SEATTLE — With the month-long Olympic break, most of the WNBA — at least those not representing their respective National Team in Rio — was given a reprieve from the day-to-day rigors of the season.
That’s how things went in Seattle, where the focus was on player development and team-building.
“Not as heavy on the drills as we normally would be,” said head coach Jenny Boucek,”but more just with this group trying to develop synergy.”
For Crystal Langhorne, the break was a chance to work on her presence in the post, and being more aggressive.
“I just think I haven’t really been rebounding the ball that well,” she said, “and I think it’s affecting the team, so I’ve just been trying to focus on that.”
That work was on full display on Friday night against the Sparks, as the eighth-year veteran out of Maryland notched her first double-double of the season with a team-high 16 points and 10 rebounds in a 79-72 upset win over Los Angeles at KeyArena.
“The one player that was the constant throughout the entire game was Lang,” said guard Sue Bird. “And it really doesn’t have anything to do with points. She was rebounding the ball, she was defending one of the best players in the league and doing a really good job, and she just seemed to be everywhere tonight. And when she’s playing like that, it’s such a huge help to our team.”
On a night when Breanna Stewart was recognized for both her third consecutive Rookie of the Month Award, and her Olympic Gold Medal, the UConn product was held to a season-low five points on 2-of-13 shooting. But her fellow No. 1 picks — Jewell Loyd and Bird — each finished with 15 points in one of Seattle’s more balanced scoring nights of the season.
Nneka Ogwumike led the Sparks with a game-high 28 points, while Candace Parker finished with 10 rebounds.
With the win, Seattle (10-15) moved into sole possession of the eighth and final playoff spot in the WNBA with nine games left to play. The Storm never trailed against a Sparks (21-4) team that remains atop the league standings, but had lost two of their last three before the break.
Seattle jumped out to an early 10-point lead midway through the first quarter, and led by nine after 10 minutes play while shooting 50 percent from the field. Los Angeles, meanwhile, found itself outmuscled on the boards to an 11-6 rebounding deficit, while committing six turnovers.
The fortunes turned on offense for both sides in the second quarter, with Seattle shooting under 25 percent and Los Angeles at 33 percent, while the Sparks were left without the services of Ogwumike for the final four-and-a-half minutes of the half after she picked up her fourth foul. But a 3-pointer at the buzzer from Essence Carson would have the visitors down just three at the half.
But in the first two minutes out of the break, Seattle responded by making its first four shots, to stretch the advantage back to double-digits. That salvo also included an impressive defensive play by Loyd, swatting the ball out of Parker’s hands in the post, with Stewart capping the possession with a jumper.
Despite the looming foul trouble, Ogwumike carried the Sparks on both ends of the floor throughout the final 20 minutes, scoring 21 of her 28 in the second half, with 15 coming in the fourth quarter.
Time and again, the Sparks would get the deficit back down within three possessions, but were unable to find an answer on defense, or offensive outside of Ogwumike. Minus their MVP candidate, the Sparks shot just 37 percent from the field for the night.
Seattle received help in the form of 19 points off the bench, 15 of which came in the second half. Noelle Quinn scored all seven of her points on the night consecutively, nailing a 3-pointer in the waning moments of the third, and scoring back-to-back jumpers to start the fourth to keep the Sparks at bay.
The seven-point margin at the final buzzer was the closest Los Angeles had gotten since the nine-minute mark of the third quarter.
Seattle now faces the other team jostling for the top spot in the WNBA, with a matchup against Minnesota on Sunday at 6 p.m.
“Hopefully,” Loyd said of the win, “we can use this as momentum for the rest of the season.”
- The season series between the Storm and Sparks is now tied at a game apiece. Los Angeles won the first match up between the two 96-66 on May 15. The two teams will meet one final time in Seattle on Sept. 11.
- #TOKWATCH: After the game, Boucek said she had paid close attention to Ramu Tokashiki’s performance at the Olympics, “just to watch and see what she looks like in her element, in her comfort zone.” She said the team is now trying to incorporate some of those elements of her play with the Japanese National Team into her role with the Storm, to put her in better positions to succeed.
- Abby Bishop, Jenna O’Hea, and Monica Wright did not play for Seattle, while Ana Dabovic, Jelena Dubljevic, Whitney Knight, and Ann Wauters did not play for Los Angeles.
- 72 points was Los Angeles’ worst showing on offense since a 72-69 loss to Minnesota on June 21.
- Spotted: Former Storm player Chelle Thompson, a member of the 2004 Championship team, was on hand, along with Seattle’s deputy mayor, Hyeok Kim. Seattle Reign FC players Manon Melis, Kendall Fletcher, Kim Little, Rachel Corsie, and Carson Pickett could be found on the concourse signing autographs as well.
- Points in the Paint: Storm 8, Sparks 6
- Second Chance Points: Storm 7, Sparks 0
- Fast Break Points: Storm 2, Sparks 2
- Attendance: 9,481