The 2023 NCAA women’s championship generated the best ratings in the sport’s history as eventual winner LSU, and its star Angel Reese outdueled the University of Iowa and sharpshooter Caitlin Clark.
This year’s WNBA clash of the titans should be just as epic, as defending champions the Las Vegas Aces and their star A’ja Wilson will match up with the resurgent New York Liberty and the league’s MVP Breanna Stewart. Race played a role in the Clark vs. Reese matchup and may do so again, but the competitive nature of the play also fueled the intense interest in women’s college hoops.
That should be the case for the WNBA, as the Aces and the Liberty were the league’s top two teams this season. The Liberty is looking for current relevance as the only original WNBA team that hasn’t won a title. Though they’ve been in the Finals four times, this is the first time they’ve played for the championship in 21 years.
“The fact that the Liberty haven’t been to a final since 2002 is wild, and to be able to have that and know that we have the entire city behind us is something that’s really, really special,” Stewart said.
But despite her MVP nod, Stewart’s struggled in the postseason, shooting under 40% overall.
The Aces are looking for their second title in a row with Wilson, a two-time WNBA MVP and this year’s Defensive Player of the Year for the second consecutive year. She tied the league record by scoring 53 points against the Atlanta Dream this season. In the postseason, Wilson averaged 26 points, 11 rebounds, and almost five blocks per game, helping the Aces go on an 11-0 run leading to the Finals.
Stars Jonquel Jones of the Liberty with her defense and Kelsey Plum of the Aces for her 3-point shooting (her husband, New York Giant Darren Waller, may be at the New York games to root her on) are expected to be factors for their teams. WNBA fans will also be watching New York’s Sabrina Ionescu and Las Vegas center Kiah Stokes.
The teams split their four meetings this season, but the Aces lost to the Liberty in the exhibition Commissioner’s Cup game in August. Though the Aces have an explosive offense – they’ve scored 97 points during the playoffs – they’ve also won, scoring just 64 points. The Liberty also has offensive star power, but their defense has been able to contain the Aces in the games they’ve won.
Sports prognosticators are also split on the eventual winner. Two ESPN analysts picked the Liberty, and two picked the Aces. That’s how evenly matched the teams are. But ESPN women’s basketball correspondent Alexa Philippou provided some balanced analysis for her choice.
“Liberty in 5,” she said. “I went back and forth and wouldn’t be shocked to be proved wrong. But at the end of the day, it’s hard to ignore how much the Liberty dominated the Aces in their most recent meetings in August.”
She added, “Plus, New York had a much tougher road to the championship series, and being battle-tested will pay off. Jones won MVP of the Commissioner’s Cup championship game thanks to her dominance in the paint on both ends and on the glass, and I project her to take home Finals MVP should the Liberty win.
The WNBA Finals will air live on ABC from Las Vegas’ Michelob ULTRA Arena at 3 p.m. ET.
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