Zahui’s 37 points and more on the past week in the WNBA
This past week in the WNBA, Amanda Zahui B stole the show going for a career-high 37 points to lead the New York Liberty to a road win over the Los Angeles Sparks on the second night of a back-to-back.
More on that and other big moments around the league including Kaela Davis in crunch time, Mercedes Russell getting comfortable and Danielle Robinson finding more of her own offense in this week’s 12 things.
Zahui goes off
The Sparks didn’t really adjust to the Zahui’s pick-and-pop onslaught until after her fifth triple of the night.
To be clear, those shots alone did not determine the outcome of this game.
If you watch some of those shots back, L.A.’s bigs did a pretty decent job of recovering in time to be in a position to contest.
On a few other occasions, they’ll easily be able to do so next time if they show toward the ball handler earlier so that their momentum is not carrying them away from Zahui as the pass to her is made.
Chelsea Gray did leave Kia Nurse at one point to run hard at Zahui, which led to a turnover. Zahui only got up two triples for the rest of the game.
Perhaps forcing her to make decisions with the ball could have prevented a few earlier in the game with the Sparks still rotating and rebounding from that point to get more stops.
The Sparks did look a bit frazzled on two plays in the first half of the fourth quarter. Nneka Ogwumike pressed hard into Zahui on the catch early in one possession near the top of the lane, inviting her to stroll right in and drop it off to a teammate for a layup.
Moments later, Chiney Ogwumike hugged Reshanda Gray, not a threat at all behind the arc, as if she were Zahui.
Tanisha Wright didn’t even need the screen to get there, option for a straight line drive to the rim.
Derek Fisher was about 45 seconds into a prolonged plea to the officials for something during live action.
Best of all, this happened while New York’s two biggest scoring threats on the floor, Nurse and Tina Charles, stood in place on the other side of the floor!
Props to the Liberty for showing up the night after the Aces absolutely ran them out of the gym. This game looked early on like it was starting to teeter once again.
Zahui knocking down open threes showed how much strain she can put on a defense. She carried them as Charles was a miserable 4-of-17 from the field, and Nurse was money down the stretch from the foul line.
DRob getting her own
Danielle Robinson is starting to string together some quick scoring bursts for the Minnesota Lynx. A few have come with a 3-pointer and drive into the paint in quick succession—the two things the Lynx need from her consistently.
Lexie Brown has been very comfortable in making some difficult 3-pointers look easy. If Minnesota really feels pressed to get more shooting in the starting lineup and that Robinson and Odyssey Sims are a bit too redundant, a swap shouldn’t feel like all that seismic of a shift.
But the Lynx do need both lead guards attacking and shooting with confidence. They don’t have enough reliable, high-volume shooters to only rely on Napheesa Collier and Sylvia Fowles in the post.
And several teams around the league still struggle with backup point guard play. Robinson needs to prove to be a more efficient scoring threat even in small doses. If she does and the Lynx bring her back on a new deal after this season, the team should feel stable at the position moving forward.
Aces defending the arc
The Las Vegas Aces, and more specifically A’ja Wilson, do not look comfortable defensively against a 4 that can shoot it and/or make plays off the bounce. They ran into another one Sunday in Minnesota’s Damiris Dantas.
That shooting element keeps Wilson from what she’s best at defensively: Blocking and altering shots around the basket.
And digging down or showing timely help before recovering back to the perimeter does not happen to be one of her strengths at this point in her career.
One pass away: Dantas triple. One pass away: Help covers up Dantas but leaves somebody else open. In a halfcourt setting, those looks can’t come that easily.
The workaround could be playing Dearica Hamby a lot more with a more aggressive stagger of Wilson and Cambage. Those two could also spend more time as primary scoring options and prop up bench-heavy lineups.
Davis has a moment as DAL picks up a win
The Dallas Wings got their first win of the Brian Agler era Saturday at home over the Atlanta Dream. Tiffany Hayes sitting with four fouls for nearly eight consecutive minutes didn’t help, but that stretch didn’t decide this game.
But the Wings got rolling shortly after Hayes re-entered the game. Arike Ogunbowale rebounded her own missed free throw and buried a short jumper. Then Hayes missed a tough look in traffic that fueled a 3-point play by Kaela Davis in transition. Dallas had created some separation heading into the final five minutes.
Finishing in the lane and around the basket has been a struggle at times for Davis, who has also been thrust into more of a ball-handling role each of the past two seasons.
The bright side has always lied in her ability to size somebody up and get into the lane. That alone is a head start on a lot of players.
We don’t know when or if she’ll ever take off with that part of her game. The more pressing question is how long the Wings are willing to wait and see.
After that and-one opportunity in transition, Davis did cash in two much tougher shots to seal the win—collecting her own miss and floating it in and a tough jumper before the shot clock expired.
It’s a nice moment for Davis. Where will she go from here?
What can happen when you sag off AT
The Lynx dropped two close, exciting games at home this weekend. The first came at the hands of the Connecticut Sun, who have raced out to a league-best 8-1 record as of Monday.
The Lynx were able to configure the matchups to put them in position to switch Jasmine Thomas pick and rolls. Napheesa Collier started on Thomas, Sylvia Fowles guarded Alyssa Thomas, and Damiris Dantas was tasked with chasing Jonquel Jones around.
