Team USA vs Team WNBA in a star-studded battle for bragging rights
For the third time in WNBA history, the midseason All-Star break will feature an unconventional matchup between the USA Olympic Team and a WNBA team comprised of international athletes and other stars that did not make the Olympic squad.
There has already been plenty of drama heading into the game, highlighted by Nneka Ogwumike’s omission from the National team due to “injury”. While her fallout with Team USA has been more graceful than Candace Parker’s in 2016, Ogwumike is attempting to play for the Nigerian National Team with her sisters barring committee approval, which would add a great deal of excitement to their already scheduled Olympic matchup versus the USA.
As for the All-Star game itself, both teams will feature first-time players on their respective squads, with storylines including the emergence of Rutger’s alums Betnijah Laney and Kahleah Copper, Brionna Jones’s transformation from the bench to most improved player candidate, and Chelsea Gray’s uphill battle to Olympic spotlight. But now that we are here, let’s look at some key aspects of the on-court action.
A’ja Wilson vs. Liz Cambage
By far the most anticipated matchup of the night will be Las Vegas Aces big women Wilson and Cambage squaring up in front of a home crowd. With both players in the top 20 for points, rebounds, and blocks, the duo represents the fiercest frontcourt in the league. Not only will it will be great for Aces fans to see their stars go head to head, but it will be good practice for Cambage, who is a member of the Australian National Team, to get a look at the USA defense in preparation for the Olympics.
The old vs. the new
Team USA is significantly older than Team WNBA, even with Diana Taurasi not playing as she continues to rehab from injury. After a grueling first half of the season for many players, how much of an advantage will youth play? Courtney Williams and Arike Ogunbowale never stop running for example, and I’m not sure if the USA guards want to deal with that peskiness during their so-called break. Another thing to keep in mind is that this is it for the WNBA all-stars, they can leave everything on the court and not have to worry about the looming Olympic competition.
Who will be hungrier?
To prove them right or prove them wrong, that is the question. A lot of the discourse on social media in anticipation for this game has been that the WNBA all-stars will use the chip on their shoulder of not being selected to the national team to propel them to victory. However, team USA has an equally large burden of showing the world why they were chosen for the squad. When it comes down to talent, Team USA simply has more of it, and my prediction is they will not waste time proving that.
Team USA beats Team WNBA 85-73, with Breanna Stewart taking home MVP honors.
Shooting contest takes center stage
The WNBA 3-Point contest will take place at halftime of the All-Star game tonight, and despite only having four contestants, it promises to be one of the most competitive battles to date.
The frontrunner is Allie Quigley of the Chicago Sky, who has two victories in the event in 2017 and 2018. Her performance in 2018 was the most dominant outing ever, where she scored 29 out of a possible 34 points to break the NBA/WNBA record of 28 that Devin Booker set earlier in the year.
She was unable to three-peat in 2019 when then-Connecticut Sun guard Shekinna Stricklen took home the hardware, and Quigley will look to recapture her crown in Las Vegas.
My original pick to win when the field was announced was Sun center Jonquel Jones. Yes, you read that correctly, there is a 6’6″ post player participating in the three-point contest. Jones is one of the most unique WNBA players in her ability to score anywhere on the court and is shooting 43.7% from beyond the arc.
Besides just being a fantastic shooter, the reason I was planning on picking Jonquel to win is because she relies much less on her legs when shooting than the other competitors. In a contest where keeping the same form is of particular importance, fatigue generally hinders the leg-dominant jump-shooters more.
That being said, I did not realize that the 3-point contest was going to occur during halftime of the All-Star game, which puts Jones at a significant disadvantage because she will be tired from playing in said game.
The same logic applies to Jewell Loyd of the Seattle Storm, who will be playing for Team USA. Loyd is the only participant shooting below 40% from three, but as one of the best ball-dominant scorers in the league she often draws the opponent’s best perimeter defenders.
However, if I can accurately predict the future Loyd will not be hoisting the trophy tonight, as Sami Whitcomb of the New York Liberty will have that honor. Whitcomb is averaging the fourth most three-point attempts per game this season, and is third in percentage among qualified players.
She has the aforementioned advantage of not playing in the actual All-Star game, and the motivation to defeat a field of more decorated players. While I do not think anyone will ever top what Quigley did in 2018, I expect a 24 or 25 point performance to get it done for Whitcomb.