Monday, August 19, 2019

Storm bounce back with home win over Minnesota

Jordin Canada goes up against Sylvia Fowles. She finished with a team-high 14 points in Seattle's win over the Minnesota Lynx. Neil Enns/Storm Photos.
Jordin Canada goes up against Sylvia Fowles. She finished with a team-high 14 points in Seattle's win over the Minnesota Lynx. Neil Enns/Storm Photos.
Jordin Canada goes up against Sylvia Fowles. She finished with a team-high 14 points in Seattle’s win over the Minnesota Lynx. Neil Enns/Storm Photos.

With just three weeks to go in the regular season, time is running out for teams in the WNBA to secure their postseason position.

Entering Sunday, just three games separated the No. 4 and No. 8 seed; the difference between a bye and home playoff game, or heading on the road in a loser-out first round matchup.

Seattle inched closer to clinching at least a top-six spot in the standings (and home game) by night’s end, with a 82-74 win over Minnesota at Hec Edmundson Pavilion. Six Storm players finished in double figures — led by 14 points from Jordin Canada and 13 each from Natasha Howard and Jewell Loyd — to offset Odyssey Sims’ season-high 30.

Following a heartbreaking loss on Friday in Connecticut, where the Storm saw a seven-point lead vanish in the final 90 seconds, head coach Dan Hughes said there are two ways he’s seen teams respond.

“I’ve been around enough to know that sometimes teams respond to [losses like that] like the way we did tonight and sometimes they kind of feel sorry for themselves,” he said. “I’m just really glad they responded.”

Seattle (15-13) started the game on a 11-0 run — aided by five Minnesota (13-14) turnovers in the first five minutes — and led by seven after 10 minutes. The team pushed the edge to nine at the break, thanks to 5-of-8 shooting from 3-point range and 11 points off the bench from Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis.

The lead ballooned to as many as 15 in the third, before a 10-0 Minnesota run in the final three minutes of the quarter cut the gap to four heading to the fourth. That was thanks in no small part to Sims, who kept the team within striking distance and then sparked the run by scoring the first 18 of Minnesota’s 24 third-quarter points.

“That’s just my competitive edge,” she said. “I hate to lose so whatever I can do to help my team get back in the game. I just came out ready to play.”

But that’s as close as the Lynx got.

While Hughes typically waits to reinsert his starting five for the game’s closing minutes, he opted to start the quarter with Loyd, Clark, Russell, and Howard back on the court, leaving only Canada on the bench.

I just wanted that presence back on the floor,” he said. 

The move paid off, with Seattle extending its lead back to double digits down the stretch.

With the win, Seattle holds the No. 6 seed with six games to play, and pulled within a game and a half of No. 4 seed Los Angeles, while the Lynx dropped behind Phoenix into eighth place in the standings. Despite the result, Minnesota head coach Cheryl Reeve acknowledged it may have provided a good learning experience.

“A hard game on the road in the playoffs — this is what that looks like,” she said. “From that standpoint, if we can get there, we’ll have a sense of what that feels like because we’re likely to be on the road.”

Minnesota wraps its quick two-game road swing on Tuesday night in Los Angeles, while Seattle continues its four-game homestand next Sunday against Indiana.

Dribbles

  • Attendance: 9,000 (sellout)
  • Natasha Howard became the Storm’s single-season record-holder for steals, picking up her 62nd of the year in the first quarter.
  • Crystal Langhorne joined Sue Bird, Lauren Jackson, and Camille Little as the fourth player in Storm franchise history to record 1,000 rebounds with the team.
  • With the victory, Seattle clinched the season series against Minnesota 3-1. The Storm dropped the first game in Minneapolis 72-61 on May 29, before winning 84-77 in Seattle on June 4, 90-79 on the road on July 17, and on Sunday.
  • Before the game, head coach Dan Hughes, Sue Bird, Breanna Stewart, and Jewell Loyd received their 2018 FIBA World Cup Championship Rings after leading Team USA to a perfect 6-0 record.

It’s all or nothing season

No games today, but five tomorrow (again):

Wings at Sun

Fever at Mystics

Aces at Sky

Liberty at Mercury

Lynx at Storm

Plenty of news poppin’ in the meantime…….

WNBA team news:

Washington is notching big series wins en route to the playoffs.

The Mystics shook off the injury bug and are playoff-bound.

The Sky is feeling the effect of Jantel Lavender’s absence.

A familiar problem arose in the Liberty’s latest loss.

WNBA player news:

Sue Bird doesn’t want to admit it, but she’s not likely to return this year.

This week’s practices could make or break Diana Taurasi’s return.

A’ja Wilson will return to the Aces lineup tomorrow.

Las Vegas rookie Jackie Young is flashing her All-Star potential.

