Breanna Stewart scored 22 points, grabbed a season-high 15 rebounds and blocked a career-high five shots in Seattle’s 75-57 victory over the Stars, spoiling former UW star Kelsey Plum’s homecoming.
Kelsey Plum darted to her left and found a sliver of sunlight against a surprisingly suffocating Storm defense before launching a midrange runner near the baseline.
However, Breanna Stewart, a 6-foot-4 forward with a 7-1 wingspan, closed in fast and swatted Plum’s attempt in the opposite direction while the San Antonio rookie went sprawling to the floor.
The block sparked a fast break that ended with Sue Bird canning a jumper as the Storm ran away with a 75-57 victory that snapped its three-game losing streak and kept the Stars winless.
“That was kind of the nail in the coffin right there,” said Stewart, who finished with a game-high 22 points, a season-high 15 rebounds and a career-best five blocks.
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Crystal Langhorne finished with 10 points for the Storm, which improved to 6-5.
The Stars’ point total and 28.8 percent shooting were season lows. Those numbers were the best of the season defensively for the Storm.
The Stewart-Plum exchange midway through the fourth quarter capsulized Sunday’s game between the two most recent No. 1 overall WNBA draft picks.
Stewart, the top choice in 2016, made the game’s biggest plays on both ends of the floor.
When the Stars narrowed their deficit to 37-31 early in the third quarter, Stewart drained consecutive three-pointers and a long jumper during a personal 8-2 run that negated the threat and put Seattle up 45-33.
San Antonio never got closer than nine points the rest of the way.
And Stewart snuffed out any chance the Stars had of a comeback when she rejected Plum’s shot and Bird’s jumper gave Seattle a 63-44 lead with 6:21 left. Stewart connected on 8 of 13 shots, including 3 of 6 on three-pointers.
“I thought I was going to get that shot off on Stewie,” Plum said. “That pretty much sums up my rookie year.”
It was a rough homecoming for Plum, the former Washington Huskies star who was the first player chosen in this year’s WNBA draft.
She managed a personal-best eight points, but was held to 2-of-11 shooting in 21 minutes. Kayla McBride had 11 points for San Antonio (0-11).
As the KeyArena crowd of 9,686 — the largest of the season — shouted “Kelsey, Kelsey” in the final minutes, Plum sat motionless on the bench.
“For any player this league is an adjustment and for someone like Kelsey … on top of that adjustment is the hype and the pressure (from being) the No. 1 pick and (breaking) the scoring record in college,” Storm guard Sue Bird said. “Coming into the league it’s just really hard to keep that going and be the same player when you’re such a prominent scorer.
“That can be hard to reinvent yourself after you’ve been playing a certain way for so long. The good news is — and I’ve talked to her a couple of times — you can see that the desire is there. It might take going through a tough year to really see what you need to do.”
Plum missed the first three games of the season while recovering from a high-ankle sprain. She admitted she’s not 100 percent healthy, which has limited her effectiveness.
“The one thing about this league, it smells weakness,” Bird said. “People don’t really understand how difficult the WNBA is. … There’s only 12 teams and there’s only 11 to 12 players that make a team. It is straight up survival of the fittest.
“There’s something about this league where it’s like blood in the water.”
During an on-court postgame interview, Plum thanked the crowd for its support while acknowledging her struggles.
“You can’t get focused on what everyone else thinks,” Plum said. “You’ll lose yourself. That’s just not basketball, that’s life. Other people’s opinions as great as they are, that’s not how I live my life.
“For me as I continue to go with my career, I’m competing with myself. I want to be the best woman I can be and the best player I can be.”