EVERETT — Three days after throttling the Las Vegas Aces in last Saturday’s WNBA regular-season opener, the Storm came out flat Tuesday night and trailed by 21 points in the first half.
Seattle made a late run before falling apart in the fourth quarter and losing 96-80 at the Angel of the Winds Arena.
“We went to a situation where we had to rest some of the starters and we didn’t really sustain (our energy) throughout our lineup much like we did on Saturday,” coach Dan Hughes said. “They came back at us. The middle quarters we expended a lot of energy and had put ourselves on the doorstep of having the type of game that could have went either way.
“The truth is that sometimes when you do that, it leaves you a little shallow in what’s left in the tank.”
The scores and the dominance exhibited by the winning teams in an early season rematch of last year’s WNBA Finals were nearly identical.
The Storm canned 12 three-pointers, shot better than 50% from the field and got its up-tempo offense going with 19 fast-break points in the opening-day win.
But Las Vegas turned the tables Tuesday night, holding Seattle to 42.1% shooting from the field, seven three-pointers and just 10 fast-break points.
Meanwhile, the Aces exploded for 96 points while shooting 53.6% on field goals and converting 16 of 18 free throws.
“When you give up 96 points, I’m not sure what’s going well defensively,” Storm star Breanna Stewart said. “We needed to get some rebounds. We couldn’t get rebounds. We tried to keep them out of the paint and they made jump shots. Credit to Vegas. They played well.”
Considering Seattle’s 14-point victory in the opener, the defending WNBA champion expected a reinvigorated response from Las Vegas, which is the preseason favorite to win the league title.
It was practically a given that reigning WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson (18 points, 11 rebounds and five assists) and two-time All-Star center Liz Cambage (18 points and eight rebounds) were going to be the driving force inside for a Las Vegas offense that scored 48 points in the paint.
But the Storm wasn’t expecting guard Jackie Young to post a personal-best 21 points, 10 rebounds and the second double-double performance of her career.
Young thoroughly outplayed Sue Bird, who had five assists and was held scoreless for the first time since August 2014. The third-year Aces point guard punished Seattle at the free throw line where she connected on 10 of 10 attempts.
“That was a very telling stat line,” Hughes said. “The fact that we put her to the line as many times as we did I think gave her a rhythm to play from. It’s hard enough to deal with some of their constant scoring inside and (Chelsea) Gray is a strong addition, but then you throw in her impact in the game that was big. But that’s the reality of this league. We’re all going to learn a little bit about these two-game series.”
Las Vegas (1-1) had all five starters score in double figures, including Gray (11 points) and Riquana Williams (10). Former Washington Huskies star Kelsey Plum added 10 points off the bench.
“Obviously, Vegas is a great team and deserves a lot of respect,” Storm standout Breanna Stewart said. “That’s how teams come out when you punch them in the first game. They come out aggressive and played better than us for 40 minutes.”
The Storm trailed 16-14 with 4:07 left in the first quarter when the Aces went on a 15-0 run to end the period and take a 31-14 lead into the second.
Las Vegas extended its lead to 21 points (39-18) over the next four minutes before Seattle made a bit of a run to end the first half thanks in large part to six straight points from Ezi Magbegor, who finished with 14 points and 13 rebounds in her first start.
Still, the Storm was down 45-31 at the break.
Seattle outscored Las Vegas 31-21 in the third quarter, which ended with Katie Lou Samuelson (13 points) beating the buzzer and throwing in a 39-foot three-pointer as the Storm closed to four points (66-62).
But Las Vegas scored the first eight points in the fourth to go up 74-62 and Seattle never got closer than 10 points the rest of the way.
“We were able to climb back into it and cut the lead down to four and then we couldn’t sustain the momentum in the fourth quarter,” said Stewart, who led the way for the Storm once again and finished with 26 points on 10-for-21 shooting and 11 rebounds.
After a slow start, Jewell Loyd added 17 points — 15 in the second half – although she struggled finding her touch and connected on just 6 of 18 field-goal attempts.
Stewart attributed a pedestrian 10-point outing from the bench to several of the Storm’s newcomers adapting and adjusting to their new roles. Replacing Candice Dupree with Magbegor in the starting lineup altered the dynamic among the reserves who were outscored by eight by their Las Vegas counterparts.
“It’s going to take a little bit of time and a little bit of patience, realizing the teams that we had in the past, we had been together for four years and figured it out,” Stewart said. “Now we’re starting from scratch a little bit and I’m excited about the group that we have. I have no concerns. It’s the second game of the season. We’re going to go on the road tomorrow and try to bounce back.”
The Storm (1-1) takes off for its first road trip, which begins Thursday at Minnesota and concludes Saturday at Dallas.
— Katie Lou Samuelson left the Storm following Tuesday’s game and flew to Graz, Austria to participate with the USA Basketball 3×3 team in the FIBA Olympic qualifying tournament May 26-30. The top three teams in the 20-team tournament will earn a berth into the Tokyo Olympic Games.
“It’s a lot to go back and forth between that and (the Storm)” said Samuelson, who is expected to miss the next 5-6 games. “It’s just something that you can look at it as a positive and getting a chance to play in the Olympics. That’s something that I would have never thought I would have had the opportunity to do this year. I’m taking it as something really positive and amazing that I get to be a part of, that first that could go.’
Samuelson joins Las Vegas guard Kelsey Plum, the former Washington Huskies star, Dallas Wings guard Allisha Gray and Chicago Sky center Stephanie Dolson.
— Reserves Epiphanny Prince and Mercedes Russell are expected to join the Storm on Wednesday after completing WNBA protocols, which require six days of quarantine and six negative COVID-19 tests.