For weeks, Storm coach Noelle Quinn has insisted backup guard Epiphanny Prince assume greater command of the second unit.
On Tuesday night, the 13-year veteran broke out of an extended shooting slump and took pressure off Breanna Stewart while providing the spark off the bench in Seattle’s 81-79 win over the Lynx in front of 6,031 at the Target Center in Minneapolis.
“Honestly, I know I hit some shots tonight, but I didn’t feel that comfortable,” said Prince, who scored a season-high 15 points and connected on five three-pointers, including four in the fourth quarter. “They were kind of throwing me around a little bit. I need to be a little bit stronger, but I’m just happy I was able to knock down some open shots.”
It was the second most points for Prince since she joined the Storm in 2020 and a big boost for a much-maligned Seattle reserve corps that’s struggled recently.
“Piph has been the consummate professional,” Quinn said. “She works every day. Nothing changes about her effort, her mind and her attitude. I knew the law of averages, and Piph is a very efficient player. I just told her before the game she’ll have a bigger opportunity.
“I was Piph’s teammate. I know she can get busy. I know what she is for this team and what she can do in this league. It was good to see her knocking down a couple of shots and her intensity on defense was good as well.”
Prince began the season averaging 12 points before sitting out two games while in the WNBA’s health and safety protocols.
Since returning, she shot 25% from the field, including 3 of 14 on three-pointers in the previous nine games before Tuesday.
“Just to keep shooting and have confidence,” Prince said. “It was good for me because everyone was talking to me and being positive. … I know I said I was in a shooting slump, but I only took 2-3 shots in those games. I’m not going to get out of that if I don’t shoot the ball.
“I know my teammates and coaches are confident in what I can do. It was more so me just trying to get back in the groove after being out for a while with COVID. Just having the mindset of next woman up and staying ready.”
Without Sue Bird (non-COVID illness) and Mercedes Russell (non-basketball injury), the Storm were short-handed for the 10th time this season.
And for long stretches, Seattle was out of sorts and struggling to contain a Lynx team that entered the game with the worst record in the WNBA, three straight losses and playing without star center Sylvia Fowles.
The Storm didn’t show up defensively in the first half, while the Lynx shot 56.8% from the field, outscored Seattle 26-12 on points in the paint and took a 46-39 lead into the break.
“In the first half, we were playing, but we weren’t playing as hard as we could and really making sure that we’re going and leaving it all on the floor,” said Stewart, who kept the Storm afloat in the first half with 15 points on 6-for-10 shooting while her teammates combined to connect 8 of 30 shots for 24 points. “In those next 20 minutes, win or lose, we wanted to make sure that we felt better than we felt in the first half.”
In the locker room, the normally soft-spoken Quinn verbally lit into the Storm and challenged their resolve.
“The talk at halftime was very intense,” Quinn said. “The biggest thing was just effort and knowing that we can’t be mediocre and expect to win games. We’re not at that point right now.
“They were denying us. We were starting our offense at half-court. They were more physical than us. These are things as a coach I made sure the team understood that these are a reflection of me. I’m not a soft person. I’m not a soft individual, and I didn’t like that we were showing that we were soft. The message was to get tough. To play more aggressive. To be on our front foot. To not be reactive, and I thought the team responded.”
Seattle outscored Minnesota 20-15 in the third quarter and 22-18 in the fourth.
Down 61-59 at the start of the final frame, Prince drained four three-pointers against the Lynx’s zone defense, which practically dared her to shoot.
“We all know Piph,” said Stewart, the WNBA’s leading scorer who tallied 29 points on 10-for-18 shooting and eight rebounds. “We know that she’s a sniper. She’s a knockdown shooter. She’s saucy. It was great to see her continuing to shoot with confidence even though she said she didn’t feel comfortable. She was getting tons of open looks, especially on that left wing and she was knocking them in.”
Seattle led 79-74 with 2:31 left before Minnesota ran off five straight points, including Kayla McBride’s three-pointer that tied it 79-79 with 52 seconds remaining.
After a timeout, Jewell Loyd (14 points) connected with Stewart for a layup with 42.6 seconds on the clock.
At the other end, Minnesota guard Moriah Jefferson threw up a wild layup attempt and Stewart came away with a clutch offensive rebound in the final seconds to preserve Seattle’s fourth straight win.
Gabby Williams added 10 rebounds and eight assists for the Storm (9-5) while McBride had a team-high 20 points for the Lynx (3-12).
“It was another gutsy win,” Quinn said. “Figuring ways to win on the road without our entire roster is important. In the first half, we weren’t very good. In the second half, I thought our defense, our intensity and want to and will was a lot better.
“Very big plays from a lot of our players. Gabby with her offensive rebounding. Piph hitting big shots and obviously Jewell and Stewie executing at the end. Overall, finding ways to win on the road, we’ll take that.”
Seattle’s five-game road trip continues Friday at Connecticut and concludes Sunday at New York.