By Aaron Lommers Herald Writer
SEATTLE — In any sport, moral victories don’t count for much, so the Seattle Storm went out and got a real one.
Defending WNBA champion Minnesota came into KeyArena with a record of 7-0. Thanks to an inspired fourth-quarter defensive effort by Seattle, the Lynx left 7-1.
Seattle, which entered the game with a 2-6 record, erased a seven-point deficit entering the final quarter to win 65-62.
“It feels great, but it didn’t matter who came in here tonight, we were going to play hard,” Camille Little said. “We needed a win. We’ve been in a few games where we’ve been really close and we haven’t closed them out. It hurts when you play that hard and you lose a game by two or four or you give a game away in the last five minutes.”
This time, rather than giving away a game in the final five minutes, the Storm took it. Backup point guard Temeka Johnson’s strip and coast-to-coast layup with 5:02 to play gave the Storm a 54-53 lead, their first since the first quarter. Minnesota led again briefly, but the Storm had the momentum down the stretch.
Seattle held Minnesota to just 22 points in the second half, 11 in each of the final two quarters.
“We’ve seen signs of this almost every game we’ve played,” coach Brian Agler said. “Even in the first half of tonight, we did a lot of good things, but I thought our defensive efforts in the second half were really on task. Against a team like this, to give yourself a chance to beat them, you’ve got to do those things. You’ve got to play at a very high level.”
Seattle center Crystal Langhorne scored 13 points and point guard Sue Bird dished 10 assists in the game’s first three quarters, but neither player was on the court as the Storm charged back in the fourth. Little, Tanisha Wright, Nicole Powell, Temeka Johnson and Noelle Quinn played the bulk of the final period for Seattle.
“It shows the kind of depth that we have,” Agler said. “I’ve got a lot of trust in a lot of people on our team. That group out there just played so instinctual defensively.”
Minnesota’s Maya Moore came into the game averaging a league-leading 27.6 points per game. The Storm held her to just 12 on 6-for-15 shooting from the field. After shooting 53.3 percent in the first half, the Lynx shot just 30 percent in the second half. Their 62 points were a season-low, 13 below their previous low of 75.
“Coach Agler came in at halftime and told us we needed to change some things around and play with a higher level of intensity,” Langhorne said.
The intensity changed on the offensive end as well, especially in the fourth quarter. Wright, Little and Johnson combined to score all 21 of Seattle’s fourth-quarter points. Langhorne and Wright led all scorers with 13 points apiece. Little added 12 for the Storm.
After losing all six games to the Lynx last season and being eliminated in the postseason by them the past two years, Friday night’s victory has the potential to turn around Seattle’s slow start. But Agler said it’s too early to tell.
“If we go back and we play inconsistent during the course of a game, then we didn’t learn much,” Agler said. “But if we remember how this felt and what it’s like, then it could help us a lot.
“I’m excited for our players because they’ve worked hard and they felt the results tonight. I also know through experience that you’ve got to stay on an even keel. You take the losses and you learn from them. You don’t get overly upset and you coach your team and then you take wins like this and you help your team use the win as well.”
Aaron Lommers covers the Seattle Storm for The Herald. Follow him on Twitter at @aaronlommers and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.