The forthcoming month-long break to the WNBA season can’t come soon enough for the Storm.
Handicapped by injuries to Ann Wauters (partially torn Achilles) and Tina Thompson (sprained left knee), Seattle looked over-matched by the Atlanta Dream’s size and athleticism Wednesday afternoon in a 70-59 loss at KeyArena that snapped the Storm’s five-game home winning streak.
Lead by Sancho Lyttle’s 21 points, the Dream (9-9) abused Seattle’s front court, holding makeshift starter Ewelina Kobryn and power forward Camille Little to a combined 4-19 shooting in its third straight win over the Storm. Atlanta finished with 40 points in the paint to Seattle’s 26, outrebounded the Storm 34-25 and dropped 13 second-chance points to Seattle’s 2.
Forced at times to play little-used reserve forward Alysha Clark at center, Seattle struggled to maintain any type of consistency on either end. The Storm fell behind early and never recovered after Little and Kobryn got into early foul trouble. Seattle’s 16 turnovers and 39 percent shooting didn’t help. The Dream held Sue Bird to just five points.
“They scored a majority of their points in the paint,” Storm head coach Brian Agler said after the Storm dropped to 8-10. ”I’m not one to try to sit there and make excuses that (the absence of post players) was the reason. You take the team that you have and try to figure out ways to accomplish success. Today we could just never get control of the basketball game. We just didn’t finish off defensive possessions and they played very well down the stretch.”
Trailing 18-12 one quarter, the Storm was down 36-32 at halftime with the help of rookie Shekinna Stricklen. The mercurial rookie forward from the University of Tennessee finally showed why the Storm traded Swin Cash for rights to the No. 2 pick in the draft. Stricklen played the most impressive game of her pro career in front of the 9,686 fans in attendance for Seattle’s final home game before the WNBA takes a one-month break for the 2012 Summer Olympics. She led the Storm with a career-high 16 points and nine rebounds.
She said Agler’s recent guidance contributed to her breakout performance.
“With my size and quickness, coach stays on me to attack, attack,” Stricklen said. ”Today I was feeling really confident, just attacking and being aggressive and getting to the basket with my size.”
The Storm couldn’t score in the first 4:17 of the second half, which allowed Atlanta a 9-0 run behind a three from Lindsey Harding and an “and-one” on a running jumper from Armintie Price. Seattle trailed 44-32 before Agler could burn a timeout.
The lack of energy coming out of the locker room left the Storm head coach confused as to why his team couldn’t capitalize after building momentum going into the half.
“I didn’t feel it, but we sure played that way,” Agler said when asked if his team was flat. “We had an opportunity to really get control of the game but didn’t do a lot offensively. And then they came down and had a 9-0 run on us.”
With the loss, the Storm squandered a chance to climb back to .500 after a dreadful 1-7 start to the season. Agler will again need to figure out a makeshift lineup when his club caps the first half of the season Friday in Arizona against Phoenix. He said post-game he is unsure if Wauters will play against the Mercury.
Even Bird portrayed some frustration after her club dropped just its second home game of the season.
“We just did not play well,” she said. ”You ask yourselves the reasons why, but I think we just lacked some energy and if we could have done a better job defensively who knows what would have happened. I think you saw at times a team that was just a little bit out of sorts and not on the same page, and that’s all our faults.”