STORM WINS: Five minutes of defense led the Storm to winning its 14th consecutive game at KeyArena and ending a two-game skid. A pair of free throws by Wright and a missed 18-foot jump shot by White at the buzzer sealed the game. Jackson led all scorers with 31 points and eight boards while Montgomery was a pistol, getting her first double-double with 22 points and 10 assists. Wright said it was her lackluster defense, yet with the Sun running the same play all night and the Storm taking a break on everything in the third quarter, I’d hardly point a finger her way. In fact, each Storm player who played did something important in the game to get the win. Reserve Le’coe Willingham had a season-high five offensive boards, Cash scored 21 points for her fifth 20-point game of the season and the Storm’s 28 second-chance points were a season-high. Charles was a monster, but didn’t get her signature double-double, finishing with 23 points and seven boards. Jackson didn’t play much against the No. 1 overall draft pick, but was impressed. “She’s everything she’s hyped up to be,” said the Aussie, who’ll probably see a lot of Charles on the Olympic trail. “I think that she’s obviously Rookie of the Year. She’s great.” Charles tossed back the superlatives. “It was kind of weird because that’s someone that I look up to,” she said. “Being a post player and just watching her play in the league and throughout her whole career – she’s a great player and she’s definitely MVP.” The Storm has Friday off and will use shoot-around on Saturday to prepare for their rematch against Tulsa on Saturday. Agler said if the team wins, he’d start to look at tapering minutes on the three-game road trip East. But he had the tiebreakers mixed up if there’s more than one team from different conferences tied at the end of the season. Since three teams in the east have 10 loses and the Storm can only finish with 11 loses, the actual tiebreaker turns to record against the opposite conference. If all of the teams were in the same conference, then the tiebreaker would be intra-conference records and the Storm could rest, going 16-2 thus far in the West. The Storm is 7-2 against the East while Atlanta (18-10) is 9-2 against the West and Indiana (16-10) is 5-2. Washington (16-10) already has three losses against the West and would be out in a tiebreaker scenario for overall best record. The Storm (23-4) would need for the Dream and Fever to simply lose or at least lose against the West to get that top seed. Seattle plays Atlanta and Washington on the road trip and would need wins. Importance will play a part, however. Agler already noted that Jackson is tired and the team would have to get out of the first round before the overall top seed even began to matter. With a franchise-best 23 wins, which surpasses 2008’s mark of 22, the players are just focused on getting better. The defense improved on Thursday, improving the comeback number to 11-4 when trailing after three quarters, but no one feels like they’re really clicking. “I’m sure Connecticut is kicking themselves because they had control of the game,” said Bird of the Sun, which is 11-2 when leading after three quarters. “For us to dig deep and find a way to win…We know we need to work on some things and get back to where we were a few weeks ago.”
TIE GAME: A three-pointer by Bird and a block and pair of FTs by Cash tied the score at 81 points apiece with 1:20 remaining.
CLASH OF TITANS: Charles and Jackson are making some sick moves to try to get the win at Key. Charles’ turnaround jumper is nearly unstoppable, she has 23 points and seven boards. Jackson leads all scorers with 31 and eight boards, finger rolling a layin that coupled with Little’s baseline sweep has decreased the deficit to 79-76 for Seattle. There’s 2:35 remaining in the game and the Sun called a timeout.
RUN CONTINUES: Well, Connecticut has built a 71-62 lead, stretching a 13-4 across two quarter to take control of the game. When the Storm had a good run at home in 2008, the Sun were the only team to defeat them at KeyArena. Deja vu?
SUN RISING: The Sun is up 66-62 after White and Jones played strong in the paint to close the third quarter. The Storm is even with the Sun in scoring in the pain (26), the difference being that Seattle’s overall shooting percentage continues to drop as the game progresses (28.6 percent in the third quarter). An airball by Abrosimova didn’t help confidence. Montgomery came alive in the quarter, scoring nine of her 21 points.
TIE GAME: A dagger three-pointer by Lawson gave the Sun a brief one-point lead. Cash answered with her own trey, but a Montgomery jumper notted the score at 56 points apiece. Jackson then broke the tie with a layin. Seattle is up 58-56 with 2:53 remaining in the third.
GETTING CLOSE: After a bucket by Charles under the hoop, the Sun has moved within 53-51 of the Storm’s lead. The turnovers are starting to creep up. There’s 5:34 remaining in the third quarter.
