Coming off her best game of the season, Arike Ogunbowale looks to further bolster her WNBA Rookie of the Year credentials Friday night when the Dallas Wings host the New York Liberty.
The fifth overall pick, Ogunbowale is locked in a tight contest with Minnesota center Napheesa Collier for rookie of the year honors, with their distinctive play within the teams' respective constructs creating debate.
Ogunbowale, who leads all rookies with 16.1 points per game - also good for seventh overall in the league - has been asked to shoulder the scoring load for Dallas (8-17) with the season-long absence of Skylar Diggins-Smith after she gave birth to her first child in the offseason.
The fellow Notre Dame alum has been on a tear in the last five games, averaging 23.4 points after scoring a season-high 35 in the Wings' 84-78 victory over Los Angeles on Wednesday night. Ogunbowale made 12 of 21 shots as Dallas had a league-minimum eight players available due to the suspensions of Kayla Thornton and Kristine Anigwe following their roles in Saturday's altercation in the fourth quarter of a loss to Phoenix.
"I knew this was coming," coach Brian Agler told the Dallas Morning News after Ogunbowale scored 15 of her points in the fourth quarter. "She's a phenomenal player. People can critique on social media, they can do all they want to do, but she is a special player. There's not been many rookies like her in the league that have come in and made an immediate impact."
Anigwe and Thornton will complete their respective two-game suspensions by sitting out this contest.
The Liberty (8-16) are in danger of slipping behind the Wings at the bottom of the WNBA standings as they look to end their season-worst losing streak at six games. Rebecca Allen scored a franchise-record 20 points in the second quarter and finished with a career-high 28, but turnovers continued to plague New York in its 89-73 loss to Minnesota on Tuesday night as 19 miscues led to 22 points for the Lynx.
"That's our problem collectively," Allen told New York Newsday about the turnovers, though she only committed one. "It's not like it's one or two people. It's everyone."
The Australian guard hit 6 of 7 from 3-point range and has recorded a pair of 20-point performances in her last three contests while connecting on 11 of 20 from beyond the arc. The Liberty have given up an average of 87.5 points during their losing streak while getting outscored by 14.2 per contest.
Ogunbowale's offensive surge began with a 22-point effort in Dallas' 87-64 rout of New York at home Aug. 1. It was a stark contrast to the first meeting, a 69-68 win for the Liberty in which she went 2 of 13 from 3-point range and 2 of 23 overall - with the 8.7 percent shooting the worst of any player in WNBA history who took at least 20 shots - while finishing with 10 points.