Sky forward Astou Ndour continues to step up in Jantel Lavender’s absence.

Allisha Gray’s 1,000-point milestone last night shows how different her rookie campaign was from Arike Ogunbowale’s.

The rise of Rebecca Allen.

Natasha Cloud became the Mystics’ all-time assists leader last night.

Seimone Augustus and others talk about purpose.

Blake Dietrick’s return provides the Storm with bench depth.

WNBA coach news:

Cancer awareness night at Mohegan Sun Arena hit home for Storm coach Dan Hughes.

College coach news:

Siena coach Ali Jaques is cancer free and will marry soon.

Whether it’s basketball or trivia, Penn State coach Carolyn Kieger is focused on competition.

The belief system of North Carolina assistant coach Carrie Moore powers her career.

Dietrick’s return provides depth on Storm bench

Blake Dietrick maintains ball possession under defensive pressure. Olivia Vanni/The Herald.
Blake Dietrick maintains ball possession under defensive pressure. Olivia Vanni/The Herald.

With only 144 to go around — at the most — every spot on a WNBA roster is hard-fought.

But few may know that struggle better than the Storm’s Blake Dietrick.

The 26-year-old guard out of Princeton has shown up frequently in the league’s transactions log since her first training camp stints with the Mystics and Sparks in 2015.

Her first regular-season action came the following year in Seattle after breaking camp with the team, only to be cut after appearing in two games. That was followed by a seven-day contract (and one more game) in San Antonio.

She made the most of her next opportunity, appearing in 26 games off the bench for Atlanta in 2018 after signing a training camp contract, but was once again on the outs as the team’s final cut before this season.

Enter a familiar franchise, in a Seattle team in desperate need of front court depth.

“I love it here, I love the city, and the people, and the Pacific Northwest in general,” she said prior to a game last month.

With Jordin Canada getting the lion’s share of minutes at the point, Dietrick’s playing time has been limited, but her focus — as with every stop in her career — has been simply controlling what she can control.

“We have amazing pieces … so getting them into positions where they can be their best is my job,” she said.

Head coach Dan Hughes praised her readiness for whatever role she may have on a given night.

“I think players like Blake help your overall mission,” said Hughes, who also coached Dietrick during her aforementioned stint in San Antonio. “You’re not afraid to bring her in, because she’s very smart, very tough, and its a great teammate, so there’s not a downside to it.”

Blake Dietrick, far left, and the Storm are in playoff contention despite a depleted roster. Neil Enns/Storm photos.
Blake Dietrick, far left, and the Storm are in playoff contention despite a depleted roster. Neil Enns/Storm photos.

For a team fighting for playoff position down the stretch, with Seattle five games out of the top spot, but less than two ahead of the No. 8 seed with seven games to play, that type of depth will likely come in handy.

Dietrick has also sensed a difference in the team since her last stay in Seattle, in a good way.

“I think everyone just knows their role really really well, and also, wants the team — the team is always above any individual person, and I think that’s been the heart and soul of this roster from the first day,” she said. “But just having the experience to play at this level and be successful at this level, everyone’s confidence is just a little bit higher.”

CBA talks progressing smoothly, players union says

WNBPA executive committee president Nneka Ogwumike guards vice president Elena Delle Donne in a game last season. NBAE via Getty Images photo.
WNBPA executive committee president Nneka Ogwumike guards vice president Elena Delle Donne in a game last season. NBAE via Getty Images photo.
WNBPA executive committee president Nneka Ogwumike guards vice president Elena Delle Donne in a game last season. NBAE via Getty Images photo.

Leaders of the WNBA’s player union are optimistic that a mutually-agreeable collective bargaining agreement will be ratified by the deadline in two months.

The Women’s National Basketball Players Association and the WNBA have been in negotiations to hammer out a new CBA in time for the expiration of the current contract, which is Oct. 31. A meeting between both sides in Las Vegas last month prior to the All-Star game was a major stepping stone in those talks.

Nneka Ogwumike, the president of the WNBPA’s executive committee, said the event not only provided a venue for discussion, but a chance to meet the league’s new commissioner, Cathy Engelbert.

“I think we had the opportunity to have as many members on the EC and (team representatives) there,” Ogwumike said. “We took advantage of that time to have a formal meeting. It was our first time meeting Cathy, and that was great too.”

The league acknowledged the meeting in a brief statement, calling it “comprehensive and productive,” and said they were “encouraged by the discussions and look forward to additional meetings in the near future.” WNBPA executive director Terri Jackson called it “a great conversation.”

“It was good, honest, long, truthful, respectful and encouraging,” Jackson said.

The union gave the WNBA notice last November that they had opted out of the current CBA, which had been signed in 2014 and was to run through the 2021 season. In an essay for the Player’s Tribune, Ogwumike said athletes were “rejecting the status quo” by “taking a stand” for themselves.

