When Seattle Storm guard Sami Whitcomb walks into The Garden Sunday afternoon for her team’s game against the Liberty (3 p.m., MSG), she should not be surprised if a wanted poster with her likeness is plastered above her locker.
Whitcomb, a rookie, made it to the top of the Liberty’s Most Wanted List when she came off the bench on May 26 in Seattle, and knocked down 6-of-8 from behind the arc to lead the Storm to a come-from-behind, 88-81, win.
The Liberty led 63-53 with 1:48 left to go in the third quarter. Whitcomb hit her first three-pointer 27 seconds later. Suddenly she was Reggie Miller.
As for Sunday?
“She’s not getting the ball,’’ said small forward Shavonte Zellous. “That’s how close we’re going to be on her.’’
Shavonte Zellous explains how the Liberty were able to pull out a win over Atlanta while looking ahead to their Sunday matchup with the Seattle Storm.
After blowing a game they thought they had, the Liberty had six hours on the flight home to ruminate about the loss and the unheralded player that burned them.
Whitcomb had scored a total of three points in the Storm’s first two games.
So much for flying under the radar.
“We scouted her,’’ said Liberty guard Sugar Rodgers. “We didn’t follow our game plan. I’m a shooter. And when a shooter gets it going, the rim gets big.’’
The Liberty (5-3) have won three straight and will play Seattle in the final game of their five-game homestand. One thing is certain, New York is determined to make the rim look as small as the eye of a needle for Whitcomb.
She will be a marked woman as soon as she steps on the court.
“She gets nothing if I can help it,’’ said Rodgers.
The Storm (5-3), coming off an 83-80 loss at Indiana, are far from a one-rookie show. Former Long Island high school and Connecticut star Sue Bird is one of the best point guards women’s basketball has ever seen.
Jewell Loyd and Breanna Stewart are scoring machines. The Storm made a franchise record 14 threes in the win over New York.
“She just came off the bench and did her job and that’s shooting the three,’’ Rodgers said. “She shot the hell out of the ball.
“And once you catch fire like that, the rim is this big and then the focus goes on you. When the focus is on you, everybody else can get theirs. That’s what they did.’’
The Liberty knew Seattle’s established players. With the exception of watching film and going over the scouting report, they hadn’t seen Whitcomb in person. Not many had. Whitcomb had played a total of nine minutes in the first two games.
The 5’10”, 145-pound shooting guard out of the University of Washington went undrafted in 2010. She has forged a career as a basketball barnstormer, playing in Germany, Slovakia and Australia.
Whitcomb hadn’t played in a WNBA game until this year.
Against New York, she came out of basketball witness protection, played 15 minutes and scored all 22 of her points in a span of 11 minutes and 27 seconds. Since that outing, Whitcomb has scored a total of 12 points.
The Liberty have a Sami Chip on the shoulder.
“We were very disappointed,’’ said Zellous. “We knew our scouting report. We just didn’t pay attention to it as we should. And she killed us. It kind of bit us in the behind. And now we know. We’re kind of looking forward to the Seattle game. We know we let that last one slip away.”
Liberty coach Bill Laimbeer said Rodgers and Zellous are the team’s two best perimeter defenders. Defense, of course, is a team effort, but Rodgers and Zellous will be the first line.
The Liberty are more focused on what they have been doing right of late. Since losing Epiphanny Prince and Kia Vaughn to the 2017 FIBA EuroBasket Tournament, “the team is in a good place,” Laimbeer said.
Kiah Stokes credits mental concentration for starting off strong against the Dream and looks to even up the score when the Liberty face Seattle on Sunday.
Kiah Stokes has established herself as one of the league’s best rebounders. Tina Charles, who scored a career-high 36 in a recent win over Dallas, has solidified her spot as a legit candidate for Player of the Year.
Laimbeer said the team’s goal was to win as many games as possible while those two players were away. The Liberty have no intentions of letting Whitcomb ruin the final game of their homestand.
That would be the equivalent of that long flight back from Seattle.
“We’re trying to get better every game, every practice,’’ Laimbeer said. “Seattle is good. They got us. We remember that one, that’s for sure. We remember that game, but as long as we stay aggressive, stay physical, stay focused – I think we have a good chance of winning.
“It’s going to be tough. We feel like we owe them one since we let one slip away.”