After a shortened week of play, all eyes turned to Las Vegas for the WNBA All-Star Game festivities. Many in and out of the host Aces organization had been looking forward to the weekend since Vegas got the bid last July, and they certainly did not disappoint.
Fans from around the country came to Vegas for the weekend to enjoy several events separate from the star-studded game (but more on that later). The Aces organization and the WNBA did a great job planning a full weekend of activities, beginning with the WNBA Fan Fest on Friday. The league also brought back a Skills Challenge and paired it with the now-annual Three-Point Contest on the night before the All-Star Game instead of at halftime. And fans showed up to say the least:
Rocky Top(s) The Competition
The Skills Challenge and the Three-Point Contest were both broadcast on ESPN (the first one) as part of WNBA All-Star Friday Night. Whether fans were inside the Mandalay Bay Events Center or watching from afar, they were treated to some great action in both events.
As I mentioned in my All-Star preview last week, the Skills Challenge consisted of an obstacle course that tested players' skills in several areas, including passing and three-point shooting, in a bracket-style contest that did not disappoint. Chicago's Diamond DeShields beat the seven other people in the competition, including sole rookie Napheesa Collier from Minnesota, to win it all.
The Three-Point Contest afterward was also competitive from start to finish. Two-time defending champion Allie Quigley put up a good fight in the opening rounds of the six-person competition, but she did not make it to the final round of play. That honor instead went to Las Vegas's Kayla McBride and Connecticut's Shekinna Stricklen. While many in the crowd wanted their hometown player to win especially after making it to the epic finals last year, Stricklen took the title... and had the best reaction to show for it.
A fun fact that many noticed after the contests ended: both Stricklen and DeShields played college basketball at Tennessee.
Both contests being broadcast on television allowed a bigger audience to enjoy the events. It also allowed some WNBA coaches and staff to enjoy their players in action from afar while getting some well-deserved rest of their own. That included Indiana Fever Vice President of Basketball Operations Tamika Catchings, who showed support for All-Star Erica Wheeler in the three-point contest (much more on her later). Connecticut Sun head coach Curt Miller also posted his congratulations for Stricklen.
Minnesota Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve also showed her support in a different way for her players in the Skills Challenge – and for one who she feels should have been in the Three-Point Contest. Same, to be honest, but it looks like Lexie Brown enjoyed her time off anyway, which is the most important thing.
People in Vegas enjoyed a beach party and a concert with Snoop Dogg, Iggy Azalea, and DJ Liz Cambage after the contests ended Friday night. After a quick turnaround and another day of Fan Fest activities, it was game time!
Before the game, it was announced that Chicago's Allie Quigley would take over A'ja Wilson's spot in the starting lineup for Team Wilson, which understandably made Quigley's wife Courtney Vandersloot very happy. Many others were happy, too, including myself. Quigley has had a quiet but great season for the Sky thus far, so I thought the move was well-deserved. She made the most out of her opportunity, scoring 14 points in the game. And, well, as she said after the game, she showed her wife who's boss.
Both married couples in the WNBA played on different teams in the All-Star Game. Phoenix's DeWanna Bonner finished with more points in the contest, scoring 13 for Team Delle Donne. Bonner's wife, Indiana's Candice Dupree, had eight points off the bench for Team Wilson.
In a more-than-just-a-game moment, captain Elena Delle Donne got to surprise a Make-a-Wish kid during the contest.
Undrafted to MVP
I've mentioned balanced scoring several times in my recaps this season. I know an unofficial point of the All-Star Game is to score as much as possible, and that definitely happened during this 16th installment of the game. Every single person who saw the court on Saturday scored, whether they played for seven minutes (Napheesa Collier, 4 points) or 24 (Kayla McBride, 13 points). In fact, so much scoring happened during the contest that it broke an All-Star Game record.
But no one scored more – or made the most out of their All-Star opportunity – than Indiana's Erica Wheeler. She scored 25 points off the bench in just under 19 minutes of play to lead everyone in Team Wilson's 129-126 win over Team Delle Donne. Wheeler was named the game MVP in a post-game ceremony filled with emotions and pride.
Support flowed in for Wheeler from all parts of the community after the game.
The MVP honor capped off a great All-Star Weekend for Wheeler, who became the first undrafted player to win the award and only the fifth undrafted player to take part in the All-Star Game. She came up from a tough childhood in Miami to play college basketball at Rutgers. During her collegiate career, she lost her mother to cancer, but she didn't stop playing basketball. Wheeler went overseas after going undrafted in 2013; it took two years for her to get an invitation to a WNBA training camp. She's had a stellar season for the Fever so far; her 12.3 points per game and 26.2 minutes played per game both are good for second on the team.
Even when things got tough in the All-Star Game, she followed her longtime mantra that’s gotten her through many other challenges: "Don't ever let yourself quit." As the Indiana Fever reported, Wheeler missed her first four three-pointers in the second half (after a Teyana Taylor performance), but then got hot at the right time to secure her team's win – and the MVP honor.
"My mom was my everything," she said after the game."She is me, I am her. She did everything for everyone around her. That's what I try to do. I play sports because she encouraged me. She motivated me. And I still play the game for her. I know she is watching and smiling."
I'll end this recap with a story from a player not at the All-Star Game this weekend, but I don't think she minded much. Washington's Natasha Cloud used the weekend off to propose to her partner, Chicago Bandits pitcher Aleshia Ocasio. For the record, she said yes.
Why is this news? I'll let my Victory Press colleague Melissa Burgess explain.
I'll be back with regular recaps next week. Many teams are back in action; the Sun, Aces, and Mystics all registered wins yesterday.
(Photo credit: @TheUndefeated / Twitter)