2005: Strong Season Ends Abruptly

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Kevin Pelton, storm.wnba.com | September 13, 2005
The confetti had barely finished falling by the time the Seattle Storm was forced to move on from winning the 2004 WNBA Championship and begin preparing to defend the title.

"It was very difficult when I was at the postgame party and my trainer was talking to me about exit interviews and exit physicals," said Storm Coach Anne Donovan.

The 2004-05 off-season ushered in a level of free agent activity never before seen by the WNBA, and no team was harder hit than the Storm, which emerged from the title run with three unrestricted free agents, six restricted free agents and a salary-cap squeeze. On February 14, the Storm suffered its first casualty when starting forward Sheri Sam signed with the Charlotte Sting, becoming the first player to ever leave the Storm via free agency.

Sam's departure was widely expected because of the market for her services, but it was more surprising nine days later when backup guard Tully Bevilaqua departed for the Indiana Fever. The loss of the popular Aussie made the announcement that Lauren Jackson and Alicia Thompson had re-signed with the Storm bittersweet.

Two days later, the Storm took another hit when center Kamila Vodichkova - the first draft pick in franchise history and one of two players remaining from the inaugural 2000 team - signed an offer sheet with the Phoenix Mercury. The Storm took the full 10 days before finally deciding to allow Vodichkova to depart because of how the deal would have hampered cap flexibility.

During this period, the Storm continued moving towards its 2005 roster by re-signing Finals MVP Betty Lennox and Janell Burse, who would replace Vodichkova at center. Australian Jessica Bibby was added as a potential replacement for Bevilaqua, and the Storm got good news when Aussie center Suzy Batkovic, the team's 2003 second-round pick, decided to come to the WNBA for the 2005 season. In April, the Storm added a pair of contenders to replace Sam in Brazilian Iziane Castro Marques and Russian Natalia Vodopyanova.

After drafting Tanisha Wright from Penn State, UConn forward Ashley Battle and Steffanie Blackmon of the NCAA Champion Baylor Bears, the Storm moved into training camp with 13 newcomers and eight rookies amongst the 22-player roster. Bibby never made it to camp, suffering a back injury in mid-April while working out in Australia, while six players arrived late because of overseas commitments. Not amongst them was Jackson, in camp on time for the first time in her career, having taken the winter off after undergoing ankle surgery in October.

The Storm raised the 2004 Championship banner on May 21, but then struggled against the Sparks.
Jeff Reinking/NBAE/Getty
During camp, the number of players remaining from the championship team continued to dwindle. After the Storm's first preseason game in New York (a 72-58 loss), Michelle Greco was waived. Three days later, Trina Frierson was also cut. Looking for more production behind All-Star Sue Bird, Donovan signed Italian guard Francesca Zara as a free agent just prior to the team's final preseason game, a 77-76 loss to Sacramento. Less than a week later, Zara was one of seven newcomers and five rookies to make the Storm's final roster. The toughest cut, on May 18, was forward Adia Barnes, a member of the Storm for three seasons and a fixture in the community, while Shaquala Williams lost a battle with Zara to back up Bird.

The Storm was at last ready to receive their championship rings, hang the title banner in KeyArena and open the season on national television against the Los Angeles Sparks. For 10 minutes of game time, the day couldn't have been more perfect, but the Sparks went into a zone and the Storm responded by heading to the perimeter, breaking a WNBA record by attempting 32 3-pointers in a 68-50 loss, shooting a franchise-worst 23.7% from the field. Jackson scored just eight points, snapping an 84-game streak of scoring in double-figures that was the second-longest in WNBA history.

The following week was tense, as questions flared up about Jackson's post-surgery conditioning and the Storm's ability to defend the title. The questions loomed larger when the Storm trailed by 14 at halftime to Houston the following Friday, but a franchise-record 53-point second half sparked a four-game winning streak that eased any concerns. Jackson was named Player of the Week on June 6 after averaging 18 points and 14.5 rebounds the previous week.

The Storm headed East for the first time for a Finals rematch with the Connecticut Sun. The Sun raced to a fourth consecutive win by an 81-69 final, but the bigger concern for the Storm came when Bird went down late in the game, having broken her nose again (as she did during the 2004 Playoffs) as well as another bone. Without Bird, the Storm was given little chance the next night against the 4-0 Shock, but the Storm led by 21 at the half and won a shocker by shooting 50.9% from the field with Zara at the helm. 21 turnovers cost the Storm two nights later in a 64-52 loss at Washington, but Seattle salvaged a split of the trip when Burse beat the buzzer to win an ugly matchup with the 1-7 Sting, 62-60.

