Sunday, December 4, 2022 Dec 4, 2022
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Tipping Off the 2022 Season, the Dallas Wings Make the Wrong Kind of History

Takeaways from the season-opening loss.
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It wasn’t supposed to play out this way.

On Saturday night in front of a packed-out College Park Center in Arlington, the Dallas Wings tipped off the 2022 season against an Atlanta Dream team in full rebuild mold, complete with new head coach Tanisha Wright and the 2022 No. 1 draft pick Rhyne Howard. The talent-packed Wings team, on the other hand, are in win-now mode. Given the situation, you might have suspected a high-powered offense led by Arike Ogunbowale would have set a record or two.

The Wings indeed made history in their home opener, but not the good kind.

A typically hot offensive team, the Wings are now concentrating on becoming a more defensive-minded team. But that plan went sideways almost immediately. Because they couldn’t get their offense going from the first whistle, the team ended up allowing their offense to dictate their defense. And therein lied the problem.

The result: In a quick and surprising fashion, the Wings were down by 20, thanks to the stifling, physical Dream defense. Because of that D, Dallas did set one record: shooting only 24.3 percent from the floor, the worst single-game shooting percentage in Wings history.

In the second half, the feisty, never-say-die Wings embarked on a 15-0 scoring run and made it a game, cutting the deficit to four before the Dream came storming back and eventually sealed the deal, winning 66-59.

Given that they were big favorites going in, it was a surprising loss for the Wings. But there are 35 games yet to go, so this is the dictionary definition of “small sample size.” With that in mind, here are three observations from Friday night and their implications for the rest of the season:

Despite appearances, Dallas is still a highly efficient offensive team.

Always a bucket, Arike Ogunbowale went 3 of 14 from the field for seven points on Saturday night. That will likely be the first and only time Wings fans read such a sentence. The former league scoring champ and last year’s All-Star MVP is the head of the Wings’ offensive snake, good for 20-plus points on any given night—actually, most nights. She had a bad night. It happens. Ogunbowale after the game:

“It was unacceptable. We are at home—we can’t have somebody punch us in the face in the first five minutes like that, especially when you get down 20. That’s not acceptable and that won’t happen again. But I think it shows how good our team is how we came back. But being down 20 in this league, it doesn’t matter who you’re playing. You’re not going to be able to win like that. I definitely have to be better. How I played is unacceptable. I let my team down for sure. I will learn from it, watch the film tonight, grow, and come back better.”

Ogunbowale is not the only offensive power on the team. Her partner in crime, Marina Mabrey, is just as good for a bucket. She scored a game-high 20 points on 8 of 16 from the field and was the only player to shoot over 33 percent from the field. Mabrey was joined in double figures by Wings veteran Allisha Gray, who finished with 12 points and a career-high tying three blocks. 

And don’t forget the fourth part of this high-scoring offense quartet—forward Satou Sabally, last season’s third-leading scorer—is still playing overseas and not yet with the team. Same goes for new acquisition Teaira McCowan, who averaged a career-best 11.3 points last season. When they both return and get into a rhythm, the Dallas offense will get back to humming in harmony.

Veronica Burton is a keeper.

The No. 7 draft pick out of Northwestern is a no-brainer for this Wings roster. Yes, after only one game I’m declaring her untouchable. She only scored two points, but she contributed to the game in ways measured far beyond scoring—ways that can help turn a team around and help them become real contenders. And that’s what a defensive specialist does. In 21 minutes of play, she had 6 rebounds and 3 steals and finished +13 for the night, one of only two Wings in the positive when the game ended. Here’s what head coach Vickie Johnson had to say about Burton:

“Her defense was amazing, and I haven’t seen a point guard play like that. I hate to say this, but she’s an old-school point guard that thinks of defense first and affects the game in other ways besides scoring. She didn’t score tonight, but defensively she was bringing energy to us. I was very impressed with the way she kept her poise, and she was always under control. It was different, but it was great to see her take that leadership role. This is just the tip of it and I think she can be so much better. If she continues to play like that, she’s going to be very good in this league for many years.”

Burton was all over the place all night, scrambling, wallowing on the floor for loose balls, meeting opponents at the rim ready to snatch a rebound—essentially matching the physicality of the Dream bigs as best as she could. It was a gutsy performance from the three-time Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, and she is just what the Wings need to progress in its pursuit of a defensive identity. And she knows it.

“I was trying to impact the game in whatever way I can—whether or not it be scoring then I want it to be on defensive end. That is something I feel like I can control. That is something I am going to do—give it my all on that end. Rebounding, getting deflections, or anything else I can do to help us win is what I am going to try to do.”

 It’s way too early to panic.

It was the first game of the season. There’s a lot more basketball to play. Sure, a team wants to come out the gate blasting on all cylinders, grabbing that first win, and setting the tone for the season. When that doesn’t happen, panic can set in, if nowhere else but the fan base.

Still, there’s no reason for the panic. Things can turn around quickly. Well, not exactly quickly in this case: in what is their longest break of the season, the Wings’ next game isn’t until this Friday, May 13, when they hit the road to take on the Washington Mystics. But that’s good. That’s six days from their disappointing home opener. Six days to review film, make adjustments, practice, regroup, and mentally restart the season.

“There’s 35 more games,” Mabrey said after the game. “If you plan on homing in on this one, it’s going to be a really, really long summer. I recommend letting it go.”

That’s good advice. There are plenty of other games to concern themselves with. The Wings just need to make sure they don’t have too many more like the one Saturday night.


Dorothy J. Gentry

Dorothy J. Gentry

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Dorothy J. Gentry covers the Wings for StrongSide. A native Dallasite, she is a journalist and educator who covers the…

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