The Dallas Wings are for real — Must-click women’s basketball links — WNBA talk from Barclays Center

The IX: Basketball Wednesday with Howard Megdal, July 19, 2023

BROOKLYN — Arike Ogunbowale seemed almost surprised at the question, the idea that the Dallas Wings couldn’t play with anyone and have a legit shot at the WNBA title so foreign to her.

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“I mean, we can be anybody when we play how we know how to play,” Ogunbowale said to a small group of reporters crowded into a makeshift postgame press room, the usual visitor’s media room corralled by the extended residency of Drake at Barclays. (Still better than Westchester County Center.) “We have great players, really, one through 12. The bench comes in and does what they have to do. The starters do and whatever we’re like tapped in holding down on defense and tapped in on offense, we’re really scary.”

So the New York Liberty found out on Wednesday, the Wings defeating them, 98-88. A loss on a Wednesday in July typically doesn’t mean much by itself. This is a league where anybody can beat anybody, truly, and every year there are outlier results.

But there were a number of indicators that this wasn’t some isolated incident.

The Wings have now beaten the two teams most observers, including me, thought had far and away the most talent in the league: the Liberty and the Las Vegas Aces. The Wings even beat the Liberty at home, and as Maddy Siegrist told you last week, they nearly beat Las Vegas on the road, too. So this isn’t something new, Dallas playing at a high level against the league’s best.

But what the Wings did Wednesday wasn’t just to win. On the road, at what my colleague Em Adler noted was Noon Dallas Time, they turned the ball over twice all game, which as my colleague Em Adler also noted, tied a WNBA record.

Arike Ogunbowale speaks to media after a win by the Dallas Wings over the New York Liberty on July 19, 2023. (Howard Megdal photo)
Arike Ogunbowale speaks to media after a win by the Dallas Wings over the New York Liberty on July 19, 2023. (Howard Megdal photo)

“Attention to detail, so we just go in, and we know we’re just going to lock in and focus,” Wings center Teaira McCowan said after the game. “and just building off of our game that we have before the break and we did pretty well. And I just think it was a conscious effort by us. We knew we had to come in and take care of the ball, but we were just talking and it was like a different type of focus for us today, which was great for us.”

You know who else has been great for them? Teaira McCowan. She’s been an elite offensive player in this league, but other coaches have struggled to figure out how to run with her offensively, and how to avoid matchup issues for her against more mobile centers on the defensive end.

But her defensive points per possession, per Synergy, dropped from 1.008 last season, which ranked 88th of 98 among WNBA players with at least 100 possessions, to 0.671 this season entering Wednesday’s game, which is second among 81 WNBA players with at least 75 possessions.

Oh, and she’s playing 26.7 minutes per game, a sharp jump from last season’s 18.9 entering Wednesday’s game, and played 28:37 against the Liberty. The Wings are third in the league in pace.

Got all that geometry?

“Blowing confidence in her,” her head coach, Latricia Trammell, said was her strategy to maximize McCowan. “Because she’s one of the best in the league… celebrating the success that she has, let her see the positives and the impact that she brings to this team offensively and defensively. So staying really positive with her. I always tell her to just to have fun and she’s doing that.”

It’s having an effect. I have covered T since her Mississippi State days. She was a joyful player. We haven’t seen that much in the WNBA, and we saw it Wednesday, a smile she couldn’t stop flashing throughout her postgame, even as a 6’7 figure squeezed into our makeshift space.

The signs of a winning team and a losing team are everywhere if you know what to listen for and where to look, and Dallas has the former all over the place. Ogunbowale took the time to shout out every single member of the roster in her postgame comments, with specific areas of praise. The energy level on the bench is off the charts. The players know what is expected of them, and they are emotionally invested in making their coach happy. Individuals are improving, and the team is connected through many different lineup configurations.

Latricia Trammell speaks to media after a win by the Dallas Wings over the New York Liberty on July 19, 2023. (Howard Megdal photo)
Latricia Trammell speaks to media after a win by the Dallas Wings over the New York Liberty on July 19, 2023. (Howard Megdal photo)

Natasha Howard has excelled all season, she had a quiet 14, and the Wings still beat the Liberty on the road. That’s a sign of depth of offensive options you need to win a championship.

To me, success for the Wings was twofold this year: a top-six finish and a window into how the team gets from here to a championship. But let’s be equally clear: while Tanisha Wright is doing an excellent job in Atlanta, and if Indiana or Minnesota make the playoffs Christie Sides and Cheryl Reeve need to be in the discussion, if the Dallas Wings finish with a top four seed this season, Latricia Trammell needs to be coach of the year. And it’s for reasons that extend beyond just wins and losses.

This week in women’s basketball

The St. Louis roots of Napheesa Collier.

Marisa Ingemi digs into Nneka Ogwumike’s best season since 2016.

Don’t miss Andrea Masenda on Flau’jae Johnson.

Cora Hall reports from Nikki McCray-Penson’s celebration of life.

San Thomas is staying ready.

How the letter-writing campaign in Brooklyn resonated with Brittney Griner.

Five at The IX: Live from Barclays Center

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By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson, AP Women’s Soccer
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By: Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon, Freelance Tennis Writer
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Written by Howard Megdal

Howard is the founder of The Next and editor-in-chief.