October 4, 2023 

Locked On Women’s Basketball: 2023 WNBA Finals preview, WNBA expansion talk with Sabreena Merchant of The Athletic

Howard and Sabreena Merchant discuss the WNBA Finals, expansion, Vegas rotation, and more

It’s time for another Locked on Women’s Basketball podcast episode. It’s a remarkable intersection of WNBA news, between the 2023 WNBA Finals between the New York Liberty and Las Vegas Aces and the imminent announcement of the next WNBA expansion team. Fortunately, Sabreena Merchant of The Athletic is here to break it all down with host Howard Megdal.

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Sabreena Merchant talks about the WNBA Finals matchup between the Las Vegas Aces and New York Liberty:

“It’s been really cool actually to watch these teams live up to expectations because obviously there are teams that are built with the theoretical superteam moniker, I’m thinking as recently as the 2022 Phoenix Mercury that did not quite live up to the build-up. And obviously, extraordinary circumstances prevented Phoenix from being what they thought they could be. But it’s not every day that a team turns out as good as you think it’s going to be. And I think that’s the case for the Liberty and the Aces and to watch them having thrown punches at each other over the course of the season. You know, experience their little lows and highs but playing really good basketball. I think when it counts the most, it’s gonna be really good. I mean, we’ve been waiting for this since February, right? And so it’s great that we finally get it eight months later.”

Sabreena Merchant talks about the Las Vegas Aces rotation:

“Well, I think it helps that for the first 20 games, they did have Candace Parker, so it wasn’t just six, they had seven. So it’s not like they went through a full regular season with this diminished rotation, they’re very much not the Noah’s Ark of teams. It’s one of each thing and you do what you got to do. And I think it also helps it during this playoff schedule. They’ve played five games in the last 20 some days. I know, there was a stretch during the Commissioner’s Cup time when it seemed like the rest of the league had taken a siesta and only the Aces and Liberty were playing for a week; they had gone through these five games in nine days schedule that included Becky Hammon going across country to make a Hall of Fame speech in the middle, whoop dee doo. And now, literally five games in the last 20-plus days. And it just gives them a little extra oomph as they need to when they need to pull out those five minutes of insane defense at the end of the game against the bigger, more physical Dallas Wings team. They’re able to do that. And I think it also helps that they just have this learned experience of having done this before, right? It’s not like they were supremely deep last year. Yes, Riquna Williams was part of the rotation. But it’s basically just Alysha Clark in place of Dearica Hamby. And Dearica Hamby was limited last year, coming off of that injury that she suffered in the middle of the 2022 season. So they have done this; they know what it takes to perform with this six-and-a-half-player rotation.

And it’s not like Alysha Clark came in and didn’t have any championship experience, either. We’re talking about a two-time champion here, who really never got the chance to repeat herself because, in 2019, they come in Sue and Stewie were immediately hurt for that Seattle team. 2021, she doesn’t even stay with the Storm. So this collective goal of trying to become the first team since the 2002 Los Angeles Sparks to repeat, everybody is on board with that, right? Everybody has their own experience of, yeah, we’ve been in this situation before it didn’t work out. Now, we want to figure out how to repeat this time. So I think it’s just like you talked about Jonathan Kolb, putting together the perfect roster to mesh everyone’s strengths together. That’s basically what’s happened here in Vegas as well. Alysha Clark is just the perfect piece to fit in, regardless of any sort of frontcourt perimeter combination you throw around her.”

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