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Sky back in familiar single-elimination playoff scenario; will this year be different?

A win Thursday night will start with containing the Wings’ leading scorer, Arike Ogunbowale.

Bella Alarie of the Dallas Wings drives to the basket during the game against the Sky on Aug. 17 at Wintrust Arena.
Bella Alarie of the Dallas Wings drives to the basket during the game against the Sky on Aug. 17 at Wintrust Arena.
Randy Belice, NBAE via Getty Images

The WNBA’s single-elimination playoff format has not been kind to the Sky.

Last season, like this season, they were the No. 6 seed playing the No. 7 seed Connecticut Sun. The Sun sent them home from the WNBA bubble in convincing fashion with a 94-81 victory.

The 2019 postseason was a bit more heartbreaking for the fifth-seeded Sky, who made it to the second-round single-elimination game. The Las Vegas Aces had the No. 4 seed and a Dearica Hamby steal followed by a half-court heave in the final seconds of the game eliminated the Sky from the playoffs.

Signing Candace Parker in February was supposed to guarantee a different outcome, but this year the Sky are in the same familiar postseason situation.

“Thinking back to the last two postseasons, we learned something different from every single one,” Kahleah Copper said.

The Sky’s 2019 postseason run exposed their need to maintain leads and control their opponent’s runs. Last year, they were without two key players in Diamond DeShields and Azura Stevens and didn’t follow the game plan.

This year their road to the semifinals is daunting, and it starts with the young, explosive seventh-seeded Dallas Wings, who have given the Sky problems all season.

In order to win Thursday night, the Sky must contain the Wings’ leading scorer, Arike Ogunbowale. The fifth-leading scorer in the league, Ogunbowale is a volume shooter who is going to hit shots regardless, but the Sky can’t allow her to get second-chance looks.

Neutralizing Allisha Gray, Moriah Jefferson and Marina Mabrey will be another critical component of the Sky’s game plan.

Mabrey came off the bench and tied her career-high with 28 points in the Wings’ 100-91 victory against the Sky in July. When the teams played again in August, it was Gray who led the Wings with 20 points.

Ogunbowale had her best outing against the Sky this season in the Wings’ 91-81 loss. The Sky secured that win by limiting the Wings’ other scoring threats and holding the team to 24% shooting from three-point range.

The Sky had a team meeting following their 33-point loss to the Aces last week in an attempt to regroup. Players said it was good to collectively talk about their identity ahead of the playoffs.

One of the main themes of the discussion was what players need to do individually to help rejuvenate the energy of the team.

“No matter what, the past is the past,” Allie Quigley said. “Now it’s time to do whatever it takes to win.”