SACRAMENTO — Wendy Palmer sat dazed in the visitors' locker room at Arco Arena.
Around the Storm forward teammates buzzed about, trying to answer questions as to why Seattle lost to Sacramento 87-66 on Wednesday in a matchup of the league's past two champions. But when asked for comment, Palmer slumped forward to seemingly gather her thoughts before declining to speak.
Four games into the short WNBA season and the Storm (2-2) seems to have no clue about what type of team it is. It defeated Phoenix and Los Angeles by an average of 18 points, yet lost to Houston and Sacramento by an average of 23. The urge is to say it's early, but after the defensive debacle Seattle displayed on Wednesday, concern is justified.
And coach Anne Donovan acted on her concern by benching starting guards Sue Bird and Betty Lennox in favor of Tanisha Wright and Shaunzinski Gortman to start the third quarter.
Bird just could not handle Ticha Penicheiro in the first half, seemingly slipping her VIP passes to the hoop as the veteran made flashy baskets. And Penicheiro isn't even known for her offense, averaging 6.5 points over her nine-year career.
Yet, there Penicheiro was, slithering in for layups to score a 13 of her 15 points in the first half as the Monarchs built a 49-29 lead at the break.
"People say I can't shoot, but I don't care what people say," Penicheiro said. "I work on my shot every day and I practice 45 minutes before the game."
Despite three practice days scattered among five days in between games, the Storm's defense was beyond horrible. Donovan even suggested her team "put up the white flag in defeat" by allowing 29 points in the second quarter.
"Bad things are going to happen, it's how you respond to that and right now, collectively, we're not responding the right way," Bird said. "Obviously I didn't do a good job on Ticha at all in terms of her penetrating and by letting Ticha do whatever she wanted offensively. It was able to set the tone for us in a negative way defensively. Anne was trying to send a message [with the benchings]."
Lennox was no better defensively along the perimeter, flying across the court to defend open three-pointers on the team's blown coverage, only to watch shots swish through the net. The mistakes outside allowed the Monarchs (3-1) to find their groove and rotate in a host of players to frustrate Seattle again in Sacramento.
The Storm has lost nine of its past 11 games at Arco, with the last win coming in 2004.
After the game, Storm forward Lauren Jackson, a co-captain, huddled her team together after Donovan had already talked with her players well into the postgame media-availability period. Players said everyone talked in the closed-door team meeting, everyone searching for answers.
"Hopefully we smooth this out early and later on it's not a problem," Storm center Janell Burse said. "We're just searching for answers, how we allowed that to happen the entire game — from the first quarter to the fourth quarter. We never got anything going, we never went on our run. The whole night we were pretty much playing catch-up. It sucked to try to get out of the hole we were in. We just never turned it around."
After Lennox made the game's first basket, the Monarchs took control and led 20-14 at the end of the first quarter. Seattle never got back into it.
Donovan played Jackson for 30 minutes, her longest stint of the season, because the Australian was the only consistently productive player, finishing with 20 points. Lennox added 18, picking up her aggression late after starting out hot. The rest of the team was 8 for 35 from the field (22.8 percent).
It all came back to defense, however, as the Storm was outscored 52-24 in the paint.
"When we get in a funk like this, we have to get ourselves out of it," Jackson said. "Teams go down by 10 points in the first quarter but they get back quickly, and we haven't been able to do that yet. It's time to regroup and play together as a team."
Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or email@example.com