Bridget Carleton found out a half hour before the Lynx’s game with New York on Wednesday night that she was going to get her first WNBA start.
To be honest, she said, that was probably best. If she’d had a whole day to think about it? Well, you know, nerves.
Starting center Sylvia Fowles warmed up, then came up with a sore calf. It’s not considered serious, but coach Cheryl Reeve wasn’t going to take a chance. So she decided to give Carleton the start, deciding to go small.
And the 6-1 Carleton came up big.
Her line: 25 points, 11-for-16 shooting, seven rebounds, three assists and a steal in the Lynx’s 92-66 blowout of the winless Liberty.
his from a second-year player still trying to find he way, who had never scored more than eight points as a pro before. Carleton came to the Lynx late last season. Reeve liked what she saw, and brought her back. The former Iowa State star and native of Canada had a great camp. Wednesday she had a historic night — according to the league, she is the third WNBA player in 20 years to have at least 25 points and five rebounds in her first career start, joining Sparks star Candace Parker in 2008 and Lynx teammate Napheesa Collier last year.
“I didn’t have time to think about it,” Carleton said. “But the confidence this team has given me, they’re all so supportive. I took the shots the coach wanted me to take. I was able to hit a couple of those, got rolling a little bit there.”
But she wasn’t alone on a night when Fowles missed her first game since joining the Lynx midway through the 2015 season. If there has been a constant as the Lynx have opened the condensed, 22-game season at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., it has been their ability to adapt to change. The Lynx have been without guards Shenise Johnson and Lexie Brown because of injuries. Wednesday it was Fowles.
But the Lynx (4-1) keep rolling. Brown returned after missing two games while in concussion protocol and played a monster game of her own: 15 points, five rebounds, four assists. She also set the franchise record — according to Reeve — with 11 deflections and tied the franchise mark with seven steals. She was proudest of those steals: “Coach always tells me to be careful with my gambles. I’ve been able to pick and choose when I want to go for steals.”
Crystal Dangerfield scored 12. Erica McCall, in her second game with the team, came off the bench and scored 10 as did Damiris Dantas. The Lynx were able to blow out a team without Fowles and without Collier leading the way.
That’s a good sign. But the entire game wasn’t as easy at the final score indicated. Without Fowles in the paint, the Liberty (0-5) scored 18 points there while taking a 22-20 lead after a quarter. The Liberty was still within five at the half, thanks to 55% shooting.
That all changed in the second half. In a 27-6 third quarter, the Lynx held New York to 2-for-16 shooting while taking over. Carleton had seven points, but seven Lynx players scored in the quarter, which ended with their team up 26 points.
Carleton scored nine in the first quarter, 11 by half, seven in the third and seven in the fourth.
“She went out and killed,” McCall said.
And that had everybody feeling good. “When great things happen to someone who’s as great a person as Bridget is?” Reeve said. “Unselfish, she’ll do anything for you. We told Syl, ‘We have your back.’ It’s even more satisfying, gratifying to see us put that type of effort together for Syl, and obviously, seeing Bridget having a monster game.”
The Star Tribune will not be traveling to Florida for MLS, NBA and WNBA coverage. This article was written using the television broadcast and video interviews before and/or after the game.