WNBA Week 10: Diana Taurasi Scores 10K, Everyone Else Brawls

Feature image photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images

Welcome back to Natalie and Heather breaking down the week in the W! As always, we would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!


Heather: Natalie, hello! Thank you for joining me for our weekly WNBA chat, even though I know your heart must be heavy from the USWNT loss this weekend.

Natalie: It really is. I didn’t think it would be…I’d watched enough of the USWNT’s performance to see the end coming. There wasn’t much reason to have faith in Vlatko to turn things around. BUT! Then they came out in a different formation with a different lineup (necessitated by the absence of Rose Lavelle) and the hope starts to creep in. And then they played as well as they had all tournament — even better than the Vietnam win — and the hope starts to creep in just a little more.

Heather: It’s also hard to keep your hope-heart in check when you haven’t been able to sleep because the games are all happening on a different planet!

Natalie: The whole match gave me hope…which only made the penalties that much more crushing. The most painful loss I’ve ever witnessed. It was hard to watch the WNBA afterwards because I was like, “sports?! why should I do that to myself!”

Heather: “I’ll just punch my own self in the face and get it over with!”

Natalie: Right! Which, turns out, is an apt turn of phrase for the WNBA this weekend, where things got very spicy.

Heather: Yeah, there was certainly no comfort to be found in the W this weekend, which was maybe the most brutal weekend the sport has ever experienced? Starting with Shey Peddy getting carted off on a stretcher Friday night then carried on to A’ja Wilson needing to get checked for a concussion after Jonquel Jones elbowed her in the neck on Sunday, and a near bench-clearing brawl between Dallas and Chicago, AND THEN Layshia Clarendon and Brittney Sykes getting ejected in the Sparks-Mystics game after Sykes grabbed Clarendon when they were going up for a layup and then Clarendon straight up rugby tackling Sykes to the ground. Honestly, the perfect way to honor Diana Taurasi!

Natalie: Really, no better tribute to Diana Taurasi than what happened this weekend. LOL.

In all seriousness, I’m grateful that none of the players were seriously injured this weekend because — and we talked about this last week — the refs continue to be abysmal at their jobs. Allowing that level of physicality to continue is going to get someone hurt. And when you don’t get calls that absolutely should’ve been made, players are going to get pissed about it…and rightfully so…which only leads to more chippy-ness like we saw this weekend.

Heather: That’s absolutely right, and I was thinking about our conversation about how the W needs to step up and protect their players the entire weekend. I did miss an injury in my list up there. I forgot that Sophie Cunningham got poked in the face/eyeball by an actual goat, which Phoenix had on hand during Taurasi’s 10,000 point game. And I’m definitely not just saying that so we can post a video of it.

Speaking of that game: Diana Taurasi scored her 10,000th career point last week. She was already the league’s leading scorer, passing Tina Thompson’s second place 7,488 career points years ago. And now, in 522 games, she has set a record that I would be shocked to ever see broken. I have plenty of issues with DT, but there is no denying this is one of the most impressive athletic feats I have ever witnessed in my lifetime.

Natalie: Yeah, I don’t know that we’re going to see anyone come even remotely close to taking this crown from her. I stand by my long-held belief that anyone who wants to call themselves the GOAT in basketball has to be a two-way player but this is such an incredible performance that even critics like me can’t help but be awed by it.

I mean, 10k points…in a league as competitive as the WNBA…when she’s playing along side players like Cappie Pondexter and DeWanna Bonner and BG who are all incredible offensive talents in their own rite. It’s just unreal that she could do this. It’s amazing.

Heather: It really is. Obviously there’s something to be said for how long she’s been able to play, but even still, she’s averaged almost 20 points a game for her entire career to get here! Even when the WNBA’s seasons eventually get longer, and even though stars keep averaging more and more points, and even though the range for threes keeps getting bigger and bigger, I still have a hard time imagining anyone else doing what she’s done. And you know what, it’s a big damn deal that she’s done it as an openly gay woman. She has done a heck of a lot for this game, and for women’s sports in general, and she deserves this moment of celebration and even the actual goats that attacked Sophie Cunningham.

Natalie: I think she’s raised the bar for the game, no doubt about that. She’s raised our expectations for what a franchise player should be and how they should contribute. She’s advanced the game but, I think, done it in a very different way than, say, a Sue Bird has. Like, has she been on the frontlines with regard to improving WNBA salaries? No but I think about that year she took a break from the WNBA because some Russian oligarch was willing to pay her more to sit out than the WNBA was willing to pay her to play. That’s a statement and that contributes to an environment where change becomes inevitable.

But all the news out of Phoenix wasn’t great: we heard this week from Taurasi’s current/former teammate Skylar Diggins. The former Notre Dame standout admitted that she’s being denied access to the Mercury’s facilities, along with other benefits that are available to players like chefs, nutritionists, strength and conditioning coaches, etc.

