Washington, D.C.-- It’s a story college basketball fans have gotten very familiar with over the last four years. On any given night, anyone can come out on top. That is, unless Breanna Stewart takes over.
It was a close game on paper, and Washington held their own in D.C. on Friday night, but on the back of Stewart’s third quarter performance, Seattle was able to come back and close out a tight game, 81-76.
Despite a slow start, (she only had 7 points at the half) Stewart was everywhere when Seattle needed her the most.
Bringing the ball up the court…And shooting a three…
And driving and getting to the free throw line…AND with an assist or a steal.
Stewart did all of the above as Seattle had to comeback from a 16-2 run that the Mystics went on to begin the third. In the final 2:53 of the third quarter, Stewart went pedal to the metal for 10 points, changing the course of the game. Her 17 total points tonight were a difference maker when her team needed her the most.
What makes Stewart so exciting to watch, and what UConn fans have known for years, is the versatility of her game. Combine that with her championship mentality, and she shows why she is not only the future of basketball in Seattle, but the future of the league as well.
Combine Stewart’s effort with the veteran leadership of Sue Bird, who just gets it done in every sense of the phrase, and it’s no wonder that Seattle is storming towards playoff contention. Bird added 17 points of her own tonight, and remained a calming presence in the intense final minutes of the fourth quarter.
This win means the Storm end their 4 game road trip with a 3-1 record, and both Stewart and Bird credit some of this final playoff push to the work put in over the Olympic break, whether in Rio or at home.
“When you bring a gold medal back, it’s motivating to want to turn things around with our WNBA season and really make a push because we can and we are,” Stewart said.
“We understand that every game is really important right now, and I also think it speaks to the work the team put in over the Olympic break,” Bird said. “We were doing pretty well prior to it, but obviously it seems as if we’re playing better, and I think everyone who wasn’t in Rio just did a really great job, and you saw the improvements.”
In the first quarter, Seattle jumped out to an 11-4 lead behind Alysha Clark. After calling a timeout, Washington was able to pull within 3 heading into the second quarter. The second would remain back and forth, but the Storm would ultimately go into the locker room with a two-point halftime lead, 41-39.
The Mystics would jump out to a quick start in the third, going on a 16-2 run for the first five and a half minutes behind a balanced team offense, that seemed to stall any Seattle momentum. That is, until Stewart got involved. In the fourth, Natasha Cloud would return the favor for Washington, scoring 10 of her 12 points, but it wouldn’t be enough to come back.
Seattle now owns the tiebreaker with Washington, and as Stewart said following the game, when you are this close to the playoffs every win matters.
“It’s huge to have the tiebreaker with Washington, to beat Washington. They’re trying to make a playoff push as well, and it puts us ahead of them. And we just want to keep the momentum going while we finish out the regular season.”
And for a team who’s last stint in the playoffs was in 2013? Making one of those eight spots would be huge for both the Seattle franchise and the fan base.
“I think it’s huge. I really do. I think it’s a franchise that for a really long time we were accustomed to making the playoffs and for the most part expected to make the playoffs,” Bird said.
“There was never talk of the opposite, and I think the fans expected that as well. So for the last couple of years, it’s been different for them, and I think they’re probably excited that we have this opportunity. And we definitely have some of the best fans in the league, so I know they’re gonna show up.”