- M.A. Voepel covers the WNBA, women’s college basketball, and other college sports for espnW. Voepel began covering women’s basketball in 1984, and has been with ESPN since 1996.
There’s about a month left of the 2023 WNBA regular season. But the way some tempers were flaring Sunday, maybe everyone needs to take a timeout and count to 10? Because it’s going to get more intense the rest of the way.
The game of the week, the Las Vegas Aces at the New York Liberty, fizzled out in the second half Sunday as the Liberty ran away with a 99-61 victory. Enough to drop the Aces from the top spot in ESPN’s WNBA Power Rankings for the first time this season? Not quite, but the thought crossed our mind.
It’s just the third loss of the season for the defending champions, who in the second half looked like an imposter. Aces star A’ja Wilson took a blow to the face from Jonquel Jones’ elbow in the second quarter. And while Wilson said after the game she was OK, it’s likely that play had something to do with her highly uncharacteristic 2-of-14 shooting.
The Liberty looked as good as the Aces looked bad in the second half, although New York coach Sandy Brondello and players stressed it was just one game and they have three more this month vs. Las Vegas. Still, it was a big statement for the Liberty, and a boost for the upcoming Commissioner’s Cup final between the teams on Aug. 15 in Las Vegas.
While many eyes were on the Liberty-Aces, there were altercations and ejections in two of the other three games Sunday.
In the Dallas Wings’ loss to the Chicago Sky, Wings star Arike Ogunbowale was ejected after she was fouled hard and her momentum carried her toward an official, who appeared to also walk right into her. Ogunbowale seemed to have a legitimate explanation for what happened, but her remarks afterward — “That was the worst call I have ever seen in my life” — could get her into some hot water with the league.
The Sky-Wings game also saw a dustup between Wings guard Odyssey Sims and Sky guard Dana Evans that resulted in technical fouls and then carried over to social media, where they traded jabs. Chicago’s Ruthy Hebard left the bench during the Evans-Sims skirmish and was ejected, too. And the officials called 54 fouls, the most in any WNBA game this season.
There were two more ejections in the Los Angeles Sparks’ victory over the Washington Mystics, as the Sparks’ Layshia Clarendon and the Mystics’ Brittney Sykes got into it. Sykes stepped in late to try to stop Clarendon’s drive to the basket, then grabbed her around the waist, pulling her down. Sykes was upset that Clarendon appeared to grab onto her, too, but that came after the initial contact. Regardless, both were tossed.
So, let’s all take some deep breaths, try not to get too riled up by social media, and head into the second week of August.
1. Las Vegas Aces
Previous ranking: 1
This week: at Dallas (Tuesday), vs. Washington (Friday), vs. Atlanta (Sunday)
For the Liberty and most viewers, Sunday’s game was more about how well New York played. Understandably for the Aces, it was more about their poor second half. This was a game in which Las Vegas missed injured Candace Parker, especially on the boards. But Las Vegas has built up a cushion, so it remains No. 1 in the rankings. Next up, though, is a matchup with the Wings, one of the other teams that have defeated Las Vegas this season and can challenge the Aces with their size.
2. New York Liberty
Previous ranking: 2
This week: vs. Chicago (Friday), at Indiana (Sunday)
Almost everything the Liberty talked about going into Sunday’s game — the need to rebound really well, cut down on turnovers, hit 3-pointers and feed off the crowd’s energy at Barclays Center — they did. The Liberty have won four in a row and showed that the gap between them and the Aces has narrowed. Sabrina Ionescu totaled 60 points in the Liberty’s three victories last week, as New York edged as close to No. 1 in the Power Rankings as it has come all season.
3. Connecticut Sun
Previous ranking: 3
This week: at Seattle (Tuesday), at Phoenix (Thursday), at Dallas (Sunday)
The Sun are holding firm in third, as the league’s top three have clearly separated from the rest of the teams. Connecticut bounced back from a loss to Minnesota on July 30 by winning twice last week, with Alyssa Thomas getting her fifth triple-double of the season and continuing to make the MVP a three-way race with Wilson and New York’s Breanna Stewart. This week could be a bit of a test as the Sun play three in a row on the road.