What’s your take on the situation with Skylar and what do you want to see happen?

Heather: When Skylar shared that news on Twitter, I was both shocked and also not surprised at all. For a league that built two season’s worth of hype around the fact that DeWanna Bonner is the mother of twins (count that twice!), the WNBA is really showing its ass when it comes to taking care of its players who are mothers.

You can’t look at what’s happening to Skylar without thinking about what happened to Dearica Hamby, and then, of course, you can’t look at them without thinking about players who might not be as outspoken as them, but have suffered similarly if they decided to get pregnant. I mean if the WOMEN’S National Basketball Association can’t handle maternity leave with any kind of integrity, how in the world can we respect them? How, in 2023, does every team in the league not have plans in place for players who get pregnant! And I’m not talking about plans to keep winning while they’re away, I’m talking about plans to help them have healthy pregnancies and then provide them with the physical, emotional, and mental health resources they need to return to the game if they want to. ESPECIALLY when the majority of the league is made up of Black women and we know for a fact that Black women are more than twice as likely to experience severe pregnancy-related complications. It is negligent and inexcusable and I am, honestly, livid reading about it.

Natalie: I share your anger on this, Heather…and, honestly, I’m a little flabbergasted by everything around this. The reactions to it have been so muted, both from the Players’ Association and the WNBA (I still don’t think the league has issued a statement) that I’m completely taken aback. I mean, this is a clear violation of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Skylar Diggins-Smith is under contract with the Phoenix Mercury and while she is, they are required, under the CBA, to provide the salary and benefits that she’s entitled to as a player. Why is this violation of the CBA being swept under the rug or treated like it’s not worth responding to?

The Mercury should get a fine for everyday they keep Skylar Diggins out of that gym.

Heather: That’s exactly it! I do not get it! I feel like the league is at a crossroads. I feel like these players have been told for so long just to suck it up and deal with all the inequities and keep quiet, because they’re under an obligation to grow to league, to Do What’s Best For The Game — and we’re finally starting to see the cracks not only show, but break things open. In my mind, this is in the same category of things like making the players travel all night on commercial flights, not having security for Brittney Griner, the players not having NAMES ON THEIR LOCKERS. It’s just endless disrespect that seems to be fueled, at least, by a lack of willingness to spend the kind of money it takes to run a professional sports league, and a lot of guilt-tripping on behalf of the league’s administration. And I would FULLY support that fine.

Natalie:

I read that tweet from Sarah Kezele, an Arizona sports reporter, and that re-framed my thinking on this situation.

Heather:Who cares what her personal relationship is with the team! This isn’t the Baby-Sitter’s Club! It’s the most elite professional sports league on earth!

Natalie:If you’re mad, pay Skylar out the rest of her contract and cut her loose. This franchise just divorced Tina Charles. They know how this works. You can’t deny a player the salary and benefits they’re entitled to because you want to be petty. This is absolute bullshit, and, as you say, completely beneath what you’d expect from a professional league. This is a violation of the CBA and I don’t know why Phoenix is being allowed to get away with it…and why everyone seems content to let them.

Heather: I’m just over here pumping my first in agreement with you. This league has a lot of junk to work out in the coming months!

Natalie: That’s for sure. In better news, your New York Liberty got a huge win over the weekend against the Aces. Actually, check that…I think Becky Hammon got it right: the Aces got their asses kicked. What’d you think about that game and what do you think it portends for the Liberty going forward?

Heather: One of my biggest weaknesses as a sports fan is seeing some magical blip and going “Oh, they’ve turned a corner!” Which is what I said about the Liberty after the All-Star break and then they got wrecked by a Napheesa-less Lynx! Watching that game was wild because Sabrina Ionescu literally could not miss, and A’ja Wilson couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn. I think she was like 2-14 from the field. I know she was examined by a doctor after JJ smacked her in the head with her elbow, but I am not convinced she wasn’t concussed. This same thing happened last year to the Miami Dolphins, where their quarterback went through concussion protocol after getting walloped in the head, and was ruled eligible to play, and then came back out and threw like nine interceptions. Then he went through more testing and they were like, “Whoops, he was indeed concussed.” So it did take A’ja having the worst game of her professional career and Sabrina having one of her best.

Natalie: Stacy’s going to really appreciate that Miami Dolphins reference from you.

Heather: LOL I know, but she’ll probably be like, “Uh, he only threw SEVEN interceptions.”

But, back to the game, I also thought the Liberty had played the best defense they’ve played, as a team, all season, so that’s not nothing.

I guess we’ll find out more about whether or not this was a fluke because the Liberty and Aces play like three more times this month. What do you think about that matchup at this point in the season?

