KANSAS CITY, Kansas – From good to bad, to ick to ‘OK that’s what we’re talking about,’ the Midwest Reign basketball team ran the gamut of performance levels in its first weekend of play during this inaugural season of Women’s Minor League Basketball Association (WMLBA) play.
Saturday, the host Reign saw a solid start melt away to a 101-76 defeat to the visiting Tennessee Storm and then 24 hours later witnessed a less than memorable first three quarters give way to a gut-check last dozen minutes that showed their heart and resilience.
The Reign (0-2) fell to the Storm (4-0) 102-92 on Sunday in the second of two games played at Kansas City Kansas Community College (KCKCC), but not before making a statement that their pride will not be denied.
On Sunday, the Storm’s Brianna Mitchel led all scorers with 31 points while teammates Shonice Sprouse added 16 points, Aaliyah Whiteside 14 points and Keona James pitched in 12 points in the win.
Leading the way for the Reign were Leah Smith (23 points), Jasmine Thompson (17 points), Raven Garry (15 points) and Tasha Johnson (12 points).
The Reign rallied from 30 down to pull within a few possessions late in the game, but with enough time to still execute a famous comeback.
“That is something we can build off of and take off and use it for a fundamental push for the next practice,” Midwest Reign owner and head coach Jeff Graves said. “(The big deficit) was caused by conditioning and (not being in shape) leads to a lack of thinking the game and I think we will be alright once we get past that point.
“What we have to grow on is the fundamentals and the team’s basketball IQ and team chemistry.”
The Reign head on the road next weekend with two games in San Antonio against the host San Antonio Troopers Friday (7 p.m.) and Saturday at 7 p.m. against the Houston Galaxy.
In the first meeting between the two teams, Tennessee got 31 points from Sprouse, 18 more from Whiteside, James contributed 14 points and 14 more points from Ami McNear.
Thompson had 29 points, Reece Walker poured in 20 points and Smith added 15 points.
“The trip itself, up here, was OK,” Storm head coach Tiffany Porter said. “The weather was great and these are great facilities. (The Reign) is a hard-nosed and scrappy. (Saturday) we started out a little slow and ended pretty good and (Sunday) we came out up and ended kind of slow. For the most part, they competed and I am proud of them.”
Porter knows that the outside game, that came up big, made the difference these two contests.
“My team is an outside shooting team,” Porter said. “I like to play the inside-outside game, but when my shooters are on, they’re on. I tell them all the time, if the shot is not working, drive that ball as much as you can and try to get to the free throw line. (The Reign) was doubling and tripling on our bigs so that gave us a lot of room and confidence to get that shot up and make it.”
The Storm have two games next weekend at the Carolina Stars, a team they swept last weekend back at home.
The Storm staked its way to a 18-13 lead with three minutes left in the first quarter behind four, 3-point bombs from deep, but otherwise the teams were locked up in an early duel.
That was until a late 11-3 run by the Storm catapulted them into a 29-16 edge after 10 minutes.
The Reign got things back in order over the next 3-plus minutes to cut the lead to 33-28 thanks to some silky offensive sets and a renewed sense of defensive purpose.
The Storm’s prowess from the money line helped push them quickly back up 44-28 just two minutes later, with three big bombs paving the way for a bigger push.
Tennessee led 55-34 going into the break thanks to nine three-pointers, four by Mitchell.
The Storm outscored the Reign 27-12 from beyond the arc in the first 20 minutes.
Tennessee built the lead to 30 points late in the third quarter, but the Reign battled back to within 91-80 with just over three minutes left on a
Jasmine Thompson layup following a Storm turnover.
Ultimately, the Reign pulled within seven with 90 seconds left before the Storm finally put a cap on the win with some late free throws and an ability to possess the rock while the hosts scrambled to stay in contention.