Somewhere, former Washington State men’s basketball coach Dick Bennett was smiling.
His defensive principles were on display during the Seattle Storm’s 72-55 win over the Washington Mystics Sunday at KeyArena. Led by 14 points apiece from Ann Wauters and Sue Bird, the Storm (5-7) played the type of pack-oriented, man-to-man defense Bennett mastered during his days in the Big 10 Conference and later in the Pac-10.
Every Mystics jumper was contested, every Storm possession valued. Fast-break buckets came at a premium.
The result: a 35 percent shooting night from the worst team in the Eastern Conference.
Seattle head coach Brian Agler sounded practically Bennett-esque when asked to describe his defensive approach after his club won its fourth game in a row. The Storm has limited opponents in its last three games to their worst shooting percentages of the season.
“Not take a play off, make teams play against you in the quarter court, don’t give up transition baskets,” he said after the Storm committed just 12 turnovers. “Part of playing good defense is not turning the ball over offensively where they can get in transition. Those are the sort of things I’m sure they get tired of hearing me talk about, but that’s what we emphasize.”
Agler’s defense has taken extra time to learn, according to Bird. The Storm held Washington forward Monique Curry scoreless for the first time this season.
“We’ve done a much better job on the defensive end,” Bird said after her team didn’t allow a fast-break point for the second consecutive game. “I think Brian’s system is something you have to get used to. There’s a lot of lingo and a lot of intensity to it and some defensive schemes players have never seen before. Now that we are used to it, rather than thinking about it, we just go out there and play.”
After falling behind 7-2 early, the Storm responded after an Agler timeout with a 13-4 run to end the first quarter.
“It wasn’t necessarily an X’s and O’s thing,” he said of why he jumped on his club minutes into the game. “It was about competing harder and being more aggressive offensively and not making it so easy for them offensively.”
Seattle never relinquished its lead, outscoring the Mystics 16-9 in the second before cruising. The Storm again featured a balanced scoring attack in its second-largest win of the season. Katie Smith, Camille Little and Tina Thompson all chipped in with nine points as Seattle shot a sizzling 56 percent from the floor.
Even Shekinna Stricklen capped an inconsistent home stand with one of the more efficient performances of her rookie season. The University of Tennessee product had five points and three assists in 18 minutes.
Widely regarded as one of the Storm’s most talented players, Agler said the No. 2 overall pick in the draft is still a work in progress.
“My goal for Shekinna is to be as engaged as Tanisha Wright is, to play with that kind of intensity and that kind of focus, and that kind of effort all the time,” he said. “We want to get Shekinna to that level because she’s got tremendous offensive abilities and she’s got very good defensive instincts.”
Seattle’s only issue came on the offensive glass. The Storm surrendered 13 offensive rebounds and 15 second-chance points.
Agler left a parting message for his club before it embarks on a four-game road trip that kicks off Tuesday night with another match-up against the Mystics.
“Do a better job of blocking out.”