The WNBA Rewind: Week ending August 19

A recap of select WNBA games, milestones, and industry news for the final week of the 2018 WNBA season ending August 19.

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Disclaimer: All stats and rankings are courtesy of the official WNBA website. Opinions and league award rankings are solely those of this author. Don’t @ me.

This is my final WNBA Rewind for the 2018 regular season. Thank you for stopping by, whether it was regularly, once in a while, or for the first time.  Now, to business:

The Bounce

Most of the chatter this week rightfully surrounds the playoffs: who moves up or down, who are locked in, and who makes the eighth and final spot. For those seven teams who have already claimed a playoff spot and are simply jockeying for position, referee calls become even more crucial.

No one knows this better than the Atlanta Dream. In their quest to hold on to the #2 seed and a coveted double-bye, they visited the Phoenix Mercury only to have former bench spark and current starter Brittney Sykes ejected for double technical fouls early in the 3rd quarter. The first technical foul, well...fans didn’t like it but rolled with it. The second tech, seconds later, was confusing because Sykes appeared to be nowhere near the referee who made the call, nor did she do anything obvious to warrant a second technical foul/ejection.

The referee, Roy Gulbeyan, seems to have a reputation for calling “ghost fouls”, according to PAC-12 college basketball fans who commented on the ejection on analyst LaChina Robinson’s tweet.  This, of course, led to further rumbling (especially in Atlanta) that the referees wanted Phoenix to win. It’s not uncommon for referees to favor the home team and/or star players in calls but in a game with heavy playoff seeding implications (in this case, threatening the Dream’s #2 seed, especially since the Washington Mystics won later that evening to climb to #3 and one game back from Atlanta), it really pays for the referees to be extra careful. The Mercury went on to win the game (that’s how important Sykes was and is to the Dream) and Atlanta had to wait until Sunday to try and clinch the #2 seed. Even if the technical foul is rescinded on Sykes, it’s too late now.

Do better, referees, but I certainly hope that the WNBA doesn’t implement those lame and unpopular “Last 2-Minute” (L2M) reports that the NBA does.

In Other News

  • Elena Delle Donne (Washington Mystics, Eastern Conference) and Maya Moore (Minnesota Lynx, Western Conference) were named the Players of the Week for games played through August 12.
  • Sylvia Fowles (Minnesota Lynx) reached her 3,000th career rebound in Minnesota’s game against the Chicago Sky. She now ranks 6th in WNBA history. She also set a new WNBA single-season rebounding record (404) in the Lynx’s game against the Washington Mystics.
  • Courtney Vandersloot (Chicago Sky) passed Ticha Penicheiro for most assists in a single season (241) in WNBA history in the Sky’s game against the Minnesota Lynx last week. She now holds the league’s all-time record with 258 single-season assists after the final season game against the Indiana Fever.
  • Erica Wheeler (Indiana Fever) surpassed her 1,000th career point in a recent game against the Las Vegas Aces. She joins Tierra Ruffin-Pratt (Washington Mystics) as the only two undrafted players in WNBA history to pass 1,000 career points.
  • Candice Dupree (Indiana Fever) reached 6,000 career points in the game against the Washington Mystics. She now stands at #8 in all-time career points score (6,035 points) across 13 seasons.
  • Candace Parker (Los Angeles Sparks) reached her 500th career block in the game against the Washington Mystics.
  • Brittney Griner (Phoenix Mercury) scored her 3,000th career point in the game against the Atlanta Dream.
  • Diana Taurasi (Phoenix Mercury) made her 100th 3-point shot of the season in the game against the Atlanta Dream.
  • The Air Swoopes II, Nike’s signature shoe for Houston Comets great and Olympic gold medalist Sheryl Swoopes, was re-released this week. Swoopes was the first female athlete to have her own shoe for Nike, and the second Nike athlete EVER at that time (1995) to have a shoe actually named for her or him (the first, of course, was Michael Jordan and the “Air Jordan” line, and others such as LeBron James have gone on to have a signature named shoe). 
  • Two excellent articles were published this week about the Dallas Wings’ Liz Cambage and the Las Vegas Aces’ Tamera Young. Thank me later.