Back at KeyArena but still without Bird, the Storm dropped an overtime decision to the Minnesota Lynx 86-81. The Storm's All-Star point guard returned a week later against Connecticut at the Key, and Lennox rejoiced. She scored a season-high 29 points as the Storm put up 51 in the second half to run past the Sun, 95-86, setting a franchise record for scoring.

The Storm concluded June with another road trip, this one disastrous. In Los Angeles, the Storm fell 76-65 behind 27 points and 10 boards from Chamique Holdsclaw. Simone Edwards' 11 points provided a spark in Minnesota, but the Storm couldn't overcome Jackson's 1-for-10 shooting in a narrow 73-70 loss. Playing in Houston without Castro Marques (suspended for one game by the league), the Storm stayed close despite Jackson being benched but still lost, 71-67. The road trip concluded in San Antonio, where the Silver Stars went on a late run, placed all five players in double-figures and won 81-69 despite being outrebounded 43-27. The loss dropped the Storm below .500 for the first time since the middle of the 2002 season. Seattle did get good news before the game, as both Bird and Jackson (for the first time) were voted starters for the Western Conference All-Star team.

The Storm coaching staff and starters Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson led the West to its sixth straight win.
Ray Amati/NBAE/Getty
Glad to turn the calendar to July, the Storm celebrated at home by beating the West-leading Sacramento Monarchs, taking an 18-point lead to the half and holding on 74-67 behind Jackson's season-high 31 points and 13 rebounds. The momentum was lost in Phoenix, as the Storm closed out the first half with a 73-61 loss as Phoenix outscored Seattle 44-29 in the second half. The Storm went into the All-Star break at 8-9.

Joining Bird and Jackson in Connecticut was the entire Storm coaching staff, which coached the West by virtue of winning the conference in 2004. Donovan presided over a record-setting 122-99 victory, Bird scoring 14 points and Jackson nine. Bird also won the All-Star Skills Challenge.

The Storm returned from the break with six of the next seven games at KeyArena and hopes of moving up in the standings. That looked like folly after a 78-71 loss to Washington in the first game after the break, but the Storm responded by winning six games in a row. Included were wins on the road and at home over the Sparks, snapping a five-game losing streak to Los Angeles, and Burse scoring a career-high 27 points in a win over Charlotte to win Player of the Week for the first time in her career.

Back East, the Storm again faced injury to a starting guard. Betty Lennox sprained a ligament in her left wrist in a 78-68 loss to the Indiana Fever, and missed the Storm's 79-67 loss in New York. With rookie Wright stepping up in Lennox's place, the Storm beat the Houston Comets in Seattle on Aug. 9 despite Sheryl Swoopes' career-high 34 points and came up with a key road win at Minnesota three days later. The win was the 99th of Anne Donovan's WNBA coaching career, and after a loss at Houston, she would become the fourth coach in league history and the first female to hit 100 against the Lynx at KeyArena on Aug. 18. On the road for the last time, the Storm lost 75-65 at Sacramento, but clinched a playoff spot with a 78-51 blowout of San Antonio. Lennox returned in the game, scoring 12 points off the bench. Back at home, the Storm won the season series over the first-place Monarchs with a 76-63 win, holding Sacramento 33.3% shooting. The win locked up second place in the Western Conference, but the Storm played to win in the regular-season finale, beating Phoenix 85-74 behind Wright's career-high 17 points and Bird's season-high-tying 20 even after Jackson left the game early with a back injury. After the game, which was the Storm's franchise-record ninth straight at home, the team announced that Donovan had extended her contract to stay in Seattle. Bird capped the regular season by becoming the third Storm player to win Player of the Week.

The Storm's Game 1 win in Houston proved to be the highpoint of the season.
Bill Baptist/NBAE/Getty
The playoff portion of the Storm's defense of the title opened against the four-time champion Comets in what promised to be a great series after the teams split the regular-season series 2-2. After the Storm traveled to Houston, Jackson's back tightened up and became a major concern. Donovan wanted to send her star home to get treatment, but Jackson played through the pain in Game 1, scoring the Storm's first seven points and finishing with 19 points and 13 boards. Jackson got help after halftime from Lennox, who scored 17 of her 18 points in the stanza to help the Storm hold off Houston's charge and win, 75-67.

