Storm trying to match Comets' record
A victory over Tulsa on Sunday at KeyArena will give the Storm a 20-2 start, matching the 1998 Houston Comets' WNBA record.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Tulsa Shock @ Storm,
6 p.m., KONG
Tucked away in a scrapbook is a newspaper clipping quoting Le'Coe Willingham's early thoughts about the WNBA.
A reporter asked some teenage Georgia basketball players how they felt during the league's inaugural season in 1997. Willingham, then afraid of the unknown of playing overseas but not wanting her career to end in college, was excited about the possibility and proclaimed Houston her team.
"I think they were everybody's favorite team," she said with a laugh. "I watched every game I could. I remember their starting five and how energetic they were. How much enthusiasm they brought to the game and how dominant they were. Plus, how much support they had from the fans. It was a great atmosphere."
More than a decade later, Willingham not only is playing in the league but has a chance Sunday to help the Storm match the record of her childhood idols.
En route to winning the WNBA's first four championships, the Comets completed their 1998 season at 27-3, the WNBA's best record. Houston was 20-2 after 22 games for the best start, a mark Seattle (19-2) can tie with a win against Tulsa (4-18) at 6 p.m. at KeyArena.
"I don't know if I really want to think about that right now," said Willingham. Seattle, which is on a 10-game win streak, clinched its seventh consecutive playoff berth Thursday when Los Angeles lost to Indiana.
The worst the Storm could finish this season is 19-15.
"You just try to stay grounded," Willingham said. "You don't want to get into thinking too far ahead. We'll let everybody else think far ahead."
The Houston Comets' last season was 2008. The WNBA was unable to secure an owner to purchase the franchise.
In its zenith, superstars Sheryl Swoopes (wing), Hall of Fame inductee Cynthia Cooper (shooting guard), and Tina Thompson (power forward) ruled the league. Off the bench were Brazilian legend Janeth Arcain, 6-foot-2 post Tammy Jackson and 6-foot wing Yolanda Moore.
Defense was the Comets' staple. They held opponents to an average of 63.6 points while scoring 76.2 — a chunk coming from Cooper (22.7), whose "raise the roof" arm motions are still a signature.
"(Coach) Van Chancellor did a good job of putting them in good positions to play to their strengths," said Storm assistant coach Nancy Darsch, whose New York team lost to Houston for the 1997 title. "Nobody knew who Janeth was and here she comes off the bench. And they were stacked when they got Tina as the No. 1 pick. They really were a strong team and very competitive defensively."
Seattle has its own trio in forward Swin Cash, point guard Sue Bird, and power forward Lauren Jackson — stacking back-to-back No. 1 draft picks to acquire the latter two. Off the bench come Russian Olympian Svetlana Abrosimova and Willingham, while Czech Republic forward Jana Vesela, although well known overseas, has made a bigger name for herself in Seattle.
The Storm, which also prides itself on defense, holds opponents to 74.0 points while averaging 83.5 — the bulk coming from Jackson (22.1). Four Seattle starters average in double figures, and the backcourt of Bird and Tanisha Wright combines for more than 10 assists per game.
"I remember the stigma around teams like Houston," said Jackson, who watched Houston's playoff series on a black-and-white TV in Canberra, Australia. "That aura around them and every single time we played against them when I was younger (2000), I was so nervous. I watch younger players now, especially on the Australian team, going up against players like Sue and they are exactly how I was."
The Storm might match Houston's record Sunday, but can it become as dominant as that 1998 Comets team? Seattle hasn't advanced past the opening round of the postseason since winning its only title in 2004.
The WNBA now plays a 34-game schedule with 12 teams and an 11-player roster. In Houston's day, it was 30 games with a traditional 13-player roster and 10 teams.
"There's no question the league is better," Storm coach Brian Agler said. "(But) I don't understand why we just can't win games. I mean, (the University of) Connecticut went two years straight and hadn't lost."
UConn, with its titles and multiple undefeated seasons, is a better comparison to Houston's dominance than the Storm, however. At least Cash and Bird know that feeling, having gone undefeated in 2002 to win an NCAA title for their Huskies.
"This record is very funny because it's creating a lot of talk and notoriety," said Bird, whose team's game highlights are now routinely shown on "SportsCenter." "It's certainly well deserved. But we haven't done anything. It's all going to come down to championships."
Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or email@example.com
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