Caissa Casarez

WNBA Preseason Recap Week 1: Getting the Kinks Out

The 22nd season of the WNBA is officially underway. Preseason action began Sunday, May 6, and runs through next Sunday, May 13. Here's a look at how each team fared in their first games of the new year.

Sunday, May 6

Washington Mystics 90, Minnesota Lynx 85

(Des Moines, Iowa / Wells Fargo Arena)

The Mystics led by 22 points at halftime en route to their 90-85 victory over the defending WNBA champion Lynx. Washington's starting five led the way for most of the opening half before Minnesota cut the lead to as little as two in the second half. Four of the Lynx's starting five played in Sunday's game; Maya Moore was out after recently winning two titles with UMMC Ekaterinberg in Russia. Tierra Ruffin-Pratt led the Mystics with 17 points, while former WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne and Monique Currie each added 11.

Many of the bench players on both teams got some key minutes in Sunday's game. Mystics first-round draft pick Ariel Atkins (Texas) scored 7 points in 14:53. Former Phoenix guard Danielle Robinson, who was traded to Minnesota for their top-round pick, led all players with 18 points in 22:05. Second-year player Alexis Jones added 11 off the bench, as did starting point guard Lindsay Whalen in what could be her final season with the WNBA.

A quick note about the location: Des Moines, Iowa, is home to the Iowa Wolves, the top development affiliate of the Lynx's NBA counterpart Minnesota Timberwolves. More than 4,000 people turned out to see the first women's professional basketball game in Des Moines in nearly 40 years.

Atlanta Dream 78, Chicago Sky 61

(Chicago, Illinois / Wintrust Arena)

Atlanta and Chicago made some big off-season moves after both teams finished 2017 with a 12-22 record. But it was Dream all-star forward Tiffany Hayes who led her team to a 78-61 win over the Sky in a closed scrimmage on Sunday.

That's not to say the moves the teams made weren't worth it. Former Lynx backup guard Renee Montgomery scored 14 points off the bench in her Atlanta debut, while the Dream's top draft pick Monique Billings (UCLA) added six. The Sky have re-signed starting center Stefanie Dolson, who led the starters with 10 points. While Chicago's top draft pick Diamond DeShields (UNC/Tennessee) missed Sunday's game due to overseas play in Turkey, fellow rookie Gabby Williams (UConn) had two rebounds and two assists in her WNBA debut.

Chicago also signed its 2017 top draft pick in the offseason. No. 2 overall pick Alaina Coates suffered an ankle injury during her senior season at South Carolina, which left her out of WNBA play last year. She scored two points in Sunday's loss.

Atlanta is led by new head coach Nicki Collen, who spent the past two years as an assistant to the Connecticut Sun's Curt Miller, winner of the 2017 WNBA Coach of the Year award. Veteran player Angel McCoughtry is expected to return to Atlanta this year after sitting out last season.

Las Vegas Aces 98, Chinese National Team 63

(Las Vegas / Mandalay Bay Events Center)

Basketball fans in the Las Vegas area got a treat in the first game of the WNBA's newest franchise. The former San Antonio Stars moved west in the offseason and became the Las Vegas Aces. The team chose A'ja Wilson (South Carolina) as their top pick in WNBA Draft 2018, and she delivered. Wilson led the Aces with 20 points in an exhibition win over the Chinese National Team.

Starting guard Nia Coffey added 15 points for Las Vegas, while Ivey Slaughter chipped in 14 off the bench. Wilson and Coffey also each led the team with seven rebounds.

Las Vegas opens its first regular season at Connecticut on May 20th before their home debut against the Seattle Storm one week later.

Shao Ting led all players with 22 points for China. The former Minnesota Lynx training camp player was one of three on her country's national team to be perfect at the free-throw line.

Monday, May 7

Indiana Fever 79, Chicago Sky 65

(Indianapolis, Indiana / Bankers Life Fieldhouse)

The younger players stole the show for both teams during Indiana's opener on Monday. Fever rookie Stephanie Mavunga (Ohio State) led everyone with 18 points off the bench in her team's win over Chicago. Fellow rookie and former college teammate Kelsey Mitchell, Indiana's top draft pick, added eight in her debut. Second year guard Alexis Peterson chipped in 17 points; she and Mavunga were the only Fever players in double figures.

Chicago beat Indiana on the three-point line, as the team made nearly 42% of its shots. Kahleah Cooper (entering her fourth year in the WNBA) and Cheyenne Parker (third year) led the Sky with 10 points each off the bench. Chicago cut the Fever's lead to as few as two in the second half before Indiana pulled away.

The Fever are hoping for the best for guard Tiffany Mitchell, who left the game in the second quarter after a facial injury following a hard foul to the basket.

Dallas Wings 76, New York Liberty 69

(Uncasville, Connecticut / Mohegan Sun Arena)

Though WNBA hopefuls have the opportunity to forego their final year(s) of college eligibility for the league draft, many don't take that chance. If Azura Stevens' first game in the pros is any indication of her decision, her gamble was worth it. The rookie led everyone with 19 points in Dallas' win over New York during a preseason tournament hosted by the Connecticut Sun. No other Wings player picked up more than seven points.

