MINNEAPOLIS — The Chicago Sky are out of playoff contention, but in the words of head coach Amber Stocks, they’re not eliminated from building their culture.
On Tuesday night, Chicago took a large step in their building project, holding off the Minnesota Lynx for a 91-88 win at Target Center.
“I credit our players for being very efficient with the basketball. That’s something we’ve been putting an emphasis on,” Stocks told reporters after the game.
Efficiency was on display for the Sky (12-20) with a field goal clip of nearly 55 percent. Combine that with agility from the likes of Diamond DeShields, Allie Quigley and Courtney Vandersloot, and the mixture was too potent for the Lynx (17-15) to match.
No one could keep up with DeShields off the dribble, resulting in a litany of layups. The rookie from Tennessee outran her defenders en route to a season-high 28 points. She also knocked down three triples.
“It’s very characteristic of my game. Just getting out in transition, using my athleticism, and it played in our favor tonight,” she said.
While DeShields traveled at warp speed, Vandersloot offered her patented helping hand. Vandersloot finished the game with 16 points and 10 assists. She also broke a record that stood for nearly 18 years, surpassing Ticha Penicheiro for most assists in a single season. The two were teammates for a time in Chicago, and Vandersloot feels lucky to be in company with one of the sport’s icons.
“When it comes down to it, it’s my teammates making shots. I get a lot of assists off them just making an open jumper,” Vandersloot said.
Vandersloot sits at 241 assists with two games to go. Whatever her final total is, there is no doubt that she has flourished since Stocks took the head coaching job in Chicago.
“As our team has improved offensively, Sloot is right there setting the tone,” Stocks said. “Sloot’s always out there talking and giving instruction, giving insights. Talking about the timing, talking about the angles. Our young players are really looking at her and looking at her leadership.”
While the Sky’s victory is meaningless for the season standings, it does signal the potential of this team at full strength. With another lottery pick forthcoming, the steadily growing collection of talent should add another pillar, either through the draft or as part of a trade deal. Chicago’s defense is lacking, but there is a lot to like in regards to their future.
Minnesota’s future includes another playoff appearance, but how much they can do with it remains in flux. The Lynx were in contention throughout Tuesday night’s game, but they came up short in the clutch. Maya Moore fouled out with 1:59 left in the fourth quarter, leaving the Lynx without their go-to option. They managed just four points in their final 10 possessions, including a sloppy exchange in the closing seconds. Trailing 89-88 with 19.7 seconds to go, Minnesota couldn’t get anyone set up for a final shot. The result was a pass into traffic from Seimone Augustus, handing the ball and the win to the Sky.
“These are games that you think we know how to win, but this team, for whatever reason, these are the games that we’re forgetting that how to dig in,” said Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve.
Losing to Chicago kept Minnesota at seventh place in the league standings, increasing the likelihood of a first-round road trip. They’re hopeful that Rebekkah Brunson will return soon following a concussion, but frustrations are still mounting for a team accustomed to long-term greatness.
“I don’t know about the bigger picture, we just know it doesn’t feel good right now,” said Moore, who led the Lynx with 21 points.