They may be short-handed in terms of personnel, but the Seattle Storm are getting by with their championship mettle.
The reigning WNBA champions wrap up a four-game road swing Sunday versus a Connecticut Sun team looking for a franchise-record 12th consecutive home win.
The Storm (5-3) will be without star forward Breanna Stewart this year due to an Achilles injury, and fellow starter Sue Bird remains sidelined indefinitely following knee surgery. Seattle, though, has found other sources of offense – primarily Natasha Howard and Jewell Loyd – and has shown greater cohesion with each passing contest on this trip, a feat all the more impressive considering coach Dan Hughes has yet to be on the sidelines for a game after being treated to remove a cancerous tumor from his digestive tract.
Loyd’s go-ahead jumper with 8.6 seconds to play lifted the Storm to a 74-71 victory over the Washington Mystics on Friday night in a rematch of last year’s WNBA Finals. Seattle closed the game on a 10-0 run over the final 2:47 and erased a 13-point fourth-quarter deficit as both Howard and Mercedes Russell posted double-doubles, with Russell finishing with career highs of 15 points and 11 rebounds.
“We wanted to get Tash in some space so we ran a nice high ball screen with a clear outside that we normally run for Tash,” Loyd said when recounting the final play, “and they went with her because she’s been killing it all night and left me open in my sweet spot and God willing, I was able to hit that shot.”
Howard, who had 19 points and 11 rebounds for her third double-double, is third in the league in scoring (19.5 ppg) and fourth in rebounds (9.4). She will meet her equal in current two-time WNBA Player of the Week Jonquel Jones, who is fifth and first in those respective categories with 17.8 points and 12.1 rebounds per game.
Jones notched her fifth double-double in Connecticut’s 85-81 victory over Minnesota on Friday night, totaling 16 points and 12 rebounds. After entering the game 10th in the league in shooting at 39.1 percent, the Sun (7-1) knocked down 50 percent of their attempts against the Lynx and Shekinna Stricklen hit 4 of 5 from 3-point range wile also finishing with 16 points.
“We had high assists on baskets, especially in the first half,” Sun coach Curt Miller told the team’s official Twitter account, “so we were moving the ball, sharing the ball, and we got the ball in the paint it created opportunities to kick the ball back out. We haven’t had that all year, so making shots, high assists on those baskets is big for the way we play.”
Connecticut, which has won five straight overall, is trying to break the franchise record of 11 consecutive home victories originally established from Sept. 19, 2004, to July 28, 2005. The Sun made their only two WNBA Finals appearances in those seasons, losing to the Storm in 2004.
The Storm are the last opposing team to leave Mohegan Sun with a victory, winning 78-65 on July 20 as Loyd scored 20 of her season-high 31 points in the second half. That completed a season sweep of the series for Seattle, which won the three games between the teams by a combined 38 points.