You Got Served

The Dallas Wings visited the Connecticut Sun in their first game under interim head coach Taj McWilliams-Franklin and the 100th career game with the Suns for their head coach Curt Miller. Tayler Hill (5 points, 2 assists, 1 steal, one 3-pointer) got the start for the Wings. Dallas came out with some fire, understanding how much was at stake as they tried to move toward clinching the final spot in the playoff race. Liz Cambage (15 points, 13 rebounds, 2 blocks, ) was back in the lineup for Dallas but got 2 fouls early in the 1st quarter. Dallas’s Glory Johnson (1 rebound, 1 block) was hit in the face late in the 1st; she was taken back to the locker room but returned to the game. Connecticut was up 22-18 at the end of the 1st quarter. The Sun went on a 6-0 run halfway through the 2nd quarter to go up 40-27 and led 50-38 at halftime. The Connecticut bench scored 34 points in the first half. Dallas went on a run and cut the deficit to 10 points; Cambage picked up her 3rd foul halfway through the 3rd quarter. The Sun led 73-56 heading into the 4th quarter and won 96-76;  The Sun bench outscored the Dallas bench 54-6. Jonquel Jones scored a season-high 27 points for Connecticut and had 10 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, and three 3-pointers. Chiney Ogwumike (13 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals), Morgan Tuck (12 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist), Courtney Williams (10 points, 4 rebounds, 2 steals), and Rachel Banham (10 points, 1 assist, 1 steal, one 3-pointer) were also in double digits for Connecticut. Allisha Gray (18 points, 5 rebounds, 4 steals, one 3-pointer), Skylar Diggins-Smith (17 points, 4 rebounds, 8 assists, 1 block, three 3-pointers), and Kayla Thornton (15 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 5 steals, 1 block, three 3-pointers) were also in double digits for Dallas.

Winning Hand

The New York Liberty added to their already lengthy injured list when Tina Charles sat out with back spasms to join Amanda Zahui B, Shavonte Zellous (knee), and Epiphanny Prince (ankle) as they visited the Las Vegas Aces. The Aces were cruising in the 1st quarter. Carolyn Swords (10 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists) picked up 2 fouls in the 1st quarter. The Aces shot 66% and outrebounded New York 22-6; they were up 31-10 at the end of the 1st quarter. Las Vegas’ Nia Coffey (2 rebounds, 1 block) picked up her 3rd foul halfway through the 2nd quarter. New York went on a 17-6 run late in the 2nd quarter thanks to Bria Hartley (14 points, 1 assist, 1 steal, two 3-pointers) and Kia Vaughn (5 points, 1 assist, 1 steal) and eventually closed a 24-point deficit to 13 points. Las Vegas led 46-33 at halftime.  Kayla McBride (15 points, 1 rebound, 3 assists, one 3-pointer) did not score in the 1st half for Las Vegas.   The Liberty started the 3rd quarter with a 3-pointer by Sugar Rodgers (11 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, three 3-pointers). Swords picked up her 3rd foul early in the 3rd quarter. New York pushed and got the deficit down to 9 points as the Aces took a 62-53 lead into the 4th quarter. Las Vegas regained intensity to start the 4th quarter but again let the Liberty cut the lead to 8 points late in the 3rd quarter. McBride scored her first points of the game halfway through the 4th quarter and went on to score 15 points. Las Vegas won their second straight game, 85-72, to bring them one step closer to a playoff spot and in a tie with Dallas for the 8th seed (though Dallas owns the series tiebreaker) as they traveled to Dallas next.  A'Ja Wilson (19points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals) passed Cappie Pondexter to place 2nd in All-Time rookie season points (625) scored; the record holder is Minnesota's Seimone Augustus (744). Kia Nurse (14 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, two 3-pointers) and Brittany Boyd (10 points, 4 rebounds, 6 assists) were also in double digits for New York. Tamera Young chipped in 11 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal, and one 3-pointer for Las Vegas.