END OF HALF: The Storm leads 45-37 at the half. Jackson, who said before the game that her sprained left thumb “is fine,” has a game-high 22 points. She made 3 of 5 three-pointers. Cash added 12 on 5 of 12 shooting from the field. The Storm is outrebounding the Sun 23-10 and still hasn’t given up a second-chance shot (18-0).
REBOUNDING?: The Sun still isn’t getting on the boards, but has improved its shooting to 50 percent. The Storm has the edge on the boards 19-7, however, not giving the Sun a single second-chance shot while scoring 14 themselves. Seattle leads 41-35 with 2:07 remaining in the first half.
PRETTY SHOT: Montgomery nailed a gorgeous teardrop shot and the Storm has missed a few tough drives to the hoop, allowing the lead to shrink to 32-27 with 5:41 remaining in the opening half. Gruda has helped get the Sun in a nice groove, too, drawing a foul and hitting her own jumper.
EARLY WORK: The Storm finished the opening half on a 10-3 run to build a 27-18 lead. Jackson got the crowd into the game by popping three-pointers. She leads with 13 points. Turnovers are also low with the Sun getting just one miscue and Seattle accounting for three. Seattle is shooting 64.7 percent from the field and out rebounding Connecticut 12-3. Charles has seven points to lead her team.
LINEUP SWITCH: Thibault brought G Tan White off the bench for more scoring against Seattle. She had an assist, but a three-pointer by Jackson keeps the Storm ahead 20-15 with 2:37 remaining. Both teams playing crisp.
PAY UP: The Storm is out to a 12-9 lead after a fast break layin by Jackson, but Cash has been bringing it home, shooting 4 of 5 from the field to help build the lead with 5:42 on the clock. Cash did not have a good showing on the road and coach Brian Agler said he knew she’d be back. Welcome.
GO PINK: The Storm is wearing all pink uniforms and shoes in honor of the WNBA’s breast health awareness week. Here’s a good read on how breast cancer has affected Charles’ family.
Connecticut coach Mike Thibault broke into a big smile while proclaiming his one wish of the day, “I wish they would have won the other day,” he said prior to his Sun’s game against the Storm at KeyArena on Thursday. It’s the first meeting of the season between the teams.
The Storm lost back-to-back road games and while the Sun should be hungry, entering the matchup on a three-game losing streak, this is Seattle. The Storm has won 13 consecutive games in the facility and all it needed was a stinker road trip to wake the beast.
At least that’s what Thibault believes.
“I know they be ready to play,” he said. “For us, I told our players, ‘Just go be aggressive and go out to win the game instead of trying to not get beat.’ I feel like we’ve been playing safe basketball and ‘safe’ has been kind of getting us in trouble a little bit. I want us to be aggressive because that’s when we play our best.”
If Connecticut doesn’t snap out of it, the Sun is in danger of missing the postseason after majority of the national pundits picked Connecticut to win the Eastern Conference. The Sun (13-13) is two games behind New York for the fourth and final berth.
Part of Connecticut’s struggles started when G Anete Jekabsone-Zogota suffered a knee injury in June. Then Thibault had to juggle a new roster that involved switching his go-to look to rookie C Tina Charles from French post Sandrine Gruda in 2009.
Lastly, the Sun have had the same troubles as the Storm with careless, unforced turnovers. Connecticut has had 59 in its past three losses while Seattle has had 42 in its past two defeats.
“I don’t think people gave Anete enough credit for being an integral part of our team,” Thibault said. “We had a pretty good record before she got hurt (9-5). Some of it is the constant trying to figure it (all) out with a new group. Whether it’s my fault or not my fault, it’s trying to figure out how to play this group together. With six new players, I’ve never gotten a comfortable feel – particularly when you take a player out like that and there was a stretch where you didn’t know how many minutes you were going to get out of Asjha (Jones) and Kara (Lawson). That’s on me.”
Thursday could be the night it all clicks for Connecticut. Or Seattle could regain its fire.
Let’s get you ready for either with the starting lineups:
F Asjha Jones
F Kelsey Griffin
C Tina Charles
G Renee Montgomery
G Kara Lawson
F Swin Cash
F Lauren Jackson
C Camille Little
G Sue Bird
G Tanisha Wright
Tonight’s officials are Michael Price, Sue Blauch, and Brenda Pantoja.