Natasha Howard scored a career-high 25 points and five players on the Storm hit double digits in a 103-92 win over Connecticut.
The question has been lingering since the Storm raced toward the top of the WNBA standings weeks ago.
Does Seattle truly belong among the league’s elite teams, or will the Storm fade to the back of the pack as it did last year following a red-hot start?
Perhaps Seattle’s 103-92 win over Connecticut on Friday night provided an affirmative answer for Storm fans still hesistant to jump on the bandwagon.
“We know that we can compete with anybody,” said third-year star Breanna Stewart, who finished with 23 points and nine rebounds. “Connecticut has proven that they’re one of the best teams in the league, and so have we at this point.”
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Behind a personal-best 25 points from Natasha Howard and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, who finished with 18 off the bench, the Storm held on for a wire-to-wire win against Connecticut, which entered the game with the best record in the WNBA and played without injured All-Star forward Alyssa Thomas.
The Storm (8-3) tied its best start in franchise history, and the Sun suffered its second straight loss and fell to 7-3.
“It was a big game for us,” said Mosqueda-Lewis, who finished one point shy of a career high. “Connecticut played really well up until this point and played well tonight.
“Luckily for us, we played a better game. We’ve been progressing with every game whether that’s production from the bench, or our starters getting us going from the beginning.”
The 7,004 at KeyArena were treated to a thrilling shootout between the two highest scoring teams in the WNBA.
Seattle had five players score in double figures, including Sue Bird (14 points) and Alysha Clark (11).
But none were as brilliant at Howard who converted 8 of 11 attempts from the field on an array of short hook shots in the paint. The 6-foot-2 forward also sank 2 of 2 three-pointers and 7 of 7 free throws.
“She was really good and she was playing against a front line that’s excellent,” Storm coach Dan Hughes said. “The thinking was if we spread the floor well … then she is so dangerous in movement. She’s just got a knack for getting to the right spots in situations. She was huge in that because it’s hard for them to load up with her cutting, moving and finding space.”
While Howard scored at will inside, Mosqueda-Lewis battered Connecticut from the perimeter. The Storm sharp-shooter drained 3 of 4 three-pointers and outscored six Sun reserves who combined for 16 points.
“It felt nice to get into a flow,” who had tallied just eight points and shot 2 of 8 on three-pointers in the previous four games. “Our team has been going so well and we’ve been making an emphasis to get production from everyone. So whatever I can do to keep our team moving forward, that’s what I want to do.”
The Storm was able to withstand a tremendous offensive performance from Chiney Ogwumike, who finished with a personal-best 30 points before fouling out, and Jasmine Thomas, who tied her career high with 29.
“I can’t really say we stopped them when Chiney gets 30,” Hughes said. “She’s such a real athlete. They do such a great job of movement into her catches. We had a hard time staying attached to that movement.
“And Thomas is just relentless. Just constantly attacking, attacking and attacking. We did OK at other spots of the lineup, but those two were just exceptional.”
Both teams shot better than 48 percent from the field and the offensive numbers were nearly identical. However, Seattle canned 12 of 27 three-pointers while Connecticut was 8 of 26 from downtown.
The Storm also enjoyed a disparity at the free-throw line where it converted 27 of 34 foul shots while Connecticut was 12 of 15.
“We needed to get to the foul line,” Hughes said. “Statistically, that’s a reality in this matchup, and we were able to do that.”
The Storm jumped on the Sun early and led 21-10 with 3:39 left in the first quarter. Seattle led 30-21 after the fist quarter and 52-45 at halftime.
Seattle never led by more than nine points in the second half but didn’t allow Connecticut to get closer than two.
Ahead 96-91 with 2:31 left, the Storm finished with a 7-1 to pull away at the end.
“Really good basketball game,” Hughes said. “They score from all of the different areas. You got to defend. They put a lot of pressure on you. I was really glad with our resiliency.
“We got out of the gate good. Followed the game plan well even though you’re going to have a tussle when you’re playing a really good team like Connecticut.”
• The Storm paid tribute to former coach Anne Donovan, who died this week due to heart failure, with a video and moment of silence before Friday’s game. Seattle and Connecticut players also wore jerseys with a black stripe on the shoulder.
• Storm rookie Jordin Canada missed her first game due to a left ankle sprain and Connecticut played without All-Star forward Thomas who sat out because of a shoulder injury