Sunny Side Up

Rebekkah Brunson (nose/concussion) missed her fourth straight game for Minnesota, and Danielle Robinson is out for the season with an ankle injury;  Lindsay Whalen (6 points, 3 assists) once again came off the bench. Connecticut was without the services of Chiney Ogwumike (knee). Whalen received a standing ovation in recognition of the six seasons she played for the Sun before going to the Lynx. Both teams came out ready to play. Sylvia Fowles (25 points, 8rebounds, 2 assists) was dominant for Minnesota and had 14 pts in the 1st quarter. 2 fouls were called on both Connecticut's Jonquel Jones (26 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist, 4 blocks, five 3-pointers) and Fowles in the 1st quarter. The Lynx were up 28-22 at the end of the 1st quarter. Connecticut opened the 2nd quarter with a floater by Layshia Clarendon (14 points, 2 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals). A basket by the Sun’s Morgan Tuck (4 points, 1 rebound, 2 assists) tied the game 33-33 halfway through the 2nd quarter. Fowles picked up her 3rd foul at 4:51 in the 2nd. Jones picked up her 3rd foul 8 seconds later. A common foul plus a technical foul was called on Minnesota’s Seimone Augustus (12 points, 2 rebounds, 3 assists) late in the 2nd quarter. Connecticut head coach Curt Miller received a technical foul with 48 seconds left in the 2nd quarter. Minnesota led 46-43 at halftime. Connecticut came out stronger in the 3rd quarter and took the lead with an Alyssa Thomas (18 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists, 1 steal) layup within the first two minutes of the quarter. The Lynx’s Maya Moore (12 points, 7 rebounds, 8 assists, 2 steals, one 3-pointer) picked up her 3rd foul halfway through the 3rd quarter. Fowles got hot to bring the Lynx within 2 points of Connecticut. The Sun took a 72-67 lead into the 4th quarter and dominated for most of the entire quarter; Connecticut won 96-76. Courtney Williams chipped in 13 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, and one 3-pointer for Connecticut.

Spellbound

The Los Angeles Sparks visited the Washington Mystics in what was a very evenly matched and physical game. The Mystics were without rookie Ariel Atkins due to a hip injury; Monique Currie (2 points, 1 rebound. 1 assist, 1 block) got the start. After a game delay due to faulty shot clocks, the Sparks dominated the 1st quarter despite a 7-0 run by the Mystics and led 23-18 at the end of the 1st. The Mystics fought back to close the gap to two points halfway through the 2nd quarter. Baskets by Elena Delle Donne (16 points, 10 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks, two 3-pointers) and Natasha Cloud (4 points, 2 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals ) allowed the Mystics to jump to a 7-point lead. Kristi Toliver (12 points,4 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, two 3-pointers) tweaked her ankle with 2:36 left in the 2nd quarter and left the game but quickly returned. Tempers started to flare late in the 2nd quarter when Los Angeles’ Candace Parker (13 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists, 1 block, 1 steal, two 3-pointers) was knocked to the ground after a rebound by Washington’s Tianna Hawkins (6 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals, 1 block). The game was tied 40-40 at halftime. Things escalated between Parker and Hawkins when they both got tangled up right after the halftime buzzer; Parker took offense and a shoving match ensued between the players before their respective teammates separated the players. Both Parker and Hawkins received technical fouls. The Sparks went on a 7-0 run to take a 47-70 lead early in the 3rd quarter. The Mystics went on a 6-0 run late in the 3rd quarter to cut the Los Angles lead to 5 points. The Sparks led 58-54 heading into the 4th quarter. Parker recorded her 500th career block.  The game was tied 67-67 with 3.8 seconds left in the game until an off-balance Natasha Cloud buzzer-beater gave the Mystics their eighth straight win, 69-67.

