On the same court where she set NCAA season and career scoring records, former Washington Huskies star Kelsey Plum had the ball in her hands in the final seconds needing a three-pointer to force overtime.
But Storm guard Jordin Canada forced Plum into the corner and her contested jumper hit the front of the rim as Seattle held off Las Vegas for its fourth straight victory, a 69-66 decision Friday night in front of a capacity crowd of 9,000 at Alaska Airlines Arena that snapped the Aces’ five-game winning streak.
It was a stellar defensive performance from the Storm, which collected a franchise-record 18 steals and forced 21 turnovers that led to 15 points.
“We did a lot of live-ball turnovers that gave them easy chances to get things in transition, fouled them and put them at the line,” Plum said. “They’re too good of a team. Anyone in this league, if you turn it over 21 times, it’s very hard to win the game.”
The pregame hype focused on the return of Plum. But early on, the Storm’s Sami Whitcomb, another ex-UW standout, upstaged the much-anticipated homecoming with a three-point barrage reminiscent of Plum’s record-setting collegiate exploits.
Whitcomb, who is enjoying the hottest shooting streak of her career where she has made at least four three-pointers in six of the past seven games, made four from downtown and finished with 14 points.
The 5-foot-10 sharpshooter had one fewer three-pointer than Las Vegas, which was 5 for 11 from behind the arc. Seattle converted 9 of 26 treys.
On a night when the Storm committed 20 turnovers and didn’t score a field goal in the final seven minutes, every little bit of offense proved pivotal against the Aces, who beat Seattle 60-56 three weeks ago in Las Vegas.
Seattle overcame a miserable 27.8 percent shooting night from the field while going 20 for 20 at the free-throw line.
Storm forward Natasha Howard, who is being investigated by the WNBA amid domestic-abuse allegations by her wife, Jacqueline Howard, led all scorers with 21 points and finished with 10 rebounds, six blocks, four steals and three assists in 33 minutes.
Howard declined to answer when asked how she has been able to focus on basketball considering her personal turmoil.
But All-Star guard Jewell Loyd gave a little perspective on Howard’s on-court exploits.
“It’s pretty simple, MVP, honestly,” Loyd said. “I don’t think anyone else is doing what she’s doing in the circumstances that we’re in as a team. … She’s not just putting up points, she’s defending and everything. It’s good to see that.
“Like I said, it’s pretty simple she’s the MVP.”
Crystal Langhorne added 11 points off the bench and Canada tallied five steals for the Storm, which improved to 12-8.
Howard has been the driving force for the defending WNBA champions, who have been forced to change tactics and rely on a ballhawking defense due to the absence of injured stars Breanna Stewart, Sue Bird and Loyd.
Loyd, who returned Friday after a seven-game layoff because of a right-ankle sprain and bone bruise, came off the bench and was scoreless in 8½ minutes.
The Storm was also missing reserve forward Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis because of a knee injury.
Despite the shortage in personnel, Seattle raced ahead 21-13 in the first quarter and took a 43-35 lead into halftime.
Las Vegas outscored Seattle 14-12 and 17-14 in the third and fourth quarters, respectively, but the Storm never relinquished the lead despite a 2-for-15 field-goal shooting display in the final frame.
Aces guard Kayla McBride (11 points) made a three-pointer to cut Seattle’s lead to 65-64 with 21.3 seconds left.
At the other end, Canada sank a pair of free throws that put the Storm ahead by three.
After a Liz Cambage layup, Howard made two more freebies and the Storm regained its three-point lead.
With 7.9 seconds left, Las Vegas gave the ball to Plum, who misfired on a three-pointer. She struggled shooting all night, making 3 of 11 shots, including 2 of 7 three-pointers for 10 points.
Cambage led the Aces (11-6) with 16 points and 14 rebounds.
“It was really key in the fourth quarter that our people stepped to the line and made the free throws that you got to make,” Storm coach Dan Hughes said. “We had a similar game there that we lost and this one, we won.”
- Washington women’s coach Jody Wynn served as color commentator for Friday’s television broadcast.