Arike Ogunbowale and the Wings are on the cusp of breaking into WNBA's upper echelon

The Dallas Wings remain on the cusp of breaking into the upper echelon. There are nights they can put it all together, like an 85-77 road win against the Connecticut Sun on May 24. And then there are evenings it all piles up in the wrong way, like an 84-79 loss at home to the Seattle Storm last weekend.

Though the Wings (6-8) take a four-game losing streak into Friday night's matchup with the Phoenix Mercury (6-9), those L's were against the two of the four best teams in the league in the Storm (9-5) and Las Vegas Aces (12-2). And the final scores were close: six, one, five and eight.

After that May win against the Sun that marked four straight road wins, forward Satou Sabally tweeted, "Three years ago we would have lost this game. We’re growing and it’s so fun to see."

Arike Ogunbowale, the franchise cornerstone and consistent WNBA top-five scorer, sees the same thing.

"I think individually everybody has grown up and learned from prior mistakes," Ogunbowale told Yahoo Sports in an interview last week for her Red Bull "Dallas Has Wiiings" partnership. "And [we're] just trying to be better this year. You can see in the offseason everybody got their individual work in. I know that’s elevated our team, too, people getting extra time in the gym. And I think that’s just shown."

Dallas Wings guard Arike Ogunbowale sees her team building toward a playoff spot. (Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
Dallas Wings guard Arike Ogunbowale sees her team building toward a playoff spot. (Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

Dallas' net rating is -1.6, bettering the -2.2 in 2021 and a marked difference from the -5.6 and -7.1 in the two years prior, per Her Hoop Stats. In 2019, nearly every major team statistic was in the red from win percentage (.294, 10th) to points (71.6, 11th) and pace (78.2, 12th). That's no longer the case.

That was Ogunbowale's first year when she averaged 19.1 ppg and received an MVP vote playing with 2017 fourth overall pick Allisha Gray. The following spring the franchise drafted Sabally second overall and traded for Marina Mabrey, who won the 2018 NCAA championship alongside Ogunbowale at Notre Dame.

"We’ve been building," Ogunbowale said. "We’ve had core pieces since my rookie year. We’ve added great players, but now we've play together for two, some of us three years already. So we’ve learned each other. We still have a ways to go, but we’ve definitely learned each other and the chemistry is just getting better and better. And that just shows on the court."

Ogunbowale, 25, has remained her consistent self after finishes of third (19.1 ppg), first (22.8), fifth (18.7) and currently fourth (18.3) in the league over her short career. She's hitting inside the arc at a 41.5% clip, better than last season's career-low, and is making 33.3% of her 3s on a career-high 8.1 attempts per game. She reaches a 30-point game at least every year and already put up 37 in May against the Mercury, two off her career-high of 39 in 2020.

Gray, 27, has also stepped up to average 14.5 ppg (up from 11.9 in 2021) and shooting 42.9% beyond the arc (ranking ninth and better than her 34.1% career average). Mabrey, 25 and the other half of the "Marike" moniker, is more efficient this season taking fewer shots from both inside and outside the arc, but hitting them at a higher clip (51.4% 2s and 42.6% 3s). Her 56% free-throw mark could use stiffening.

And Sabally, 24, returned after a Turkish League title to average 11.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.1 assists over eight games. Forward Isabelle Harrison, 28, rounds out their double-digit performers at 10.1 ppg.

Consistency, health and availability are the key for the Wings to slide into a playoff spot. In that loss last week to the Storm, Ogunbowale was ejected, Mabrey remained in health and safety protocols and Sabally exited with a knee injury. Mabrey returned since, but Sabally did not play in Wednesday's matinee loss to the Aces and is listed as day-to-day.

Dallas hosts the Sparks on Sunday.

Fantasy WNBA notes

My fantasy experience in a nutshell: I've run out of IR spots.

If there's one big takeaway I have so far, it's that an eight-team league may be too much for a league that only has 12 teams. There aren't many great wire options when injuries strike since nearly every starter is already taken. And sure, there are players who might step up in the interim. But am I really going to drop Sue Bird to pick up another guard when she's out for a few days with an illness?

Lynx guard Moriah Jefferson (21.6 FPPG) is being picked up in more leagues as is Liberty guard Marine Johannes (14 FPPG), who has only played two games.

Highlight of the week

That's some nice ball movement you've got there.

The Sun (11-4) hit the century mark for the first time this season to keep solid hold of their No. 2 spot in the standings. Courtney Williams scored 20 points and eight rebounds in the 105-92 win against the Atlanta Dream on Wednesday night. Natisha Hiedeman added 18.

AD Durr played their second game with Atlanta (7-7) and led the offense with a career-high 21 points, four rebounds, two assists and a steal. The point total was three times their previous season-high while with New York. Aari McDonald scored 19 points shooting 7-of-12 and added five assists.

Game of the week

It is indeed Sue Bird's final season. A proper red Solo cup cheer to #TheFinalYear.

Bird and the Seattle Storm (9-5) made the announcement in tandem on Thursday with the franchise on its East Coast swing. First up is a rematch with the Connecticut Sun (11-4) just down the road from Storrs, where she won two NCAA national championships with the UConn Huskies.

It's a battle of two of the five teams above .500 a few games away from the midway point of the season. The Storm lost, 93-86, on June 5 while outrebounded (36-26) and unable to contain bigs Jonquel Jones (25 points, eight rebounds, six assists) and DeWanna Bonner (21 points, three steals). Alyssa Thomas neared a triple-double with 12 assists, 11 rebounds and eight points.

Next up for Bird's farewell is a trip to her home state for the final time. Bird, a Syosset native, won a New York state high school championship playing for Christ the King in Queens, a quick (maybe) jaunt from Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Seattle won both games at home against the Liberty (5-9) on Memorial Day weekend by margins of eight and 31. Bird missed both while in health and safety protocols.

But this is a Liberty squad settling into the newness and coming off a two-point loss to the defending champs. Sabrina Ionescu has been more than stellar in June and Marine Johannes is already dishing out dazzling passes.

What you may have missed

WNBA on TV schedule

Games not aired on national TV are available via WNBA League Pass as well as Twitter and Facebook games. All times are E.T.

Friday: Storm at Sun (7 p.m., CBS Sports Network), Mercury at Wings (8 p.m., Twitter), Dream at Sky (8 p.m., Facebook)

Saturday: No games schedule

Sunday: Storm at Liberty (noon, ESPN), Sun at Mystics (2 p.m., CBS), Sky at Fever (3 p.m., Fever Facebook), Sparks at Wings (4 p.m., Amazon Prime), Lynx at Aces (6 p.m., CBS Sports Network)