LaToya Sanders (10 points, 8 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals, 1 block) and Ariel Powers (10 points, 10 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 block, two 3-pointers) were also in double digits for Washington. Riquna Williams (14 points, 3 rebounds, 1 steal, two 3-pointers), Nneka Ogwumike (10 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, 1 block), and Chelsea Gray (10 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, two 3-pointers) were also in double digits for Los Angeles.

The Final Countdown

The Las Vegas Aces visited the Dallas Wings in a battle for the final playoff spot.  It seemed that both teams understood the importance of the game. The Aces went on a 9-4 run early in the 1st quarter. Liz Cambage (43 points, 13 rebounds, set the franchise's single-season scoring record with 665 points. The Wings hustled and came back to close the gap. Las Vegas was up 27-21 at the end of the 1st quarter.  The Aces’ Moriah Jefferson ( ) twisted her ankle 7:29 in the 2nd quarter but stayed in the game. Cambage kept getting to the free throw line early in the 2nd and scored 6 straight points to cut the Wings deficit to 2 points. Las Vegas led 57-51 at halftime and shot 61% in the first half. Dallas went on a 4-0 run to open the 3rd quarter and tied the game early in the 3rd. Cambage picked up her 3rd foul later in the 3rd quarter after scoring 6 straight points. The Wings rallied to take an 83-81 lead into the 4th quarter. Dallas went on a 9-0 run to take a 6-point lead halfway through the 4th quarter. Kayla Thornton (10 points, 4 rebounds, 1 steal, one 3-pointer) was elbowed in the abdomen by Las Vegas’ A’Ja Wilson (34 points, 7 rebounds, 4 blocks) with 1:40 left in the game and went to locker room. The Wings’ Skylar Diggins-Smith (23 points, 2 rebounds, 8 assists, 2 steals, three 3-pointers) responded with a bucket to push the lead to 4 points. Cambage put the dagger in the Aces'postseason hopes with an and-1 with 1:02 left in the game to balloon the Wings lead to 8 points. Dallas clinched the last playoff spot, 107-102, by virtue of owning the season series tiebreaker against Las Vegas; it will be their second straight playoff appearance and their first win since July 19 to end a 9-game losing streak. It was also the first win under interim head coach Taj McWilliams-Franklin. Glory Johnson added 11 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1 steal for Dallas. Kelsey Plum (20 points, 2 rebounds, 6 assists, 1 steal, 1 block, four 3-pointer), Kayla McBride (16 points, 3 rebounds, 12 assists, four 3-pointers),Tamera Young (11 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 block), and Dearica Hamby (10 points, 1 assist) were also in double digits for Las Vegas.

A Dream Deferred

The Phoenix Mercury hosted the Atlanta Dream as the Dream looked to secure the #2 seed. Both teams came out strong but Atlanta’s Tiffany Hayes (21 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals, one 3-pointer) was slow to warm up. Phoenix’s Diana Taurasi (27 points, 4 rebounds, 14 assists, 2 steals, four 3-pointers) made her 100th 3-pointer of the season late in the 1st. A technical foul was called on the Mercury’s Brittney Griner (33 points, 18 rebounds, 1 assist, 7 blocks) with 1 minute left in the 1st quarter. Phoenix was up 25-23 at the end of the 1st quarter. Atlanta’s rookie Monique Billings (5 points, 5 rebounds, 1 steal) tied the game at the start of the 2nd quarter.  Griner scored her 3,000th career point late in the 2nd quarter. The Mercury led 50-47 at halftime. A technical foul was called on the Dream’s Brittney Sykes (11 points, 1 assist, 1 block, one 3-pointer) early in the 3rd quarter. Sykes got a second, questionable technical foul seconds later and was ejected with 8:26 left in the 3rd quarter. The Mercury led 79-76 headed into the 4th quarter.  Strong defense by Phoenix and missed free throws by Atlanta gave the Mercury the 104-95 win to secure home court for the first round of the playoffs. DeWanna Bonner(21 points, 16 rebounds, 7 assists, 3 steals, two 3-pointers) and Briann January (16 points, 1 assist, 1 steal, 1 block, four 3-pointers) were also in double digits for Phoenix. Alex Bentley (24 points, 3 rebounds, 6 assists, 1 steal, six 3-pointers) led all scorers for Atlanta; Elizabeth Williams (13 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks) and Renee Montgomery (10 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, three 3-pointers) were also in double digits for Atlanta.