Jackson said the new agreement that the WNBPA is pushing for is centered on three issues: player salary and compensation, player experience – which includes travel, and player health and safety.

“They should have a league that values them as pros, and an agreement that is as good as what they experienced at the collegiate level,” Jackson said.

A hot button issue this summer has been mental health support for athletes – especially after the NBA announced last week that it was expanding such services for its players. Jackson said she can’t comment on the specifics of CBA negotiations. But the WNBPA tweeted Las Vegas Aces center Liz Cambage “we got you” over the weekend when she asked about mental health treatment in the WNBA, in the wake of writing a revealing essay on depression.

“If it was just about salary, we could have waited until 2021,” Jackson said. “We have been in talks with the league since we opted out of the contract.”

Ogwumike said player turnout for WNBPA voting has been at a high. Her job in negotiations has largely been as an interpreter of sorts, and in ensuring that her peers are involved in the CBA process.

“We have a lot of players asking questions, and that’s what my role is: making sure everyone can comprehend everything,” Ogwumike said. “The CBA is long, extensive and has a lot of legal jargon. But our team has done an amazing job of putting it together. (We’re just) trying to get the players to understand what’s at stake, and that their participation is really important.”

Engelbert, the league’s first commissioner, had only been on the job for six days at the time of the meeting last month, but she made a good impression.

“Cathy and I had met face-to-face and talked for about an hour,” Jackson said. “She understands the business, is thoughtful in her approach and had ideas. She was excited to start the job.”

Ogwumike said her peers were enthused as well.

“I had a good impression of Cathy. Her resume really follows her strongly,” Ogwumike said. “We’re excited to have someone like that with a business mind. Also someone who holds the title of commissioner. That role holds a lot of weight. We’re excited, and I was happy to be able to meet her in person.”

Ogwumike said she looks forward to continuing to hammer out the CBA.

“I think we’re going to get a lot of good things out of this negotiation,” she said.

Wings stun Sparks, 84-78

Arlington, Texas – Arike Ogunbowale continued to make her case for rookie of the year Wednesday, as her career-high 35 points paced the Dallas Wings to an 84-78 win over the Los Angeles Sparks.

The Wings hadn’t won two in a row since June 20, while the Sparks saw their five-game winning streak come to an end.

Ogunbowale’s scoring run ties her for fifth-most for a rookie in WNBA history, and made her the franchise newcomer leader. She has lead the team in scoring all year, averaging 16.1 points per game, and coach Brian Agler said her performance against Los Angeles was not surprising.

“People can critique on social media; they can do all they want to do, but she is a special player,” Agler said. “There have not been many rookies like her that have come into the league and made an immediate impact. It hasn’t been the easiest road, either, because she hasn’t had that mentor on the team who plays her position to help her. So she has had to learn the hard way, and she gets a lot of attention (on the court).”

It was a night where multiple players had to step up due to only being able to suit up eight players after a weekend in-game fight resulted in three being suspended. Dallas was without their defensive threat, Kayla Thornton, and rookie Kristine Anigwe.

Ogunbowale said the victory was good team effort, and that Dallas had a good flow throughout the match up.

“I think that we just had to fight, we didn’t have a lot of subs, and I think that we’re in shape and good condition,” she said. “We didn’t have a lot of players, but we still kept up the intensity when they had a bench full of players, so definitely just good conditioning and good team play.”

Chelsea Gray led the Sparks with 22 points and seven assists, while Nneka Ogwumike added 21 points and grabbed nine rebounds. The Wings outscored their opponents, 28-14 in the fourth quarter, and held All-Star Candace Parker to four points.

Parker said Los Angeles has been plagued with slow starts, whether they win or lose.

“I think us starters have to figure out – like, even our game against Chicago where we won – we didn’t start well,” Parker said. “And I think when we get down 10, 12 in the first quarter, no matter if you are able to come back and take the lead, it’s an uphill battle as opposed to keeping things even and starting the game well.”

Glory Johnson hit a career-high five three-pointers, ending the night with 20 points and six rebounds for the hosts. Johnson was shifted to the three position with the absence of Thornton, and said that it is a different role that she is going to need to get more comfortable with for the second game of Thornton’s suspension.

“It’s a different role that I’m playing this season,” Johnson said. “I’m a lot older. I have kids and I’m not really trying to be physical, but just know that when I need to, I will. When I need to be physical and need to crash the boards, get tough rebounds, I’ll do it, no problem. But doing it the whole 40 minutes is not something that I want to do anymore.”

The Wings are now three games out of the eighth playoff spot. They will have an opportunity to move up the ranks when they face off against the New York Liberty Friday, as they are a half game back from the tenth spot. The Liberty are currently on a six-game losing streak.

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