Live from Press Row - Storm vs. Chicago
Storm Tops Sky to Cap Regular Season
Final: Storm 81, Chicago 70
Sylvia Fowles made things interesting with 19 points in the fourth quarter and 30 for the game, but hot shooting from beyond the arc helped the Storm finish off the Chicago Sky. Le'coe Willingham knocked down a pair of three-pointers and Katie Smith had two more in a row to create the final 11-point margin.
Smith followed up her best game in a Storm uniform with 17 points on 5-of-8 shooting - all five of those makes came from beyond the arc as the Storm hit nine triples as a team. Camille Little matched Smith 17 points and also had five rebounds and five assists. The five assists are a new career high for Little. Swin Cash scored 15 points and Sue Bird had 10 points and five assists. Ashley Robinson's six points and four rebounds might not stand out of the box score, but we saw how important her defense against Fowles was as she spent most of the fourth quarter on the bench in foul trouble.
So now we turn our attention to the WNBA Playoffs. The Storm will have tomorrow off before preparing for the Phoenix Mercury on Tuesday and Wednesday, but be sure to check out StormBasketball.com for a recap of the season series with Phoenix and more as we get ready for the battle of the last two WNBA champions. Then Thursday we hope you can join us as these two rivals square off in Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals at 7 p.m. right here at KeyArena. Playoff basketball ... be part of it!
Here Comes the Sky
Fourth Quarter: Storm 65, Chicago 60
Suddenly, a comfortable looking Storm lead is down to just five points with 5:28 to play. Sylvia Fowles has led the charge. She's now got 20 points on 7-of-13 shooting and nine rebounds and might just get the 30 points she needs to average 20-10 for the season. Fowles has had her way when Ashley Robinson has been out of the game due to foul trouble, as she is currently. Fowles has nine points in 21 minutes against Robinson and 11 points in 14 minutes when Robinson has been on the bench.
To wrap up the 15th Anniversary celebration, the WNBA and Boost Mobile are currently encouraging fans to rank the top 15 moments in WNBA history. Included is Sue Bird's between-the-legs assist to Lauren Jackson in the 2003 WNBA All-Star Game. Go cast your vote now!
Storm Lead a Dozen
Fourth Quarter: Storm 63, Chicago 51
A quarter of the way through this final period, the Storm has added slightly to its lead. Pokey Chatman took timeout after Le'coe Willingham found Ashley Robinson for a nice finish in traffic. Robinson has six points and four rebounds tonight, putting a nice capper on her bid for Most Improved Player honors. We put together a page summarizing Robinson's case that was sent to the league's award voters yesterday and you can check it out as well.
Chicago Hanging Around
End Third Quarter: Storm 57, Chicago 47
Even though tonight will end the Sky's season and the team is completing a back-to-back set, Chicago is still playing hard and trying to finish the year with a victory. The Sky briefly got as close as five late in the third quarter before the Storm was able to quell the uprising and extend the lead back to 10 at the quarter break. The Storm just needs to play solid basketball the rest of the way to win. Brian Agler has opened up the rotation a bit, getting Belinda Snell on the floor for an extended run. Allie Quigley is the only active Storm player yet to see action tonight.
Today is your last day to enter the Safeco Insurance Storm Sweepstakes for a chance to win a truly special prize. One lucky winner will get a road trip for two fans to a Storm away game next season and a whole lot more - two autographed Storm jerseys, a night in a suite for you and 15 of your closest friends, a set of autographed photos of the entire team and two season tickets. That's an unbelievable combination.
Vandersloot on her Rookie Season
Third Quarter: Storm 49, Chicago 39
It was less than six months ago that Courtney Vandersloot was the toast of the women's basketball world as she led Gonzaga's impressive run to the Elite Eight. Since then, she's barely had a chance to catch her breath during a rookie season she describes as "whirlwind."
"I try to sit back and just look at everything that's happened," she said before the game. "I feel like it still hasn't hit me - 'Man, I’m in the WNBA.' It's crazy being in Seattle and seeing all the Gonzaga fans. It really puts it in perspective."
Vandersloot went from once not being considered athletic and big enough to play in the Pac-10 to becoming the third pick in the WNBA Draft and an All-Star as a rookie. The last month or so of the season has been more difficult for Vandersloot, who may have hit a rookie wall, but she's got a chance to finish her season in memorable fashion in front of family, friends and Gonzaga fans.
"It's one of those games that I had on my calendar from the second I got drafted," she said. "I was really looking forward to coming back and playing in front of friends and family."
They've turned out in force. Vandersloot's college coach, Kelly Graves, is sitting courtside with the Storm's ownership and Governor Gregoire. It's a scenario that Vandersloot says she never entirely imagined when she used to come to games at KeyArena, even during her college career, but now it's real.
Balanced Storm Attack
Halftime: Storm 41, Chicago 33
The Storm has led by as many as 14 points, but a Courtney Vandersloot three-pointer made it an eight-point game at the break. The big thing you'd like to see the Storm do in the second half is put the hammer down and get some minutes for the bench in the final quarter.
Still, tough to criticize what the Storm has done so far, particularly at the offensive end. Balanced scoring has helped the Storm shoot 62.5 percent from the field. Sue Bird and Camille Little have 10 points apiece. Swin Cash has added nine (and, with five rebounds, is halfway to a double-double) and Katie Smith has come off the bench for eight points. That kind of depth even with Lauren Jackson sitting an watching is a boon to the Storm.
