Can anyone stop the Storm?
It’s a fair question after the defending WNBA champions throttled the Connecticut Sun 89-66 on Sunday for their third straight win.
Seattle, which has won nine of its past 10 games, maintained its lead on top of the WNBA standings at 10-2 and improved to a league-best 5-0 on the road.
Granted, Connecticut (8-3) was without MVP candidate Jonquel Jones, who is playing in an international tournament. Still, the Sun had a week to prepare for the Storm, which is in the middle of an extended road trip and played its third game in five days.
And yet, Seattle tore through the league’s best defense like tissue paper.
The Sun had allowed just 72.5 points per game, but the Storm scored at will thanks to a dominant performance by Breanna Stewart, who finished with a game-high 22 points on 8-for-15 shooting, including four three-pointers.
“Obviously, they don’t have JJ and taking that into account, but a win is a win,” Stewart said. “To be able to come here in Game 3 of our road trip and win like this, it means that we’re progressing in the right direction. We’re getting to where we want to be.”
Seattle’s 23-point road win against the No. 2 team in the standings will certainly put the rest of the league on notice, but coach Noelle Quinn stopped short of saying the blowout victory was a statement win.
“The statement is our defense has the potential to be elite and to be better night in and night out,” Quinn said. “Against a very good Connecticut team, it is very good to see our defense rolling.”
Without Jones, who averages 21.6 points and 10.4 rebounds, Connecticut looked disjointed while committing 19 turnovers that led to 28 Storm points. All five Sun starters finished with at least two turnovers.
At the other end of the floor, the Storm looked flawless while finishing with 26 assists on 35 field goals and committing just eight turnovers.
“Our team is very selfless,” Quinn said. “We understand our system offensively. We move the ball. We screen. We cut. We want to pass up good shots to hit great shots. … Ball movement is key, but you’ve got to hit those shots as well. Sometimes hitting shots is contagious.”
In the teams’ previous outing, Seattle needed overtime to claim a 90-87 victory three weeks ago.
However, Sunday’s rematch was over at halftime, if not sooner.
Led by Stewart, the Storm made quick work of the Sun.
The former Connecticut Huskies star played her first game at the Mohegan Sun Arena in two years in front of a crowd of 2,248 that included family, friends and UConn players.
“You want to play well in front of them,” said Stewart, who finished with nine rebounds, five assists and three steals. “I’m happy to be back in Connecticut. But I knew today was more important to get the win. I was motivated to play well. I think anybody is when they go back home.”
It was also a sweet homecoming for former UConn stars Sue Bird (13 points, three three-pointers and four assists) and Katie Lou Samuelson (eight points and four assists).
Seattle led 25-16 in the first quarter thanks to its UConn trio, which combined for 22 points and produced the play of the game.
Late in the period, Stewart snatched what appeared to be a shot or maybe a pass from Jasmine Thomas out of the air to start a fast break. Then Bird connected with a streaking Stewart running down the middle of the floor who redirected a pass to Samuelson on the baseline for a 13-footer that put the Storm up 20-11.
“We were making the hustle plays,” Stewart said. “We were trying to be active all over the place knowing that we have played a lot of games the past couple of weeks. The emphasis was running the floor. When Sue passed it to me, I saw someone coming over so I passed it to Lou. We wanted to set the tone and set the tempo.”
The Storm was up 43-29 at halftime and never allowed the Sun to get any closer the rest of the way despite a subdued performance from Jewell Loyd, who averaged 22 points in the previous four games and finished with seven.
All 12 Storm players scored including Kiana Williams, who scored her first WNBA points on a four-point play.
DeWanna Bonner and Kaila Charles each had 14 points and Brionna Jones had 12 for Connecticut, which tallied its fewest points of the season.
“Their Big 3 are really talented,” Sun coach Curt Miller said. “We got on our heels early with those turnovers. We got on our heels trying to get stops against them and you see why they’re in first place.”
Seattle swept the regular-season series against Connecticut and if they meet again it would be Aug. 12 in the Commissioner’s Cup Championship – both teams are at the top of their respective conference standings – or in the WNBA playoffs.
“We understand the importance of the game if you want to think big picture and potentially where us and Connecticut will be hopefully within the latter part of our season,” Quinn said, noting Seattle would claim a higher playoff seed over Connecticut if both teams were tied at the end of the season. “I don’t want to think statement game moreso than a we-need-a-win game. We needed this win for other implications.”
Seattle finishes its five-game road trip with games at Indiana on Tuesday and Thursday.