After dropping the first four games of a key five-game road trip, the Seattle Storm have made a change at the top.
Out after two-plus seasons is head coach Jenny Boucek, who will be immediately replaced by assistant Gary Kloppenburg, on an interim basis.
“I believe new leadership is needed at this time to give our team the best chance at short and long term success,” Storm president and general manager Alisha Valavanis said in a press release. “I am grateful for the passion and commitment Jenny has demonstrated throughout her time with the Seattle Storm. She has been an important part of our organization, and we wish her well in the next steps of her career.”
Expectations were high for the Storm entering the season, and team started hot, winning four of its first five games. But since then, they’ve gone just 6-15, with nine of those losses by nine points or less.
Boucek finishes her Seattle tenure with a record of 36-58 since taking over as head coach in 2015. She joined the franchise in 2010, where she was an assistant coach on Brian Agler’s staff until his departure in 2015. She was a Storm assistant coach from 2003-2005, in the Anne Donovan era, and has served as an assistant coach for the Washington Mystics and the Miami Sol. Boucek was head coach of the Sacramento Monarchs from 2007-2009.
Kloppenburg was an assistant coach for the Storm during the Lin Dunn era, and has also assisted for the Los Angeles Sparks and Indiana Fever. He was head coach of the Tulsa Shock in 2012 and 2013. He will be tasked with guiding the 10-16 Storm to the eighth and final playoff spot over Chicago and Atlanta, both also 10-16. Seattle has eight games remaining to claim a playoff spot, starting with the road-trip capper against Phoenix on Saturday night.
Brittney Sykes might not be gracing the Dancing With The Stars stage anytime soon, but her pre-game dance routine is just one of the many ways she has energized the Atlanta Dream fan base this season.
Though her energetic footwork off the court seems to keep her teammates in stitches, it is her slick moves on the hardwood that really have people around the league buzzing.
With the WNBA All-Star break now in her rearview mirror, the first-year guard from Syracuse University is well on her way to an unforgettable rookie season.
Sykes has skillfully played her way into the Rookie Of The Year conversation, and new fans of the WNBA have begun to sing her praises, proving that she rightfully belongs amongst the best players in the world.
The proof is in her numbers.
Sykes was named WNBA rookie of the month for July, as the seventh overall pick in the WNBA Draft led all newcomers in scoring with 17.8 points per game, which was good for third overall in the Eastern Conference and eighth in the league.
She also paced first-year players in three categories – rebounding, three-pointers made and minutes played. Additionally, she paced the Eastern Conference rookies in three-point field goal percentage.
Sykes scored in double figures in all eleven of Atlanta’s games last month to extend her streak to 13. The first three 20-point performances of her career came in three consecutive games during the third week of July.
And that wasn’t all.
She poured in a career-high 27 points, including 12-of-13 shooting from the free throw line, while dishing out a career-high five assists and grabbing four rebounds in the Dream’s recent 100-96 overtime loss to Washington.
Although she has thrived after being inserted into the starting lineup only a few games into the season, Sykes readily admits that there were pros and cons that came with that transition.
“The difference is that when you are on the bench you can see how the game started, how the flow of the game is, and I got to see some of the offensive tendencies of the players on the floor,” Sykes said. “When you start, then you get to set the tone as to how your team is going to play and how the other team has to respond to your play. Either way, I know in my head that when I am on the floor, I have to play my hardest.”
Nice work indeed for an unheralded player who wasn’t even invited to attend the draft, and who wasn’t projected to be among the elite in the league.
Instead, Sykes spent one of the biggest nights of her life at home.
Sitting in a house full of 40 people in her Newark, New Jersey home on draft night was a surreal moment for Sykes as her name was announced in the first round, eliciting screams from her assembled family and friends.
She became the highest-drafted Orange women’s basketball player in school history, reaching the pro ranks after two ACL tears within a year while at Syracuse.
Now she is competing for the team she coveted, on her own terms.
Current Atlanta and former Los Angeles Sparks world champion head coach Michael Cooper – who was one of the unsung but important pieces of the five-time champion “showtime” Los Lakers squad of the 1980’s – decided to take a chance on Sykes because he saw glimpses of himself in the hard-working, gritty 5-foot-9 inch dynamo he has affectionately dubbed “Slim.”
