Minneapolis – A full week after losing their fifth game out of six, the Minnesota Lynx looked like their former selves Saturday, soundly beating the New York Liberty, 85-71.
Sylvia Fowles scored 25 points and Maya Moore 20 for the Lynx, while Cecelia Zandalasini came off the bench to score 13 points for the four-time WNBA champions.
Coming in, Minnesota was 1-2 at home and 3-6 overall – their worst start in at least eight years – and needing a win to get back to .500 at Target Center. They began quickly and set the tone for the match up, easily running away from New York.
“Syl and Maya, that’s what we need from them,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said of her top players. “You know as the go-to players I thought both played with great activity, and obviously Syl was creating her own breaks. We ran a few (plays) for her, but not a lot.”
The Lynx got out to an early 22-11 lead, thanks to Fowles making her first five shots. Just before the end of the first period, Zandalasini got a quick steal and a shot up to give the Lynx a 12-point lead.
“She’s been lighting it up at practice,” Fowles said of the guard.
In a year, so far, of scoring droughts, Minnesota scored a season-high 28 points in the first quarter, and they out-rebounded New York for the game, 35-22. It was a noticeable departure from many of their games the last few weeks, where the Lynx looked out of sync. Fowles said she and her teammates came back from two days off rejuvenated.
“It started at practice this week,” Fowles said. “We had a good week of practice and drilled a lot of things that we needed to improve on.”
Reeve characterized the three practices this week as tough, and said pre-game shootaround went well.
Lynx guards rotated to allow Fowles space to create on the block. In the first period alone they scored 20 points in the paint – eight less than the Liberty average this season in a full game. With forward Seimone Augustus out with a hamstring strain, Fowles said she knew it was her time to shine, but she credited her team’s defense for the win.
“When we bring that energy on defense, the offense comes easily,” Fowles said.
When New York tried to double-team Fowles, the Minnesota offense flawlessly moved their focus to Moore, who made eight of her 17 shots. That included a trio of three-pointers. And perhaps more importantly, Moore ended with no turnovers – an area she has struggled with this season.
The hosts led by 20 or more points for most of the game, and Reeve rotated her bench in smoothly while resting her veteran starters. Everyone on the roster played, and nine scored.
Charles said the Lynx had more energy and better execution in the game.
“They had the champion focus tonight, that’s the focus I thought they had tonight,” she said. “We’re in the same positon, we’re 3-5 and they are 3-6. They had a sense of urgency to get back to where they are used to being.”
The game was a homecoming of sorts for first-year Liberty head coach Katie Smith, who played for Minnesota from 1999-2005. She ended her WNBA career with 6,452 points (fifth all-time in WNBA history) and won two championships after leaving the franchise. She is also a 2018 Basketball Hall of Fame inductee. The other familiar face at Target Center was former Lynx assistant coach Jim Peterson, who was part of the staff from 2009-2016.
Improving to 4-6 on the season, Minnesota will have a day off before a Monday practice ahead of another home game Tuesday against Dallas. The Lynx won the first match up between the two teams three weeks ago.
“We feed off of tonight,” Fowles said about using this win as a motivator for the team’s next game. “Rest a little bit tomorrow and get ready for another game on Tuesday.”