Three Takeaways: Fowles comes up big against Chicago’s sizable interior

ST PAUL, MN - MAY 14: Sylvia Fowles
ST PAUL, MN - MAY 14: Sylvia Fowles /

ST. PAUL – Anticipation was plentiful in Sunday evening’s season opener between the Chicago Sky and Minnesota Lynx at Xcel Energy Center.

For Chicago, Sunday’s game officially launched the Amber Stocks era. However, the first-year head coach was forced to navigate her new terrain without Allie Quigley and Courtney Vandersloot. Both are still competing in the Turkish Women’s Basketball League finals. The Sky also faced their first true test with their plethora of post players. Featuring the likes of Imani Boyette and Stefanie Dolson, height is not lacking in the city that houses Willis Tower.

Minnesota’s heartbreaking loss in last year’s Finals towered over the franchise throughout the off-season. If they forgot, the pregame pump-up video was a stark reminder, but the league’s most experienced team won’t let a bad moment derail their pursuit of a championship. Not when you have an outstanding center in Sylvia Fowles.

Chemistry was the deciding factor in Minnesota’s 70-61 win over Chicago, but there were plenty of formulas that could create intriguing combinations this season.

Big potential for Chicago’s interior

ST PAUL, MN – MAY 14: Jessica Breland
ST PAUL, MN – MAY 14: Jessica Breland /

When it comes to getting rebounds, height is not the only influence, but it certainly helps. Chicago’s starting lineup included Boyette, who stands at 6’7″, Dolson, listed at 6’5″, and the 6’3″ Jessica Breland. Boyette and Breland attacked the glass, especially in the first half. The result was a multitude of second chance opportunities that allowed Chicago to keep pace with Minnesota for most of the game.

“They threw a lot of combinations tonight, which was going to be expected,” Fowles told The Summitt.

Indeed, the Lynx were prepared for such a tactic, but when three or four forwards crowd the paint, boxing out and chasing rebounds become frustrating endeavors. Boyette picked up 12 rebounds, and Breland got 10 as part of a double-double. Although Minnesota made a few adjustments, Chicago finished with a 44-39 edge in rebounds.

One game is too small of a sample size to make a significant proclamation. However, Chicago’s interior depth just might be unrivaled. Boyette and Breland can do some damage up front, with Cheyenne Parker’s 6’4″ frame offering help off the bench. Alaina Coates is still healing from an ankle injury, but this new-look Chicago team is willing to stock up the post.

“To contend in this league, you have to have multiple options on your front line of attack,” Stocks said.

Fowles comes up clutch

Minnesota center Sylvia Fowles at the free throw line. Photo by Brian Few, Jr.
Minnesota center Sylvia Fowles at the free throw line. Photo by Brian Few, Jr. /

Minnesota’s win wasn’t pretty, but the inside job of Fowles was a beauty. Chicago attempted to contain her one-on-one in the first half, and Minnesota capitalized with some transition and high-low plays designed for Fowles. She racked up 19 points in the first half, and finished with 26 points and 10 rebounds.

“For the most part, I’m pleased with the way I played,” Fowles said. “Our offense flowed. I don’t think we missed a beat on offense.”

Minnesota’s vaunted center struggled in the third quarter, as Chicago doubled her up. That allowed the Sky to cut an 11-point deficit to three on a couple occasions, but they could never capture the lead. Fowles made sure of that by chipping in some buckets and free throws in the fourth. In the post-game press conference, Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve expressed a desire for Fowles to be more active with defensive rebounds. However, the game was emblematic of Minnesota’s resiliency during tough stretches.

“The Lynx have been in that situation plenty of times. We just have mad faith and mad confidence within ourselves, within our team that we can get it done,” she said.

Chicago may have interior depth, but Minnesota has an undisputed anchor in the paint.

Chicago drops the ball

Pardon the pun, but turnovers squandered Chicago’s opportunity for a win in their first game of the season. They committed 24 turnovers, several of them unforced. The most problematic of the bunch came late in the fourth quarter, with Chicago trailing 67-59. They were in position to make a late charge after Minnesota failed to score on five straight possessions, but Breland was called for a double dribble after losing control of the ball. The Lynx answered with a Rebekkah Brunson layup on their next possession, effectively sealing the outcome.

Chicago’s opening day roster included eight new players, making for an extensive learning curve. With Vandersloot unavailable, Cappie Pondexter was moved to point guard, but her talents weren’t enough to overcome the Sky’s lack of familiarity. On top of turnovers, they had a scoring drought of 5:43 in the final period.

“With time, we’re going to get better. I can’t really put a time frame on it, but hopefully somewhere before the middle of the season, we can really kick in,” Breland said.