The 2017 WNBA preseason began Saturday with a physical Texas showdown that showcased two of the most anticipated teams in the league.
In the end, No. 1 pick Kelsey Plum led San Antonio over Dallas, 87-81, in a game that showcased first-round rookies: Nia Coffey added 17 for the Stars and Allisha Gray led the Wings with 15, while Kaela Davis put up 13.
Both teams are looking to bounce back this season after finishing in the bottom of the standings in 2016, and if their first outing was any indication, they are on their way.
Plum looked comfortable in her role as floor general for the game with zero turnovers.
“I was super-excited to just get out there and finally put the uniform on,” she said. “I actually took a minute when I saw my name on the back of the jersey. It’s just a moment you have been waiting on for a long time.”
“Getting through training camp, playing our first game, getting our feet wet was nice, and of course the icing on the cake with the dub (win).”
The Stars were out-rebounded by the visitors, 28-39, but shot 44 percent in a match up that featured six lead changes and seven ties. Dearica Hamby, who gave birth to a daughter in February, scored 11 for San Antonio. First-year head coach Vickie Johnson had some rookie jitters of her own.
“I was a little nervous, but once we started I was okay,” Johnson said. “The team only had six days in in training camp; I think overall we played well as a team.”
Gray said that the women are stronger and a lot more physical in the WNBA than they are in college, but that she strong too and is finally feeling healthy after tweaking her hamstring in the elite eight of the NCAA tournament.
“I felt well, but I still have a lot of adjusting to do,” Gray said. “You have to push through some stuff because some of the foul calls you get in college you don’t get in the WNBA.”
The Wings had 21 turnovers that resulted in 27 points for the Stars. But they were tied with the hosts for points in the paint and led in second chance and fast break points, which kept them competitive. Dallas coach Fred Williams said he learned his team is relentless, but the teams has to work on timing and finishing open looks.
“I felt the younger players were nervous but fought hard out there,” Williams said. “It was a good contest for both teams, one of those games that could go either way.”
One surprise for the Wings was Kayla Thornton. In just under 17 minutes of play she scored 11 points and tied the team high in rebounds with six.
Veteran San Antonio forward Monique Currie said the new found focus of the team starts with Johnson.
“She comes in with a lot of intensity, and I think that it’s translated to the rest of us,” Currie said. “The young ones have done a great job, Plum, Coffey, they both adapted really well with everyone else.”
The game came after only six days in training camp for both teams. Former South Carolina Gamecock Davis attributes her quick transition to her former coach, Dawn Staley, who retired from the WNBA 11 years ago.
“It seems like a lot of the things we’re doing, I’ve seen them before one way or another when I was at South Carolina,” Davis said. “We also have a great group of vets who are very willing to help and break things down so that we can better understand them. So it’s been a group effort to say the least.”
One of those veterans is Karima Christmas-Kelly, who said that she has advised the rookies to go with their instinct.
“Also, if you are given information, try to retain it and not let it be something that is said to you over and over again. Growth is key throughout training camp,” she said. There’s a lot of good energy and players working hard to get better every day.”
The Wings are still missing Glory Johnson and Courtney Paris due to overseas play, but both are expected to return next week. Aerial Powers had hip surgery over the winter, and there is no time table for her return. So the Wings are tasked with filling those holes, as well as building chemistry with an influx of new and fresh faces.
Williams said that there is no special formula to building team cohesion in such a short amount of time before the first game of the season.
“Little personal things help off the floor, like remembering birthdays, going to dinner and communicating,” Williams said. “All players buy in and play as a team.”
Dallas hosts the Indiana Fever May 6 in their final preseason game before they open regular season play on the road against the Phoenix Mercury.
*This story was originally featured on womenshoopsworld.com. April 29th*
I am currently in Houston training for a new job. I decided to take a day trip to San Antonio to cover this game. It was the best way to spend my Saturday.