By Chris Pennant (@kwandarykitten)
Courtney Vandersloot ran toward her team’s bench and let out a scream as she jumped into the arms of Stefanie Dolson near midcourt. The Sky had appeared headed to another tough home defeat, but their All-Star point guard and veteran center made sure they didn’t drop back to .500.
Vandersloot split two defenders and found Dolson under the basket for a layup with 2.3 seconds left, and the Sky overcame another slow start to defeat the Atlanta Dream, 77-76. Afterward, head coach James Wade praised his team during their ritual post-victory celebration in the locker room.
“That’s what championship teams do. They just snatch the heart out of teams when they think, ‘We can get it,’ like, ‘nah, we’re just playin’ with y’all,’” he said.
After they could not overcome a turnover-prone first quarter against Minnesota last week, Chicago (10-8) found itself in a similar position Wednesday. The Dream (5-12) led 9-0 after three minutes and 23-13 after one quarter, as their aggressive defense hounded the Sky into eight turnovers. Shooting guard Tiffany Hayes poured in 12 of her 16 points in the first quarter.
At halftime, reserve guard Kahleah Copper said the Sky had to be tougher on defense in the second half. The team took her words to heart, limiting the Dream to 23 percent shooting and 1 of 9 in the paint in the final 20 minutes. The Sky also hit 47% of their field goal attempts.
DeShields keyed a 14-2 spurt in the second quarter that briefly gave Chicago the lead and kept them within 10 points at the half. She scored 20 points in the first half and finished with 22, adding eight rebounds, four assists, a steal and a block.
Allie Quigley broke out for 10 points after a scoreless first half, and Vandersloot had six assists — she finished with nine — and seven points, including a big three-pointer off an assist from DeShields that got Chicago within two late in the fourth quarter.
“The third quarter needed to be Allie’s,” said DeShields. “She needed to get in a rhythm. At halftime coach told her, we all told her, you got to get going, you have to shoot.”
Dream head coach Nikki Collen agreed.
“We let Quigley go a little bit in transition which got her going. They had much more balance that way,” said Collen. “Chicago is a great offensive team and it came down to execution and a couple late-game situations. I thought they executed a little better on their last two plays than we did.”
DeShields and Quigley were named to the All-Star team as reserves this week along with Vandersloot. It’s the first mid-season award for DeShields and third for Quigley. However, coaches and teammates alike saved the highest praise for their floor leader.
“Coach put the ball in Sloot’s hands, which I think any smart coach would do,” said Dolson of the final play. “She ended up making the perfect decision because both guys came to her and she somehow got the ball so, it worked out pretty well.”
Dolson added, “She’s the best point guard in the country for a reason.”
Beast of the Week: It’s always nice when the All-Star voting is validated, and Diamond DeShields has certainly made the coaches look smart in choosing her to go to Las Vegas.
Not only has the second-year guard been scoring, she’s been doing it efficiently, averaging 21.3 points on 56% shooting and 58% from three-point range in the last three games. She’s also gotten to the line 22 times in that span, the importance of which cannot be overstated for a team that has one of the lowest free throw rates in the league. It helps that the last three teams they’ve played (Atlanta, New York, Dallas) are all under .500, but if DeShields is on the cusp of a scoring binge, the Sky will benefit greatly.
One Last Thing: Jamierra Faulkner made her 2019 home debut, picking up one point, an assist and a steal in five minutes on the floor. It’s unclear whether Gabby Williams’ role will shift with Faulkner back in the rotation, but it should be expected for her to keep the “point forward” position off the bench for now…Dolson matched a career high with five blocks.
Up Next: Chicago hosts the Indiana Fever Sunday at Wintrust Arena before taking on the Connecticut Sun Tuesday night on the road. Sunday’s game is at 5 pm and Tuesday is at 7 pm.
Until next time, keep your head above the clouds.
Chris Pennant covers professional and amateur basketball for WARR Media