by Greg Starks

This weekend, the Philadelphia Reign was once again matched up against the New Jersey Sting. With an undefeated record at the top of the WBDA, the Reign continued to show New Jersey why they earned that spot. Though the team was originally scheduled to play the Lake Erie Strive, they were able to make the proper adjustments to take down the Sting for the second time this season.

Kyra Ryan of the Sting looked to put her imprint on the game early, as she constantly drove down to the lane. As part of their usual attack, Philly looked to keep running in transition. The Reign are at their best when they are given fast break opportunities, which New Jersey tried to limit as part of their game plan.

The Reign began to zero in on Ryan, since she was the main focal point of the Sting’s offense. Once Philly shut her down, New Jersey’s offense began to stall. With about five minutes left in the first quarter, the Reign managed to score two consecutive baskets, which gave them a little cushion as they led the Sting 10-6. Philly’s shooters struggled to knock shots down from the perimeter, as New Jersey managed to deny any open three-point opportunities. It was clear that the Sting wanted to make Philly earn every basket they got.

The Sting had plenty of chances to get ahead in the game, but turnovers killed their momentum. Philly’s rebounding improved tremendously late in the first quarter, and their offense began to heat up. The Reign managed to advance their lead up to eight points at the end of the first, as they led the Sting 19-11.

The Reign pounced on New Jersey during the opening of the second. The Sting struggled to find their rhythm on offense, and the Reign looked to be in full control as they led by 12 points.

Philly’s shooters found their stroke from three-point line, and the game started to look bleak for New Jersey with the score at 30-15 and 8:19 left in the second quarter. With seven minutes left in the second, New Jersey began to fight their way back into the game, taking Philly’s 15-point lead and narrowing it down to a nine-point game.

Mercedes Walker of the Reign had to leave the game early in the second because of an apparent knee injury. This was a tough loss for the Reign.

“It’s looking like she maybe just tweaked her knee a little bit,” Davis-Cain explained at the time. “We’re gonna let her sit out the rest of the game. I’m confident enough that our team will pull it together without her, but hopefully she’ll be alright.”

“Injuries are a part of the basketball game,” Walker said. “I’m just hoping that the injury isn’t serious so I can get back on the court next week or the week after next. and to prepare for the playoffs and finish strong so I get ready to go back overseas.”

As the second quarter came to a close, the Reign had a 13-point lead going into halftime, leading the Sting 39-26.

“We still have an inside presence with Ayshia [Baker] and Lauren [Postell], so we’re gonna still go inside out like we’ve been doing.” said Davis-Cain about how her team was going to handle the second half without Walker. “Really what it came down to was that we just got out-hustled … It seemed like they wanted the ball more than us, and it showed. They were able to cut the lead, they played tougher defense and I think that was the difference.”

Three minutes into the third, it appeared that Philly’s shooters had gone cold from the perimeter. To make up for their cold start, Philly began to out-hustle New Jersey. The Reign had all the momentum, as they went back up by 15 points.

Philly started to play full-court press on New Jersey, and this forced the Sting into many turnovers. The score was 58-35, and it seemed early on that Philly was going to keep their undefeated streak alive.

Even though New Jersey’s outside shots weren’t falling, the Reign’s bigs also managed to score points in the paint without the presence of Walker. At the end of the third quarter, Philly lead the Sting 59-41.

Philly had secured a 20-point lead early in the fourth, and New Jersey’s morale seemed to be completely crushed. The Reign showed that they could still dominate a team even without one of their key players. Baker stepped up in a big way when Walker went out with the knee injury. She led the team in scoring with 22 points, and also had some huge blocks down the stretch.

Philly ultimately dominated New Jersey in the second half, cruising to an easy 86-53 victory. Though she was forced to sit out for more than half the game, Walker was happy to see that her teammates were still able to pull ahead without her.

“Even though my teammates are used to playing with me, just like I’m used to playing with them … you have to learn how to adapt,” Walker said. “That’s what it’s about. I’m not going to be able to play every game, but they’re going to have to play without me sometimes.”