Once again the Storm is in an unusual position this WNBA season. It’s facing a burgeoning Tulsa Shock (0-4) that’s winless like Seattle (0-3). A particular matchup that’s so rare, even when you take into account the Shock’s former Detroit history, Seattle has never played the team with even a sub-.500 record.
And this Tulsa team might as well be one of those Detroit lineups. Unlike Seattle, Tulsa lost two of its games because one of its buzzer-beating shots was waved off and another by Los Angeles eeked in before the horn to nullify a standout night by rookie Riquna Williams (19 points) and the Shock defense forcing 28 turnovers.
Seattle really only had one game it let slip away, when it led the Sparks by 21-points in the season-opener and lost 72-66.
“They’re itching for a win and so are we,” Storm guard Katie Smith said of Tulsa. She starred for the franchise when it was in Detroit, winning two of its three overall titles. “We all know that (LA) game was winnable. Give props to LA for playing hard through the whole thing, but we’re disappointed in the way we did. The other two games? We didn’t quite have that big of a lead and weren’t in much control of those games.”
You could say Tulsa was always in control. With former Storm assistant coach Gary Kloppenburg (pictured right) at the helm after four seasons as an assistant in Indiana, he’s improved the defensive identity of the team and added some veteran pieces in PG Tameka Johnson that have the team losing by 3.7 points this season. Last year the Shock lost by an average 12.9 points.
But the team is shooting a WNBA-worst 37.3 percent from the field. It also missed five free throws in the final two minutes of the loss Tuesday to the Sparks, clearing a way for PG Kristi Toliver’s heart-piercing three-pointer.
“The basketball gods aren’t smiling on us,” Kloppenburg said by phone from Seattle Thursday to the Tulsa World. “We must have done something to make them mad.”
Kloppenburg’s father, Bob, is expected at the game. Between them, there’s years of experience with the organization. The elder was a long-time Sonics assistant coach, helping it succeed in the NBA in defense, while Gary served on Lin Dunn’s staff for three seasons and reunited with her with the Fever.
“I’m really happy he’s gotten this opportunity,” Storm coach Brian Agler said of the younger Kloppenburg. “From my vantage point, he’s done an extremely good job with the team. They’ve got good, strong athletic players.
“Historically, he’s been sort of a defensive guru coaching with Lin, whether it be here or in Indiana. And he’s coached in the NBA a little bit, so I think he brings a little bit of that flavor to the team. He’s got a system and that’s important if you’re going to have success.”
Someone has to win Friday and money is on the Storm given the team’s winning percentage at KeyArena since 2008, Agler’s first season. Either way, Seattle is headed for a tough stretch. Seven of its 11 games in June are on the road, including the upcoming five-game trip. Agler said the team will return to Seattle twice during that two-week span, however, to give players a chance to be home with families.
There are three other WNBA games on Friday and the highlight as to be the matchup between undefeated Minnesota (5-0) at Connecticut (3-0). You almost don’t know where to start in terms of keys to the game, but with PG Lindsay Whalen starting to break out of her slow start this season, Lynx F Rebekkah Brunson has been an unsung hero with her offensive rebounding.
Minnesota leads the league in averaging 8.4 more boards than their opponents. Meanwhile Connecticut C Tina Charles (10.7 boards) only trails Chicago C Sylvia Fowles (11.3) in overall rebounding and Brunson ranks fith (8.0).
Phoenix (1-3) is playing without Diana Taurasi (hip flexor) indefinitely and faces San Antonio (1-2) in the second of a back-to-back, losing 81-65 at Atlanta on Thursday. Lastly, Chicago (2-1) hosts Washington (1-2). It’ll be an interesting game on and off as Mystics C Ashley Robinson connects with her former Storm teammates in Sky stars Swin Cash and Le’coe Willingham.
The Sky defeated the Mystics 69-57 for its season-opening win.