4. Atlanta Dream
Previous ranking: 5
This week: at Seattle (Thursday), at Los Angeles (Saturday), at Las Vegas (Sunday)
After a loss at Las Vegas on Tuesday, the Dream had the bad timing of being in Phoenix the night the Mercury’s Diana Taurasi was poised to top the 10,000-point mark. Taurasi did it with 42 points as Atlanta just couldn’t stop her in a 20-point loss. So why did the Dream move up a spot in the Power Rankings? They ended the week beating Indiana (in a game in which nobody got ejected) and that was enough to leapfrog Dallas, for now. Like the Sun, the Dream have three in a row on the road this week, all in Pacific Time.
5. Dallas Wings
Previous ranking: 4
This week: vs. Las Vegas (Tuesday), vs. Connecticut (Saturday)
Dallas opened last week with a win at Seattle but then lost two frustrating games at home to Chicago, giving up 104 points in each one. The Wings’ defense let them down, and that is going to be an issue if they hope to finish in the top four. Natasha Howard’s triple-double on Friday was one other bright spot.
6. Minnesota Lynx
Previous ranking: 6
This week: at Chicago (Tuesday) at Indiana (Thursday)
After a strong previous week, last week was a little bit of a letdown for the Lynx with losses to Connecticut and New York. Still, considering the caliber of those two teams, the Lynx should go into this week with confidence that they can get back to a .500 record if they play well. Minnesota star Napheesa Collier returned to action Friday with 18 points after missing three games with an ankle injury.
7. Chicago Sky
Previous ranking: 9
This week: vs. Minnesota (Tuesday), at New York (Friday), at Washington (Sunday)
Chicago is an especially hard team to predict. The Sky at one point this season went as low as 11th in the Power Rankings. Now, they are as high in the rankings as they’ve been since June 12, when they were sixth. After a stretch during which they lost six of seven, they’ve now won three in a row. Marina Mabrey got the best of her former team, Dallas, as the Sky completed a season sweep of the Wings this past week with two wins in Texas. Mabrey totaled 71 points in the three victories this season over Dallas.
8. Washington Mystics
Previous ranking: 7
This week: at Phoenix (Tuesday), at Las Vegas (Friday), vs. Chicago (Sunday)
It was a frustrating weekend for the Mystics, splitting at home with the Sparks, which might have contributed to Sykes’ “tackle” of Clarendon near the end of Sunday’s loss. But if Washington can remain in a playoff spot while Elena Delle Donne, Ariel Atkins and Shakira Austin remain out with injuries, that’s big.
9. Los Angeles Sparks
Previous ranking: 8
This week: at Indiana (Tuesday), vs. Atlanta (Saturday)
The Sparks salvaged their week by beating the Mystics on Sunday after losing to Washington and New York a few days earlier. The Sparks are in that spot that at least one WNBA team finds itself in every season: one foot in the playoff picture and one in the draft lottery. Nneka Ogwumike, whose strong season continues, is doing all she can to make the postseason the Sparks’ destination.
10. Seattle Storm
Previous ranking: 10
This week: vs. Connecticut (Tuesday), vs. Atlanta (Thursday), vs. Phoenix (Sunday)
No matter the Storm’s record or place in the standings, it’s been a phenomenal year for Jewell Loyd. After a franchise-record 10 consecutive losses, Seattle has now won three of its past four. Loyd, the league’s leading scorer (24.9 PPG), had a combined 63 points in the Storm’s two victories last week. She has proven herself as difficult to guard as anyone else in the league, and she exhausts defenders.
11. Phoenix Mercury
Previous ranking: 11
This week: vs. Washington (Tuesday), vs. Connecticut (Thursday) at Seattle (Sunday)
The Mercury’s past two years have had so many ups and downs, it’s hard to keep track. Last week was no different. Taurasi reaching the 10,000-point milestone Thursday with a 42-point game at age 41 was epic. Yet earlier that day, Skylar Diggins-Smith criticized the Mercury for not allowing her to use their practice facility while she’s on maternity leave. Saturday, Brittney Griner returned after a three-game break for mental health and played well, but the Mercury lost at home to Seattle.
12. Indiana Fever
Previous ranking: 12
This week: vs. Los Angeles (Tuesday), vs. Minnesota (Thursday), vs. New York (Sunday)
Indiana had cause for celebration last Tuesday, beating Phoenix for the Fever’s first win at home since June 13. Now, the Fever might be able to have a strong finish to the season with nine of their remaining 12 games in Indianapolis. Rookie Aliyah Boston tied her season high with 25 points Sunday against Atlanta.
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