Jewell Loyd doesn’t necessarily subscribe to the big-game belief this early in the WNBA season even if the story lines and subplots for Sunday’s matchup between the Storm and the Connecticut Sun suggest otherwise.
“I try to live in the moment honestly,” Loyd said. “I like my headspace where I’m not so focused on every game and putting so much pressure on every game.”
After years devoted solely to basketball, Loyd has seemingly discovered a balance between hoops and newfound off-the-court pursuits, which has allowed the seven-year veteran to reach new heights on the floor and garner unexpected MVP consideration.
“There’s so many things outside of basketball that I’m more concerned about than just the game itself,” Loyd said. “I have other things that I’m trying to focus on because when I get too caught up in basketball, then it’s just too much.
“I try to be present, but understand there’s things beyond basketball that takes precedent.”
Loyd’s harmonious approach is certainly working for her considering she ranks in the top 10 in the WNBA in scoring (20.4 points – sixth), assists (4.5 – ninth), three-pointers (27 – tied for third) and free throws (39 – seventh).
Still, not everyone agrees with Loyd about Sunday’s game. And that includes her Storm teammates.
“It’s a huge game for us,” Breanna Stewart said. “Obviously every game is huge, but Connecticut is always a tough matchup. They have so much talent. They play really well together.”
Stewart, the former Connecticut Huskies star, is admittedly biased considering her UConn ties.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” she said. “The majority of my family is going to be being there. My grandma already got the suites on lock. To see coach (Geno) Auriemma, CD (Chris Dailey) and the UConn people, it’s my home away from home. It’s where I played for four years. Just really excited to get back, especially coming off of COVID and coming off of my Achilles (injury).”
There’s an abundance of evidence supporting Stewart’s big-game claim.
Seattle (9-2) and Connecticut (8-2) are Nos. 1 and 2 in the standings, respectively.
The Storm ranks second in the WNBA while scoring 89.1 points per game and the Sun has the best defense in the league that allows just 72.5 points per game.
Connecticut, which has the best home record since 2019, is 5-0 this season at Mohegan Sun Arena while Seattle is the last unbeaten road team at 4-0.
“Obviously, we understand this a big game and a road game at that,” said coach Noelle Quinn, who noted the Storm began its five-game road trip with two wins last week in Atlanta. “This is part of our sustained excellence, having two road wins at the beginning of our road trip. How do we respond after travel? No practice? And an early game? This is going to be another challenge for us.”
In their previous matchup against the Sun, the Storm escaped with a 90-87 overtime win on May 25 at Angel of the Winds Arena thanks in large part to Sue Bird, who scored six of her team-high 21 points in the extra period.
If not for Bird’s late-game heroics, Connecticut’s Jonquel Jones would have been the story of the game. Seattle had no defense for the 6-foot-6 center who finished with 28 points, 13 rebounds, three assists, three steals and two blocks.
This time the Storm won’t have to contend with Jones, who is arguably the leading MVP candidate, because she’ll miss the next four to six games to compete for Bosnia and Herzegovina at the FIBA European women’s basketball championship.
“They still have weapons and firepower that we need to contain so it’s going to be a tough matchup,” Quinn said. “It’s going to be interesting how they adjust without her, who they add and who plays more minutes and who plays a different position.
“Probably (DeWanna) Bonner will play high minutes and our focus will be trying to contain her and developing schemes that we know will work and hopefully keep her boxed in a little bit.”
During a Zoom call Saturday, Sun coach Curt Miller said he knew who was going to replace Jones, but declined to announce the lineup until Sunday. Connecticut also listed Bonner as questionable due to a lower-back injury.
The Sun hasn’t played since June 5 and the eight-day layoff has allowed the team to get adjusted to life without Jones and possibly Bonner.
“I feel the timing worked after we played nine games in the first 19 days,” Miller said. “We got back on the practice floor, which coincided with JJ leaving so we were able to address some of the things that are obviously going to be different with how we have to play without JJ.
“They’re going to be prepared and they’re going to play hard. What that means and how good we’re going to play or the outcome of the game, no I don’t have a crystal ball to know that.”
Miller, who watched the previous game against the Storm from a Seattle-area hotel while serving a one-game league suspension, acknowledged the multitude of challenges the Storm presents.
“When you prepare for Seattle you start with the Big 3,” Miller said. “Sue is the master orchestrator. She gets everybody where they need to be. She recognizes advantages against the defenses and just orchestrates everybody. … Loyd and Stewie are two of the best players at their positions in the world. Their ability to score is something that you have to scheme for.
“You’ve got to pay attention to the Big 3. That’s where your game plan starts, but then you recognize how well (Katie Lou) Samuelson and (Stephanie) Talbot can shoot it. You have great appreciation and feel that Mercedes Russell is truly undervalued. There’s a reason why they’re in first place. They’re a really talented team led by their Big 3.”
Miller also agrees with Loyd and doesn’t buy into the big-game hype just yet.
“So many teams have had injured players, late-arriving players, players that have left for events and come back,” he said. “I don’t think we’re going to have a true sense of how good teams are until after the Olympic break.
“I don’t subscribe that it’s a big game other than the fact that I think all home games are important in this league. It is really difficult to win on the road. You never take it for granted. To be able to protect your home court is always really important.”