The latest major sports event to land in the Twin Cities, the WNBA All-Star Game, tips off Saturday afternoon at the renovated Target Center. All-Star Weekend arrives with much less fanfare and obnoxious corporate excess than the Super Bowl — that’s good — but with precious little for fans to do besides attend the game, which is unfortunate.
The lack of initiative by the league and the normally savvy host Lynx disappointed local women’s basketball fans, who expected more to showcase their sport. There is no fan festival, and no organized fan gathering the day before or day of that we’re aware of. Friday afternoon’s practices are only open to those with tickets to the game, though the league planned to live-stream them. See if this makes sense: You can watch practice on a laptop at the Starbucks across First Avenue from the Target Center, but can’t see it in person without a ticket. Dumb.
Lynx business operations director Carley Knox told Mechelle Voepel of espnW the club lacked the money to put on a huge weekend blowout. Plus, since it’s league-run event, the host team can’t do much without approval of the New York office. The league chose to offer the same limited activities as last year in Seattle.
Without buying a ticket — and there appeared to be a few hundred left Thursday morning, some as cheap as $20 plus tax and fees — the only scheduled public access to players was a so-called “orange carpet” walk late Friday afternoon to a private reception at the Target Center. (Orange is the primary color in the WNBA logo.) Players put on private youth clinics Thursday and Friday.
The game is fourth major championship to come to Minneapolis/St. Paul this year, following the Super Bowl and the NCAA men’s and women’s hockey Frozen Fours. NCAA Final Fours in volleyball (December) and men’s basketball (April 2019) follow. Target Center officials need a sellout of 19,356, or close to it, to enhance a bid for an NCAA women’s basketball Final Four. Columbus, the most recent Final Four host, attracted sellout crowds for both days at Nationwide Arena, totaling 39,123. The earliest available Final Four date is 2021.
The WNBA copied this year’s game format from the NBA, naming top vote-getters Maya Moore of the Lynx and Washington’s Elena Delle Donne as captains and letting them pick the teams. (Moore turned it down; Candace Parker of L.A. replaced her.) Four Lynx players — Moore, Sylvia Fowles, Seimone Augustus and injury substitute Rebekkah Brunson — were split between the two squads, but some of the most intriguing participants don’t play for the home team. Whether you’re watching in person or on television (2:30 pm CT, ABC), here are five to keep your eye on.
BREANNA STEWART, Team Delle Donne: The UConn grad known as “Stewie” arrives as the regular-season Most Valuable Player front-runner for the Seattle Storm, who own the league’s best record at 19-7. Stewart leads WNBA in scoring at 22.8 points per game, ranks fifth in rebounding (8.2) and makes 37.1% of her 3-point attempts.
DIANA TAURASI, Team Delle Donne: The ever-feisty Taurasi, another UConn product, cut her EuroLeague winter season short and returned to Phoenix as dynamic as ever, averaging 20.3 points and 4.8 assists for resurgent Mercury while hitting nearly 40 percent of her 3-pointers. ABC plans to mic up certain players, and one of them better be Taurasi, an All-World trash talker who just served a league-mandated one-game suspension for racking up her seventh technical foul. Too bad Taurasi and Augustus are teammates; their back-and-forth as opponents is usually priceless.
A’JA WILSON, Team Delle Donne: Last season’s consensus NCAA Player of the Year from South Carolina and the overall No. 1 pick in the draft, Wilson, a 6-4 power forward for Las Vegas, is the only rookie on either roster. The league hasn’t had a rookie this productive since Wilson’s idol Parker debuted in 2008. Wilson averages 20 points and 8.6 rebounds to put her among the top six in the league in both categories. Her quick first step and reliable midrange jumper make her especially tough to defend. Wilson may need to compose herself; captain Delle Donne was another of her idols as a kid.
LIZ CAMBAGE, Team Parker: The 6-8 center from Australia, back in the WNBA with Dallas after a five-year hiatus, broke the league single-game scoring record two weeks ago with 53 points against the New York Liberty. Cambage (elegantly pronounced Cam-BEIGE) followed that up with 35 points against Washington, giving her 88 points in two games, also a record. (Moore held the previous mark of 80 points, in 2014). Only Stewart averages more points per game than Cambage’s 22.1. Cambage is believed to be the first woman to dunk at the Olympics, in 2012 for Australia. Might she try another Saturday?
ALLIE QUIGLEY, Team Parker: The defending 3-point contest champion (it’s held at halftime), Quigley, of Chicago, is hitting a career-best 43.7 percent beyond the arc, fourth in the league, If she gets hot, look out.