Second Quarter: Storm 38, Chicago 26
You wouldn't know from watching tonight's game that these are two of the league's most defensive-minded teams. The Storm has made two-thirds of its shots to run up 38 points late in the second quarter and extend the lead to 12 points. The Storm is getting production from just about everyone. Four players, including Katie Smith, have scored at least eight points.
About the only issue the Storm has had offensively is turnovers, at least during the second quarter. After not committing a single miscue in the first quarter, the Storm has six here in the second.
Bird in Control
Second Quarter: Storm 26, Chicago 17
When I chatted with Courtney Vandersloot before tonight's game, one of the things I asked the Sky's rookie about was playing against Sue Bird, whom she looked up to growing up in nearby Kent.
"Sue's just an incredible player," said Vandersloot, who played with and against her at a USA Basketball training camp, faced her in Chicago and also battled her in the All-Star Game. "It's almost like no matter what you do, she's going to figure out a way. That's what great players do. I just continue to try to learn from her and take it for what it is and get better."
We've seen it tonight. Bird has a game-high seven points and also a pair of assists, including a gorgeous dish to Swin Cash for a layup a moment ago. Vandersloot struggled early, turning the ball over twice, but came back with a nice feed to fellow Washingtonian Cathrine Kraayeveld for a triple.
Smith Reaches 6,000
End First Quarter: Storm 24, Chicago 12
The big story from the first quarter proved to be a three-pointer from Katie Smith. The shot gave Smith 6,000 points in her WNBA career. Smith is just the third player in league history to the mark, joining Lisa Leslie and Tina Thompson. It looked like she might not quite reach 6,000 this season. She was 28 away entering Friday's game, but got close in a hurry with a season-high 26 points against the Mercury. Smith has stayed hot tonight, scoring five points in as many minutes.
During the first quarter break, service men and women participated in the Big Decision presented by Bing. They opened up boxes with a variety of prizes, including a year's supply of Pirates Booty, a Zune and an Xbox 360.
Fast Start Offensively for Storm
First Quarter: Storm 13, Chicago 8
The Sky comes into tonight's game second in the WNBA in defensive field goal percentage, but the Storm has been hot early, making five out of eight shot attempts to lead 13-8 and draw a Pokey Chatman timeout. The Storm has been doing damage from the perimeter. Sue Bird has knocked down all three of her shots for seven points and Tanisha Wright just made a pull-up jumper. The Storm has given up a couple of uncharacteristic transition buckets, but other than that Seattle's defense has been solid in the half court.
Courtney Vandersloot will be making her first appearance of the night after the timeout, and all it took to tell she was coming in was to hear the roar from the crowd as soon as Vandersloot came off the bench. There are a lot of Gonzaga shirts in the crowd tonight as well as a few No. 21 Chicago Sky jerseys.
Moment of Silence and National Anthem
A really moving ceremony before the start of tonight's game. It began with an extended moment of silence for the victims of the September 11 attacks, including taps. After the presentation of the colors, the Washington State National Guard performed the National Anthem to an extended applause.
Heroes Honored at Center Court
With the help of Washington Governor Christine Gregoire and our partners Bing, Microsoft, Safeco Insurance and Virginia Mason Medical Center, the Storm honored five local members of the armed services who have displayed heroism in performing their duties.
U.S. Army Sergeant Lynnea Aguero Cruz, Air Force Staff Sergeant Amaya Talley, Navy AT1 Adam Wilson ,Marines SSgt Christopher J. Torrez and Coast Guard BM1 Brandon Ortega were all presented with personalized jerseys and recognized on StormVision prior to the game, drawing a nice round of applause from Storm fans in appreciation for their service on behalf of our country.
Jackson to Sit
Lauren Jackson will not play tonight, but otherwise the Storm anticipates playing tonight relatively normally even after clinching the second seed in the Western Conference with Friday's win over the Phoenix Mercury.
"My philosophy coming in here is you always try to put yourself in the best position," explained Storm Head Coach Brian Agler. "Winning today could help us at some point during the playoffs."
Specifically, there is the potential it would make a difference if the Storm faced the Atlanta Dream in the WNBA Finals. Indiana and Connecticut would both have home court over the Storm and the Storm would definitely host New York, but a Storm-Dream Finals matchup would be decided with this game because Atlanta would win the tie if both teams finish 20-14 by virtue of sweeping the season series.
Agler might open up his rotation tonight, but the Storm is definitely going for the victory.
"I think we'll just sort of gauge how the game goes," he said. "Whoever we play, we're playing to win. You might say, 'They're not playing Lauren - they're not playing to win.' Well, we played 20 games without Lauren this year. There's more that goes into that situation - monitoring how she can recover for competition. We want her to be as fresh and rested as possible."
Tonight at KeyArena, the Storm closes out the regular season schedule against the Chicago Sky. We're expecting a big crowd for a very special night. In addition to showing appreciation to Storm fans tonight, we're also marking the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and honoring local heroes, both in the military and among first responders. You can watch all the action on KONG 6/16 locally and NBA TV nationally as well as with Live Access online. To follow along and get more insight from KeyArena, keep refreshing Live from Press Row all night long