SEATTLE — Going into the fourth quarter of Thursday night’s game the Seattle Storm appeared well on their way to a home victory over the Chicago Sky.
About half an hour later, they were lamenting one of the worst collapses in franchise history.
Chicago outscored the Storm 32-6 in the final stanza — shooting 12-for-15 from the floor in the process — to turn a 13-point deficit into a 79-66 WNBA victory.
“I think we are a team that gets our confidence from our defense,” Storm head coach Brian Agler said. “For the first three quarters, we controlled the game and we got stops. In the fourth quarter, it was the complete opposite. We didn’t get stops. They got to the free-throw line. They hit shots on us and got a couple of second shots. And then as passive as we seemed to be defensively, we got just as passive on offense.”
The Storm, who had led since midway through the first quarter, made just three of their 12 field-goal attempts in the fourth quarter and turned the ball over seven times. Chicago scored seven of the first nine points of the period to cut the Storm’s lead to eight. That got the attention of Agler, who promptly called a timeout.
If the goal of the timeout was to stop momentum, it didn’t work. Chicago continued to chip away at the lead behind former Storm guard Allie Quigley and guard Epiphanny Prince.
Prince shot just 1-for-7 in the first three quarters, but was 5-for-6 in the fourth quarter as she helped swing the momentum. Quigley’s 3-pointer with 4:18 to play gave Chicago its first lead since the first quarter and Sylvia Fowles driving lay up with 3:50 to play capped off a 17-0 Sky run.
“We are a team that can never take a breather or relax or think that we have anything made,” Agler said. “We have to be a team that no matter what the circumstances, we stay completely focused.”
Former Storm forward Swin Cash led the Sky with 18 points, but it was Prince, who finished with 16, who led Chicago in the game’s final minutes.
“(Epiphanny) is an all-star in this league,” Storm guard Tanisha Wright said. “If anybody can step up to the challenge when their team is down, she is capable of doing that. She did a good job of doing that in the fourth quarter when they really needed her, she came through.”
The Storm (10-13) looked as though they were well on their way to getting to within one game of .500 with two games remaining in their five-game homestand. Instead, it’s the Sky who strengthened their hold on first place in the Eastern Conference — and they did it without rookie forward Elena Delle Donne. The team’s leading scorer didn’t play because of a foot injury.
“This is a frustrating one because it’s getting close to the end (of the season),” Wright said. “These games you’ve got to win. We were up 13 going into the fourth quarter, and to be able to only score six points, but give up as much as we did, too, it’s not good. It’s not good basketball.”
Wright led all scorers with 20 points, but was held scoreless in the final quarter, as was forward Shekinna Stricklen, who finished with 16.
Quigley matcher her career-high with 14 points, scoring seven in the fourth, including the go-ahead 3-pointer.
“She played well,” Agler said. “That was huge for them because they were missing Delle Donne, so they needed one more person to step up.”
After watching his team lead by as many as 16 points and then collapse, Agler seemed eager to learn from the defeat rather than being upset with his players.
“I’m not upset with them,” Agler said. “Why should I be upset? We’ve got a long season and we stay on an even keel. We are going to talk about it and we are going to learn from it and we will learn from our mistakes, but I’m not going to be upset with them.”
Aaron Lommers covers the Seattle Storm for The Herald. Follow him on twitter @aaronlommers and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.