Sunny Side of the Street

Both the Los Angeles Sparks and the Connecticut Suns were fighting for a 4th-seed lock as the Sparks visited the Sun (The Sun sat at the #4 seed at tipoff due to the season series tiebreaker). There was no Nneka Ogwumike (injury--late scratch) for the Sparks or Chiney Ogwumike (knee soreness) for the Sun. Los Angeles went on a 5-0 run after the Sun made the game's first basket, but a Jonquel Jones (17 points, 9 rebounds, 7 assists, 1 block, two 3-pointers) 3-pointer and back-to-back buckets by Courtney Williams (13 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, one 3-pointer) got Connecticut back on track. Los Angeles' Riquna Williams (8 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals) and rookie Maria Vadeeva (2 points, 4 rebounds, 2 blocks) both got early burn in this game. Connecticut ended the 1st quarter with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Morgan Tuck (10 points, 3 rebounds, 2 steals, two 3-pointers) and a 26-18 lead. The Sun led by as much as 18 points in the 2nd quarter before allowing the Sparks to come back a bit and cut the lead to 10 points. Jones picked up her 3rd foul with 44 seconds left in the 2nd quarter. Connecticut led 52-41 at halftime and made eight 3-pointers in the first half. The Sparks came out more aggressive in the second half of the 3rd quarter to cut Connecticut's lead to 6 points; the Sun started the 4th quarter with a 69-63 lead. Connecticut outscored Los Angeles 19-4 since halfway through the 3rd quarter. Los Angeles managed to cut the lead to 4 points with 50 seconds left in the 4th quarter, but a key steal by C. Williams led to being fouled and two crucial free throws. Despite disruptive play by the Sparks in the final seconds of the game (and an ill-advised foul of R. Williams on the 3-point line by Jones), plus a technical foul called on Candace Parker (20 points, 10 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals, 1 block, one 3-pointer) with 1.2 seconds left in the game, the Sun held on to win their fourth straight game, 89-86, and clinch the #4 playoff seed and a first-round bye. Jasmine Thomas led all Connecticut scorers with 27 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 steal, four 3-pointers); Shekinna Stricklen added 10 points, 4 rebounds, and two 3-pointers. Jantel Lavender (17 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist1 steal, two 3-pointers), Essence Carson (14 points, 3 rebounds, 2 steals, 1 block two 3-pointers), Chelsea Gray (12 points, 3 rebounds, 7 assists, one 3-pointer), and Odyssey Sims (11 points, 3 rebounds, 1 steal, one 3-pointer) were all in double digits for Los Angeles.

