The WNBA season continues and as the league starts to change with players returning from European competition, teams are starting to strengthen. Teams are beginning to make difficult decisions on the roster, and in this week’s WNBA Buckeye Report, a former Ohio State star is impacted directly.
Guard Kelsey Mitchell, and the Indiana Fever, had two games in the third week of the season. After a rough week two where the former Scarlet & Gray All-American had two five-point performances, Mitchell returned to her true form.
On May 22, Mitchell and the Fever narrowly lost to the defending WNBA Champions, the Chicago Sky, in a 95-90 defeat. It wasn’t because of Mitchell who scored 25 points and added two rebounds, two assists and two steals.
In the game, Mitchell hit 56.3% from the floor and helped the Fever recover from a tough nine-point deficit in the first four minutes of the game. Mitchell had a steal and layup, followed by a charge to the basket on the Fever’s next points of the quarter, earning a foul in the process.
Mitchell led the everyone on the court with 15 points in the second half but came up short. The next day, Indiana relieved head coach Marianne Stanley from her position. Stanley was in the final year of a three-year contract, where the Fever held a record of 14-49. This year was always bound to be a challenge with a team full of rookies, but the Fever felt leadership needed a change like the roster received in the offseason.
Assistant coach Carlos Knox moves into the head coaching role, with an interim tag. On Sunday, Indiana hired Gary Kloppenburg, former Fever assistant coach and 2020 WNBA Champion when he coached the Seattle Storm.
Friday, May 27, the Fever responded to the change in leadership with a five-point victory over the Los Angeles Sparks. Mitchell had a strong night with 22 points, three assists, two rebounds and two steals.
Mitchell’s week was strong enough to earn the guard her first WNBA Player of the Week honor since joining the league in 2018. The WNBA gives two Player of the Week honors each week, one for both the Eastern and Western Conferences.
In Seattle, the Storm received good and bad news on the injury front. Superstar forward Breanna Stewart returned from Health and Safety Protocols, but three players were added to the injury report. Seattle had three forwards/centers on the report in week 3: Mercedes Russell, Ezi Magbegor and Stephanie Talbot. Plus, Sue Bird didn’t play for illness reasons too.
That opened the door for forward Jantel Lavender to return to the starting lineup for a two-match home series against the New York Liberty. Lavender took advantage of the minutes for her two best games of the early season.
May 27, Lavender played nearly 30 minutes after playing over 20 minutes only once in the six games prior. Seattle won 79-71, with Lavender scoring eight points and adding nine rebounds. Two days later, Lavender bettered her best. In a 92-61 blowout victory for Seattle, Lavender had a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds. It’s Lavender’s first double-double since July 7, 2019, when she played for the Chicago Sky.
Ohio State transfer Kierstan Bell and the Las Vegas Aces played two games, but Bell saw the floor in only one. Bell hasn’t put herself into a position where the Aces are putting her into high-stakes game moments, but thanks to a blowout victory, Bell had the best game of her rookie campaign.
The Alliance, Ohio native played 11:01 minutes against the Los Angeles Sparks on May 23 because Las Vegas won 104-76. In the lopsided affair, Bell had 12 points, 10 more than her season total. Bell also had two rebounds. In the Aces second game of the week, against the Chicago Sky, Bell didn’t receive any minutes in Las Vegas’ 83-76 win.
Down under, 2022 Ohio State graduate Tanaya Beacham and the South Coast Phoenix won their first game since Beacham joined in April. Against the RedCity Roar, Beacham had her second double-double in seven games in Australia, scoring 18 and rebounding 12 with six offensive and defensive boards.