Top UConn-related storylines in the WNBA this season

While the Huskies don’t have any new players in the league this year, there’s still plenty to keep an eye on when the new season kicks off on Friday.

Top Links

From the UConn WBB Weekly Premium:

Hidden Huskies: Mir McLean just makes plays – when she chooses to

As Geno Auriemma put it, Mir McLean has “tremendous natural ability,” which was evident throughout her freshman year. She’s incredibly athletic and isn’t that raw in terms of skills...The biggest obstacles for McLean to overcome all seem to be on the mental side: Maintaining focus, making better decisions and playing more in control. If she can learn to give 100 percent all the time, she’ll be a menace to opposing teams and a huge asset for Auriemma and the Huskies.

Gabby Williams’ fallout with the Chicago Sky and subsequent trade to the LA Sparks, explained

How did Gabby Williams end up suspended for the entire WNBA season and why did the Chicago Sky trade her to the Los Angeles Sparks? We broke it down for you.

Get film breakdowns, UConn in the WNBA updates, recruiting coverage and more with the UConn WBB Weekly Premium. Join now!

From The UConn Blog and Storrs Central:

Last week’s Weekly:

Elsewhere

In the news


Top UConn in the WNBA storylines

On Friday, the WNBA kicks off its 25th season and like all 24 seasons prior, UConn women’s basketball will have a heavily influence. This year, there are 15 former Huskies playing for eight of the league’s 12 teams.

For the first time since 2007, UConn didn’t have a single player drafted in the WNBA draft, so there won’t be any newcomers to keep an eye on. However, there are three Huskies on new teams while Renee Montgomery and Morgan Tuck both retired. Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis is still a free agent after spending last season with the Connecticut Sun and Gabby Williams won’t play this year due to commitments with the French national team.

The big stars — Sue Bird, Napheesa Collier, Breanna Stewart and Diana Taurasi — still remain and will all be vying for the WNBA title. With that, these are the biggest UConn-related storylines in the league this season:

Can anyone stop Breanna Stewart?

When Stewart is healthy, she rarely falls short of winning it all at whatever level she’s at. At UConn, she famously won four national championships in four years and was named the Final Four Most Outstanding Player each time.

In the WNBA, she’s helped the Seattle Storm capture the title in her last two healthy seasons and won finals MVP on both occasions. This past offseason, she guided UMMC Ekaterinburg to a EuroLeague and Russian League title, where — you guessed it — she earned MVP honors for the respective tournaments.

See the trend?

Though the Storm lost some pieces from their championship squad last season, they still have the ultimate x-factor in Stewart. Will this be the year that someone finally figures out how to stop her? Maybe, but you probably shouldn’t bet on it.

Two UConn super-teams out west

This offseason, two of the league’s most recognizable teams in the Western Conference began an arms race of sorts. Both the Phoenix Mercury and Seattle Storm made substantial moves to acquire former UConn stars.

The Mercury added Kia Nurse and Megan Walker to a roster that already included Diana Taurasi and Bria Hartley while the Storm traded the No. 1 pick in the 2021 WNBA Draft for Katie Lou Samuelson, who joins Bird and Stewart in the Pacific Northwest.

Nearly half the Huskies in the W are on these two teams. No other franchise has more than two. The Storm and Mercury face-off on July 9 and 11 as well as in the regular season finale on Sep. 17.

Will Nurse, Samuelson and Walker benefit from a change of scenery?

Speaking of the Mercury and Storm, they’re also home to the only three former UConn players that changed teams who will play this season and all three players could benefit from a change of scenery.

Samuelson hasn’t yet to find her footing in the WNBA yet and is on her third team in as many seasons. But if this past European season is any indication, she might finally be figuring things out. With CB Avenida in Spain, Samuelson earned First Team All-EuroLeague honors and took home the finals MVP in the Spanish league.

The Storm will also be the best team Samuelson’s been a part of in her WNBA career, so she won’t have expectations to be a star like at her previous stops in Chicago and Dallas.

Nurse has already found success in the league with an All-Star appearance in 2019, though she had a rough year with the 2-12 New York Liberty in the bubble, shooting just 27.3 percent overall while averaging 12.2 points and 2.3 assists per game.

“Every single day was rough shooting for me in the bubble,” Nurse told reporters on a Zoom call. “It was not a good season.”

With a new home, a better team and a more normal season ahead, Nurse will try to re-find the success of her second professional season.

As for Walker, she didn’t see much action for that same Liberty squad, averaging just 11.4 minutes and never scoring more than eight points in a night. While this might not quite be a make-or-break season for the second-year forward, she’ll need to show something to justify her roster spot.

Dangerfield coming off Rookie of the Year campaign

Pretty much the entire WNBA underestimated Dangerfield last year, letting her slide all the way to No. 16 in the draft before she took the league by storm and became the first non-first rounder to win rookie of the Year. Though Dangerfield won’t be able to sneak up on anyone this year, she’s put herself in a good position to improve in her second season.

She didn’t play overseas, so she’ll be plenty rested and the Lynx added some big pieces to the roster, so she’ll have more talent around her. With Minnesota expected to contend for the WNBA title, Dangerfield will once again be counted on to make sure everything runs smoothly on the offensive end.

Tina Charles, Tiffany Hayes return after a year away

Both Charles and Hayes opted out of last season due to COVID-19 concerns but both are back for the upcoming campaign. Hayes played with Samuelson on CB Avenida and should factor into an Atlanta Dream team that isn’t short on personality.

As for Charles, she’ll finally make her debut with the Washington Mystics after getting traded ahead of the 2020 season. She’ll be reunited with Mike Thibault, who drafted her back in 2010 and coached her for three seasons with the Connecticut Sun. After spending six seasons in purgatory with the New York Liberty, Charles will have a chance to play for a true contender for the first time since the early days of her career.


Best of social media

Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi ready to dominate another season in the WNBA:

Gabby Williams was excited about her trade to LA:

Quotables

“I’ve seen her make plays that I’ve never seen a woman make before. I saw Cheryl Miller in her prime. I saw Nancy Lieberman. Lisa Leslie. You name ’em. I saw all the best players. I’ve never seen anybody that dominates games—and dominates big games—the way Stewie does.” — Geno Auriemma on Breanna Stewart in The Ringer.