By Aaron Lommers Herald Writer
SEATTLE — The Seattle Storm are used to enjoying one of the biggest home-court advantages in the WNBA, but Thursday night against the Atlanta Dream 9,686 fans filled KeyArena and most of them weren’t there to see the Storm.
It was a homecoming of sorts for Atlanta rookie guard Shoni Schimmel, who’s WNBA-dream started on the Umatilla Indian Reservation in northeast Oregon on the Oregon-Washington border.
Schimmel didn’t start, but entered the game less than two minutes into the first quarter. The crowd perked every time she touched the ball and roared every time she scored creating a road-atmosphere for the Storm.
For once, the Storm seemed like visitors in their own building, but they still found a way to feed off the energy. The Storm outscored the Dream by 18 in the first quarter and led by as many as 29 in an 88-68 dismantling of the Dream.
“I don’t think (the crowd) affected us,” Storm forward Camille Little said. “Obviously, we were probably a little upset that it wasn’t all for us for a home game, but at the end of the day we still used the energy that they gave us.
“We’re used to this many people here, we’re just not used to them not cheering for us,” added.
Both factions of the crowd seemed to go home happy. The Storm fans seemed energized by perhaps the best performance of their team this season, and the Dream fans satisfied with Schimmel’s 14 point and six assist effort.
Schimmel played college basketball at Louisville before the Dream selected her with the eighth pick in the 2014 WNBA draft. Despite starting just two games this season, Schimmel was voted a starter in this year’s WNBA All-Star game. She proved to be a worthy selection, scoring 29 points – an all-star game record – and taking home the game’s Most Valuable Player award.
Schimmel had little impact in the game’s first quarter. Seattle used a 23-4 run to build a 20-point lead with two Waltiea Rolle free throws with 9.8 seconds in the period. Schimmel converted on a runner with 2.5 seconds remaining in the quarter for her first points of the game and to cut the Storm lead to 18.
The Storm shot 10-for-16 (62.5 percent) in the opening stanza, while the Dream shot just 3-for-16 (18.8 percent).
“I think the focus was just there,” Little said. “I think people were kind of mad (that the crowd was on Atlanta’s side) and we really wanted to play well. We are playing for our lives right now. We’re trying to keep getting wins. This was a great win for us and we played well and hopefully we can continue to play like this.”
The Storm never led by less than 14 the rest of the way.
With San Antonio’s loss to Phoenix, the Storm (11-20) remain alive for a playoff spot in the WNBA’s Western Conference. They trail the Stars (13-17), who have four game remaining by 2½ games for the west’s final playoff spot. Seattle has three games remaining and owns the regular-season tiebreaker over San Antonio after winning the season series 3-1.
“We only have three games left, so all we can really do is try to win all three and hope for the best,” Sue Bird said. “We are going to need some teams to help us out. We definitely hope that happens.”
Storm head coach Brian Agler is just happy to see his team continuing to fight and work to improve.
“We’re not really thinking about the playoffs, we’re just trying to keep improving,” he said. “That’s what I’m most proud about. It’s late in the year and the chances aren’t great that we’re going to get in (to the playoffs), but we’re still improving as a team.”
The Storm have won two straight after a season-long seven-game losing streak.
Little finished with 21 points and 13 rebounds to lead Seattle. Center Crystal Langhorne added 17 and guards Temeka Johnson and Bird chipped in 16 and 10 respectively. Eleven players logged minutes for the Storm and all of them scored at least two points.
“We played probably our best basketball,” Agler said. “I was happy with the way we defended as well. We got stops and we converted in transition. I hope we can build on that. But yeah, that was our best that we’ve played.”
Aaron Lommers covers the Seattle Storm for The Herald. Follow him on Twitter at @aaronlommers and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.