Friday, July 20, 2018
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Late surge helps Storm snap five-game Dallas win streak

Breanna Stewart elevates for two of her 35 points on the night. Neil Enns/Storm Photos.
Breanna Stewart elevates for two of her 35 points on the night. Neil Enns/Storm Photos.
Breanna Stewart elevates for two of her 35 points on the night. Neil Enns/Storm Photos.

Seattle – The Seattle Storm made sure fans wouldn’t forget about them in coming weeks.

With a season-high 35 points, Breanna Stewart paced the Storm past the Dallas Wings, 91-84, in front of a raucous, sellout crowd of almost 10,000 Saturday, ending the Wings’ five-game winning streak. The win pushed Seattle two games ahead of second-place Phoenix in the WNBA standings (now 1.5 after Phoenix’s win over Indiana on Sunday).

Natasha Howard finished with 17 points, and Jewell Loyd 13 as the other Seattle players in double-figures. Liz Cambage led Dallas with 23 points, while Skylar Diggins-Smith had 21 on the night.

“We knew going in that this is our last home game for a while and we knew that we would have a big crowd,” Stewart said. “So, we took the energy from them and made sure to battle the entire game.”

Jewell Loyd drives on Allisha Gray. Neil Enns/Storm Photos.
Jewell Loyd drives on Allisha Gray. Neil Enns/Storm Photos.

The home games will be few and far between for the Storm in the regular season’s closing weeks, as just three remain, which made the Wings match up all the more important before the team’s ensuing five-game road trip.

And what a contest it was.

Neither team led by more than four in a back-and-forth first half, before Seattle opened the third quarter on a 10-0 run to take their largest lead of the game. However, Dallas quickly answered, cutting the Storm advantage back down to two heading into the final period.

And much like the first two quarters, both teams played nearly even for much of the fourth, with a Kayla Thornton layup giving the visitors a one-point lead with just over two minutes to go.

Seattle responded with 10 of the game’s next 12 points – a run punctuated by a Sue Bird three-pointer with 1:04 left. That basket came after the 16-year veteran missed much of the second quarter and the opening minutes of the third with what the team only described as an “illness.” That absence loomed large with the team already short one key role player in Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, as she continues to recover from a concussion suffered in Tuesday’s loss to Los Angeles.

Jordin Canada and Natasha Howard lock down Skylar Diggins-Smith on defense. Neil Enns/Storm Photos.
Jordin Canada and Natasha Howard lock down Skylar Diggins-Smith on defense. Neil Enns/Storm Photos.

“We were really aggressive, and we had to make the most of it,” Stewart said. “We were down a few players, so we had to play smart.”

After the Bird three, Dallas grabbed offensive rebounds off back-to-back misses from Diggins-Smith, only to turn the ball over after a timeout. Seattle hit seven of its final eight attempts from the free-throw line to seal the victory, which kept the team from losing back-to-back games for the first time this season.

“They’re good. Their record is what is for a reason,” Diggins-Smith said. “You have to give them credit — they were more hungry on the boards and we didn’t rebound well.”

Storm head coach Dan Hughes also pointed to his team’s effort on the glass, out-rebounding Dallas 41-37 overall, and 17-8 offensively. Seattle outscored Dallas 15-5 on second-chance opportunities.

Allisha Gray, Alysha Clark and Azura' Stevens battle for a rebound. Neil Enns/Storm Photos.
Allisha Gray, Alysha Clark and Azura’ Stevens battle for a rebound. Neil Enns/Storm Photos.

“[It was] just a really solid team performance against a good team that’s as hot or maybe hotter than anybody in the league,” he said.

Seattle starts its five-game road trip on Wednesday morning at Chicago, while Dallas returns home for a Tuesday afternoon matchup with New York.

Dribbles:

  • Attendance: 9,686. Saturday was Seattle’s second consecutive sellout, and second of the year.
  • Jewell Loyd pulled down a season-high eight rebounds for Seattle.
  • Seattle is the only team remaining that has not lost back-to-back games this year.

Balanced scoring powers Aces past Lynx, 85-77

Carolyn Swords boxes out Sylvia Fowles. Photo courtesy of Las Vegas Aces.
Carolyn Swords boxes out Sylvia Fowles. Photo courtesy of Las Vegas Aces.

Minneapolis – A balanced team effort by red-hot Las Vegas Aces Friday gave them their fourth straight win, and handed the Minnesota Lynx their third loss of the last five games.

Kayla McBride led five Las Vegas players in double figures with 24 points and a career-high nine assists, while rookie A’ja Wilson and Carolyn Swords each had double-doubles: 11 points for each, and 15 and 11 rebounds for Wilson and Swords, respectively. Tamera Young added 13 points and Kelsey Plum, 11.

