It is win or else for both the Connecticut Sun and Chicago Sky, who face off Friday night needing victories in their final two games to have a chance of attaining the highest seed available in the postseason.
The Sun (23-9) have been stalking the Washington Mystics for the No. 1 seed in the playoffs and will be no worse than No. 2 with a bye into the semifinals. Connecticut has the head-to-head tiebreaker by virtue of winning the season series, so two wins and a slip-up by Washington - at home against Dallas on Friday night or Sunday versus the Sky - would give Connecticut the top spot.
Curt Miller's team is coming off a 102-72 waxing of Dallas on Tuesday night, letting star rookie Arike Ogunbowale get hers as she scored 32 points while overwhelming the Wings with balanced scoring. Jonquel Jones had 22 to lead six players in double figures as the Sun shot a blistering 57.1 percent overall and hit 11 of 25 from beyond the arc.
"Semifinals, baby!" Miller said with gusto at his post-game press conference, with the stress of playing elimination games removed by securing a top-two finish. "Tonight we shot the ball fantastic, we were really efficient offensively, we did a really good job screening, and that contributed to a lot of actions that worked for us tonight."
Jones continues to lead the league in rebounds at 9.8 per game and is 12th in scoring at 14.6 points per contest. Connecticut has won nine straight at home, averaging 84.8 points while outscoring opponents by 13.1 per contest.
Chicago's chances of a top-four finish that would give it a bye to the second round are slim, needing to win both games and hope Los Angeles or Las Vegas lose their final two games to overtake them for fourth since they lose the head-to-head tiebreakers to both clubs.
The Sky (19-13), seeking their first 20-win season since going 21-13 in 2015, have been idle since thumping Phoenix 105-78 on Sunday. Cheyenne Parker and Astou Ndour scored 18 points apiece as Chicago also showcased its scoring depth with six players in double figures.
"When we're at a razor-sharp focus, our team is unstoppable," Parker told the Chicago Sun-Times. "We have so many weapons. If we keep that same energy and that same level of focus, I think we're going to make a lot of noise in the playoffs, and this definitely set the tone for that."
Courtney Vandersloot continued her season-long masterful direction of the offense, totaling 13 assists as she furthered her single-season record and remains on track to be the first player in WNBA history to average at least nine. The All-Star guard's overall mark of 9.1 assists per game is 3.1 more than her closest pursuer, and she has averaged 10.3 helpers in her last six games while posting a 4.43 assist-to-turnover ratio.
The home team has won both previous meetings, with Connecticut recording a 100-94 victory July 30 in the most recent matchup as Jones had 27 points and 11 rebounds.