Why Minnesota is for real — Sylvia Fowles, Napheesa Collier talk All Star Game — Must-click women’s basketball links

The IX: Basketball Wednesday with Howard Megdal, July 14, 2021

Hi! Howard Megdal here. The IX helps build the necessary infrastructure for women’s sports media. By connecting these worlds, it gives women’s sports the networking boost men’s sports can take for granted.

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So I had the privilege of joining Around The Rim this week, with guest host Cindy Brunson and the excellent WNBA reporter Rachel Galligan (and of course, the amazing Terrika Foster-Brasby producing as usual) to discuss the first half. And when it came time for discussing WNBA Finals participants, I had a different take from the group.

I think the Minnesota Lynx are a good bet to reach that final series, and might just win it.

The Lynx have won seven straight, though that alone isn’t enough to earn my belief that they are true contenders. Indiana has won three straight, and though I do see some key developments there — Danielle Robinson found another level, and the Teaira McCowan performance this weekend sparks hope that she might be reaching that level we’ve all been expecting for several years now — I’m not putting the Fever in the finals (just yet).

But everything I see from Minnesota looks not just elite, but sustainable.

Over the past seven games, Minnesota is averaging an offensive rating of 107.3, a defensive rating of 94.3. The net of 13 is on par with recent title teams, and the components reflect a few realities.

One is that Sylvia Fowles is playing like the best defensive player on the planet, while continuing to utilize her ridiculous bag of post move tricks to hit more than 60 percent of her shots.

Napheesa Collier, asked to play even more this season, remains a dangerous two-way star, the given that first Geno Auriemma and now Cheryl Reeve can rely on.

And Kayla McBride is simply doing what she always does — physical defensive on opposing guards and, when necessary, smaller forwards, hitting tough shots, making plenty of threes, and knocking down virtually all of her free throws.

The result is a luxury Reeve hasn’t had for a few years now: an array of stars who are both happy to sublimate their games for the greater good, or lift as necessary when the moment calls for a takeover. There’s danger at all three levels of shotmaking, and the trio have allowed others to operate with impunity — note how much more efficient Layshia Clarendon’s treks to the hoop are this season since they arrived in Minnesota, or the number of open threes Rachel Banham is getting.

There’s many reasons, in other words, Minnesota easily leads the league in effective field goal percentage over this seven-game span.

So what exactly do we expect to regress here? Fowles is simply as much of a given as anyone in league history. McBride and Collier are stars with an established level of performance. Surrounding players all seem to know their roles. The head coach is, well, pretty established.

I am not suggesting there aren’t other contenders, from Seattle to Las Vegas to Connecticut.

But I don’t think there’s a more solid pick right now than the Lynx.

This week in women’s basketball

Alexa Philippou on Paige Bueckers.

Loved this look from Lindsay Gibbs on the success story of PJ Brown’s Arizona coverage. Studying the ways women’s sports coverage takes hold is how we build models!

Rachel Galligan looks at why Wednesday night’s game could be so much fun.

Good stuff from Camille Buxeda on Candace Parker.

Britni de la Cretaz on how WNBA League Pass needs to improve.

Jim Souhan thinks we need to appreciate Sylvia Fowles more.

Your streaking Indiana Fever!

Sabrina Ionescu joined The Players’ Tribune for “An Afternoon With…”

And here’s Lori Riley on Amari DeBerry (it’s not just Azzi Fudd coming to Storrs this fall, you guys).

Tweet of the Week


Five at The IX: Napheesa Collier and Sylvia Fowles, Minnesota Lynx

Sylvia Fowles and Napheesa Collier. (WNBA Content Network)

Danny Barletta:
Hey, Syl, Phee; it’s good to talk to you both. I was wondering for both of you, is there a player that you’re very particularly excited to play with tomorrow night in the All-Star Game? And also, is there a matchup on Team WNBA that you’re excited to go up against?

Napheesa Collier:
I think it’s really exciting, I don’t have one particular player that I’m excited to play with. I think it’s really exciting that you get to play with so many people who are going to go down in the Hall of Fame and such great basketball players to be able to learn and play with them instead of having to scout them, play against them, it’s really fun. And tomorrow, I mean, we’ve been playing against them all year, so it’s not like we’re playing these new people, but it’s going to be really fun, so I’m excited.

Sylvia Fowles:
Yeah, pretty much the same for me, I don’t have a particular person that I’m excited to play with. But I know it’s just a lot of talent on the floor and it’s going to be a good game, so I’m excited about that.

Danny Barletta:
Thanks so much.

Jonah Fontela:
Hi, this is for Napheesa; the pressure to win gold in this USA team must always be huge, but it’s almost like a tradition at this point, what’s it like being a part of a team where the pressure and expectation to win gold are both so high?

