Post­sea­son’s greet­ings again

Quigley sets team mark in loss one day af­ter Sky clinch berth

Chicago Sun-Times - - SPORTS - MADE­LINE KEN­NEY SKY BEAT mken­ney@sun­times.com | @madken­ney

Last sea­son, the play­offs were the Sky’s goal. This sea­son, they were the ex­pec­ta­tion.

In a con­densed sea­son full of twists and turns, the Sky (11-7) met that ex­pec­ta­tion Tues­day night, clinch­ing a post­sea­son berth for the sec­ond con­sec­u­tive year af­ter the In­di­ana Fever lost to the At­lanta Dream.

On Wed­nes­day, the Sky lost 86-83 against the Lynx (12-5), who also clinched a play­off berth Tues­day night. The Storm, Sparks and Aces also have clinched.

In the game Wed­nes­day, Al­lie Quigley scored 23 points to be­come the Sky’s all-time lead­ing scorer (2,939 points), sur­pass­ing Sylvia Fowles (2,927). Cheyenne Parker fin­ished with 20 points and a ca­reer-high 15 re­bounds. Court­ney Van­der­sloot, com­ing off a WNBArecord 18 as­sists, had 13 points and 12 as­sists for her 35th ca­reer dou­ble-dou­ble. Kahleah Cop­per added 10 points, which ex­tended her dou­ble-digit scor­ing streak to 15 games.

The Sky have dealt with their fair share of ad­ver­sity. Af­ter the WNBA had to post­pone the start of the sea­son for two months be­cause of the coro­n­avirus pan­demic, the Sky lost for­ward Jan­tel Laven­der in June be­cause of sea­son-end­ing foot surgery. Then, they dealt with in­juries to Di­a­mond DeShields, Ste­fanie Dol­son, Parker and Azura Stevens.

Over the last week, the Sky have ex­pe­ri­enced a flurry of changes to their ros­ter. Hours be­fore the trade dead­line last Fri­day, the Sky traded Laven­der and draft picks to the Fever for for­ward Stephanie Mavunga. The next morn­ing, DeShields (per­sonal rea­sons) and Stevens (sea­son-end­ing knee in­jury) left the bub­ble in Bradenton, Florida. The Sky on Mon­day signed free-agent for­ward Alisia Jenk­ins for ex­tra front­court depth.

“It was a lot,” Dol­son said. “One thing we all knew this sea­son was go­ing to do to us was keep us on our toes, so I think we all han­dled it pretty well . . . . For­tu­nately, it’s our job to kind of move on and fo­cus on the next day and what’s our task, and I think ev­ery­body did it well . . . . We’re just ready to keep mov­ing.”

With DeShields on re­stricted min­utes from the get-go, coach James Wade put guard Kahleah Cop­per in the start­ing lineup, where she has flour­ished. In fact, Cop­per has made a con­vinc­ing ar­gu­ment for the league’s Most Im­proved Player award.

En­ter­ing Wed­nes­day’s game, Cop­per is av­er­ag­ing a team-high 15.7 points — up sharply from the 6.7 she av­er­aged off the bench last sea­son.

Gabby Wil­liams and Parker also are putting up ca­reer-best num­bers.

And then there’s Van­der­sloot, who has made her­self a Most Valu­able Player award can­di­date.

Van­der­sloot, who shat­tered the WNBA’s sin­gle-game as­sist record Mon­day dish­ing out 18 in a win against the Fever, is on pace to break the league’s sin­gle-sea­son as­sist record — which she has set in each of the last three sea­sons — av­er­ag­ing a league-high 9.3 as­sists, en­ter­ing Wed­nes­day’s game. She’s also av­er­ag­ing a ca­reer-high 13.2 points on 48.3% shoot­ing.

De­spite all the chal­lenges they’ve had to face, the Sky are in the midst of their sec­ondbest sea­son in fran­chise his­tory.

Earn­ing a play­off spot dur­ing this sea­son-in-a-bub­ble means more be­cause of what the Sky over­came to get here, Parker said. But they’re not done yet, she added.

“It [is] a good chal­lenge for us with ev­ery­thing that’s hap­pened . . . over the course of the sea­son, ev­ery­thing that we’ve been through as a unit,” Parker said Tues­day be­fore the Sky clinched. “[Mak­ing the post­sea­son] would mean a lot for us to come out and make a state­ment and to do what we came here to do and that’s to win a cham­pi­onship.”

MIKE CARL­SON/AP

Al­lie Quigley (sec­ond from right) be­came the Sky’s all-time lead­ing scorer af­ter scor­ing 23 points in a loss Wed­nes­day against the Lynx.

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