Many in the crowd of 9,686 chanted “Shoni! Shoni!” on Thursday night for Shoni Schimmel. The 5-foot-9 guard, who was raised on a reservation in northeast Oregon, responded early with a three-pointer that caused cheers to reverberate through KeyArena.
But the Atlanta rookie wasn’t enough to stop Seattle. The Storm dusted off its own version of showtime to counter the player dubbed “Sho-time” to win, 88-68.
“We were mad,” Storm forward Camille Little said of the atmosphere creating the feel of a road game. “This is our home court. We wanted to play well, and we’re playing for our lives right now.”
Two playoff spots remain open in the Western Conference after Los Angeles and San Antonio suffered losses this week. But Seattle (11-20) has to win its remaining three games in order to have a chance at a WNBA-record 11th straight berth.
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The postseason push and motivation to not let a rookie outplay them helped the Storm jump out to a 19-5 lead midway through the opening quarter.
The Storm was up 38-18 after a reverse layin from center Angel Robinson with 6:46 left in the half. And it entered the break with a 53-30 advantage, shooting 55.6 percent from the field and getting points from 10 different players.
For the game, Little led all scorers with 21 points and a season-high 13 rebounds. Seattle has won its past two after a seven-game losing streak.
Schimmel, who was raised on the Umatilla Indian Reservation in Oregon, made her only WNBA appearance in the Northwest of the season. The Storm sold “Schimmel MVP” shirts, with proceeds going to her foundation, had a pregame recognition at halfcourt and helped organize a meet-and-greet after the game for Schimmel.
Schimmel, the first rookie to be named an MVP of the All-Star Game, could have been part of the Storm.
Among the signs celebrating Schimmel’s return were messages to Storm coach and general manager Brian Agler that he should have drafted the star out of Louisville. Schimmel was selected with the eighth overall pick by Atlanta in April. It was one selection after Seattle’s, which was used to draft guard Bria Hartley. Hartley was then traded to Washington for veteran forward Crystal Langhorne, a stopgap in the paint for Australian center Lauren Jackson, who missed her second consecutive WNBA season due to injury.
Schimmel’s arrival created the Storm’s first reported sellout since July 2013.
“I had to second-guess starting her,” said Atlanta coach Michael Cooper of Schimmel, who finished with 14 points and six assists of the bench.
But despite Schimmel’s play, the Dream (17-12) has struggled, losing seven of its past nine games.
“It was nice to have that atmosphere back again, so good for her,” Storm guard Tanisha Wright said. “But we’re focused on playing good basketball. As long as we’re doing that, we’ll have opportunities.”