Natalie: You’re right…we’ll get to see if the Liberty are legitimate threats really soon because New York and Las Vegas meet again next Tuesday for the Commissioner’s Cup.

Like you, I keep giving New York credit only to see them digress in the following game…so I don’t want to jinx them…but it’s impossible not to be impressed by that performance. As the season’s gone on, I think they’ve really settled into what makes that team “super.” It feels like the pieces of that team are starting to come together and that the players are realizing that their moment will come. Sabrina doesn’t have to force her shot every game because she can trust JJ to pick up the slack…and she can be confident knowing that one day she’ll have a breakout game like this one against the Aces.

Heather: Yep, that’s it! I also think the Jonquel Jones has finally hit her stride here in New York, and that is making all the difference in the world. Even in games where she’s struggling to score, she’s pulling down 15 rebounds, 17 rebounds, and making people pay for coming into the paint. She looks better than she’s looked since her MVP season in my mind.

Natalie: But what about the Aces? Do I expect A’ja Wilson to have another shooting game like that? No, not ever. But I think there’s been an overemphasis on her stats and not enough focus on the Aces’ defense which was dreadful. When Candace Parker went out earlier this season, I think a lot of WNBA fans just collectively shrugged…knowing the star power that was still left for the Aces. But the Aces definitely missed Parker in this game: her veteran presence, her interior defense, her scoring threat….they definitely could’ve used that.

Heather: That’s absolutely correct re: Parker, and I am, like you, always wondering how teams who put so many minutes on their starters are going to start showing their wear and tear right about now.

Natalie: I think that’s true…and I wonder if we’ll see Hammon take a page out of her mentor’s book and start sitting players for a few games. They’ve already clinched their spot in the playoffs. There’s no need for them to continue to put this many minutes on their bodies.

Heather: I would have said no way before yesterday’s game, but she actually showed a lot of maturity as a coach yesterday by realizing they were toast, and also understanding that the Commissioner’s Cup is coming up so they need to be at their best — she she pulled the starters way earlier than I expected her to. I thought it was really smart, even though it surprised me! Is there anything you’re looking forward to, especially, this week?

Natalie: Well, I’d like to get back to winning in our fantasy league. My team’s been decimated by injuries over the last few weeks and I’m hoping that I can finally start a full rotation of players.

Heather: I will hope that for you too!

Natalie: But as for games: I’m looking forward to seeing how the Aces respond to that drubbing when they play the Wings on Tuesday. How do they come out? Is there a more concerted effort to get A’ja back into the swing of things? On the other side of the ball, the Wings have faltered a bit here…and I’m hoping that they can regroup as well. Will they be doing it without Arike Ogunbowale, though? She had some harsh words for the refs after their game against the Sky — where she was ejected! — and it’s hard not to imagine her getting at least a fine, if not a suspension, for it.

Heather: Yeah, especially because this is not the first time — this season! — that she’s gotten in a tangle with a ref to a degree that got her ejected. This time, they were ready for it and had to dudes escort her off so she couldn’t sign autographs on the way out. But that’s also very much what I am looking forward to this week too. The Wings need to pull up out of this slide, and I firmly believe they can do it.

Natalie: Personally, though, I think that ejection was bullshit and that Arike’s criticism of it was totally justified…but I don’t expect that tech to be rescinded.

Heather: Absolutely agree!

I guess all that’s left today is FASHION!

Carmen: Last week the Las Vegas Aces hosted a Breast Health Awareness night for their August 1st game against the Atlanta Dream. Breast Cancer Awareness dedicated games are definitely not new in the W, but a few things stood out for me right away this time. First, the Aces teamed up with the Kay Yow Cancer Fund to make a pledge for each 3 point shot made during the game — and I love putting your money where your mouth is, when so many sports organizations settle for easy lip service instead. I also loved that the Aces were focused in on the disproportionate effect that Triple Negative Breast Cancer has on Black women.

Carmen: But second! And how it relates to fashion, I was so touchced by A’ja Wilson’s pre-game fit tribute to her former coach, Coach McCray, Nikki McCray-Penson, the 3x WNBA All-Star and 2x Olympic Gold Medal winner who passed away earlier this summer after a long and hard fought battle with Breast Cancer. The custom airbrushing here is such a culturally important send-off, payig respect to a GOAT.

Carmen: I also really appreciated Syd Colson’s tribute to Houston Comets legend Kim Perrot, who passed away from Lung Cancer in the late 90s —which really effected me when I was a kid. The throwback Comets jersey is not an easy find! And for as much as Colson’s known as the class clown of the Aces team, the effort that I know must have went into securing this jersey immediately broke my heart wide open.

