By Chris Pennant (@kwandarykitten)
Nothing makes basketball fans feel more appreciated than watching their team notch a blowout victory in the last home game of the season, and the Chicago Sky were happy to oblige their supporters.
The Sky closed out the home portion of their regular season with an impressive 105-78 win over the Phoenix Mercury on Fan Appreciation Day. With the win, the Sky moved two games ahead of the sixth-place Minnesota Lynx in the WNBA standings and a half-game back of the idle Los Angeles Sparks.
The win also ended a two game losing streak for Chicago, which was punctuated by Thursday’s 88-83 loss to a Dallas Wings team that only dressed eight players. Head coach James Wade was visibly morose after that game, but said his players used the setback as motivation.
“We felt like we let one go, and I think the sense of urgency was at all-time high to get things done,” he said. “Not taking credit away from Dallas, but we felt like we were a better team.”
Six Chicago players finished in double figures, led by 18 points each from Astou Ndour and Cheyenne Parker. Ndour and Parker both hit two threes in the third quarter to key a Sky run that stretched a one point halftime lead to as much as 28.
“Coach Wade knows how much I work on my threes,” said Parker. “It’s something that I’ve always worked on and given some extra attention, so I’m just thankful that it paid off tonight and I was able to knock it down.”
Brittney Griner scored 20 of her game high 26 points in the first half for the Mercury (15-16). Wade gave credit to injured forward Jantel Lavender, who was providing color commentary for the TV broadcast, for advice on containing Griner in the second half.
“One thing about Jantel is she’s a leader. She has championship experience and I trust her. I asked her what she saw, and she told me, ‘Maybe we can do this’ or ‘This will help us,’ and I relayed that message to the team,” he said.
Wade did not state the exact advice Lavender gave to the team, since Chicago and Phoenix are currently on track to play each other in the first round of the WNBA playoffs. Parker, however, is very confident in the Sky’s postseason chances if they approach every game the way they did on Sunday.
“When we’re at a razor sharp focus, our team is unstoppable,” she said.
Beast of the Month: Since the last column was the beginning of August, it’s only right to single out the best player over the last month for Chicago. While Parker has gotten back to her early season form (averaged 12 points, six rebounds, an assist and a block in 12 games), Astou Ndour has come up big after taking the place of the injured Lavender in the starting lineup. She’s averaged 10 points and eight rebounds, shot 51 percent from the field and 46 percent beyond the arc in her nine starts.
While the Sky are only 5-4 in those games, two of those came down to late in the fourth quarter (at LA, vs. Dallas) and her consistent jump shot will pull opposing centers out of the paint or force defenses to rotate, giving Dolson or Parker more room to shoot.
Last Things: Courtney Vandersloot tallied 13 assists, her sixth double digit assist game in the last nine contests. She has 283 assists so far, breaking her own single season mark set last year, and is on pace to crack 300 for the first time in league history…Chicago outrebounded Phoenix 45-32. The Sky are 14-4 this season when they collect more boards than the opponent…a Sky win or Minnesota loss in the last two games will lock the Sky into fifth place and clinch a home playoff game.
Until next time, keep your head above the clouds.
Chris Pennant covers professional basketball for WARR Media