Fowles’ big night helps Lynx hold off Wings, 76-68

Minneapolis – The match up everyone came to see in the Minnesota Lynx’s 76-68 win over the Dallas Wings Wednesday was the one between their centers: 6-6 Sylvia Fowles and 6-8 Liz Cambage.

Fowles, the reigning MVP for Minnesota, and Cambage, the Australian who returned to the league for the first time since 2011,  didn’t disappoint. But it was Fowles who came out on top, as she scored 23 points, grabbed 20 rebounds and had five steals to become the only player in WNBA history to have such a stat line.

She dominated the game from the start, scoring the first six points for the Lynx and finishing with the 18th 20-point/20-rebound game in the history of the WNBA regular season. It was also the first 20/20 game in the 20-year history of the Minnesota Lynx.

“She set the tone for us,” said Lynx forward Maya Moore, who finished with 12 points. “It was really fun to just watch her be aggressive and be in her element, focus and stay with it.”

The announced Target Center crowd of 7,834 was enthralled with the match up down low, cheering on Fowles whenever she touched the ball and cheering even louder when Cambage missed. Cambage was visibly frustrated, and earned a first-half technical foul. She finished the game with 14 points and 12 rebounds.

“She brings it out of you,” Fowles said of her opponent. “She’s a big body. She’s aggressive, she’s smart, she’s long and you definitely ain’t moving her. I like it when I have challenges like that. She makes you think two steps ahead of her.”

Minnesota held just a four-point lead after the first quarter, but locked down defensively in the second, allowing just four Dallas points. Cambage made a layup with 8:28 remaining in the first half, and Skylar Diggins-Smith hit a 19-footer less than a minute later. But that was the last Wings basket until 9:28 remaining in the third quarter.

“It was tough,” Cambage said about guarding Fowles. “I mean, there is a reason she’s MVP. She just gets better every year, and you know she’s so smart the way she seals me and uses her body. It was a big learning lesson for me tonight. I got to come out next time ready to play.”

Playing without Glory Johnson (hamstring), Theresa Plaisance (ACL) and Aerial Powers (quad), Dallas was down to nine players. With Minnesota up 25 at halftime, many guessed the Wings would throw in the towel and move on, but instead they continued to push the ball and work it in and out of the post to create some open looks. The Lynx started missing the shots that were falling in the first half, and before both teams knew it, the lead was down to just 15.

“I didn’t love the energy when we came out of the locker room,” coach Cheryl Reeve said. “I thought we were flat.”

In the fourth quarter the Lynx were back to themselves, playing good enough defensively to escape with the single-digit victory. Dallas shot just seven free throws after attempting 18 and 28 in the first two games of the season.

“I’m not sure what it was, we just didn’t come out ready to play,” Cambage said. “Championship team, their home court, they had just lost on the buzzer (Sunday) to LA, we knew they would be hungry, and we had to come out hungry, and we didn’t. We had a bad start against Phoenix, we had a bad start against Atlanta, and another bad start tonight. I don’t know what it is, if we play a whole game we will win it, instead of just coming out at halftime. We have to be ready from the start.”

Minnesota is now 40-13 against the Wings in the regular season, winning the last nine consecutive and 22 of 27 in Minnesota. Last year the Lynx swept the season series between the two teams, with an average win margin of 15 points. They are now 1-1 on the season, while Dallas falls to 1-2.

Minnesota now travels to New York to take on the Liberty May 25, while the Wings face the Dream in Atlanta Saturday.