It may have been exhibition, but those attending the WNBA All-Star Game in Phoenix on Saturday couldn’t ask for anything more.
The Eastern Conference defeated the West, 125-124 in overtime, with its most accomplished player- Tamika Catchings- hitting the winning shot and stealing the ball on the final play, and the youngest player- Shoni Schimmel- being named MVP with a record 29 points and eight assists.
“It was fantastic,” East coach Michael Cooper said. “I told our team to come out and wow the crowd and have fun, and boy they did that.”
Skylar Diggins led the West with 27 points, Maya Moore scored 24, Brittney Griner 17, and Candice Dupree 12. Catchings posted a double-double with 14 points and 13 rebounds for the East, Tina Charles scored 19, Katie Douglas 15, Angel McCoughtry 13, and Jessica Breland grabbed 12 rebounds. Nneka Ogwumike also had 11 rebounds for the West, and Moore had eight assists.
The game fittingly began with Griner, one of three Phoenix Mercury players in the game, opening the scoring 10 seconds after the tip.
“I definitely wanted to win, but I think everybody in the stands wanted to have a good time and that’s what it’s all about,” Griner said.
Diana Taurasi was scoreless in the first half, but twice set up two plays with ‘hockey’ assists, first to Candace Parker who kicked it out to Moore for a three, then later to Moore who found Diggins under the net for a basket.
Briann January hit a three to pull the East within one, 28-27, with 20 seconds left in the first quarter, as Griner and Dupree each scored eight for the West.
Diggins scored nine straight for the West in the second, including seven uninterrupted to give her side a 12-point lead, before Douglas drained back-to-back threes and Erika de Souza capitalized on an 8-0 run.
Charles, who scored eight in the second, tied it at 49-49, only to be answered back with a Griner dunk. The East would make an 8-2 run to go up 57-53 at halftime.
Schimmel executed three-point shots on three consecutive possessions in the early third, with Taurasi finally finding the bottom of the rim for the West between each. The East took a 10-point lead, cut to one when Sue Bird spotted a three in the corner. A Diggins three gave the lead back to the West, 73-73 with 3:40 left. A parade of threes followed off the hands of January, Diggins, Douglas, Parker and even Charles, as the lead flip flopped between the two, and the West led 86-85 after three.
The fourth continued to be close on each side. The East built a nine-point lead, Moore cut it to six with a three, and Diggins hit a pair of free throws to cut it to four. Catchings pushed the lead back to six, Moore scored on other end, and Diggins cut it to 112-110 with just under a minute left. Diggins took a Bird steal for a layup to knot it at 112-112, but the East couldn’t get off a clear look in the final possession, and Moore threw up a halfcourt shot at the buzzer.
Griner and Moore scored early in OT, and a Diggins three two minutes in gave the West a seven-point lead, but she was answered on the other side from Schimmel. With two miniutes remaining, Moore drained a three, and it was 124-117. Douglas nailed one at 1:10, and Schimmel converted another trey with 34 ticks to close the gap to 124-123. Catchings layed it in with six seconds to send the East to a 125-124 advantage, then picked off Diggins at the horn.
“Fans want to see a show, but I thought our balance was really good, playing hard, just not going crazy,” West coach Cheryl Reeve said. “Certain players are All-Stars for a reason, they have that competitive fire in them.”