Crystal Dangerfield was making her second-ever WNBA start Saturday against Connecticut. And, as the Lynx were falling behind by as many as 10 points in the second quarter, it wasn’t going well.
Dangerfield missed all three of her first-quarter shots, was 1-for-3 in the second. Of her three first-half three-point attempts, at least one found nothing but air.
The rookie, playing big minutes because of injuries on the point, was struggling.
At halftime coach Cheryl Reeve said: Keep shooting. Her teammates, in her ear: Keep shooting.
She kept shooting.
Down seven, the Lynx came back. With 6:40 left in the third, Dangerfield hit a three to pull the Lynx within one point. A minute later she hit another to tie the score at 51. Seconds after that she stole the ball and scored, putting the Lynx up two. In the closing seconds of the quarter she hit another three, putting the Lynx up 61-60 entering the fourth.
They would not trail again, eventually winning 78-69. Dangerfield scored 11 of her 17 points in the third quarter.
Afterward, Reeve said it was just another example of what you get when you draft a player from the Connecticut Huskies. In 2011, it was a rookie named Maya Moore, who led the team to four WNBA titles. Lynx fans saw that last year with Napheesa Collier. This year, Dangerfield.
“There is a maturity,” she said. “A temperament there that we saw with Phee. How she has a never-too-high, never-too-low way about her. Tough, relentless and coachable. Those things have helped her. She’s learning on the fly. There are so many things she doesn’t know. But she’s so competitive.”
There is a chance Lexie Brown could return from concussion protocol to play Wednesday. But Shenise Johnson will miss time because of a strained hamstring. That means Dangerfield, the only true point guard on the roster, drafted by the Lynx in the second round, will continue to play a lot.
There have been ups and downs, the two halves of Saturday’s game the latest example. As prepared as Dangerfield was, UConn doesn’t play a lot of pick and roll, a staple of the WNBA. So Dangerfield is learning. Playing for Geno Auriemma in college prepared her well for Reeve’s intense style, too. But her ability to take coaching is key. As is her realization that she has a lot to learn.
“It’s understanding that some things are just going to be trial-and-error until you figure it out,” she said. “Just coming in every day knowing things won’t be perfect. But it’s about getting better, it’s like 1 percent each day, that I focus on right now.”
Because she plays the point, Reeve said she has coached Dangerfield harder than she did Collier last year.
“She’s learning on the fly, and we need to be successful right away,” Reeve said. “Her ability to handle it, I would rate very high. Phee wasn’t afraid, [Dangerfield] has not been afraid. There are times when she makes bad decisions because she has so much to learn from the pro game.”
But, during that process, Dangerfield has been the spark for two come-from-behind victories. And she represents another second-round draft coup by Reeve, who took Jessica Shepard last year. Shepard was off to a very strong start before sustaining a season-ending injury.
For Dangerfield, learning the point during a compressed 22-game schedule is a challenge. And, as the games progress, she will find other teams scheming more to stop her.
“You have to adjust on the fly,” she said. “It’s [trial] by fire at this point.”