EVERETT — With eight seconds left in the third quarter, and the Seattle Storm up by seven points against the Phoenix Mercury, Epiphanny Prince called her own number.
The shooting guard motioned for center Mercedes Russell to screen her defender, and feinted a drive toward the rim. With both Mercury defenders following her screener, Prince easily stepped back, behind the three-point line, and buried her shot with 4.3 seconds left on the clock, extending the Storm’s lead to double-digits with 10 minutes to play.
“She’s just steady,” Storm coach Noelle Quinn said. “On the floor, she has the ability to create her own shot. She understands where her spots are, she understands how our defense is, she understands who she’s on the floor with and she’s low maintenance.”
Prince’s stepback three was one of three shots from beyond the arc the sharpshooter hit Sunday, as her 15 points led Seattle to an 82-75 victory against Phoenix in the Angel of the Winds Arena.
The victory ensures the Storm lost consecutive games only once all season, and heads into the Olympic break on a high note, something star forward Breanna Stewart said the team stressed before the game.
“We want to make sure that we go into the break feeling good about our team,” she said. “Now everyone can kind of go and enjoy their time, win gold medals, do whatever they gotta do.”
Looking to rebound from its 85-77 defeat in Phoenix, the Storm (16-5) needed a bright start, however, it was the Mercury that brought the energy from the tipoff. Jewell Loyd and Stewart were held scoreless in the first quarter, but unlike Friday night, it wasn’t the Mercury’s duo of Skylar Diggins-Smith and Brittney Griner who punished them.
Instead, Phoenix found success running its offense through small forward Kia Nurse, who hit two three-pointers on her way to an eight-point first quarter to help lead the Mercury (9-10) to an early lead. Seattle was able to stay in the game only due to the play of Katie Lou Samuelson. The forward put up eight points on 4-for-5 shooting in the first quarter, topping her season scoring average in just 10 minutes.
While Seattle’s starters struggled to find rhythm, the bench gave the team the boost it needed. Despite missing Ezi Magbegor and Stephanie Talbot, away on national team duty with Australia, the Storm’s second unit shined Sunday.
Led by Prince and Kennedy Burke, Seattle took the lead shortly after the end of the first quarter. The sharpshooter poured in nine points including a perfect 4-for-4 game from the free-throw line. Prince ended the game with 4-for-6 shooting, including a 3-for-5 effort from three-point range. She also added three rebounds and an assist, all coming after she went 0-for-7 from the field in the defeat Friday night.
Burke, who’s had fairly inconsistent playing time this season, added four points on 66% shooting from the floor. Prince and Burke both made it to the break with a team-high plus-13, and point guard Jordin Canada also contributed, adding three rebounds and two assists off the bench to end the half plus-12.
“Multiple people stepped up,” Stewart said. “We were able to go pretty deep into our bench, especially without two players, and everyone who came in made an impact and that’s huge.”
Seattle’s bench built a platform for the starters to find their stroke. Stewart finally scored her first basket with seven minutes left in the second quarter and finished with six points in the half. However, Griner and Diggins-Smith also began to heat up, with the duo combining for 19 points in the half and cutting Seattle’s lead to 44-39 at the intermission.
Out of halftime though, it was all Seattle. Loyd hit her first three-pointer just one minute into the third quarter, and Sue Bird quickly added two more from deep. A Stewart three, which rolled around the rim before falling, confirmed the return of Seattle’s offense, pushing the Storm lead to 18 points.
Besides the bench play and the offense of Samuelson, the Storm did a better job on defense Sunday. The team held Griner and Diggins-Smith, who combined for 55 points Friday, to just 33.
Griner ended with 16 points on 8-for-18 shooting, while Diggins-Smith added 17 points while shooting 33% from the field. Quinn credited the team’s defensive communication for the success, while Russell, Griner’s primary defender, credited the Storm’s teamwork.
“I think we just wanted to make them take difficult shots as a team,” she said. “Together we were just working well, rotating very well. Obviously doubling Griner to make it difficult for her, and I think as a team we did a good job of that tonight.”
Without WNBA legend Diana Taurasi, who sat for a third consecutive game with a thigh injury, the Mercury was forced to look for other options. Phoenix tried to answer with Nurse, who finished with a season-high 28 points on 9-for-19 shooting, including a 7-for-14 performance from three-point range. However, it wasn’t enough to offset the well-balanced offense of the Storm.
Stewart, Samuelson and Bird all scored in double-digits, while Prince led all of Seattle’s scorers. As a team, the Storm shot 48.4% from the field and 37% from beyond the arc.
Seattle will return from the Olympic break Aug. 12 when it takes on the Connecticut Sun for the first Commissioners Cup finale. Halfway through the season, Quinn said the team is still learning and growing together, but she’s proud of its resilience and toughness.
“We are still getting to know each other as a group, but where we are, we are trending in the right direction,” she said.
- Bird was honored before the game, receiving the game ball from her 3,000th assist, which she earned Friday against the Mercury. She’s the first WNBA player to reach the milestone. The Storm also recognized the Team USA Olympians Samuelson, Loyd, Stewart and Bird, along with Phoenix’s Diggins-Smith and Griner.
- Just one game after setting her career-high of 14 points, Samuelson tied it against the same team, finishing Sunday with 14 points on 50% shooting, while adding four rebounds, two steals, and an assist.