Napheesa Collier:
I think it’s a really good honor. It’s a great honor to be a part of something that’s been winning for so many years, and you don’t want to let that down, especially because I’m a new person on the team. I want to be able to come in and contribute in the way that the team needs, whatever that may be. And like I said, kind of be a sponge and learn from all the people on the team who have been here before. So it is a lot of pressure, but I always say, ” I like the pressure.”. I think it makes us perform our best.

Jonah Fontela:

Alex Azzi:
Hey Alex Azzi with NBC Sports; Napheesa, I was looking earlier and I think you and A’ja were both the only two members of this US Olympic team that were born after the gold medal streak started in 1996, which kind of blew my mind.

Napheesa Collier:
She was born in 95?

Alex Azzi:
I think A’ja was born four days after the gold medal game.

Napheesa Collier:

Alex Azzi:
Yeah, and so clearly you don’t remember that, but wondering when you first remember watching USA Basketball at the Olympics was, and what that means for you to continue such a long tradition?

Napheesa Collier:
Yeah, so I’ve been watching for so long, but I don’t even remember the first time, we watch the Olympics every four years in my house, so I don’t remember the first time I saw. But obviously, to have USA across my chest and to play on the USA team is a lifelong dream, so I’m so excited that I get to do that, especially with one of my favorite teammates, Mama Syl. So, it’s really exciting and I’m really honored to be here.

Michael Gutnick:
And this question is for Napheesa. There are five University of Connecticut players on the roster, how did Geno Auriemma, your head coach, help cultivate you to become the player you are now?

Napheesa Collier:
I think the level of excellence that he expected from us every single practice really allowed us to grow, not only as basketball players, physically, but mentally, too. Increasing our basketball IQ and knowing how to make reads and how he would always say, “Even if we’re not the most talented team on the floor, we need to be the smartest.”. So I think just the way that he had us train every single day, mentally and physically, allowed us to… That’s why I think UCONN players do really well in the league, and because he teaches that at UCONN.

Michael Gutnick:
And just a quick followup, what’s one thing that stands out to you, about Auriemma, that you have used to push for in your career?

Napheesa Collier:
One thing? I don’t know, it’s hard because he’s such an amazing coach and amazing personality, everything about him just inspires greatness, I would say. And I would say again, the level of excellence, he never settled for anything but 100 percent every single day, and forcing yourself to have that mindset, it built a habit. And so I think that’s why, again, his players are successful because after four years of working as hard as you can every single day, I think it just becomes your way of life.

Michael Gutnick:
Thank you.

This is Rafique with Nothin’ But Dat Sports Talk, I just want to ask you what are some of your favorite memories from the WNBA All-Star Game?

Sylvia Fowles:
Some of my favorite memories?

Yeah, for both of you.

Sylvia Fowles:
I like the competitive games. So the skill stuff, three point shooting stuff. Things that I can’t really do, that I admire from guard, so those are like my best memories.

Napheesa Collier:
I like all the activities around it. So like, being with the 24, this year 12, best players in the league and you guys just all get to come together and kind of take a break from the competitiveness of the season. And you get to hang out, and go to dinners, and go to events; and it’s just really fun.

Thank for your time.

Jace Fredrick:
Hey Syl, over the years, what have you found to appreciate the most about these Team USA experiences?

Sylvia Fowles:
Just the growth over time; so when you first get here, you’re pretty much like a deer in headlights. And so once you pretty much learn the system and maneuver your way through, then you can start talking more and stuff like that. So just the growth over time, with USA Basketball, is something that I truly appreciate.

Jace Fredrick:
And then Phee, did you ever imagine, this early in your career, that you would reach this point?

Napheesa Collier:
I mean, like I said, it’s always been a dream and it’s something that I’ve always wanted to accomplish. And when this Olympics kept getting closer, obviously I have my fingers double crossed, my toes crossed, everything crossed, hoping that I’d be on the team. So I don’t know, I never had a goal of, “I need to be this age to get to my first Olympics.”. But absolutely, I’m so honored to be here and I’m happy to be part of this 2021/2020 Olympics.

Jace Fredrick:
Have you thought at all, “If this was played in 2020, there’s a good chance I wouldn’t have made the team, but 2021 and I had last year to prove myself; that here I am.”?

Napheesa Collier:
Yeah, I mean, obviously I wish it would have had it normal, with the pandemic and all that stuff, but it did give me an extra year to kind of prove myself, and go to more camps, and play in the league. So I don’t know what outcome would have been if it was a year earlier.

Jace Fredrick:
Thanks guys.

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson, AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By: Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon, Freelance Tennis Writer
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal, The Next
Thursdays: Golf
By: Sarah Kellam, @sarahkellam, LPGA.com
Fridays: Hockey
By: Erica Ayala, @ELindsay08, NWHL Broadcaster
Saturdays: Gymnastics
By: Jessica Taylor Price, @jesstaylorprice, Freelance Gymnastics Writer

Written by Howard Megdal

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