KeyArena was rocking for the Seattle Storm's home opener for the 2016 WNBA season. An announced sell-out crowd was electric from the tip-off. Many very eager to see the new number one overall pick from this year's WNBA Draft, Breanna Stewart, in person for the first time. Breanna Stewart has been on the map for several years as the standout player at UConn, as she led the UConn Huskies to four straight National Championships. During that time, she also earned the Most Outstanding Player award for the Final Four in all four years in college. But this would be the first regular season game Stewie would play in front of the Storm Crazies.
Stewart would not disappoint the Seattle crowd. She had 14 points in the first half alone. She would finish the game with another double-double (her 2nd consecutive game), 14 points and 13 rebounds. Unfortunately, Stewie was held scoreless in the second half.
When Stewart was asked about her individual struggles in the 2nd half, she had this to say, "Dang, throw it in my face! (jokingly), you know I missed a lot of easy shots. I should have made them. That's part of the game when you miss, but I can't let it affect me."
Some of that was just missed layups and shots. Another part was the physical play of the Minnesota Lynx. With Bronson and Sylvia Fowles really using their bodies and being aggressive to push Stewart around.
Stewart on the challenge of playing against one of the top centers in Sylvia Fowles, what went well and what she needs to improve on, "Obviously, her strength. She's a big strong post, getting her off the block. That's what I tried to do. Sometimes she got position, sometimes she didn't. But I thought for the most part I did a really good job rebounding. Obviously at the end, there were some that we really needed that we couldn't get, but I'll do better next time."
The refs also seemed to let a lot of stuff go, as Stewart was sent to the floor a couple of times without the whistle blowing. Coach Jenny Boucek, was not pleased with the refereeing in the game and let the media know that. After the game was over, she had this to say:
"The referees let them be extremely physical; which is confusing to me, because a point of emphasis this year is supposed to be freedom of movement. And we had no freedom to move around. That's confusing to me and that hurts our team in terms of the style that we play. Stewie, I thought that hurt a little bit, when they got really physical with her and the referees were letting them do stuff that is not legal."
When I asked Coach Boucek if it was frustrating to hold them to just two points for over seven minutes into the third quarter, but not be able to take advantage of that and take the lead, she had this to say:
"No, it's not frustrating. They're the best team in the world, so for us to be able to go toe-to-toe with them, it says a lot. They have been a dynasty for five years. They are the cream of the crop in our league, they've been together a long time, they know how to win together, and they're loaded with amazing players. Every year, for the past five years, they've had the best defense and the best offense. That's where we strive to get to; they're the team that's our measuring stick for the league."
When asked about Stewart's performance going up against Sylvia Fowles, Coach Boucek said, "It's been fun watching Stewie, she goes from Candace Parker, to Brittney Griner, to now Fowles and Rebekkah Brunson, and at one point she was on Maya Moore when they went small. Just to see her really attacking every challenge, excited about every challenge. Whether it's an individual or a team challenge, you're seeing why she's so great, and why she will be so great."
The Storm actually got up early on the defending champions, closing out the 1st quarter with a 14-0 run, which would put them up 24-19. Alysha Clark and Breanna Stewart were doing most of the scoring in the first half. Clark, who has been more of a role player for the Storm, is really starting to come into her own in her 5th season in the league. Clark had a career high in points tonight, leading all scorers with 20 points. Even out-scoring Maya Moore, who had 17 points to lead the Lynx. Clark also showed off her improved three point shooting, going 3-5 from downtown in the game tonight.
After the game, I talked to Clark about her improvement from beyond the arc and what she's worked on since last season.
"Shooting with confidence, getting a lot of reps up. Working on form and staying consistent. Shooting after games, working on shots on the move, on top of the set shot." Clark said.
I asked her if it was frustrating to hold the Minnesota Lynx to just two points in seven minutes of the third quarter, but not able to score on the other end.
"Obviously, yeah, because it's hard enough to stop them. So when you do that, we want to go down and take advantage and get some easy buckets. It kind of felt that way, but I didn't know it was 2-2. But that's something that Jenny really emphasizes on. When we get a stop, we can't relax, we need to push and go."
It was no surprise, that a veteran team like the Minnesota Lynx would not be deterred down early against the young energetic Storm. The Lynx would outscore the Storm by 10 points, 27-17 in the 2nd quarter; pushing their lead at half-time to five points, 46-41.
The third quarter was not pretty for either team. On the positive, the Storm did a great job defensively limiting the Lynx from scoring. In fact, the Lynx only scored two points in the first seven and a half minutes of the third period. Unfortunately, the Storm only scored two points in the first seven and a half minutes. This was a big key to the game, as the Storm were not able to capitalize on Minnesota's poor offensive output in the third frame. At the end of the third, the Lynx led 54 to 51.
Both teams played much better in the final period. And the Storm behind all the Storm Crazies played very hard and made a few runs to cut the lead to one point. But every time the Storm made a rally, the Lynx had an answer. Whether it was Sylvia Fowles down in the low post, or Maya Moore hitting a three pointer, or Seimone Augustus attacking the paint. Lindsay Whalen, was clutch when she needed to be forcing Loyd into a turnover and knocking down a dagger three pointer with 2:11 left in the game. The best team in the WNBA were just too well balanced for Seattle tonight. The Storm would ultimately fall 71-78 to the Lynx.
Jewell Loyd, who was leading the WNBA in scoring after two games, well held in check by Minnesota. Loyd had 14 points and four rebounds; which isn't a terrible game. But also a far cry from her 30 point outburst she had against the Phoenix Mercury on Friday. As Loyd also transitions to the part-time point guard role, there are going to be growing pains for the second year player out of Notre Dame. And tonight was an example of that. Loyd had zero assists and six turnovers.
The Storm fall to 1-2 on the season and they will host the Washington Mystics on Thursday May 26th.