Live from Press Row: Storm vs. L.A. (Preseason)
Storm Wins, Turns Attention to Season
Final: Storm 61, Los Angeles 60
The ending to this game delivered more excitement than your usual exhibition matchup. Los Angeles tied the score on an April Sykes three-pointer with 1:12 to play, but rookie Ashley Corral put the Storm back in front with her layup just inside the minute mark. The Storm got a break when Ashley Shields split two free throws on L.A.'s next possession. The Sparks chose not to foul and to try to get a stop. They forced Shekinna Stricklen into a difficult attempt, but Stricklen was able to track down the long rebound and create a tie-up situation. By the time L.A. secured the jump ball, less than a second remained on the clock. The Sparks tried to lob the ball in only to see the inbound pass go off the rim. Time ran out before L.A. could recover and put up a shot.
So the Storm emerged victorious, though that's obviously not the most important goal. In terms of execution, there were mixed results but clear improvement from Friday's preseason opener at Tulsa. The Storm was sharpest with its veteran players on the floor, but the reserves were able to maintain and improve upon the energy at the defensive end of the floor.
Now, the Storm can really focus in on the work leading up to Opening Night. After a day off tomorrow, something close to the Storm's final roster will have three practices to prepare for Friday's rematch with the Sparks where a whole lot more will be on the line. Head Coach Brian Agler said his main areas of focus will be improving the Storm's team play and preparing for a specific opponent with a scouting report, which is not a part of preseason preparation. You won't want to miss the action as the Storm begins the 2012 regular season. The first 3,000 fans get free Storm T-shirts. Good tickets are still available, so pick yours up now!
Two Goals for Last Three Minutes
Fourth Quarter: Storm 59, Los Angeles 53
With 2:55 to play, the Storm is holding a six-point lead. The Storm is balancing two goals the rest of the way, and for that matter during this entire fourth quarter. Since they're keeping score, the Storm wants to win the game. However, the bigger issue is evaluating the young players who are finishing out this game. I'd say Victoria Dunlap has once again been the standout off the bench. She's got six points and has really wreaked havoc on defense, coming up with five steals.
Thompson Inducted Into USC Hall of Fame
Fourth Quarter: Storm 55, Los Angeles 48
Last night, Tina Thompson was in Los Angeles to be honored as a part of the USC Athletics Hall of Fame Class of 2012. Thompson was one of 16 members of the group, which included former NFL wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson, long-time University of Washington Athletic Director Barbara Hedges and more. Thompson looked around and was amazed she belonged.
"You look at the list - the former honorees for the last nine years and even the list that I was a part of - and I'm looking at them like, 'Gosh. Amazing.' It went so well. I had a great time. I enjoyed it, very much so.
"It was one of those moments where you're like, 'Man, this is really surreal. I am very honored and blessed to be in this company. I'm not sure what I did to get here but I'm going to take and I'm going to roll with it.'"
For Thompson, the moment was special because the family atmosphere at USC for anyone who competed as a Trojan.
"It's a tight one," she explained. "We're rich on tradition and taking care of our own and embracing each other. It's just like the tradition of USC and who we are as a school."
It was a busy weekend for Thompson, who flew back from Tulsa on Friday with the Storm, then headed down to L.A. yesterday and flew back this morning to be here for the game.
"I'm tired right now," she said before the game, "but once the whistle blows, I'll be good. I've been here before."
Lo and behold, Thompson has 11 points and five rebounds in her debut with the Storm.
Storm Struggling on Offense
End Third Quarter: Storm 46, Los Angeles 45
Well, I may have jinxed the Storm offense with my last update. The team has not made a field goal since the 7:07 mark of the third quarter. We've seen more turnovers as the bench and younger players start to work into the lineup, but the Storm has also had some good looks that just haven't gone down. Allie Quigley is fighting a slump today. She's missed all five of her shot attempts, which is very unusual for her. I think it's important to remember the small sample size we see during the preseason. The coaches are getting a much better look at players battling for roster spots during practices and scrimmages, which may not always match up with what we see in game action.
I figure we'll mostly see reserves and younger players from here on out as the Storm coaching staff evaluates who should make the final roster.
Storm Starts Half Strong
Third Quarter: Storm 46, Los Angeles 38
With the starters back on the floor to begin the third quarter, the Storm's offense has been crisp. The team has scored 12 points in five-plus minutes, playing through Camille Little, Shekinna Stricklen and Tina Thompson. All three of them are in double figures, which just one Sparks player has reached thus far. Tanisha Wright has handed out eight assists as she continues to do a great job at the controls of the Storm attack.
