WNBA set to crown first-time cham­pion

Antelope Valley Press (Sunday) - - Sports - By DOUG FEINBERG

The WNBA will crown a first-time cham­pion when the Wash­ing­ton Mys­tics and Con­necti­cut Sun meet in the league’s best-of-five fi­nals be­gin­ning Sun­day. It’s the first time that’s hap­pened since 2011. The Mys­tics will try and win the ti­tle af­ter get­ting swept in the fi­nals last sea­son, while the Sun re­turn to the cham­pi­onship for the first time since 2005. It’s the third time since the WNBA changed its play­off for­mat in 2016 that the top two seeds ad­vanced to play for the ti­tle.

NEW YORK — The WNBA will crown a first-time cham­pion when the Wash­ing­ton Mys­tics and Con­necti­cut Sun meet in the league’s best-of-five fi­nals be­gin­ning Sun­day.

It’s the first time that’s hap­pened since 2011. The Mys­tics will try and win the ti­tle af­ter get­ting swept in the fi­nals last sea­son, while the Sun re­turn to the cham­pi­onship for the first time since 2005.

It’s the third time since the WNBA changed its play­off for­mat in 2016 that the top two seeds ad­vanced to play for the ti­tle. Wash­ing­ton, as a three­seed last year, is the only team not to fin­ish 1 or 2 in the reg­u­lar-sea­son stand­ings to reach the cham­pi­onship round.

Here are a few things to watch for in the WNBA Fi­nals:

EASTERN DOM­I­NANCE: Even though there re­ally aren’t con­fer­ences in the WNBA since the play­off for­mat change in 2016, the for­mer East will have the cham­pion. It’s only the sec­ond time since 2009 that an Eastern team will win. The In­di­ana Fever were cham­pi­ons in 2012. Since the league’s first cham­pi­onship in 1997, the East has won four ti­tles (three by Detroit and In­di­ana’s).

TOUGH TERPS: Mary­land will be well rep­re­sented in the fi­nals with five of coach Brenda Frese’s for­mer play­ers com­pet­ing. Wash­ing­ton has Sha­tori Walker-Kim­brough (‘17), Tianna Hawkins (‘13) and Kristi To­liver (‘09) while the Mys­tics fea­ture Bri­onna Jones (‘17) and Alyssa Thomas (‘14). Wash­ing­ton also has Kiara Les­lie, who played two years at Mary­land be­fore trans­fer­ring to N.C. State for her fi­nal two sea­sons. She hasn’t played this year be­cause of a knee in­jury.

Only To­liver won a cham­pi­onship in col­lege and she’s also the only one to win a WNBA ti­tle, do­ing so with Los An­ge­les in 2016.

DIS­REPECTED: The Con­necti­cut Sun have rel­ished play­ing the role of the un­der­dog lately. The team, de­spite fin­ish­ing sec­ond, had no play­ers win ma­jor WNBA awards. The Sun have been sell­ing T-shirts dur­ing their play­off run that read Dis­re­speCT with the CT high­lighted.

“I just don’t think peo­ple have been pay­ing at­ten­tion to how we’ve played all sea­son,” said for­ward Alyssa Thomas, one of four Sun play­ers who av­er­age in dou­ble dig­its. “We are a No. 2 seed for a rea­son. And for no one to pick us and just as­sume that we are not a team that can’t play in the play­offs, we took that to heart.”

FULL STRENGTH: The Mys­tics lost two of the three meet­ings with Con­necti­cut dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son, but Wash­ing­ton was with­out key mem­bers of its team in all three games. Elena Delle Donne missed the first game on May 25 be­cause of knee pain. Emma Meesse­man missed the other two games be­cause she was with the Bel­gium na­tional team.

FA­MIL­IAR FACE: Win­ning the best-of-five se­ries would give coach Mike Thibault his first cham­pi­onship. It would come against his for­mer team, which he led from 200312. Thibault, who turns 69 on Satur­day, guided the Sun to the WNBA Fi­nals in 2004 and 2005 be­fore they fell short each time.

As­so­ci­ated Press

TI­TLE MATCHUP Wash­ing­ton Mys­tics’ Elena Delle Donne passes around Las Ve­gas Aces’ Kelsey Plum dur­ing the sec­ond half in Game 3 in the semi­fi­nals of the WNBA play­offs Sept. 22 in Las Ve­gas.

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