In an exhibition game full of records and history, the result was almost a side note. But Team (A’ja) Wilson did end up dispatching Team (Elena) Delle Donne in the 2019 WNBA All-Star Game 129-126 on Saturday afternoon.
Among the combined All-Star Game records set were the 255 total points and 69 total assists, while Team Wilson’s 21 made threes was also a record. Team Wilson’s Erica Wheeler also made a ton of history for herself, but ... we’ll get to her.
Like last year, Liz Cambage took charge early as Team Wilson jumped out to an early lead. But she wasn’t just shooting (and making) a pair of threes — she was also taking the ball down herself and assuming the point guard role.
“I’m a point guard, if you haven’t realized,” Cambage said to ESPN’s LaChina Robinson at halftime. “Just because I’m tall doesn’t mean I can’t be a point guard. You can be whatever you want to be in life.”
Cambage doubled down after the game, telling ESPN’s Holly Rowe, “Kayla McBride needs to let me live my life and run the point. And so does [Las Vegas Aces head coach] Bill [Laimbeer].”
But running the point meant being on the wrong end of some early offense from Team Delle Donne in the form of the first two of Brittney Griner’s three dunks.
Just before the first quarter ended, fans got a chance to see one of the two experimental rules: the “hockey substitution.” Team Delle Donne’s Courtney Vandersloot was subbed in for Delle Donne herself in the run of play:
Team Wilson maintained a big lead through the first three quarters — including a 77-63 halftime advantage — thanks especially to Wheeler’s 18 first-half points, all coming via the the three-pointer. Wheeler made her first five in a row from beyond the arc before converting the sixth later in the game, and then the seventh near the end.
By the fourth quarter, Team Delle Donne had clearly had enough and went on to win the period 31-24, the largest advantage since Team Wilson’s 39-23 first quarter. It still wasn’t enough, and Team Wilson sent Elena Delle Donne to an 0-for-2 record as an All-Star captain.
Wheeler — who was named MVP — led all scorers with 25 points. Team Wilson’s other top scorers included Allie Quigley and Natasha Howard’s 14 points apiece and Kayla McBride and Diamond DeShields’ 13 each. Chelsea Gray dished a game-high 10 assists.
Team Delle Donne was led by Nneka Ogwumike’s 22 points, Brittney Griner and Kristi Toliver’s 16 apiece and Kia Nurse’s 15 points. Jonquel Jones grabbed a game-high 13 rebounds for the game’s only double-double, accompanying her 13 points (a scoring mark she shared with DeWanna Bonner).
Wheeler named All-Star MVP
If you didn’t know her name before, you know it now.
How’s this for a line? Twenty-five points. Seven assists. Four rebounds. And a steal, just to mix it up.
With that output, Wheeler became the first undrafted player to win All-Star MVP honors. Her seven made three-pointers tied the All-Star Game record set by Shoni Schimmel in 2014 and matched by Kristi Toliver in 2018.
Wheeler had a message for Indiana Fever fans after the game:
And shouted out her Rutgers fans and former head coach, the legendary C. Vivian Stringer:
Married Chicago Sky teammates Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley were vocal about wanting to be on the same All-Star team. But since Vandersloot ended up on Team EDD and Quigley was drafted to Team Wilson, they ended up guarding each other instead:
During the fourth quarter, Kayla McBride was all mic’d up, speaking to ESPN’s Ryan Ruocco and Rebecca Lobo while she was playing.
Kayla McBride making buckets while being interviewed with ESPN is a treasure— kylie sparks ⚾️ (@kyliesparks) July 27, 2019
And injured captain A’ja Wilson held it down on the Twitter Sports account all game long, blessing us with content like this courtside sit-down with power couple Sue Bird and Megan Rapinoe:
DeShields wins Skills Challenge, Stricklen takes Three-Point Contest
Friday night’s festivities saw two former Lady Vols rise to the occasion in a big way.
In the first Skills Challenge since 2010, the Chicago Sky’s Diamond DeShields defeated the Connecticut Sun’s Jonquel Jones in the final to take the title. DeShields took down Odyssey Sims and Elizabeth Williams in the first rounds to reach the final, while Jones beat out Napheesa Collier and Courtney Vandersloot.
Brittney Griner might have been knocked out in the first round by Williams, but she still won over the crowd with this dunk — definitely a preparation for her All-Star Game performance:
The Three-Point Contest saw a new champion for the first time in three years as the Connecticut Sun’s Shekinna Stricklen held off the hometown Las Vegas Aces’ Kayla McBride 23-22 in the final. McBride opened the first round with another 22, while Stricklen notched a 21 and defending champion Allie Quigley threw up a 19.
Despite what ended up being a third-place finish, Quigley can still claim overall bragging rights — her 29 points in last year’s Three-Point Contest is still the record for the WNBA or NBA.
Looking forward to 2020
With no All-Star Game until 2021 due to 2020 being an Olympics year, fans can get excited for a new era of Team USA basketball in the meantime.
Announced prior to the All-Star Game, eight core players along with four rotating players will tour the country participating in camps and playing against top college teams. The initiative, which includes paying the players, is meant to keep Team USA players stateside during the WNBA offseason.
This arrangement might remind longtime fans of the 1996 Olympic team, which traveled the country in late 1995 and early 1996 to prepare for the Games. When the WNBA began in 1997, though, players began to prioritize playing overseas (and being paid there) to training with the national team. The 1996, 2000 and 2008 teams did participate in a similar college tour, though.
The United States, which has already qualified for the Olympics, will go for its seventh straight gold medal at Tokyo 2020.