The Aces went on a 10-1 run to end the first half, and led for most of the last two quarters. Lynx forward Maya Moore hit two straight shots with 2:33 to play to bring her team within four points, but Young answered the shot, and then Wilson and Swords hit back-to-back shots to seal the win.

McBride said the team effort was the key to the game.

“It came from everywhere,” she said. “I thought Tamera Young hit some huge shots, Carolyn Swords had 11 and 11. Plum hit some big threes. Moriah Jefferson had a 5-0 spurt. It came from everybody, and to beat a good team like Minnesota you have to have some come from everybody. It is not just going to be one or two players that can beat them. I thought it was a great win on the road.”

Lindsay Whalen led Minnesota with a season-high 22 points, while Seimone Augustus had 14 points and Sylvia Fowles, 17 rebounds. Maya Moore scored 12 points.

Las Vegas coach Bill Laimbeer said defense on top scorers Fowles and Moore was their focus going into the match up.

“Fowles was a focal point of our game plan today, to try to run players at her and take her out of her comfort zone,” Laimbeer said. “I think Moore just missed some shots. We had some size on her too and we had active athletics that were guarding her, so we had to make her shoot over the top of us. She didn’t shoot in her percentage today, that’s all.”

Without veteran Rebekkah Brunson, out due to a hamstring injury, the Lynx were not able to run with the Aces on either end of the floor. Playing with just ten active players, the team looked worn out and defeated in much of the second half, allowing the visitors to run their game plan to perfection and outscore the them in three of the four quarters. Young knocked down shot after shot for Las Vegas, and just when Minnesota looked like the team might make a late run, Las Vegas made defensive stops.

“Well obviously we want to get the win and unfortunately tonight it was, defensively from the beginning we needed to be more locked in,” Whalen said. “I give them credit, they played a really good game and they came in here and got the win. Unfortunately for us, it doesn’t feel very good right now.”

Aside from Whalen, none of the other Lynx starters could get anything going offensively, including Moore, who was forced to play more minutes in the absence of Brunson. Moore made just five of her 15 shots – the fifth game in a row in which she didn’t reach 20 points after doing so in seven straight games between June 16 and July 1. Fowles struggled as well, going 2-9 from the field. The reigning most valuable player has failed to reach double figures in three of the last five games. And when Fowles and Moore don’t play well, Minnesota doesn’t win.

“Their complete identity they got to play to tonight,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. “Their complete identity on both sides of it. Their complete identity, they got to play exactly to it and that’s disappointing.”

Reeve’s frustration was seen with limited words in the postgame press conference along her actions. After the game, Reeve shook hands with Laimbeer before forgoing the rest of the line and walking directly to the locker room. Reeve and Laimbeer have a friendly, yet competitive friendship, with Reeve working under Laimbeer in 2006-2008 with the Detroit Shock. In the three seasons together, the Shock went to three consecutive WNBA Championships, winning twice (2006, 2008) and losing once (2007). Laimbeer left a few games into the 2009 season and in 2010, Reeve accepted the job with Minnesota.

The win gives the Aces their tenth of the season and puts them less than one game from playoff contention after a rocky start. Defending champion Minnesota is now 12-9 in what has been their most inconsistent season in years. After starting 3-6, they won seven in a row and now have alternated winning and losing, including dropping a game to the league-worst Indiana Fever.

“I don’t think we are mentally tough enough in games like these,” Reeve said. “We start to feel sorry for ourselves. We aren’t a very good team when that starts to happen. Give Vegas credit, though.”

Las Vegas has games against Los Angeles, Phoenix, and Indiana before the All-Star break, while Minnesota welcomes Connecticut to Target Center Sunday before games against Indiana, Phoenix and New York.

Game Notes:

Wilson scored in double figures for the 22nd time to start her career, one away from the Aces’ franchise record, held by Natalie Williams in 1999. The WNBA leader is Cynthia Cooper, who scored in double figures the first 92 games of her career. Second on the list is Los Angeles’ Candace Parker (32 in 2008). Augustus is to date the only player to average more than 20 points per game in her first season, averaging 21.9 in 2006.

Wilson is also on pace to be one of just four players in WNBA history to average a double-double in their first season in the league. Prior to Friday’s win, Wilson was averaging 20.6 points per game and 8.5 rebounds. Her 15 rebounds in Friday’s victory raises her average to 8.8.