The victory put the Storm in control of the series as the scene shifted to KeyArena for one or two games, but the Comets had no intentions of quitting. Game 2 proved tight throughout, but the Storm appeared to have things under control, leading 62-59 with 2:48 to play. Things unraveled in a nightmarish final three minutes. After a Michelle Snow layup, Bird threw a careless pass that was intercepted by Swoopes, who took it the other direction for the go-ahead layup. After a Lennox charge, Swoopes was fouled in the act of shooting and made both shots for a 65-62 lead. The teams traded misses, followed by a Lennox layup to get back within one. Things looked up when Comets veteran Dawn Staley threw a poor inbounds pass that the Storm ended up with, but Lennox's shot missed and Staley pulled the ball out of Burse's hands under the basket. Two Janeth Arcain free throws pushed the Houston lead back to three, and the Storm missed two chances to send the game to overtime.

Saturday evening, the teams returned to Game 3. Donovan said before the game her team was "eager" to play the game and put Game 2 behind them, but the Storm appeared shellshocked as Houston opened the game on an incredible run. The Comets shot 66.7% in the first half to take a 43-26 lead to the locker room. The Storm opened up the second half on a run to get within 10, but a Staley 3 quelled the uprising and the Storm never got the lead within single-digits in the second half of a 75-58 loss that ended their season. In the end, Swoopes (14 points, 10 boards, 10 assists for the first playoff triple-double in league history) was simply unstoppable.

Though the season ended in disappointment, there were plenty of positives in the Storm's 2005 campaign. The team won 20 games to tie the franchise record, set during the championship season, and did it despite playing more minutes by rookies than any other team in the league. Youngsters Batkovic, Castro Marques, Wright and Zara demonstrated their ability to play in the WNBA. Burse, the runner-up for Most Improved Player, developed into a presence in the post. Lennox remained as clutch as ever, hitting two game-winning shots in the Storm's franchise-record-tying six-game winning streak, and Bird and Jackson made strides in terms of their leadership.

"This was the key year in terms of gaining all the new players, all the new free agents, getting some good ones and getting some experience," Donovan said at season's end. "Next year, the expectations go up."

BACK ROW: Head Coach Anne Donovan, Suzy Batkovic, Janell Burse, Lauren Jackson, Assistant Coach Jessie Kenlaw, Strength and Conditioning Coach Chattin Hill, Video Coordinator Ayana Clinton
MIDDLE ROW: Equipment Manager Skyler Young, Assistant Coach Jenny Boucek, Alicia Thompson, Natalia Vodopyanova, Simone Edwards, Iziane Castro Marques, Director of Basketball Operations Missy Bequette
FRONT ROW: Assistant Trainer Kate Fitzmaurice, Tanisha Wright, Sue Bird, Betty Lennox, Francesca Zara, Head Athletic Trainer Annmarie Henkel
Photo Credit: Jeff Reinking/NBAE/Getty

2005 Storm Roster

9 Suzy Batkovic G 6-4 203 12/17/80 Australia R
45 Ashley Battle* F 6-0 183 5/31/82 Connecticut '05 R
10 Sue Bird G 5-9 150 10/16/80 Connecticut '02 3
33 Janell Burse C 6-5 199 5/19/79 Tulane '01 4
8 Iziane Castro Marques F 6-0 140 3/13/82 Brazil 2
4 Simone Edwards C 6-4 164 11/17/73 Iowa '96 5
15 Lauren Jackson F 6-5 187 5/11/81 Australia 4
22 Betty Lennox G 5-8 143 12/4/76 Louisiana Tech '00 5
54 Mandisa Stevenson* C 6-3 166 2/4/82 Auburn '04 1
43 Alicia Thompson F 6-1 180 6/30/76 Texas Tech '98 5
6 Natalia Vodopyanova F 6-3 181 4/6/81 Russia R
30 Tanisha Wright G 5-11 165 11/29/83 Penn State '05 R
7 Francesca Zara G 5-10 146 12/8/76 Italy R
Battle was waived on June 17, Stevenson on July 6

HEAD COACH Anne Donovan (College - Old Dominion '83)
ASSISTANT COACHES Jenny Boucek (College - Virginia '97)
Jessie Kenlaw (College - Savannah State '75)
ATHLETIC TRAINER Annmarie Henkel (College - George Washington '96)