Doesn’t get significantly better in WNBA: Stewart vs. Wilson


LAS VEGAS – This goes to be enjoyable.

Breanna Stewart vs. A’ja Wilson.

The WNBA semifinals pairing between the No. 4 seed Storm and No. 1 seed Las Vegas, which begins at 1 p.m. Sunday at Michelob Ultra Arena on ESPN, pits the highest two ladies’s basketball gamers on this planet in opposition to one another in a best-of-five collection that might irrevocably change the league.

“It’s good to have rivalries,” guard Jewell Loyd stated. “It’s good to have that draw that gets people talking. You think about the great basketball battles like Larry Bird and Magic and what that did for the NBA. It’s good to have that kind of rivalry in the W because I feel like we don’t always have that.

“We don’t have that one-on-one matchup going into games where people are looking it up and being interested in it. I think it’s great. Those are two [of the] greatest players right now in our game internationally and nationally. Having them face off in the semifinals is good for our game. It’s the first time in a very long time we’ve had two young players this dominant – the two faces of women’s basketball – we don’t have that enough.”

This is pretty much as good because it will get.

The 28-year-old Stewart and Wilson, 26, are on the top of their powers. They’re former WNBA MVPs – Stewart received it in 2018 and Wilson in 2019 – who’re virtually assured to complete first and second within the race for the coveted award when the winner is introduced within the subsequent few days.

Stewart led the league in scoring with 21.8 factors per sport whereas averaging 7.6 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 0.9 blocks and 1.6 steals. Meanwhile, Wilson averaged 19.5 factors, 9.4 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.9 blocks and 1.4 steals.

And they’re poised to be the face of the WNBA for the subsequent decade.

“That’s what makes it so unique,” guard Sue Bird stated. “Here you have two young great players at the same position meeting in the playoffs. Very rarely does that happen.”

The 41-year-old Bird, who entered the league in 2002, is Seattle’s resident historian on all issues associated to the 26-year-old WNBA.

Bird likens the Stewie-A’ja matchup to the heated rivalry between former Storm star Lauren Jackson and former Los Angeles Sparks nice Lisa Leslie.

“That got established in the 2000 Olympics with the ponytail thing and the Australia vs. USA thing,” Bird stated. “Lauren was super young. Lisa, even though she was older than Lauren, was still very much in her prime. When they met in the WNBA for the next however many years, there was heat to the game. You could feel it.

“That’s when our fans had the ‘Beat LA’ chants going. … But just those two, they gave the game a lot more juice and more emotion.”

There was palpable animosity between Jackson and Leslie, which doesn’t exist within the Stewart-Wilson rivalry partially as a result of they’ve teamed collectively on the USA Basketball staff that received the 2020 Olympic gold medal.

“Nah, it’s not like that with us,” Wilson stated smiling. “We compete at a very high level not because it’s a rivalry, but because we’re professional athletes and we love the game. There’s no hate or anything like that. It’s all love.

“But we go at it. Stewie and I bring something different to the table. That’s the beautiful thing about it is you’re getting a new look in every single matchup because we bring the best out of each other. I don’t think the league has seen any two players like us at our position doing what we’re doing. We’re growing the game and having fun doing it.”

In 14 head-to-matchups, they’re tied with a 7-7 report. Although Stewart is 3-0 within the postseason, together with a collection sweep within the 2020 WNBA Finals.

“I’ve looked past that as something I can’t take back,” Wilson stated. “It’s still brewing in my heart to get swept in the bubble, but when it comes to that matchup I can’t harp on that because I would never succeed and get far if I’m still looking in the past. It’s a fresh new start.”

In the previous two seasons, Wilson has dominated the matchup with a 5-2 report, together with 3-1 this yr. However, she believes the previous is prologue and can have no bearing on this upcoming collection.

“That’s gone,” Wilson stated. “It was cute while it lasted, but it’s a new season now.”

That wouldn’t be the more severe idea for the Storm, which has struggled to maintain tempo with a high-octane Las Vegas offense that led the WNBA with 90.4 factors per sport through the common season.

Seattle might want to curtail a deadly assault that options high-scoring guards in Kelsey Plum (22.0 ppg. within the postseason), Chelsea Gray (22.0) and Jackie Gray (15.5).

“For me, it starts with A’ja because she’s in the middle of so much of what they want to do,” Stewart stated. “Matching up against her is really difficult. It’s the same as if someone had to matchup against me. Having players that can do multiple things and you’re trying to take away all of them, it’s frustrating and nearly impossible because you have to give her something.”

Stewart is especially impressed with Wilson’s newfound perimeter assault. In her first 4 years, Wilson tried simply two three-pointers.

However, this season Wilson has linked on 31 of 83 makes an attempt behind the arc (37.4%).

“Every year I look to how can I improve and how can I become unguardable,” Wilson stated. “This season is the year of the 3. I wanted to expand and add another dimension to my game where teams are like we got to scout this too. … It was key for me to add that to my game. I’ve always had it, but it was just a matter of [new Las Vegas coach Becky Hammon] bringing in a system that’s open and I have an opportunity to shoot from outside.”

Coaches are detest to focus an excessive amount of on a specific one-on-one matchup, however Noelle Quinn understands a Stewart-Wilson pairing is a possible TV scores bonanza.

“It provides an extra layer of fan engagement,” the Storm coach stated. “I know those two are popular in the sports world so other athletes engage in our game. … You want to make it team-oriented, but these are the two best players playing at the top of their game and as a league you want to highlight that and showcase that.”

But that doesn’t imply, Quinn plans to isolate Stewart on Wilson all through the collection.

“We’ll do what’s in the best interest of the team whether that’s double teams or cross matches,” she stated. “Winning games comes first and foremost.”

Hammon, a six-time WNBA All-Star who performed 16 years within the league, stated it’s seemingly the superstars negate one another, and the collection can be determined by position gamers.

“At the end of the day, more than likely both get their 20 (points) so it’s going to be those other pieces and those wild cards,” Hammon stated. “Somebody is going to step up on any given night. Someone that you didn’t expect. A lot of times it’s those role players that come in and end up making a big impact on the game. Jewell can really score. Kelsey can score. Jackie can score. Chelsea has been playing out of her mind.”

Bird added: “Look, there’s a ton of strategy happening with both sides. But the fact of the matter is this, Stewie and A’ja are going to attract a lot of attention. They’re the two players that when they’re playing well, their teams do well.

They’re the players that I’m sure is getting talked about the most in the other team’s locker room in terms of how do we want to stop them, what we want to do and what we want to give up. In big games, you need your superstars to show up and they understand that.”

Whatever occurs over the subsequent week or so, it seemingly received’t be the final time Stewart and Wilson face off within the postseason.

“We have long careers left in this league,” Stewart stated. “We’re just getting started.”


— Storm ahead Gabby Williams, who’s within the WNBA concussion protocols, didn’t journey to Las Vegas and can miss Game 1. She was injured Aug. 21 after receiving an inadvertent blow to her head. Quinn didn’t rule Williams out for Game 2 on Wednesday. Stephanie Talbot is predicted to make her second begin this season.


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