WNBA Opening Weekend: Rookies Shine, Balance Thrives
- 6 min read

WNBA Opening Weekend: Rookies Shine, Balance Thrives

WNBA Opening Weekend: Rookies Shine, Balance Thrives by Caissa Casarez

(Photo courtesy of @WSlam on Twitter)

The WNBA is officially back – and what an opening weekend it was! All 12 teams saw action for the first time in 2019, and while not every game was close according to the scoreboard, it sure felt that way. Whether they won or lost, a majority of the squads finished their opening games with balanced scoring and playing time across their respective rosters. Also, this year's rookie class certainly made their mark in their first games in the pros. Here's my look back at the weekend that was by the numbers.

10: The minimum number of minutes played by each Atlanta Dream player in their win over Dallas.

The Atlanta Dream hosted the Dallas Wings in the opening game of the 2019 WNBA season, which turned out to be a close contest from start to finish. This caused reigning WNBA Coach of the Year Nicki Collen to give her Dream starters some rest throughout the game. The move helped Atlanta win the game, as it beat Dallas 29-17 in the fourth quarter after the Wings led 55-47 going into the final frame. Starters Renee Montgomery (26:14), Brittney Sykes (24:42), and Jessica Breland (25:28) helped the Dream secure the win in the final minutes of the game. Reserve Marie Gulich (10:22) assisted as well, as she scored all six of her points in the last quarter. Breland led everyone in scoring with 17 points; Allisha Gray led the Wings with 14 points off the bench. Rookie Arike Ogunbowale topped the Wings starters in her first game, scoring 12 points.

00:00.5: The time left on the clock when Indiana Fever rookie Teaira McCowan scored the game-winning shot.

The two worst teams in the WNBA last season looked like anything but that on opening night (May 24). In their first home game under a new owner, the New York Liberty kept the game close throughout, winning the first quarter by three before trailing by six at the half. It looked like the Liberty were set to break their 13-game losing streak (dating back to last season) after they won the third quarter by 10 points, but that was before Indiana's Candice Dupree and Teaira McCowan stepped in. After New York phenom Tina Charles hit two free throws to put her team up by one with seven seconds to go, the duo teamed up for what turned out to be an epic buzzer beater. The response from both teams  and others across the league can be best summed up from fellow writer Erica Ayala:


65 and 72: The number of points scored by Phoenix's and Seattle's starters, respectively, in their semifinals rematch.

The Seattle Storm hosted the Phoenix Mercury in a nationally-broadcast game that promised to be epic. But even without big names like Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird, and Breanna Stewart, it was still a fun contest that was neck and neck the whole way through despite a nine-point second quarter from the visitors. In the end, the Storm began their title defense with a 77-68 win. The starters from both teams played a lot and scored the vast majority of their respective squads' points. For Phoenix, DeWanna Bonner (37:08) and Brittney Griner (36:45) led the way with 31 and 18 points, while Natasha Howard (21 pts, 36:23) led a more balanced scoring system for Seattle. Only Mercury rookie Alanna Smith (3 points), Storm newbie Shavonte Zellous (2 points), and returner Sami Whitcomb (3 points) scored off the bench. While the efficiency both teams received from their starters is good, it could be a concern down the road, so I hope the reserves get more playing time as the season goes on.

14: The number of points scored by Washington Mystics' Emma Meesseman in her first WNBA game since 2017.

As is tradition, the WNBA general managers took part in the annual WNBA.com GM Survey where, among other things, they picked Washington forward Emma Meesseman as the international player most likely to have a breakout season. She's already on her way to do just that based on her first game in the WNBA since 2017 after missing last year due to her commitments with the Belgian National Team. Meesseman led the Mystics with 14 points and 33:24 of playing time in her team's 84-69 loss to Connecticut. The Mystics played their opener without three players, including All-Star Elena Delle Donne (knee). They also lost Kristi Toliver (quad) during the game, but she is listed as day to day. Despite the defeat and the uncertainty that may come depending on the aforementioned injuries, Meesseman's return can only be a good thing for a Washington squad looking to return to the WNBA Finals after the franchise's first appearance last season.

27: The number of points scored by Minnesota Lynx rookie Napheesa Collier in their win over Chicago.

Even though Oregon star Sabrina Ionescu decided to return to school for her senior year, the WNBA Draft class of 2019 only got stronger when Jackie Young decided to leave Notre Dame early and declare for the draft. She ended up being chosen first by the Las Vegas Aces (more on her later), which shuffled the graduating seniors down a bit. After the opening weekend, perhaps no one is happier about that than Cheryl Reeve and the Minnesota Lynx. She chose former UConn star Napheesa Collier with the sixth overall pick, who easily had the best performance of all rookies over the weekend. Collier's 27 points was the most scored by a rookie in her opening game in franchise history, and second only to someone named Candace Parker. Collier received the start after Minnesota newbie Karima Christmas-Kelly was ruled out for the opener against the Chicago Sky (May 25). Chicago made it a close game at first, winning the opening quarter, but the Sky and former Minnesota assistant James Wade were no match for Collier and the Lynx, who easily won 89-71. The rookie is off to a great start in Minneapolis. As Lynx teammate Sylvia Fowles put it after the game, "Oh my heavens."

The Los Angeles Sparks are facing backlash from some in the WNBA fandom after re-signing guard Riquna Williams during training camp. That's because Williams was arrested weeks beforehand on April 29 for allegedly assaulting her former partner last year. She was released one day later after posting bond. According to a report from the Associated Press, both Williams and Sparks head coach Derek Fisher say they're looking past the allegations and the upcoming court date, which coincides with a Sparks game in Connecticut.

Williams scored four points and played 17:32 off the bench in Los Angeles' opening loss at Las Vegas, but considering the charges against her, I don't think she should be playing at all.  According to High Post Hoops, the WNBA is still continuing to investigate the incident that happened nearly six months ago. For what it’s worth, the league did suspend both Glory Johnson and Brittney Griner for seven games each in 2015 after the then-couple was involved in a domestic violence incident of their own. Anything less than that for Williams would not look good for a league that promotes itself to be inclusive and welcoming.

In week 2, the Las Vegas Aces look to continue their dominance (and possibly welcome Liz Cambage to the court) after their 13-point win over the Sparks. The rest of the schedule is below.

Tuesday, May 28

  • Indiana Fever (1-0) at Connecticut Sun (1-0) – 7:00 PM Eastern [CBS Sports Network]

Wednesday, May 29

  • Seattle Storm (1-0) at Minnesota Lynx (1-0) – 8:00 PM Eastern [CBS Sports Network]

Friday, May 31

  • Seattle Storm at Atlanta Dream (1-0) – 7:30 PM Eastern [CBS Sports Network]
  • Las Vegas Aces (1-0) at Phoenix Mercury (0-1) – 10:00 PM Eastern [ESPN2]
  • Connecticut Sun (1-0) at Los Angeles Sparks (0-1): 10:30 PM Eastern [ESPN3]

Saturday, June 1

  • New York Liberty (0-1) at Indiana Fever – 7:00 PM Eastern
  • Atlanta Dream at Washington Mystics (0-1)– 7:00 PM Eastern
  • Seattle Storm at Chicago Sky (0-1) – 8:00 PM Eastern
  • Minnesota Lynx at Dallas Wings (0-1) – 8:00 PM Eastern

Sunday, June 2

  • Connecticut Sun at Las Vegas Aces – 6:00 PM Eastern