Guru's WNBA Report: Delle Donne's Return Leads to Chicago Triumph at Washington and First Winning Season
WASHINGTON -- Asked before her Chicago Sky met the Washington Mystics on the road Tuesday night here at the Verizon Center how come no grey hairs were showing after two straight wild escapes from deep deficits, coach Pokey Chatman politely smiled and said, "I have a good hairdresser."
It looks like it will be back to the beauty shop on Wednesday when the Sky return to the Windy City from yet another rally, this time 11 points, to beat the Mystics 79-73 as rookie sensation Elena Delle Donne returned to action and scored 24 points after missing both previous Chicago comebacks after suffering a sprained left foot in Los Angeles a week ago during a narrow loss to the Sparks.
Chicago owner Michael Alter was in the house as was part-owner John Rogers, a prominent donor to Princeton, to see a first since Alter bought the Sky into existence in the WNBA in 2006.
The triumph gave the Sky an 18-8 record and clinched its first winning season in eight tries.
"I'm happy to see this program go the way it can go," said Delle Donne, the former Delaware all-American still using college lingo to talk about the Sky franchise. "I'm thrilled to see that. We want to make history."
Chatman also spoke of the franchise history the team is making this season.
"Obviously, for the franchise, the fans, these players, it's huge," Chatman said.
A crowd of 6,471 watched the game, less than Delle Donne's last visit, a morning game that brought a slew of Delaware fans down the two-hour drive besides the camp crowd that was in the arena.
There was still a sizeable presence considering it did not become public knowledge until early Tuesday afternoon that Delle Donne made the trip and was listed as a probable starter.
On Friday night, an even bigger step looms for Chicago with the magic number reduced to one to make the playoffs also for the first time.
The math says that the next Chicago win or New York Liberty loss means draft lottery, barring some trade, will not be in the lingo of the Sky this winter.
Both can happen at the same moment since New York (10-15), struggling to make the playoffs, as is Washington (12-15), which fell into a statistical third-place tie with the idle Indiana (11-14) Fever, will be visiting the Sky at Allstate Arena in suburban Rosemont.
"I won't try to minimalize it, it won't change how we approach things (Friday night) ... It's huge and we just have to make sure we get it next time out," Chatman said.
Beyond even making the playoffs, the race at the top of the East remained tight since the Atlanta Dream (14-9) rallied at home Tuesday night to beat Minnesota 88-75 putting the Lynx (18-7) in danger of dropping out of first in the West if Los Angeles were to beat the Seattle Storm in a late game out west later Tuesday night.
But Seattle (12-13) prevailed 77-57 enabling Minnesota to stay a half-game over the Sparks (18-8) as the Storm helped their own cause in grabbing the fourth and final playoff spot in the West.
"It feels good," said former Rutgers start Epiphanny Prince, who went to the Sky in the first round of the 2010 draft about the team's success this season. "I look at the standings every day and we're 18-8 and it's like, `wow.' It's great to have a winning record."
Prince, a primary architect in the two recent comebacks, including the WNBA record-tying 25-point deficit rally at home Sunday over the Connecticut Sun, only had seven points against Washington.
Chicago has a 2.5 lead on Atlanta with eight games remaining but the Dream still have 11 games left. However the two will collide three times between now and the end of the season and two gam es will be in Chicago.
Former LSU star Sylvia Fowles, the number two overall pick by Chicago behind Tennessee standout Candace Parker, who went to Los Angeles in 2008, has seen most of the Sky futility through last season when they missed the playoffs by a game to New York, though that was to bring a reward when Chicago in the lottery was able to land a spot to grab Delle Donne.
Although she didn't have the 20-20 point-rebound game of Sunday, Fowles still came up big with 16 points and 15 rebounds.
It went better this time than on the prevous visit just before the All-Star break last month when Delle Donne banged her head on the knee of Mystics post player Kia Vaughn and missed two games with a concussion.
Delle Donne also missed the All-Star game after she had become the first rookie to collect the most votes in the fan balloting selecting the starters.
"Feeling good," she said afterwards about Tuesday's performance here. "Adrenalin takes over after a while and you don't feel any pain so I was happy to see I wasn't favoring my foot or anything like that."
Trailing 41-37 at the half, Chicago forged ahead courtesy of a 1-for-16 futility from the field by Washington, including 15-straight misses in the third quarter, not that the Sky offense could light the nearby U.S. Capitol shooting 4-for-15.
"We wanted to come out and make three straight defensive stops and I think we got seven," Delle Donne said. "It was just crucial that we play great defense. That was our focus. At halftime, we didn't speak about offense at all. It was all about defense."
While the talk is usually about Delle Donne in postgame coverage, a key to the win was third-year pro Courtney Vandersloot out of Gonzaga, who had a season-high 19 points and also dished seven assists.
"'Sloot was awesome tonight," Prince said. "She was looking for her shot. She ran the offense for us. She always comes up with a big defensive play."
Veteran Swin Cash, the former UConn standout, was eve more emphatic.
"Most improved player in the WNBA?" Cash responded to a question of Sloot. "She's got to be in the discussion. I know she'd be my choice."
In the final minutes Vandersloot hit a key three-point shot wiith 1:04 left to make the score 73-68 and also drew a charge on Washington's Monique Currie, the former Duke star, with 41.1 seconds left that brought the entire Chicago bench to its feet with cheers.
Chatman also praised Sloot, saying, "I think the person that stayed consistently strong was Courtney Vanderloot -- She hit a couple of big shots and did a lot to help us along the way.
"Obviously having Elena back and scoring 24 points was good for us."
For a while, it seemed that after Vaughn's knee inadvertently brought down Delle Donne last time as Washington rallied for a win from a 21-point deficit, Tuesday night she did a lot of early damage to Chicago with her shot from the outside and finished with 21 points.
Ivory Latta, who will be an assistant coach at North Carolina, her alma matter in the offseason, scored 12 points, including her 2,000th in seven season, but Crystal Langhorne, the former Maryland star from Willingboro, N.J., in suburban Philadelphia, was held to four points, but did grab nine rebounds.
"I think we're just not making shots," she said.
Wshington, with just seven games left, next hosts Atlanta Friday night and then is off five days until visiting Atlanta next week August 28.
On the Guru's picks over the weekend for games the rest of the way involving East teams, the Minnesota loss to Atlanta put him at 1-1 first night out.
Meanwhile, the news keeps getting more dire in Connecticut where the Sun will now be without Allison Hightower the rest of the season because of a knee injury while rookie Kelly Faris, the former UConn star and Sun first-round pick, will also be gone the rest of the way after re-injuring the left foot she suffered near the end of UConn's run to the Huskies' eighth NCAA title in April.
Down to eight players and Minnesota, looking for revenge off Tuesday night's meltdown to Atlanta, scheduled to visit in the Sun's next game Thursday night, Hartford Courant beat writer John Altavilla reported under WNBA rules coach Anne Donovan cannot get the emergency-allowed replacement player that quick.
However, Kara Lawson, who has been away on a family emergency but also has a slew of nagging injuries, is expected back at practice Wednesday, according to Altavilla on his twitter account.
League president Laurel Richie was here for an event besides the game and just rolled her eyes when told she was about to face more injury issues in the morning when the Connecticut media would likely be calling.
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