Don’t Wake Me, I’m Dreaming

The Atlanta Dream visited the Las Vegas Aces for the Aces’ final home game under their new identity. Renee Montgomery (16 points, 4 rebounds, 9 assists, 5 steals, four 3-pointers) started the game with a 3-pointer for the Dream. The Aces were looking to spoil Atlanta’s hold on the #2 seed. Las Vegas mostly kept pace with Atlanta and cut their deficit to one point, 20-19, at the end of the 1st quarter. The Dream was cold in the first two minutes of the game before a Brittney Sykes (9 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 block) bucket. The Aces were up by 5 points before Atlanta went on a 6-0 run to pull ahead by 1 point. Rookie A’Ja Wilson (21 points, 7 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals, 1 block) tied the Los Angeles Sparks’ Candace Parker for second in all-time rookie games with consistent double-figure scoring (Houston Comets Cynthia Cooper is first) and moved to second in all-time most points scored in a rookie season (644, behind Minnesota’s Seimone Augustus). The Las Vegas bench was extremely productive in the first half; Atlanta only got 4 points from its bench, courtesy of Alex Bentley (12 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, two 3-pointers).  The Aces led 47-41 at halftime. The Dream came out a lot scrappier in the 3rd quarter and tied the game at least twice. A technical foul was called on Atlanta’s Tiffany Hayes (11 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists) late in the 3rd quarter. Atlanta tightened up their defense and a three-pointer by Blake Dietrick (3 points) off the bench gave the Dream a 64-62 lead heading into the 4th quarter. Atlanta’s Jessica Breland (16 points, 6 rebounds, 1 steal, 2 blocks) was called for her 5th foul at the 7:00 mark in the 4th quarter and fouled out with 3:20 left in the game. Three consecutive 3-pointers by Montgomery late in the 4th quarter gave Atlanta a 93-78 win to secure the #2 seed and the second double-bye (the Seattle Storm, as the #1 seed, has the other). Elizabeth Williams led all scorers for Atlanta with 20 points, 7 rebounds, and 1 block. Dearica Hamby chipped in 14 points, 8 rebounds, 1 assist, and 1 block for Las Vegas.

The “W” in Whalen Stands for “Win”

The Washington Mystics visited the Minnesota Lynx for the last game of the last day of the 2018 regular season. Lindsay Whalen (10 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists, 4 steals, one 3-pointer) was in the starting lineup for the last time in her last game at the Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota; she received a huge standing ovation. Rebekkah Brunson (concussion) and Danielle Robinson (ankle) continued to be out for the Lynx; Cecelia Zandalasini (12 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, two 3-pointers) once again started. Rookie Ariel Atkins was back in the lineup for the Washington Mystics after missing the last two games with a hip injury. Both teams came out strong and the Lynx overcame a 5-point deficit to tie the game at the end of the 1st quarter. Temi Fagbenle (career-high 10 points, 2 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 block) ended the 1st quarter and started the 2nd quarter with a basket for the Lynx.  Minnesota was up 44-43 at halftime; there were 11 ties and 12 lead changes in the first half. Washington went on an 8-0 run early in the 3rd quarter to take a 53-50 lead. A back-and-forth contest between the teams gave the Mystics the edge, 67-65, heading into the 4th quarter. A Whalen 3-pointer at 8:11 in the 4th quarter gave Minnesota a 1-point lead, then went on a 13-0 run to take an 8-point lead over Washington. Mystics head coach Mike Thibault was called for a technical foul with 2:22 left in the game. Whalen left the court for the final time with 1:09 left in the game. Minnesota won 88-83 to snap both their three-game losing streak and the Mystics’ 8-game winning streak. Since the Atlanta Dream won over the Las Vegas Aces, the Mystics and the Lynx secured the #3 and #7 playoff seeds, respectively. Sylvia Fowles (26 points, 14 rebounds, 1 assist) set the single-season assist record (403), surpassing the Connecticut Sun’s Jonquel Jones.  Maya Moore (16 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, two 3-pointers) and Seimone Augustus (10 points, 1 rebound, 5 assists, 1 steal) were also in double digits for Minnesota. Kristi Toliver (17 points, 2 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal, two 3-pointers) and Elena Delle Donne (11 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, one 3-pointers) were in double digits for Washington.

[No Rookie Watch for this final regular season issue, except to say that Diamond DeShields (CHI), Azurá Stevens (DAL) Jordin Canada (SEA) and Monique Billings (ATL) were excellent in this final week of the regular season.]

Here are my final top-three nominations for end-of-the-year awards (except Most Improved Player and Most Valuable Player, which will be addressed in separate articles).

Rookie of the Year

A'Ja Wilson (LV)

Diamond DeShields (CHI)

Kelsey Mitchell (IND)

Defensive Player of the Year

Natasha Howard (SEA)

Liz Cambage (DAL)

Brittney Griner (PHX)

Sixth Woman of the Year

Courtney Paris (SEA)

Riquna Williams (LA)

Danielle Robinson (MIN)

Thanks again for stopping by.

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