4 takeaways from the WNBA’s opening week: Zia Cooke, Breanna Stewart shine

The 2023 WNBA season is underway and there’s already plenty to talk about.

Brittney Griner returned to the court, the Las Vegas Aces won their first game without Becky Hammon on the bench, and Rookie of the Year front-runner Aliyah Boston is living up to the hype – averaging 15 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.5 blocks through two games while shooting 64.7 percent from the floor.

But there’s been a few other things – that don’t involve Griner, Boston or the Aces – that fans should pay attention to as well. Like that other super team in New York, another rookie from South Carolina playing well, and one team’s hot start.

Let’s dive in.

Don’t overlook Zia Cooke

The Los Angeles Sparks opened their season with a win over the Phoenix Mercury. But considering it was also the first game that Brittney Griner had played in since Oct. 17, 2021, the performance of a Sparks rookie might’ve gone unnoticed by a casual fan.

So, we should all take a moment to recognize how good Zia Cooke was in her first WNBA game. Cooke – the 10th overall pick in this year’s draft out of South Carolina – racked up 14 points, two rebounds and two assists in just 15 minutes for the Sparks in a win over the Mercury. Cooke shot 5-of-6 from the floor and drained a pair of 3-pointers, looking every bit like the Drysdale Award winner and All-American that she was for the Gamecocks.

The Sun are 3-0

With all the talk about super teams and whatnot, it was easy to forget about the Connecticut Sun – you know, the team that played in the Finals last year. And sure, the Sun lost their top player, former MVP Jonquel Jones (to the Liberty), and former head coach Curt Miller (to the Sparks), but many good pieces remained in Connecticut.

The Sun were happy to fly under the radar in the preseason and are off to a 3-0 start, sporting the WNBA’s best record one week into the season. Connecticut started the season off with a road win over the Indiana Fever, and then beat the Mystics twice.

A big three of sorts has led the Sun so far. Alyssa Thomas is on a tear, averaging 18 points, 12.3 rebounds, 5.7 assists and 2.7 steals per game. DeWanna Bonner and Brionna Jones are also averaging double digits in scoring, and the Sun are getting good minutes from Natisha Hiedeman, Tiffany Hayes, Rebecca Allen, Ty Harris and Oliva Nelson-Ododa.

Stephanie White, the Sun’s new head coach, guided the Fever to a Finals appearance in 2015 and won a title as an assistant in 2012. The sample size is small, but early indicators point to this Connecticut team being a tough out in the playoffs again.

Stewie making her mark in NY

The new-look Liberty got off to a rough start, falling 80-64 in their season-opener against the Mystics. The Liberty looked like, well, a bunch of players who were playing with each other for the first time. There were mistakes and miscues. New York turned the ball over 20 times and shot just 22 percent from 3-point land.

And then, the Liberty corrected some things against the Indiana Fever, and did so in a big way. The Liberty won 90-73, and Breanna Stewart – a New York native – broke the Liberty’s single-game franchise scoring record by pouring in 45 points. Stewart also grabbed 12 boards, and reached that scoring total in just 30 minutes.

Fellow newcomers Courtney Vandersloot and Jonquel Jones played well in the win too, combining for 25 points, eight assists and three rebounds.

It’s a sign that, while the Liberty might experience some early growing pains, this team’s talent will help it overcome most hurdles.

Viewership up!

As it turns out, when you make women’s basketball accessible, people watch.

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