“She is a very talented basketball player that I have watched since she was at Syracuse,” Cooper said. “We think we were lucky to get here as late as we did because of the way she plays defense.”
Cooper’s keen eye for young talent immediately begun to pay dividends for the Dream – especially with Olympian Angel McCoughtry sitting out the 2017 season. Buoyed by the play of Sykes, who began the season as the only rookie on Atlanta’s roster, the Dream have surpassed all expectations to compete with the league’s elite teams on a regular basis.
Currently they are battling Seattle for the final spot in the WNBA playoffs with similar records and only a handful of games left to play.
Sykes dropped a cool 19 points against top-tier Phoenix in their first meeting, in a win that could go a long way in deciding Atlanta’s playoff future.
“We have a very dangerous team and if all of us are going off at the same time we can be unstoppable,” Sykes said. “If we are going to win a championship this year it will have to be on the defensive end.”
There are still there are doubters that haven’t fully embraced a player who is definitely among the up-and-coming faces of the WNBA, but the fact that she was passed over for this year’s All-Star game in Seattle will continue to motivate Sykes as she closes in on one of the best rookie seasons in team history.
“When you set goals for yourself and you don’t get what you worked hard for, it happens, but it makes you hungrier,” Sykes said. “I told my mother and my high school coach the night I got drafted that I would be rookie of the year. There are a lot of great players (in this year’s rookie class) but I have been through a lot and winning that award would make it all worth it.”
If that happens, Sykes will certainly have more than enough fodder for her radio show this fall.
The Sky rallied to beat the Dream, 91-86. Courtney Vandersloot had a career-high 26 points and 10 assists – her fourth straight game with 10-plus points and 10-plus assists.
The Stars beat the Storm, 87-80 in overtime, for their third consecutive victory. Kelsey Plum led San Antonio with a career-high 23 points. Breanna Stewart had 32 points, eight rebounds, four assists and four steals – the first player since Candace Parker in 2014 to do so.
Also, Seattle guard Sue Bird tied the league record for most games started, at 470.
It is shaping up to be an interesting race to the playoffs.
Los Angeles – The Los Angeles Sparks’ dominating play in the third quarter propelled them past the New York Liberty Friday, 87-74.
Candace Parker led four Sparks players in double figures with 24 points, while Odyssey Sims added 20, Nneka Ogwumike, 17 and Chelsea Gray, 11. Los Angeles is a perfect 4-0 since the All-Star break and are second in league standings, which is three games ahead of the third-place Connecticut Sun.
Parker and Ogwumike combined for 15 points in the third period as the Sparks outscored New York, 25-11, and gave them a 69-55 cushion heading into the game’s final 10 minutes. Los Angeles held all five Liberty starters scoreless in the fourth quarter to put the finishing touches on a game that had started close and was tied 44 at halftime.
The only major statistical difference between the teams were turnovers: the Sparks had seven, while New York committed 14. Los Angeles coach Brian Agler said his team’s ability to score off those turnovers was one of the difference-makers of the game.
“We took care of the ball,” he said of the Sparks’ turnovers. “In the second quarter when we were not playing as well as we liked, we did not have a high volume of turnovers. It is important to get shots on the ball, and New York is a very good defensive team. We were happy with the way we were able to handle the basketball.”
Agler characterized the second quarter as chaotic, and he challenged the team at halftime to step up on defense.
“We played without question our best defensive quarter in the third quarter. It helped our offense as well,” Agler said. “We were able to get some shots and our execution was better. I told them for us to beat good teams, win a series in a playoff or even be in the position to win a championship we cannot play how we did in the second quarter at either end.”
Last year Los Angeles finished the season in second place and earned a first-round playoffs bye – a goal Agler said the team is striving toward once again.
“We’re getting to that point in the season, with the new playoff format, where every game is important, and we’re pushing to get one of those top two seeds,” he said.
Bria Hartley paced New York with 16 points, and Tina Charles had 10 points – six of which she scored in the third quarter. Charles said their excessive turnovers in the third period did them in.
“Bria Hartley did great to (speed up) the tempo, and I think we just we persevered through in the first half,” Charles said. “I think (our) turnovers in the third quarter that hurt us a bunch and they capitalized on it, and they gained a lot of momentum, had their crown behind them. Kudos to them, they played a great second half.”
