W.N.B.A. All-Stars Beat Olympians in Gold Medal Game of Their Own

With her group of All-Stars huddled round and bouncing up and down, Team W.N.B.A. Coach Lisa Leslie urged the gamers to maintain up their power.

“We’re about to make history,” Leslie, a Hall of Famer and four-time Olympic gold medalist, shouted. Then she added, “Rebound on three!” as they broke the huddle and made their approach again towards the courtroom.

Team WNBA huddle is LIT 🔥🤣

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— WNBA (@WNBA) July 15, 2021

That pleasure and urgency permeated the Team W.N.B.A. bench all through the league’s All-Star Game in Las Vegas on Wednesday. Leslie and Tina Thompson, additionally a Hall of Famer, coached Team W.N.B.A. to a 93-85 defeat of Team U.S.A. in a high-energy matchup that felt extra like a regular-season sport than an exhibition.

The contributors carried a distinct mind-set into this sport than in All-Star Games of the previous, mentioned Brittney Griner, the Phoenix Mercury middle and seven-time All-Star, who led Team U.S.A. with 17 factors. “We’re here to prepare to win gold,” she mentioned. “It’s not your typical, go, have fun, throw up some shots. We’re here to work.”

After not holding an All-Star sport in 2020 as a result of of the coronavirus pandemic, the W.N.B.A. deviated from its typical format this season. This yr’s sport pitted the usA. girls’s basketball group, which is able to head to Tokyo quickly for the Olympics, in opposition to 12 All-Stars who have 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. Though Team 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 in the course of the All-Star Game itself, which can have led to the added depth.

5 W.N.B.A. All-Stars to Know

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5 W.N.B.A. All-Stars to Know

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Ahead of the Olympics, the W.N.B.A.’s greatest gamers will face off in the All-Star Game in Las Vegas at 7 p.m. Eastern.

Here are 5 gamers who may steal the present →

5 W.N.B.A. All-Stars to Know

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Betnijah Laney of the Liberty gained the W.N.B.A.’s Most Improved Player Award final yr and is having an M.V.P.-caliber season. She’s one of eight first-time All-Stars.

5 W.N.B.A. All-Stars to Know

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Jonquel Jones of the Connecticut Sun, an M.V.P. candidate, is the league’s greatest rebounder.

5 W.N.B.A. All-Stars to Know

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A’ja Wilson of the Las Vegas Aces, final yr’s M.V.P., will play for Team U.S.A. in her first Olympics. She’s the main scorer for the Aces.

5 W.N.B.A. All-Stars to Know

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Breanna Stewart of the Seattle Storm took dwelling finals M.V.P. final yr after main the Storm to the title. She’s getting ready for her second Olympics look.

5 W.N.B.A. All-Stars to Know

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Arike Ogunbowale of the Dallas Wings, the 2020 season’s prime scorer, is making her All-Star debut this yr.

Read extra about how W.N.B.A. gamers are making an impression, on and off the courtroom:

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“I never saw so much defense in an All-Star Game,” W.N.B.A. Commissioner Cathy Engelbert mentioned earlier than handing the sport’s Most Valuable Player Award to Dallas Wings guard Arike Ogunbowale.

Ogunbowale, with Team W.N.B.A. in her All-Star debut, had a game-high 26 factors on 10 of 18 capturing, hitting 5 Three-pointers. “Just represent for 24,” Ogunbowale mentioned afterward, referring to the jersey quantity of the late Kobe Bryant, her favourite participant. “Rest in peace, Kobe.”

Ogunbowale additionally wears the No. 24.

She mentioned she felt “blessed” to be an All-Star. “There’s a lot of great players in this league, and for us to be chosen as All-Stars, that means that we’re at the top of the league,” Ogunbowale mentioned.

While she compiled spotlight after spotlight on the courtroom, Ogunbowale made positive to maintain individuals on Twitter up to date on the happenings of the sport at any time when 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 sport and has scored in double digits in each sport this season. In a sport in opposition to the Liberty this month, Ogunbowale reached 1,500 profession factors quicker than all however two different gamers in W.N.B.A. historical past.

Another All-Star having an awesome season is Connecticut Sun ahead Jonquel Jones, who picked the phrase “grateful” postgame to explain her emotions after making her third All-Star Game.

Jones, an M.V.P. favourite this season, has helped the Sun to an Eastern Conference-best 14-6 file. She is main the league in rebounds per sport (11.1) and is second in scoring with 21 factors per sport. She had an 18-point, 14-rebound double-double for Team W.N.B.A. on Wednesday. She additionally almost gained the Three-point contest in an exciting showdown at halftime that ended with a 3rd crown for the Chicago Sky’s Allie Quigley.

Jones mentioned the aim going into Wednesday was to offer Team U.S.A. a sport that will assist the gamers put together for his or her Olympic journey, but in addition to point out that the gamers on the All-Star group may compete at that very same degree.

Before Wednesday’s sport, Jones mentioned that if Team W.N.B.A. gained, she would view it as her personal Olympic victory — if, Jones clarified later, Team U.S.A. additionally wins gold in Tokyo.

“I’m trying to win because this is the closest I’ll ever get to a gold medal,” Jones mentioned with fun. “So I’m trying to go out there and get the W so I can be like, ‘Yeah, Grandma got the gold back in 2021.’”

Arike Ogunbowale, who was the league’s main scorer final season, was the highest scorer in the All-Star Game with 26 factors for Team W.N.B.A.Credit…Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Now Team U.S.A., led by Dawn Staley, a Hall of Famer and the University 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 as a result of of a lingering hip harm; the profession assists chief, Seattle Storm guard Sue Bird; and the profession rebounds chief, Minnesota Lynx middle Sylvia Fowles.

Taurasi and Bird will attempt for his or her fifth Olympic gold medals, which no basketball participant, male or feminine, has but achieved.

The group additionally has six first-time Olympians, together with Mercury guard Skylar Diggins-Smith, who may have made the 2016 group if not for a knee harm.

After the loss to Team W.N.B.A. on Wednesday, Diggins-Smith mentioned the sport had taught the Olympians that they don’t seem to be but a group.

“We learned it’s never as simple as throwing 12 of the best out there and it just clicks. That’s never been the case,” she mentioned. “It was a good reminder of that. And it was also a good reminder that everybody is always going to want to take us down. So we got to be ready for that.”