WNBA All-Stars Beat Olympians in Their Own Gold Medal Game

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Team WNBA Coach Lisa Leslie urged players to keep their energies high as the All-Stars group gathered and jumped up and down.

“We’re about to make history,” yelled Hall of Famer and four-time Olympic gold medalist Leslie. Then he added, “Three rebounds!” as they intervene and make their way back towards the court.

That excitement and urgency permeated the WNBA Team bench during the league’s All-Star Game in Las Vegas on Wednesday. Leslie and Tina Thompson, who are also Hall of Famers, defeated Team WNBA 93-85 to Team USA in a high-energy matchup that felt more like a regular season game than an exhibition.

Brittney Griner, the center of Phoenix Mercury and leading the US team that finished the seven-time All-Star with 17 points, said that the participants had a different mentality to this game than the All-Star Games in the past. “We are here to prepare to win gold,” he said. “It’s not typical, go, have fun, take a few shots. We are here to work.”

Unable to hold an All-Star Game in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, the WNBA has strayed from its typical format this season. In this year’s game, the US women’s basketball team, which will soon travel to Tokyo for the Olympics, faced off against 12 All-Stars selected by coaches from a pool of 36 voted by fans, players and the media. He’s not on the Olympic roster. Although Team USA faced the All-Stars in their pre-Olympics friendlies, this format was used for the first time in the All-Star Game itself and this may have led to additional intensity.

“I’ve never seen so much defense in an All-Star Game,” WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said before awarding Dallas Wings guard Arike Ogunbowale the game’s Most Valuable Player Award.

In his All-Star debut with the WNBA Team, Ogunbowale had 26 points and five three-pointers on 18 field goal 10. “Represent just 24 people,” Ogunbowale later said, referring to the jersey number of his favorite player, the late Kobe Bryant. “Rest in peace Kobe.”

Ogunbowale also wears size 24.

He said he felt “blessed” to be an All-Star. “There are so many great players in this league, and being named All-Star means we’re at the top of the league,” Ogunbowale said.

When compiling highlights from the field, Ogunbowale made sure to keep people on Twitter aware of the game’s progress every time he went to the bench.

And as exciting as his All-Star performance is the third year player’s season. He is one of the league’s top scorers with 18.9 points per game and has reached double digits in every game this season. In this month’s game against Liberty, Ogunbowale reached 1,500 career points faster than any other but two players in WNBA history.

Another All-Star who had a great season is Connecticut Sun forward Jonquel Jones, who chose the word “grateful” post-game to describe his feelings after playing his third All-Star Game.

Jones, who was the MVP favorite this season, helped the Sun break the Eastern Conference’s best 14-6 record. He is league leader in rebounds per game (11.1) and second in scoring with 21 points per game. He had 18 points and 14 rebounds double-doubles for Team WNBA on Wednesday. He also nearly won the 3-pointer in an exciting halftime showdown for Chicago Sky’s Allie Quigley, which ended with a third crown.

Jones said the goal by Wednesday is to give Team USA a game that will help players prepare for their Olympic journey, while also showing that players on the All-Star team can compete at the same level.

Before Wednesday’s game, Jones said that if Team WNBA wins, he’ll see it as his own Olympic victory – if Team USA also wins gold in Tokyo, Jones later clarified.

“I’m trying to win because this will be the closest I’ve ever been to a gold medal,” Jones said with a laugh. “So I’m trying to go out there and get the W so I can be like, ‘Yeah, my grandma got the gold back in 2021’.”

Now, Team USA, led by Hall of Famer and University of South Carolina women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley, will return to Tokyo this month as they prepare to seek their seventh consecutive Olympic gold medal.

On the 12-man Olympic roster, the league’s career-leading scorer, Mercury guard Diana Taurasi, who was out of play Wednesday due to a long-standing hip injury; career assist leader Seattle Storm guard Sue Bird; and career rebound leader Minnesota Lynx center Sylvia Fowles.

Taurasi and Bird will try to claim their fifth Olympic gold medal, which no male or female basketball player has ever achieved.

The team also includes six first-time Olympians, including Mercury guard Skylar Diggins-Smith, who would’ve made the 2016 squad if she didn’t have a knee injury.

After losing to Team WNBA on Wednesday, Diggins-Smith said the game taught the Olympians that they weren’t a team yet.

“We’ve learned that it’s never as simple as throwing out the best 12 and it just clicks. It’s never been like this,” he said. “It’s a good reminder of that. It was also a good reminder that everyone will always want to beat us. So we have to be ready for that.”

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