The idea of it was sound. Collier is long. Fowles can move her feet and can’t necessarily default to hanging out at the rim anyways in this matchup. Dantas did a solid job of chasing Jones around (the Sun did not pick at that enough) and can hold up when she tries to post up.
Alyssa Thomas is always the most interesting player to watch as different opponents play the Sun. In this matchup, she went right at Collier and out-muscled her inside, but wasn’t going to try Fowles.
And because Thomas is not a threat outside of 15 feet to score, players will sag off of her. Thomas made a nice read in the first quarter to attack that cushion by handing it off to Shekinna Stricklen and screening that defender to create an open 3-pointer.
This is something Thomas and the Sun will want to get into as much as possible. The well dried up quickly against the Lynx down the stretch. When an opponent can switch most or all of their best pick-and-roll combinations, reads like this can loosen up the defense and break up scoring droughts.
Hayes drawing help
Though the Dream dropped the game in Dallas, it was good to see Tiffany Hayes getting into the lane with her usual burst. It’s still amazing to see a guard completely collapse a defense with one crossover.
The exciting part of that sequence for the Wings, of course, is Azura Stevens and her ‘Go Go Gadget’ arms coming away with a clean steal of Hayes’ attempted kick-out pass.
Dallas is a tough matchup for Atlanta with their length and the amount of switching they’ve been doing this season. Glory Johnson, Stevens, Kayla Thornton and Davis, in particular, are long and move their feet well.
Atlanta’s post players aren’t polished or physically overwhelming enough to punish those switches inside. They might already be at a point where they just need to ask Renee Montgomery and Hayes to break more people down from the top of the floor.
Toliver ejected, Mystics crumble late
Kristi Toliver getting ejected was strange. Both calls were strange. This is not an indictment of Washington’s team at full strength or ignoring the fact that Toliver was unavailable for so much of the game.
The Mystics still led a hobbled Seattle Storm bunch by seven with less than three minutes to play.
Part of Seattle’s late comeback came down to bad luck. Elena Delle Donne missed two open looks. So did Ariel Atkins. Natasha Howard, meanwhile, cashed in some very tough floaters.
But the way the Mystics approached crunch time of that game offensively made me circle back to the same question I had about this team in last year’s playoffs.
Why don’t they just give Delle Donne the ball at either slot and get out of the way?
First, there is a tradeoff at play. Tianna Hawkins is a key figure in that play in the ball-side corner, pulling Seattle’s second big out of the picture. LaToya Sanders, who they need on the floor defensively, does not have that kind of pull.
The Storm did a nice job throughout the game to send a second defender at Delle Donne on the catch. Again, not having to worry about Toliver as a scoring threat for so much of the game made doing so much easier.
Muddying the waters is much easier when Delle Donne is catching the ball at a dead stop. Putting her closer to the middle of the floor facing the defense, where she can see help coming sooner, with a live dribble and a chance to leverage the threat of a 3-pointer from the start would make for some easier decisions.
It also replicates the moments when she’s most terrifying—filling either wing in transition to either pull up for a triple or take two hard dribbles, take those long, measured strides, hang in the air and toss a feathery jumper right off the glass.
Mercedes finding her niche
Speaking of those Howard floaters, Mercedes Russell is really starting to develop a nice synergy with the version of Howard that has to be a go-to scorer for the Storm to win games.
The formula can be pretty simple. Howard isolates and starts a hard drive to draw two or an opponent switches some sort of screening action, and Russell will slide right in to crash the offensive glass.
She’s also setting better screens and ducking in aggressively to score out of the post.
This is an important developmental season for Russell. If she continues to grow, the Storm will have found a very young change-of-pace center for the foreseeable future to back up both Howard and Breanna Stewart.
Mercury flat at home
The Phoenix Mercury came out and laid an egg in the second half against the Sparks.
After similar miscommunications and poor efforts doomed them in a loss to the Chicago Sky, they allowed more of the same to happen Friday night after trailing by just two points at the half.
- Briann January falls down after a missed layup, Brittney Griner doesn’t cover the front of the rim. Bucket.
- The Mercury got too caught up in cross-matches on the perimeter in transition after a miss, Riquna Williams steps into an open triple on a hit-ahead from Gray. Bucket.
- Griner and DeWanna Bonner got back, but neither bothered to pay attention to Tierra Ruffin-Pratt who had snuck behind them. Bucket.
Sandy Brondello has a lot to figure out now that Camille Little is back. Are they going to knock Alanna Smith even further down the depth chart? Will any of their guards step up to give them something on a more consistent basis? (It might be time for Leilani Mitchell to start next to January.)
But before they can even get to that point, they just aren’t bringing the proper sense of urgency to compete across 40 minutes, and that blame can’t get passed onto the rookies.
Who starts hitting more of these shots first?
- Chelsea Gray, Los Angeles Sparks
- Kelsey Mitchell, Indiana Fever
- Diamond DeShields, Chicago Sky
My answer: I don’t think it matters because I think all three will reach that point—one of many signs that this league is in good hands with its young star talent.
It’s terrifying to see from each of them. With that shot falling consistently, they’ll completely break opposing defenses, become even more dangerous as threats to get to the rim and open up even easier looks for themselves and their teammates.
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