Texas Ex Ariel Atkins shines in Game One of WNBA Finals

Myah Taylor

Two years ago, Ariel Atkins was an integral piece of an elite Texas squad. Now the standout guard is performing the same intrinsic role at the professional level on women’s basketball’s biggest stage.  

For the second consecutive year, Atkins and the No. 1 seeded Washington Mystics have qualified for the WNBA Finals. In the first game of the best-of-five series against No. 2  Connecticut Sun, the Mystics started strong with a 95-86 win, largely in part to Atkins’ play.

“It’s fun. I feel like this is what we play for,” Atkins said in front of a packed playoff crowd at the Entertainment and Sports Arena. “Regardless of if the moment is big or small, though, I’m going to always give it
my all.”

And that she did. Sunday saw Atkins score 21 points, 14 of which were in the first half. The Texas Ex went 6 for 7 overall, including 3 for 4 from beyond the arc. At the free throw line, the former Longhorn sank all six of
her attempts. 

But simply listing Atkins’ stats doesn’t tell the whole story. The Sun, who trailed the Mystics by 17 points halfway through the third quarter fought back in the fourth, shaving Washington’s lead down to four points with five minutes left to play. It was then that Atkins put the game away, draining a dagger corner three.

When making the decision about taking the shot, Atkins said she saw an opportunity and went for it.

“I knew that they were going to pay a lot of attention to Emma (Meesseman) and Elena (Delle Donne), and I knew I’d be open on the back side,” Atkins said in an interview with ESPN’s Holly Rowe after the game. “So (I did) what I needed to do to win this game.”

But her outstanding level of play is nothing new to the first-round draft pick. The three-time All-Big 12 Conference player is the Longhorns’ 20th all-time scorer with 1,497 points, starting 100 of her 121 games. Her 83.1 free-throw percentage during her tenure in Austin foreshadowed her performance at the line Sunday.

Atkins is in her second season with the Mystics after being picked seventh overall by the team in the 2018 WNBA Draft.  As a rookie, she earned WNBA All-Rookie Team and All-Defensive Second Team honors, the latter of which she also garnered in the 2019 season. 

If Atkins and the Mystics win out, the guard will join NeKeshia Henderson (Houston, 1997 and 2000) and Fran Harris (Houston, 1997) as the third player in Texas women’s basketball history to win a
WNBA Championship.

Atkins, referencing the Seattle Storm’s 3–0 sweep of the Mystics in the finals last season, made her motivations clear about how she was able to deliver in the final minutes of the fourth.

“We lost to Seattle last year,” Atkins said after the game with a look of resolve.

Atkins and the Mystics will continue their quest for a WNBA Championship when finals action continues October 1 on ESPN at 7 p.m.