Preseason games are one thing, especially in the WNBA where many players aren’t even back from their overseas seasons to take part in camp. The regular season is a completely different animal as former Arizona star Aari McDonald and her Atlanta Dream teammates saw on Friday night.
The Connecticut Sun defeated the Dream 78-67 in the season opener. The Sun, who got to the semifinals of last year’s WNBA playoffs, led by as many as 20.
“I like this team, but this is a team that’s gonna be a work in progress,” Atlanta head coach Mike Petersen said. “We’re gonna have flashes of being really good, and there were some of those tonight. We’re gonna have other times where we struggle. We’re trying to play a different style than most of these players are used to because of the way our roster’s assembled.”
As she had in the Dream’s preseason games and scrimmages, McDonald started the game on the bench. She got her first taste of regular-season professional basketball at 6:19 in the first quarter. Starting guard Chenney Carter picked up two early fouls and McDonald subbed in.
Unfortunately for McDonald, the foul bug bit her, too. She picked up two fouls in about three minutes and got whistled for her third two minutes into the second quarter. Aggressive defense has its plusses and minuses.
“I thought she was a little over-amped at the start,” Petersen said. “Everything was a foul, foul really fast, but it was out of exuberance and a desire to play hard. So I’ll always live with that, right? She’s got a lot to learn and our group’s got a lot to learn just in terms of playing together. But you know, I thought it was fun. She will look at the film, she’ll learn. She’s a good learner.”
McDonald seemed to learn fairly quickly. She did not commit another personal foul the rest of the game.
Like the rest of the Dream’s bench and some of their starters, McDonald struggled from the field. She went 0-for-4, including 0-for-2 from 3-point distance. Her only point came from a free throw, but she made an impact on the defensive end. Her stat line ended with two defensive rebounds, two steals, and an assist. She had no turnovers.
The Dream will play again on Wednesday, May 19 when they host the Chicago Sky. The Sky also made the playoffs last year. They were eliminated in the single-elimination opening round by Connecticut.