for Dallas, it seemed more of a setback for Las Vegas. The Aces have responded well to their two losses this season, picking up double-digit wins in the next game. Kelsey Plum joined the ever-expanding 40-point WNBA club in the win against Minnesota on Sunday, and she did it with great efficiency, making 14 of 18 shots from the field and all six free throws.
2. New York Liberty
Previous classification: 2
This week: in Indiana (Wednesday)
Liberty struggled more than anticipated to knock out the bottom two teams in the standings, but still picked up four-point wins over Phoenix and Seattle at home. Breanna Stewart had 43 points, 12 rebounds and six assists against the Mercury and 25, eight and three against the Storm. And the Liberty needed it all. Now, can she lead the way this week for Team Stewart, with her Liberty teammates Courtney Vandersloot and Sabrina Ionescu, at the All-Star Game?
3. The Connecticut sun
Previous classification: 3
This week: in Chicago (Wednesday)
After a difficult previous week with losses to New York and Las Vegas, things returned to normal with a 2-0 week for the Sun. They outscored Seattle and Washington at home, with DeWanna Bonner scoring a combined 44 points. Bonner, in her 14th WNBA season, has 42 3-pointers in 19 games. If she keeps up this pace, she’ll break her career record for 3-pointers in a season: 55 in 34 games played in 2018.
Wings hands Aces only their second loss
Check out the back-and-forth finale as the Wings hand the Aces their second loss of the season.
4. Dallas Wings
Previous classification: 6
This week: in Minnesota (Wednesday)
The Wings have won four of their last five, moving them into the top four of the Power Rankings for the first time this season. They bested the Aces in front of a sold-out College Park Center crowd on Friday. Natasha Howard’s two free throws with less than a second left provided the winning margin after being fouled by A’ja Wilson. The Wings’ victory Sunday at Indiana was also big. Yes, the Fever are struggling, but it was only Dallas’ third road win of the season.
Rhyne Howard adds 32 points and Dream wins for the fifth time in a row
Rhyne Howard scores a game-high 32 points to propel the Dream past the Sky.
5. Atlanta Dream
Previous classification: 7
This week: vs. Seattle (Wednesday)
The Dream have the longest active winning streak in the league with five straight wins, beating Sparks once and Sky twice last week. Along with good play from Howard, Gray and Parker, veteran guard Danielle Robinson has done a good job of playmaking this stretch, averaging 5.0 assists in the five games.
6. Minnesota Bobcat
Previous classification: 5
This week: vs. Dallas (Wednesday)
The Lynx did nothing wrong to lose a spot; they were just topped by great weeks for Dallas and Atlanta. Minnesota beat Indiana and Phoenix last week, but then had the burden of facing an angry Las Vegas team after a loss. That 24-point loss aside, the Lynx have won eight of their last 11.
Elena Delle Donne limps after apparent ankle injury
Mystics star Elena Delle Donne limps off the court after spraining her left ankle against the Sun.
7. Washington Mystics
Previous classification: 4
This week: vs. Seattle (Tuesday)
Injuries fueled the Mystics’ downfall; they have lost four of their last six. All-Star reserve Elena Delle Donne appeared to re-injure her left ankle in Sunday’s loss at Connecticut. She was returning after missing two games with a sprained ankle; she played just 13 minutes and didn’t score against the Sun. Natasha Cloud, Shakira Austin and Kristi Toliver are currently injured. The Mystics added another young center, trading Amanda Zahui B. to Indiana for Queen Egbo, who had eight points and seven rebounds Sunday for Washington.
8. Chicago Sky
Previous classification: 8
This week: vs. Connecticut (Wednesday)
After going 3-0 in a week in which they lost coach James Wade to the NBA’s Raptors, the Sky ran into a hot Atlanta team last week, losing twice to the visiting Dream. Reserve All-Star Kahleah Copper had a combined 44 points in those games as Sky held on to the Power Rankings.
Brittney Griner throws a one-handed slam
Brittney Griner gets up to throw a one-handed dunk for the Mercury vs. the Sparks.
9. Mercury Phoenix
Previous classification: 12
This week: in Las Vegas (Tuesday)
As much as the bottom four teams in the Power Rankings are struggling, it doesn’t take much to move up. The Mercury were the only one of the quartet to win last week, beating Los Angeles after losses to New York and Minnesota. All-Star starter Brittney Griner had a dunk against the Sparks, along with 29 points and 11 rebounds.
10. Sparks of Los Angeles
Previous classification: 10
This week: vs Las Vegas (Wednesday)
The Sparks have lost five in a row, including to Atlanta and Phoenix last week. All-Star starter Nneka Ogwumike continues to have a great season. But with five players injured or recovering from illness, the Sparks are struggling with their depth and energy. They’re next to last in offensive rating (96.4), an especially bad feeling when you’re about to take on Las Vegas.
eleven seattle storm
Previous classification: eleven
This week: in Washington (Tuesday), in Atlanta (Wednesday)
Like the Sparks, the Storm have lost five straight, and All-Star starter Jewell Loyd had to leave Saturday’s 80-76 loss at New York with a sprained ankle. However, in that loss, Storm showed a lot of courage and pushed Liberty all the way. This was not expected to be a winning season for Seattle. But there’s some promise with the younger players they have, including All-Star Ezi Magbegor for the first time.
12. Indiana Fever
Previous classification: 9
This week: vs. New York (Wednesday)
After another week of 0-3, the Rush have lost seven in a row. After slipping at Minnesota and Washington, it looked like Indiana might get back on track at home against Dallas on Sunday. But the Wings prevailed 77-76, and now the Fever have to find a way out of a predicament that is starting to look a lot like last season.