Nine-year veteran Marissa Coleman led New York with 14 points off the bench, while fellow rookie Kia Nurse (UConn) added 10. Shoni Schimmel finished with three points and two rebounds in her first WNBA game since 2016.

Stevens transferred to UConn from Duke after the 2015-16 season. She sat out the next year per redshirt rules before her first and only season with the Huskies.

Connecticut Sun 68, Los Angeles Sparks 65

(Uncasville, Connecticut / Mohegan Sun Arena)

Rachel Banham scored five points for the Sun in Monday's game. Three of those were at the buzzer to give her team the win over the Sparks.

It was a back-and-forth match for both teams as Los Angeles took a one-point lead into halftime after trailing by eight after the first quarter. But Connecticut came back and took a ten-point advantage into the final quarter. The Sparks tied the game at 60 with less than four minutes left in the game before Sun rookie Jessica January (DePaul) hit a three. Los Angeles regained the lead late at 65-63 thanks to rookies Shakayla Thomas (Florida State) and Karlie Samuelson (Stanford). Then third-year player Betnijah Laney hit two key free throws after a LAS foul to tie the game for Connecticut, which set up Banham's buzzer-beater.

Thomas led all players with 17 points and Samuelson added 14. Jasmine Thomas scored 12 points to lead the Sun.

Tuesday, May 8

Seattle Storm 73, Phoenix Mercury 69

(Seattle, Washington / Key Arena)

Sharing is caring –- specifically in Tuesday's preseason opener for the Storm and the Mercury. Both teams had relatively balanced scoring throughout the game, but Seattle held on to beat Phoenix at home.

Three players –- Breanna Stewart, Jewell Loyd, and rookie Jordin Canada (UCLA) -– led everyone with 15 points each for the Storm. Canada also had a great game on the defensive side, finishing her WNBA debut with five steals off the bench. Former Lynx forward Natasha Howard joined the starting five in her Seattle debut and finished with six points. Sue Bird chipped in 10.

The Mercury made the game close in the second half after trailing by six at the break. Two-time WNBA champion DeWanna Bonner shined in her return to the court, leading Phoenix with 13 points in her first game since becoming a mother last season. Rookies Marie Gulich (Oregon State) and Imani Wright (Florida State) each added 10 points in the loss.

New York Liberty 81, Los Angeles Sparks 75

(Uncasville, Connecticut / Mohegan Sun Arena)

I'm just going to get the inevitable pun out of the way now: Kia Nurse saved the day for the Liberty.

Okay.

The rookie did score 19 points, leading the way in New York's win over Los Angeles. Reshanda Gray put up a double-double (11 points, 13 rebounds) while Marissa Coleman (14 pts) and Kelly Faris (10 pts) also finished in double figures.

It was another close game for the Sparks, who trailed by double digits in the first half before coming to within three at the break. Los Angeles (0-2 in the preseason) took the lead on a shot by former Chicago Sky player Cappie Pondexter before New York pulled away.

Big names Candace Parker and Odyssey Sims did not see the floor in the loss for LA, nor did Tina Charles for New York (1-1). Pondexter led the Sparks with 17 points, while Essence Carson added 14 and second-year player Sydney Wiese added 13.

Connecticut Sun 79, Dallas Wings 58

(Uncasville, Connecticut / Mohegan Sun Arena)

The Sun ended their preseason home tournament with a bang -- and a big win. Courtney Williams led everyone with 18 points in Connecticut's victory over Dallas. Jasmine Thomas chipped in 12 points. Morgan Tuck and hero of Monday's game Rachel Banham each added 10.

Second year players Ruth Hamblin and Kaela Davis led Dallas (1-1) with 12 points each, while Liz Cambage added 11 in her first game since 2016. Rookie Azura Stevens did not score after hitting 19 points in Dallas's Monday win. The Wings finished better than the Sun from three, but Connecticut (2-0) shot 75% from the free-throw line.

All 12 WNBA teams are back in action this weekend to wrap up the preseason. Your best way to watch the games is to check out WNBA League Pass, which just went live for the 2018 season. If you want to watch every game from a specific team -- subject to blackout conditions -- you'll pay $9.99, while watching every possible game only sets you back $16.99. That's not per month -– that's for the entire season. Playoffs included.

But let's talk preseason first.

Friday, May 11

  • Atlanta Dream at Connecticut Sun (Bridgeport, Connecticut / Webster Bank Arena), 7:00 PM Eastern

Saturday, May 12

  • Chinese National Team at Los Angeles Sparks (Pasadena, California / Pasadena City College), 5:00 PM Eastern
  • Indiana Fever at Washington Mystics (Newark, Delaware / Bob Carpenter Center at the University of Delaware), 7:00 PM Eastern
  • Chicago Sky at Minnesota Lynx (Minneapolis, Minnesota / Target Center), 8:00 PM Eastern
  • Seattle Storm at Phoenix Mercury (Phoenix, Arizona / Talking Stick Resort Arena), 10:00 PM Eastern

Sunday, May 13

  • Las Vegas Aces at Dallas Wings (Arlington, Texas / College Park Center), 3:00 PM Eastern
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