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Natalie

A black biracial, bisexual girl raised in the South, working hard to restore North Carolina's good name. Lover of sports, politics, good TV and Sonia Sotomayor. You can follow her latest rants on Twitter.

Natalie has written 396 articles for us.

Heather Hogan

Heather Hogan is an Autostraddle senior editor who lives in New York City with her wife, Stacy, and their cackle of rescued pets. She's a member of the Television Critics Association, GALECA: The Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics, and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer critic. You can also find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Heather has written 1718 articles for us.

Carmen Phillips

Carmen is Autostraddle's Editor-in-Chief and a Black Puerto Rican femme/inist writer. She claims many past homes, but left the largest parts of her heart in Detroit, Brooklyn, and Buffalo, NY. There were several years in her early 20s when she earnestly slept with a copy of James Baldwin’s “Fire Next Time” under her pillow. You can find her on twitter, @carmencitaloves.

Carmen has written 700 articles for us.

11 Comments

  1. Excellent, insightful commentary as always. Glad to see Candace Parker’s absence discussed as a contributing factor to Vegas looking strained, it feels like a lot of mainstream W coverage is glossing over this and it bugs me every time I hear people undervaluing her. I’m not fully up to speed on how the rules work, but if cutting Riquna Williams would let them bring another player in to lighten the workload, that’s yet another reason to hurry up and cut her.

  2. That Liberty game made me love sports again, which after the USWNT loss I didn’t really think would ever happen again!

    I too am wary about ever giving them too much credit, but they didn’t just beat the Aces – they blew them out. Granted A’ja had the injury and their bench is real thin, but still. Every Aces starter can beat you on their own so leading by 40 at times doesn’t feel like nothing! And like you guys said, they played great defense, AND the biggest thing for me is team chemistry. The ball movement is some of the best in the league right now. I wonder if they went on a team retreat or something??

    I almost want to call myself a Sabrina fan, which I never thought would happen, and not because of her scoring! But because of her passing and working with everyone else, only settling for great shots, something I’ve been begging her to do since she came here! And I just love watching JJ and Betnijah find her footing in this new lineup , and Sloot and Stewie bring their general dominance.

    Ah I’m just so happy! Forgive the Liberty stan comment!

    Honestly, even beyond me just being a fan, I’m also excited because I feel like the playoffs might actually be competitive? As fun as it is to watch my team blow another team out, more than anything I just love watching high level basketball and these two teams certainly give that!

  3. yesterday i was chugging along happily watching the fever/dream game (love that the team names can make little sentences) and seeing some quality ball, then i checked social media for other games and was like???? my fomo has never been worse!

  4. Diana does not call herself the GOAT. You guys are just notorious DT haters who say anything. And Skylar isn’t being denied any salary. Check your facts before publishing next time.

      • 😂 You guys! We’re not trying to
        be unbiased sports journalists! We’re two longtime friends and lifelong WNBA fans having a conversation. We love so many players, aren’t super fond of a few, and have our own favorite teams and coaches and players. There’s nothing wrong with expressing that! If you wanna read unabashed DT praise, there’s about a zillion other places you can go to do that!

        • So, what’s odd about this pushback is: I actually thought @heatherannehogan and I were being nice? Like, we’re both basketball fans at the end of the day and DT’s accomplishment is unparalleled. It’s legendary. We both acknowledged her impact on the women’s game and said we think this is a record that’ll stand the test of time.

          For me, personally, I even avoided implicating her in the Skylar situation because I wanted to give DT her flowers unabashedly.

          But, even that kindness isn’t enough for some folks, I guess.

          FWIW:

          1. To borrow from an old adage, sometimes it’s not what you call yourself, it’s what you answer to…and, I think, if the Phoenix Mercury are bringing in actual live adorable goats, it’s clear what DT answers to.

          2. I did not say that Skylar Diggins was being denied her salary from the Phoenix Mercury. I wouldn’t say that because I read the tweet that prompted this whole discussion where Skylar said the only acknowledgement she was getting from the Mercury was a check.

          I said that the organization is required to pay her salary and benefits while she’s on leave, per the CBA, and that she’s being denied access to those benefits. I’m happy to correct the record if I’m wrong but this is just you misreading my argument because you want to call me a hater. 🤷🏾‍♀️

          • my comment, at least, wasn’t really about this week as I did appreciate you both giving DT her flowers, but more so the general coverage of the league in general that feels biased towards certain teams/players (a’ja apparently only had an off game, something every player has, because she had a concussion she’s even confirmed she didn’t have?) but you’re totally right that you’re not trying to be unbiased sports journalists and are completely entitled to your own opinions

            I guess maybe I’m just bummed because I love both of your writing so much and wish it aligned more with my own fandom, but that’s a personal issue as you said and I probably just need to diversify my wnba commentary intake

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