It was a packed night in Phoenix Sunday, as 12,163 fans filled Footprint Center as the Phoenix Mercury (9-25) faced a win-or-go-home scenario for their postseason livelihood. Fortunately for the Dallas Wings, Arike Ogunbowale had other plans as she led her team to victory, 77-74.
For the first time since 2012, the WNBA playoffs will be without the Mercury as the longest active streak of postseason appearances has come to a screeching halt.
Mercury star Brittney Griner was back in action after missing the last three games due to health and safety protocols. Diana Taurasi was inactive for the second straight game nursing a toe injury. As expected given the circumstances, Phoenix treated this outing like a playoff game since the first whistle.
Ogunbowale led all scorers with 29 points on 8-of-22 shooting, in search of the team’s third consecutive playoff appearance. Her 29 points were the 19th time this season she has recorded 20 or more points, ranking fourth in the league.
Despite a rough showing on the offensive end going 4-for-14, Natasha Howard finished with 11 points, eight rebounds, three assists, and a block. When facing an off-night, Howard always manages to leave a lasting impact on her team’s performance. Sunday night was no different.
Down 12 with less than 30 seconds left in the first half, a crucial hook shot from Kalani Brown ended a 6-0 Mercury run. Ogunbowale assisted or scored on two of three possessions to bring the deficit to single digits before heading to the locker room.
After a rough start in the first half that saw center Teaira McCowan go scoreless on 0-for-6 shooting, she responded with a strong third quarter, scoring seven points on a perfect 3-for-3 from the field. Dealing with foul trouble for most of the game, McCowan played just two minutes of the final frame. This is where Wings head coach Latricia Trammell inserted Brown once again.
Totaling 12 points on 80 percent shooting (4-for-5), Brown provided the spark that she spoke of recently in a fashion that was desperately needed.
Brown’s ability to put the ball on the floor and drive to the cup as a 6’7 center is a skill that most traditional post players don’t have. This presents a matchup nightmare whenever she takes the court just as she did here down the stretch.
After calling for the ball and receiving it, she faked a pass to get Griner in the air and went straight to the rim. With the 6’9 Griner out of the paint, Brown will take this shot against opposing defenses every time.
Even if she doesn’t score, after going 4-for-4 from the line, Brown connected on all 21 of her free throws in the last six games. Recently, she said she takes pride in her jumper and free throw opportunities due to the stigma applied to post players and their inability to consistently make both. Clearly, this is no issue for her going back to her days as a Baylor Lady Bear.
“I’m going to give a shoutout to Kalani Brown,” Trammell said. “I thought she did a great job going 4-for-5 from the field, 4-for-4 from the free throw line, three crucial offensive rebounds.”
Trammell continued praising Brown’s efforts, including this nifty coast-to-coast shuffle to the basket.
With just five games remaining in the regular season, the Wings take on the Indiana Fever (11-24) in Indianapolis on Friday. Satou Sabally missed her second consecutive game with an ankle injury and with a few days before their next contest as she’s in day-to-day status, having her healthy for a grueling playoff run is of utmost importance.