It wasn’t until there were less than 30 seconds to play in Sunday’s game against the Indiana Fever that the Seattle Storm took a lead that would last.
But for head coach Dan Hughes, sometimes you just have to embrace the grind.
“You got to win your share of these if you’re going to be the team you want to be,” he said after his team’s 65-61 win over the Fever at Hec Edmundson Pavilion.
In Seattle’s first game on the University of Washington campus, the Storm (7-4) led by as many as eight in the first quarter, seven in the second, and eight in the third. But time and again, Indiana (5-6) had an answer, until the game’s closing moments.
“I think you saw two teams that were just gritting it out,” said Fever head coach Pokey Chatman. “You saw a heavyweight match. A slugfest and blue collar basketball …”
After a pair of Erica Wheeler free throws tied the game at 61 with 35 seconds to play, Seattle put the ball in the hands of Jewell Loyd. The fifth-year guard used a Natasha Howard screen to drive into the paint for what would be the deciding layup.
“I saw the opening, and all I was trying to do was make sure I could get it high on the backboard,” said Loyd, who finished with a game-high 21 points.
On the ensuing possession, Wheeler missed a jumper over center Mercedes Russell. The rebound bounced to Howard, who then hit two free throws to seal the win.
“We made her take a tough shot,” Howard said.
The reigning Most Improved Player had to play carefully down the stretch, picking up her fourth foul with just under four minutes left in the third. That forced Hughes to sit 6-foot-4 forward for the rest of the quarter, as Indiana went on a 9-0 run in the final two minutes to take a 49-48 lead.
“What I have been able to observe over the last few games is that there is a toughness about us,” the coach said. “I have to trust that they are going to grind it out.”
When Howard stepped back onto the court to start the fourth, she wanted to remain physical, but knew she had to play smart.
She struck that balance perfectly as the game clock ticked under six minutes, chasing down Kelsey Mitchell on a fast break and blocking her layup into the first row of seats.
“I didn’t want Indiana to feel comfortable,” she said.
Howard was one of four Storm players to finish in double-figures with 17 points, while Alysha Clark and Shavonte Zellous each added 11.
Though Chatman was happy to hold the Storm to just 65 points on the night, she pointed to her team’s 19 turnovers as a deciding factor.
“You can’t turn it over on a third of your possessions and still have a chance, yet we did,” she said. “I think it showed some resiliency on our part to stay in the game under the circumstances that we created … I think we let one slip away.”
Wheeler had a team-high 18 points for Indiana, as the team scored a season-low 61, and shot under 35 percent from the field. Teaira McCowan had a game-high 13 rebounds, finishing four points shy of her third straight double-double.
Seattle now heads to Las Vegas for a Tuesday tilt with the Aces, while the Fever return home to take on the Minnesota Lynx.
- Attendance: 7,211
- Jordin Canada did not play for the third consecutive game, as she continues to recover from a knee injury suffered against Washington on June 14.
- Natalie Achonwa returned for Indiana after missing the last two games with a left calf strain. She finished with seven points and four rebounds in 12 minutes off the bench.
- Seattle announced its 20th Anniversary Team during halftime: Simone Edwards, Tina Thompson, Betty Lennox, Camille Little, Tanisha Wright, Natasha Howard, Jewell Loyd, Alysha Clark, Swin Cash, Breanna Stewart, Lauren Jackson, and Sue Bird.
- In her first game at the UW since graduating in 2010, Sami Whitcomb was held scoreless.