Now, during the timeout, we have one of the first performances of the season by the new lineup for the Storm Dance Troupe.
Storm Leads at the Break
Halftime: Storm 34, Los Angeles 32
The last five minutes of the first half weren't quite as strong as the 15 that preceded them, but overall we've still seen major strides by the Storm today. Tanisha Wright is the biggest reason why. Starting at point guard, Wright has six assists and just two turnovers in nearly 15 minutes of action. Wright is showing some rust on her shot (she's 1-of-7 from the field), but just having her on the court is making the Storm a better team at both ends of the floor.
The Storm has had nice balance offensively in the first half, with Camille Little and Tina Thompson scoring nine points apiece and Shekinna Stricklen adding eight. All five starters have scored and Allie Quigley and Victoria Dunlap have two apiece off the bench.
Sparks Get Back Into the Game
Second Quarter: Storm 30, Los Angeles 27
Suddenly, the Los Angeles Sparks have found the ability to score. After a drought of more than five minutes, the Sparks have outscored the Storm 13-4 over the last three-plus minutes. Nneka Ogwumike has been a big reason why. The No. 1 overall pick of this year's draft struggled in the first quarter, missing all three of her shot attempts, but she's showing the skills that made her the top senior in the country now. Ogwumike stepped out for a three-pointer, then knocked down a runner. She's got seven points and four boards starting in place of Candace Parker, who is resting after playing for the USA here last night.
Storm Opening Up a Lead
Second Quarter: Storm 26, Los Angeles 14
The Storm has all six points in the second quarter as part of a 10-0 run to take its largest lead at 12 points, forcing new L.A. Head Coach Carol Ross to take timeout. The Sparks are shooting just 27.3 percent from the field and have committed six turnovers against a stout Storm defense.
The young players have led the way. Victoria Dunlap is providing great energy off the bench and Shekinna Stricklen continues to shoot well, although she missed her easiest shot attempt, a layup in transition. I think this is a glimpse of how the Storm could play with the second unit on the floor during the first half of the season.
End First Quarter: Storm 20, Los Angeles 14
After the Storm committed 39 turnovers in the preseason opener on Friday, obviously execution was a focus for Head Coach Brian Agler coming into today's game.
"Obviously, we're looking to improve from our exhibition game in Tulsa in regards to our aggressiveness, our efficiency offensively and just overall team improvement," he said before the game.
He has to be reasonably pleased with the first quarter. Rotating eight players, the Storm turned the ball over just four times. That allowed the Storm to getup enough shot attempts to take an early six-point lead.
Stricklen Hot Early
First Quarter: Storm 9, Los Angeles 7
Shekinna Stricklen is not easing into her first WNBA action. She's already attempted three shots in a little more than five minutes, knocking down a pair of three-pointers to give her six of the Storm's nine points. That's consistent with what Stricklen has been doing in practice throughout training camp. If she keeps shooting the ball like this all season, Stricklen will earn heavy playing time despite the veterans in front of her on the roster.
Happy Mother's Day to all the moms out there. The Storm celebrated before the game by honoring moms at center court. That included the two moms on the team, Tina Thompson and Ann Wauters, as well as Shekinna Stricklen's mom, Karen. Thompson was joined by son Dyllan and Wauters by her infants Lou and Vince.
Three Storm Players Sitting Out
The Storm is much closer to a regular lineup than what we saw Friday in Tulsa, but we're not quite all the way there. Three players will not play in this afternoon's preseason finale. Sue Bird is getting a rest after a busy weekend playing for the USA Basketball Women's National Team, including taking this KeyArena court last night for an exhibition against the China National Team. Ann Wauters has yet to complete her physical after arriving from Belgium this weekend. Lastly, Alysha Clark is not dressed because she fractured her right index finger. The Storm will know more about her status going forward after she visits with a surgeon tomorrow.
With those players out of the lineup, rookie Shekinna Stricklen will start her first WNBA game alongside the Storm's veterans: Camille Little, Katie Smith, Tina Thompson and Tanisha Wright.
Welcome back to KeyArena. While we had a taste of this yesterday, today really feels like the first day back from summer break as we see old friends who will be part of our entire summer right here at KeyArena. That's what makes preseason action so fun despite the fact that we're not quite seeing the same cast of players that will be on the floor when the Storm faces these same Los Angeles Sparks again on Opening Night this Friday. Still, there is something on the line. Besides the importance of playing well and showing improvement from Friday's lopsided loss at Tulsa, there's also the matter of players battling for the last spots on the roster. Head Coach Brian Agler said he anticipates making some roster moves either tonight or tomorrow, so this is an important final opportunity for young players to make a statement about why they should make the team.