August 12, 2022
What losing Arike Ogunbowale means for the Dallas Wings
The team must compete for the remainder of the season without its star guard
ARLINGTON, TX. – The Dallas Wings’ five-game winning streak came to an end with the 91-73 loss against the New York Liberty on Aug. 10. The team has played without its star guard Arike Ogunbowale in three of those five wins, after she suffered an Iliac Crest Core Muscle tear during a game against the Indiana Fever Aug. 6. The four-year veteran underwent a successful surgery to fix the avulsion Aug. 8 in Philadelphia.
Ogunbowale is the team’s scoring and assists leader, averaging 19.4 points and 3.6 assists per game, respectively. When a team loses one of its star players prior to end of the regular season and is preparing for the playoffs, it could break down and lose focus, but this may not be the case for Dallas.
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Rookie guard Veronica Burton netted her career high against the Liberty, putting up 15 points. Burton has been up and down offensively while remaining consistent with the intangibles, especially on defense. She said she has been told throughout the season to be more aggressive on the offensive end and that obviously losing Ogunbowale is tough on everyone.
“As she even said, like, ‘Next man up.’ So definitely just keeping that in mind, trying to be aggressive. I think my teammates did a pretty good job finding me today and I just really wasn’t hesitating as much,” the No. 7 draft pick said.
Dallas is going to need contributions from every player in order to fill the hole that Ogunbowale leaves. The former Notre Dame Irish may be the fourth-leading scorer in the league, but she is also first in field goals attempted at 510 and has the fourth-lowest field goal percentage among the other top scorers for the Wings.
If Dallas can move the ball around and not settle for jump shots, even when players are shooting well, it could have a good chance to advance past the first round of the playoffs. Dallas in 10th in the league in assists; the lack of ball movement could stall the team. Playing inside-out with 6’8 center Teaira McCowan is going to be key to that ball movement.
McCowan recorded her ninth double-double with 17 points and 13 rebounds against the Liberty. She said even though the Wings are in the playoffs, they still want to go into the playoffs on a winning streak.
“I think that, you know, we know what it takes to get past these last two games, and I mean, it’s either all or nothing. We still have to keep the intensity that we’ve been having and just get those two games like done and under our belt,” the former Mississippi State Bulldog said.
One thing that will be the most important is the team’s chemistry as it heads out on its road trip. Head coach Vickie Johnson said her team’s chemistry has grown, and players are believing in each other and understanding individual strengths and weaknesses as well as the team’s strengths and weaknesses.
“[They’re] just trusting each other more, just communicating through the ups and the downs. I think that’s the biggest thing. Because when I first got here last year and early part of this year, [if] something goes wrong, they separate, detach from each other,” Johnson said. “But of late, they’ve been coming together, discussing whatever they have to discuss and getting to understand that within themselves. For a long time, nobody really took ownership. It’s always great to see our players take ownership.”
There are several players who have already stepped up in Ogunbowale’s absence. The most notable: guard Marina Mabrey. She has averaged 21.8 points and 5.0 assists in the last five games. McCowan, forward Kayla Thornton and guard Allisha Gray are cornerstones of the defense, and Burton has started in four of the last five games, adding an additional wall up top. McCowan commands a minimum of two defenders as soon as she touches the ball down low, always leaving a Wing open.
Johnson said her bench has to play better. In a loss to New York, the Wings’ bench was outscored 50-9. The second-year Dallas head coach said her bench has players that were once starters, so it’s something they are going to have to pay attention to.
“Our second group that comes in is our most athletic group with K [Awak Kuier], Izzy [Isabelle Harrison] at the four and five. Ty [Tyasha Harris] is running the one and we have Gray, Mabrey or V in. So really don’t expect a lot of teams to dominate us like that, not their bench, so I think it’s just more of a focus,” she said.
The Dallas Wings will finish the regular season on the road against the Phoenix Mercury Aug. 12 and the Los Angeles Sparks Aug. 14. Both teams will be battling for a spot in the postseason, giving Dallas opportunities to see how it will handle a team that is under pressure and fighting to advance, like it will see in the first round of the playoffs.
According to The Next contributor and physical therapist Lucas Seehafer, recovery from the type of injury Ogunbowale sustained takes 6-8 weeks, optimistically.
“It simply takes that long for bone to heal. Typical core muscle surgery takes six weeks, but this has an added layer of complexity,” he said.
Dallas will face its biggest task, the playoffs, without its most productive player, as the six-week mark from her surgery is also the last possible date for the finals, Sept. 20. So, in a sense, losing Ogunbowale could mean everything.