Wilson’s father also adjusting to the WNBA

A';ja Wilson and her father, Roscoe Wilson. Photo courtesy of South Carolina Athletics.
A';ja Wilson and her father, Roscoe Wilson. Photo courtesy of South Carolina Athletics.
A’;ja Wilson and her father, Roscoe Wilson. Photo courtesy of South Carolina Athletics.

All rookies must adjust to life in the WNBA when they enter the league.

Sometimes, so must their parents.

Such is the case for Roscoe Wilson Jr., father to No. 1 draft pick A’ja Wilson. Fans know Wilson as an NCAA champion and now, the WNBA’s second-leading scorer as a rookie, with 20.6 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. But her father, who played professional basketball for more than 10 years overseas, introduced her to the sport as a child and became her skills coach and trainer.

In her early playing days Wilson wasn’t very good, but Roscoe Wilson saw her potential, and kept pushing her.

“When she played AAU, she was absolutely terrible,” he said. “So I said ‘A’ja, this is costing me $5,000. You’ve got to show me something.’ I told her I would give her one more year, that I would work with her.”

As Wilson became better, her love for the game grew stronger.

“Back then she was 6-1, 6-2, and I thought she’d be a guard, so I worked with her as a guard,” Roscoe Wilson said. “Once she got taller I told her, ‘A’ja, there’s nothing you can’t do.’”

The prophecy came true, as Wilson has become seemingly unstoppable in her professional debut. She is assumed to be a lock to win rookie of the year honors. But Roscoe Wilson is working on stepping out of the picture and leaving the instruction to Aces coach and former Detroit Piston Bill Laimbeer.

“I’m transitioning to just being her dad and not necessarily her trainer,” he said. “Because Bill told me ‘I got her now, she’s cool,’ and I said ‘alright.’ And it helps me out because every time I’m around her, my voice goes out.”

Though Wilson is on her way to becoming a household name, that name had humble beginnings, in a European airport.

“I went to a Steely Dan concert in either Sweden or France,” Roscoe Wilson said. “I always liked Steely Dan, and at the concert they had this album ‘Aja,’ in 1977. I just like the song, Aja. And the name, simple – you spell it backwards, forwards, same thing. I said, back then, if I ever have a daughter, I’m going to name her Aja. And I kept my word; when A’ja was born I said, we’re going to name A’ja, A’ja.”

Wilson’s middle name also has significance.

“My wife’s sister was one of the first field nurses in Desert Storm, and she was stationed in Riyadh,” Roscoe Wilson said. “So my wife was five months pregnant with A’ja, and we went back to Europe, to my team. We were in Switzerland, getting ready to fly to Stockholm, and I had Stockholm at this gate and Riyadh at the next gate. So I took it as an epiphany, so I named A’ja, A’ja Riyadh Wilson.”

He said Eva Wilson was alright with the name.

“That’s one of the few things I got my way (with my wife),” Roscoe Wilson said. “It’s one of two things that I ever got my way, was my daughter’s name.”

He has traveled to see two of Wilson’s games live, and has plans for a few more during this compacted season. And he is proud of her accomplishments.

“A’ja has been a very special child,” he said.

Sparks: win helped them turn a corner

The Sparks celebrate their win over the New York Liberty June 24. Photo by Maria Noble/WomensHoopsWorld.
The Sparks celebrate their win over the New York Liberty June 24. Photo by Maria Noble/WomensHoopsWorld.

Los Angeles Sparks players say they have righted their ship – for now.

After losing three straight games and five of their last seven, the Sparks outlasted the first-place Seattle Storm in overtime Tuesday, 77-75, for their first win at KeyArena since 2015. It was a gutty showing in which Los Angeles stepped up their defense down the stretch and remained poised to execute some key plays.

The difference in the game was marked from their home loss to the Washington Mystics three days earlier, when the visitors outran their opponents in the game’s final minutes to win by nine points.

Forward Nneka Ogwumike said the Sparks had been “needing to regain their bearings.”

“We’ve been digging, and today we dug some more and we finally found what we were looking for,” she said.

Ogwumike said the team needed to attain a collective awareness about who they are as a group.

“We kind of lost that as far as how we play out there,” she said. “We lost our aggression and the effort to do the little things. So today we made it a point to go and box out, get (offensive) boards, set screens and talk on defense. I think we’ve re-identified ourselves.”

Veteran guard Essence Carson said the team hit a predictable wall.

“We had to tighten up some things,” she said. “Yeah, you could call it a little slump. It happens to every team each and every year. You get into a little stretch where there’s a rough patch. Some teams had it at the beginning of the year, i.e. Minnesota. We just finished going through ours; Connecticut had a little rough patch.”

