By Seth Dahle
Former University of Washington standout Sami Whitcomb exploded for a career-high 22 points in the second half, and the Seattle Storm overcame a 10-point deficit on the way to cashing in an 87-81 win over New York on Friday night at KeyArena.
Seattle improved to 3-1 on the year to notch its best start since 2010, and the Storm earned its first win over New York at home since 2012.
Whitcomb simply changed the complexion of the game in the final 15 minutes, burying three triples in the third quarter to spark a major Storm comeback. The rookie finished with a team-high 22 points on 6-for-8 shooting from deep, and said she wanted to “make the most of an opportunity.”
“Nothing was going right, and they were guarding everyone else so well,” said Whitcomb. “For me, it was a less of a pressure situation, and they weren’t really expecting much of me. You dream of a night like this, and you never think it’s going to happen.”
Head coach Jenny Boucek said Whitcomb’s relentless effort and patience paid off in tonight’s game.
“That’s why she’s here,” said Boucek. “I haven’t seen another player that can heat up the way she can. She did it consistently overseas, so we know it’s in her. Every time I go to the gym, she’s in there, to the point where I wondered if she was overdoing it and if we needed to regulate it. She’s been working really hard to stay ready and understand our system.”
Breanna Stewart added 20 points and 12 boards to book her 13th-career double-double, while Jewell Loyd missed the 20-point mark for the first time in 2017 but still came away with 16 points, including a 7-for-9 effort from the line. Crystal Langhorne pulled down 10 rebounds, while Sue Bird and Noelle Quinn tied team-high honors with six assists apiece.
Neither team started the game hot, combining for a 6-for-21 clip in the opening 5:23. After missing its first four shots from the floor, Seattle took a 6-2 lead thanks to consecutive three’s by Stewart and Loyd. With strong post play, the Liberty responded with a 15-6 run to take a five-point (17-12) edge, but the Storm fired back with a 5-0 spurt, including another three by Stewart to knot it at 17 apiece.
Down 24-19 in the second, the Storm mustered a 12-3 run, sparked in large part by Stewart, who notched a block, three pointer and two free throws to give Seattle a 31-27 advantage at the 6:16 mark. After the Liberty took a 37-35 edge with a bucket inside by Kiah Stokes, Stewart and Loyd combined to go 5-for-6 at the charity stripe to put the Storm back up three (40-37).
Seattle took a 46-44 advantage into the locker room. In the final moments of the half, Alysha Clark scored on the break before Sugar Rodgers buried one of her four first-half three’s to cap the scoring by both teams.
Tina Charles netted 13 New York’s first 18 of the third quarter, as the Liberty charged to a 62-53 advantage at the 3:44 mark. For a moment, Seattle looked dead in the water before Whitcomb entered the contest, drilling three triples to cut the deficit to five (70-65) entering the fourth frame. Whitcomb did her damage in the final 2:31 of the quarter, teaming up with Bird to net two late three’s to bring the crowd to its feet.
Whitcomb knocked down another three and booked a pair at the line to pull Seattle within two (72-70), and after Quinn banked home a long ball to cut it to one (74-73), Whitcomb swooshed yet another triple in the corner to grant the Storm its first lead (76-74) since the 7:53 mark of the third quarter. With three’s being contagious, Rodgers buried two straight for New York to put the Liberty back on top, 81-78.
Four free throws by Stewart helped the Storm regain a one-point (82-81) edge, and with 56 seconds left, Whitcomb dribbled off a screen and popped another three-pointer to make it a four-point (85-81) contest. Seattle muscled back-to-back defensive stops, and Whitcomb snagged a defensive board before she netted two at the line to swell the lead to six (87-81) at the 23.5 mark.
Charles paced New York (2-2) with a season-high 28 points on 12-for-25 shooting, while Rodgers and Epiphanny Prince added 21 and 19 points, respectively.
Despite being edged (42-39) on the glass, Seattle outscored New York by 15 points at the line.
Seattle returns to KeyArena on Sunday against the Indiana Fever at 4 p.m. PDT. Fans can secure the best seats in the house with Storm 360 Memberships, available now, starting at $180, available online or by calling (206) 217-WNBA (9622). Packages and group discounts are available at 206-217-WNBA (9622).