“I think the momentum just went their way, capitalizing on our turnovers. That really deflated us. I think the second unit, the bench came in and gave them great minutes and played hard.”
The Liberty is now 12-12 and sixth in league standings.
Sparks guard Essence Carson was injured just before All-Star break, and remains out. Sims has taken her place in the starting lineup, and Agler said it’s made a difference for the team, as has increasing the minutes of reserve forward Jantel Lavender.
“Odyssey’s a dynamic player, she makes things happen,” he said. “She’s a really good on-ball defender. Having her in the starting lineup has really picked up the pace for us.”
Los Angeles players say they’ve stepped up their defense the last two weeks and are adjusting to the new lineup.
“As a team, we’ve really been focusing on defense and getting stops – not so much one-on-one but playing off of each other,” Ogwumike said. “We saw a lot of that in the second half today. Offensively we’re still working out some kinks, because we’re getting more people contributing and more minutes from different people. That chemistry is still happening, but as you can see, we have great play from Riquna (Williams) and Odyssey.”
Ogwumike said during the first half of the season, the team’s veteran core was taking the lead. Now there is more cohesion.
“Now we’re incorporating everybody, and now everybody’s able to play well,” Ogwumike said. “So we’re beginning a new surge.”
Parker has stood out recently for both her scoring and her assists. She is tied for seventh in the league in assists – the only forward in the top 13 on the list. Last week she notched the sixth triple-double in WNBA history, which included 11 assists. Gray said her statistics are a testament to her greatness as a player.
“People sometimes forget what a great passer Candace is,” Gray said. “We have a great catcher in Nneka, and Candace is able to see the floor and get the ball to the right people.”
“That’s hard to guard when you have a four or a five doing that. It puts pressure on the opponent’s defense, and that’s a testament to the type of player Candace is. She attracts so much attention and she’s still able to contribute so much, so aggressively.”
Arlington, Texas – The Dallas Wings snapped a two-game losing streak in emphatic fashion Friday, tying a WNBA record with 16 three-point shots en route to a 93-80 win over the Seattle Storm.
Skylar Diggins-Smith led six players in double figures with 23 points, and seven of the team’s 18 assists. Karima Christmas-Kelly added 14 and Allisha Gray, 13 points. Forward Glory Johnson had her ninth double-double of the season with 11 points and a season-high 16 rebounds.
Dallas was the aggressor from the beginning, hitting eight treys in the second quarter alone. They out-rebounded the Storm, 46-25, scored 13 points off of turnovers and put up 30 points in the paint. Coach Fred Williams said this was one of the most balanced games his team has played all season long.
“Especially with the production on the offensive boards and defensively, and our fast break points. We really executed well in the open court,” Williams said. “I think all the way around, it was a solid combination of defense and a good, solid 12 players that we have on the roster now that can give us some rest.”
The game was tied up at 23 after the first quarter, but the scoring barrage in the second opened up the lead to 13 points at the half 55-42. Seattle never came within 12 points for the rest of the game. Johnson said the key to the win was teamwork.
“We understand how important each one of these games are,” she said. “We need wins, we need to make it to playoffs, if that is the goal. If that is the mindset, we need to get some wins. This is one of those things. Seattle and LA got us last time, so our goal is to get them this time.”
Jewell Loyd led the Storm with 23 points, while Breanna Stewart added 21. Both Dallas, now 12-14 for seventh place in league standings, and Seattle, now 10-14 for ninth, are fighting for a playoff spot, which means having one of the top eight spots.
Diggins-Smith said she and her team had something to prove to themselves after losing to the Storm last Friday night, 109-93.
“We are just trying to focus on one game at a time; we really did a great job in practice breaking things down and executing when we got on the floor,” Diggins-Smith said. “It was a total team effort tonight, I thought everybody contributed, stepped up and won by committee, that’s what we need.”
Stewart said this was a tough game for Seattle, and that they were late on rotations.
“Anytime you come into a team’s home gym, especially with both fighting for playoff position,” Stewart said. “They shot the ball really well, and from there, they could shoot with their eyes closed and I’m sure it would go in.”
The Wings look to build from the win, as they host the defending champion Los Angeles Sparks Sunday. The Storm are in the midst of a two-week road trip.