The WNBA champions in 2016, Los Angeles began this season in first place in league standings, and now sit in third after falling as far as fourth. At least nine of the WNBA’s 12 teams have spent a majority of the season with less than a one-game difference between themselves and others in the standings.

Carson said the fierce competition makes the fight to stay on top even more challenging.

“In a game like this, when you’re dealing with so many great athletes and great players, it’s definitely hard to maintain that level of excellence, and that’s why so few teams win a championship,” Carson said. “We got to that point where we needed to make some adjustments and look within ourselves, dig in a little deeper. We showed some championship characteristics today.”

The Sparks host sixth-place Dallas Thursday.

Thoughts on: “Why does women’s basketball trigger so much fragile masculinity?”

Great piece.

But she believes — as do many other players I’ve talked with — that it isn’t just sexism that provokes the anger about women’s basketball. It’s the fact that the majority of the league is women of color, and many are openly queer. That exacerbates the hate.

“We’re women that are independent, college educated, most of us are women of color, most of us identify as [LGBTQ], so we have all of that, and we’re proud to be that!” McGee-Stafford said. It is, in essence, an amplification for where we are as a society….

You simply can’t talk about the hatred women’s basketball receives without talking about homophobia and racism, too. Black, queer women and nonbinary people are some of the most marginalized people in our society. And yet, women’s basketball — and the WNBA in particular — gives these women power, visibility, and a platform. These women both avail themselves of that platform, and have the tenacity to continue to demand more recognition. They’re not just satisfied with what they have.

No wonder the fragile men are angry.

I’ve wondered for years why the WNBA, much more so than other women’s professional leagues, is maligned and disrespected. I think this just may be the answer. Men are threatened when they don’t feel needed, and a powerful group of female athletes doesn’t seem to need them. So a backlash isn’t surprising.

And I have an observation of my own, piggybacking on this piece: white lesbians in the league seem to be more generally accepted than lesbians of color. Thank about it……was there any backlash when Elena Delle Donne came out, and then got married? I didn’t hear any. Ditto for Sue Bird coming out, and being in ESPN’s “the body” issue with her girlfriend recently. Didn’t hear negative statements last year, either, when Diana Taurasi and Penny Taylor got married.

The women of the WNBA are a phenomenal bunch. Straight, gay or bisexual, they support each other on and off the court. By and large, they don’t seem to care about the sexuality of their teammates, which is a far cry for the stories of homophobia that have come out of the NBA. It is impressive. Men can take so many lessons from women.

The best part of this story is the ending:

“Our league is growing every year. So as much as people want to troll, at the end of the day we’re growing and we’re getting bigger and better,” Atlanta Dream center Elizabeth Williams told ThinkProgress.

“I mean, we’re not going away,” Currie said. “Our league is here to stay.”

Hell yeah it is.

So many storylines….take your time

Today’s game results:

The Sparks edged the Storm, 77-75. The win snapped a losing streak for LA and a winning streak for Seattle.

The Wings pounded the Mercury, 101-72.

The Aces routed the Sky, 98-74.

WNBA team news:

The Storm aren’t happy after their loss to the Sparks, and that’s a good thing.

The Lynx are in the playoff hunt despite inconsistent play.

Minnesota’s inconsistency is hard to figure out.

They need a consistent scorer behind their big two.

The league’s power rankings didn’t hold up well today.

WNBA player news:

Maya Moore made SLAM Magazine’s cover – the first for a woman in 20 years.

Moore and Sylvia Fowles are matching last year’s scoring pace, but other Lynx are falling short.

At 35, Cappie Pondexter still has plenty to give Indiana.

Kristi Toliver has joined the Wizards coaching staff for the NBA summer league.

Rookie Ariel Atkins is arriving ahead of schedule.

The shooting “slump” of rookie Kelsey Mitchell is still insane.

The deep-rooted and very successful family of Minnesota rookie Temi Fagbenle.

Devereaux Peters says stop challenging her athleticism.

Many players have set career marks in this record-breaking week.

College team news:

South Carolina will turn to their experienced guards after years of front court domination.

Elon has added five through recruiting.

College player news:

Lipscomb transfer Morgan Turner has landed at Creighton.

Arizona freshman profile: Semaj Smith.

College coach news:

TCU coach Raegan Pebley’s contract has been extended through 2022-2023.

Lindsay Whalen has jumped into her first July recruiting period as head coach of the Gophers.

Changes on Kent State’s coaching staff.

USA Basketball news:

The USA has drawn Group A in the U18 FIBA World Championship.

International news:

Canada’s national team has seen the program get in the blood and soul of their players.

Recruiting news:

South /Carolina’s recruiting target isn’t yet in high school, but she’s dunking.

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