(Everett, Washington) – The Seattle Storm opened preseason play Wednesday evening against arch-rival the Phoenix Mercury. There were a lot of new faces out on the court as several key players were missing. Alysha Clark and Sami Whitcomb are both still playing overseas. Breanna Stewart is out for the entire year with a torn Achilles. Sue Bird did not play (veteran’s rest) and Jewell Loyd was away from the team to celebrate a court-opening ceremony in her name in Chicago.
The starters were Natasha Howard, Anriel Howard, Crystal Langhorne, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, and Jordin Canada. Coach Gary Kloppenburg, coaching in place of Dan Hughes who just said surgery, said Anriel Howard got the start because Shavonte Zellous was out and they wanted to get a good look at her in live-game action.
Crystal Langhorne scored the first baskets of the preseason for Seattle. She hit a mid-range jumper and surprisingly knocked down a three-pointer. Langhorne, not known for her outside shooting, said she had been working on it a bit in the offseason.
Phoenix led 25-24 after one quarter, 51-48 at halftime and 67-64 after the third quarter. The Mercury were carried by their All-Star duo of Brittney Griner and DeWanna Bonner through the first three quarters.
Griner and Bonner continue to dominate for the Phoenix Mercury. Griner had 15 points and six rebounds in just 20 minutes. She is such a difficult match-up down low in the post. When Seattle didn’t throw double teams at her, she scored almost every time she got the possession. Meanwhile, Bonner knocked down several jumpers and also added 15 points in just 18 minutes.
The Storm and Mercury battled back and forth throughout the game with no team carrying a double-digit lead over the other. Seattle held their biggest lead 78-73 with 4:47 left to play. However, Phoenix used the long ball to secure the 87-84 victory. Three-pointers by Alanna Smith, Stephanie Talbot, and Sophie Cunningham led Phoenix to the victory. The last three-pointer, a dagger by Cunningham with three seconds left in the game, came just after Seattle’s Presley Hudson hit an impressive long-range three-pointer from nearly 30 feet out with 32 seconds left to play.
After the game Coach Klop talked about playing without Breanna Stewart this season.
“You can’t replace anyone like her, she is one of a kind. She has 20 points, eight rebounds, and a couple of
blocks a game, that is going to be hard to make up. We are just trying to find a way to generate the offense,
we had times tonight where we were really aggressively defensively, forcing some turnovers. I think that is what
we are going to have to do, be a pressure team and force some turnovers and get easy buckets. You can’t
replace someone like that but we can still have a system in place to come out and be really aggressive, and I
think that is what we are going to do.”
Mercedes Russell Ready to Take the Next Step
One of the brightest spots in this preseason game was the play of Mercedes Russell. While Russell struggled to defend Brittney Griner one-on-one (who doesn’t?), she did have a very strong game. She led the team in scoring with 15 points and seven rebounds. She did struggle with some foul trouble, picking up four fouls in just 18 minutes.
Russell was the first player off the bench in this game and noticeably got more minutes at the Center position over Courtney Paris. That certainly wasn’t the case last season where Russell averaged just five and a half minutes in 24 games as a rookie.
In this game, Russell and point guard Jordin Canada played well with each other, certainly a benefit from the time they spent playing together last year and this season overseas in Poland. Russell talked about that chemistry after the game.
“I think both of us grew mentally and physically. Having that seven or eight months in a professional league
really helped us. We faced a lot of tough competition, we played against a lot of people who play in the
WNBA. It was nice for us to play along-side each other for the past eight months to help us grow.”
Russell still has a lot of room to grow, but it’s great to see her play well in this opening preseason game. Seattle does not have a tremendous amount of height on their team and even less without the 6’4″ Breanna Stewart. With her ability to score and rebound and her 6’6″ height, there should be a lot more opportunities for Mercedes Russell this season.
Natasha Howard Primed for a Big Season
Natasha Howard is not Breanna Stewart. But she was the 2018 Most Improved Player of the WNBA. And with Stewart out of the lineup this season, Howard is primed for a big year in Seattle. As she continues to expand her game she will be relied upon as one of Seattle’s top players.
Howard did not disappoint in this first game against the Mercury. She tied Mercedes Russell as the top scorer for the Storm with 15 points on 50% shooting (6-12). She also had three rebounds, two steals, and a vicious blocked shot in 22 minutes.
Jordin Canada Ready For Year Two
Last year’s first-round pick Jordin Canada impressed in Sue Bird’s absence. Canada got the start and looked extremely poised as the team’s lead Point Guard. Canada finished the game with 13 points, five assists, and three steals with just two turnovers. After the game, she talked about wanting to be more vocal and being more comfortable running the point this year. You could see it in her play in this game. Her experience last season and overseas in Poland have really paid off well for the 5’6″ guard out of UCLA.
“I thought that I was extremely vocal today, I felt more confident in everything that I was doing. I wasn’t all over the place or acting nervous like I did last year. Now that I know what to expect and the experience that I have from the first year, and being overseas, it gave me my confidence back. It was nice to be able to lead the team today and hopefully I will be able to continue that.”Seattle Storm point guard Jordin Canada
Canada led all rookies in assists per game last season and is expected to play an even larger role this season with Sue Bird’s minutes likely to decrease as they did last year.
With several veterans missing in action, the Storm played a ton of their younger players and training camp invitees.
Assistant Coach Kloppenburg talked about playing the younger players after the game.
“We wanted to take a look at all those young players and make evaluations because we have some decisions
coming up. Overall, we were really pleased, I think we played very hard. You never know in a preseason game,
first time out for a lot of young players, how it is going to go. I thought that we really competed and it was an
exciting finish. Overall I think we have made some progress. We get a lot of information from a game like this,
what we need to go and work on in preparation for the first game.”
Anriel Howard did struggle a bit. The effort was definitely there, but she did not shoot well (1-5 FG) and the box scores shows just one rebound. Although, it did seem she had her hands on a few balls throughout the game.
Third round pick Macy Miller, also struggled with her shot going 0-3 in nearly 13 minutes.
Interestingly enough, it was undrafted rookies that performed better in this game. Recee Caldwell played the best of the bunch, as she did a pretty solid job running the point when Canada wasn’t in the game. Caldwell scored 11 points knocking down four 3-pointers. She also had four assists and just one turnover in 15 minutes. Presley Hudson also played well knocking down three 3-pointers, including one in the final minute to tie the game. Hudson scored 9 points in 12 minutes off the bench. And Zykera Rice got into the game in the second half to a loud ovation. Rice played college ball at Gonzaga University just across the mountains from Seattle. Rice had two points and three rebounds in 13 mins.
Phoenix also got a good look at some of their future talent. First round pick Alanna Smith looked really good in this game. Smith scored 11 points including three 3-pointers and had four rebounds in 21 minutes. She also had the best plus/minus of any player on either team with a plus-13. Brianna Turner struggled a little bit, but still had four points and three rebounds in 16 minutes. And Sophie Cunningham added 9 points including the game winning 3-pointer in 15 minutes of work. Along with Arica Carter, the Mercury have four rookies, but it’ll be a major challenge for all of them to make the team.
Seattle will travel to Los Angeles to face the Los Angeles Sparks in their final preseason game on Friday 5/17 at 7:30pm before returning to Seattle (Everett) to play the Phoenix Mercury on National Television on Saturday 5/25 at 12:30pm on ABC.