Storm coach Noelle Quinn likened the second of two games against Atlanta Dream to a chess match considering Seattle dominated the host team two days earlier during a 24-point blowout.
“You don’t want to overthink it, but you also want to plan accordingly and not get too high on what we did the other night,” Quinn said. “We did some great things, but also we can improve in some areas. That becomes a challenge within these back-to-back games.
“You have a short amount of time adjust. It’s kind of like rolling the dice. But at the end of the day, I think the biggest thing we can do is focus on us and hopefully they have to adjust to what we do.”
In Friday night’s rematch, the Storm took control midway in the second quarter while Jewell Loyd and Breanna Stewart made clutch plays at the end – with an assist off the bench from Epiphanny Prince – to pull away once again for a comfortable 86-75 victory at Gateway Center Arena.
It was Seattle’s fifth straight win over Atlanta (4-6), which has lost four in a row. Meanwhile, the Storm improved to a WNBA-best 9-2 and is the league’s only undefeated team on the road at 4-0.
“I think we’re still a work in progress, which is the beauty of our team and the beauty of our season,” said Loyd, who finished with 20 points and led the Storm in scoring for the fourth straight game. “We’re not just happy with how we’re playing right now. There’s still another level that we can get to and I’m excited for it. That means there’s a lot more learning to do and that’s what you want to do as a player is continue to learn.”
Seattle had struggled in the second game of back-to-back sets early in the season with losses to Las Vegas and Dallas.
Before Friday, Los Angeles was the only team in the league to win both road games in back-to-back games against the same opponent.
Following Wednesday’s 95-71 win, Quinn talked before the game about the Storm needing to be greedy during times of prosperity.
“Being committed to understanding we’re at a good spot, but not complacent in that,” Quinn said. “We have a ways to go and we want to continue to peak at the right time. Within that, challenges like this arise. A split isn’t good enough. To maintain that level of excellence we have to come in here with the mindset of we’re trying to get this win.”
During her pregame address to the team in the locker room, Quinn challenged the Storm to rectify Wednesday’s 42-32 rebounding disparity when Atlanta outscored Seattle 46-24 in the paint and had more second-chance points (16-2).
“Rebounding was in capital letters and in red markers on the board,” Quinn said. “To challenge them to understand in our losses we’ve been outrebounded and teams are getting second-chance points against us. … In order for us to get better and continue to peak, we have to focus on rebounding.”
Thanks in large part to Breanna Stewart, who had a season-high tying 13 rebounds, the Storm won the battle of the boards 41-33. Seattle also outscored Atlanta 30-24 inside and had 11 second-chance points to the Dream’s two.
“Rebounding is important every night and it’s something that we can continue to work on,” said Stewart who also had 18 points and three assists. “We had rebound written on the board in red marker. We watched a video before shoot-around of just them getting offensive rebounds. So we were very aware of it and wanted to go get some boards tonight.”
On the defensive end, the Storm held Tiffany Hayes to just 11 points on 3-for-12 shooting after she scored 22 on Wednesday.
Still, Seattle had difficulty at the start stopping Courtney Williams, who scored 11 of her team-high 19 points in the first quarter to lead Atlanta to a 22-20 lead.
The Storm had several opportunities to break the game open in the second quarter, but were undone by inopportune defensive lapses, including twice fouling Dream players at the end of the shot clock on three-point attempts.
Seattle held Atlanta to just 1-for-14 shooting from the field in the second, but the Dream converted 11 of 12 free throws to keep it close.
“That’s not normal for us to put teams at the line often and early,” Quinn said. “They got into the bonus early in that quarter and it kind of slowed down the pace and it didn’t allow us to set our defense. We escaped the quarter on top, which is decent, but we have to grow and learn from that to defend without fouling.”
Despite a propensity to commit unwanted fouls, Seattle was up 45-35 at halftime.
Prince took over late in the third quarter while scoring six of her 11 points. Her third three-pointer put the Storm up 69-58 to cap the scoring in the period.
Atlanta cut its deficit 71-63 with 7:01 remaining, but never got any closer the rest of the way. Stewart (seven points) and Loyd (six) combined for 13 of Seattle’s 17 points in the fourth.
Cheyenne Parker added 11 points for the Dream, which played its fourth straight game without third-leading scorer Chennedy Carter (elbow).
Seattle heads to Connecticut (8-2) on Sunday for the third game in its five-game road trip for a battle between the top two teams in the standings.
“We’re 9-2, but I feel we can get so much better,” Stewart said. “We still have so much that we can improve on, just our chemistry with one another. We’re very happy with where we are obviously, but we know that going forward we can make things even tougher for our opponents.”