August 6, 2020
Bridget Carleton’s career night highlights Lynx’s depth
Even without Sylvia Fowles, Minnesota improves to 4-1
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Minnesota Lynx forward Bridget Carleton recorded a career-high 25 points along with seven rebounds and three assists in Minnesota’s (4-1) 92-66 win over the New York Liberty (0-5) on Wednesday night. Photo credit: Minnesota Lynx Twitter account
The only thing Bridget Carleton struggled with Wednesday night was holding back a smile in her postgame Zoom availability with media members.
And she had plenty to smile about.
Carleton became the most recent Lynx player to shine when given the chance to do so on Wednesday when she recorded a career-high 25 points along with seven rebounds and three assists in Minnesota’s (4-1) 92-66 win over the New York Liberty (0-5).
Carleton, a second-year player, came into Wednesday’s game with 13 career points, seven rebounds, three assists and little time to prepare for her first career start.
“I found out like 30 minutes before the game,” Carleton said, that smile in full force. “Obviously a little nerve-wracking, but I have confidence and my coaches, my teammates all have had confidence in me from Day 1. Whether I’m coming off the bench, whether I’m starting, I’m still going to be aggressive and play how I know I can play. But yeah, it’s definitely nerve-wracking.”
However, her nerves weren’t apparent on the court.
Carleton was added to the Lynx’s starting lineup after center Sylvia Fowles was ruled a late scratch 30 minutes before tip-off due to a calf injury, and it didn’t take long for the small forward to find her rhythm against the Liberty.
Carleton went 4-for-5 from the field in the opening quarter, scoring nine of her team’s 20 first-quarter points as she curled off of ball screens, hit pull-ups and energized her team in transition.
“I don’t think that was necessarily the plan, to get me five shots right away,” Carleton said while laughing, “but it worked out that way and I took advantage of it.”
Fowles’ absence called for Damiris Dantas to move from starting power forward to starting center, which moved Collier to Dantas’ typical starting power forward role and presented an opportunity for Carleton at small forward.
Promoting Carleton to the starting lineup was an “easy” decision, according to Lynx head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve. She was impressed with what she saw from the Iowa State alum, who finished 11-for-16 from the field and a perfect 3-for-3 from 3-point range.
“Obviously this was important timing for this game because of having Syl out and Phee not being able to get it going,” Reeve said. “It was just a great opportunity for (Carleton), and she seized the moment.”
Collier and Dantas combined for 19 points on 6-for-13 shooting, but Minnesota’s offense was propelled by Carleton, Lexie Brown and Erica McCall who all provided the type of energy their team needed in Fowles’ absence.
“In pregame when we realized that Syl was going to be out, we were talking about this that whether it’s our team or other teams, it’s all about taking advantage of an opportunity,” Reeve said. “Things like this are going to happen. Someone could be in foul trouble. There could be an injury. Just staying ready. Wanting to be there for each other, picking each other up, this is what this group has done through most of training camp.”
Brown stuffed her stat sheet with 15 points, five rebounds, four assists and a franchise-record-tying seven steals in her first game back from concussion protocol. She gave a celebratory fist pump when acknowledging her seven steals but began smiling and nodding when asked to talk about Carelton’s achievements.
“It makes me so happy,” Brown said. “I’ve been in that position before. She had a really, really good training camp. I knew that she was going to help us so much this season. She has so many weapons offensively. She can rebound, she can handle the ball, make passes, knock down shots. Her number was called today, and she was ready.”
McCall recorded 10 points, three rebounds, two assists and two steals and increased her team’s third-quarter intensity in just her second game with the Lynx.
“Every time I see someone they’re like, ‘Congratulations,’ and I’m like, ‘Thanks. New day, new team,’” McCall said.
Yet, she’s quickly centered herself with her new squad.
“It’s just centering myself when I have quiet time,” McCall said. “It’s trying to remember where I’m at. Sometimes I have to remember I’m with this team and I’m like, ‘OK, I’m with this team, what does this team do?’ And also remembering the conversation I had with Coach Reeve before I even started playing was just giving me confidence in the player that I am.”
“I appreciated Erica who didn’t have training camp with us just goes in the game and plays hard, gets you extra possessions, does simple things, just competes,” Reeve said. “When you do that, good things happen to you. That’s what we saw with Erica today.”
Wednesday wasn’t the first time a Lynx player has risen to the occasion when her team faced adversity.
In the season-opener, rookie Crystal Dangerfield gave the Lynx a fourth-quarter spark that allowed the Lynx to pull away from the Connecticut Sun. Rachel Banham stepped up to add 13 points in the Lynx’s 83-81 win over the Chicago Sky in her team’s first game without Karima Christmas-Kelly (ruptured right Achilles Tendon). Dangerfield and Carleton both stepped up to provide the Lynx with valuable minutes when Fowles was in foul trouble in their second win against Connecticut.
And on Wednesday, Carleton, Brown and McCall kept the game from being remembered as the night the Lynx were without Fowles, the first time Minnesota has played a game without Fowles since July 22, 2015.
“We told Syl we had her back, and so it’s even more satisfying and gratifying to see us put that type of effort together for Syl,” Reeve said.
Reeve does not believe Fowles’ injury is severe but didn’t want to risk playing her star center on Wednesday.
“It’s more precaution,” Reeve said. “We have to see what happens tomorrow. I don’t believe it’s severe, but it’s one of those things you just simply can’t take a chance on.”
The Lynx have already felt the impact of Karima Christmas-Kelly, Brown (concussion protocol) and Shenise Johnson’s (hamstring) injuries this season and will lean on precaution as they attempt to navigate the physical challenges of a condensed schedule.
“This is only the second week and we’ve got stuff all over the place,” Reeve said. “Every team (has) the soft tissue injuries. It’s what I’m concerned about. So this is going to be ongoing. Who knows whose opportunity is going to be next.”
No player wants their opportunity to rise from a teammate’s injury, but the Lynx have created an environment in which players are instilled with confidence and set up for success when asked to step up for their team. That’s led them to a 4-1 start and could keep them atop the standings as the 2020 seven-week, regular season unfolds.
“Injuries are going to happen, and people are going to need to rest when they need to rest,” Carleton said. “So I knew I was going to get a chance to do what I can. Coming into this season, I was ready for that and taking advantage of any opportunity that I had. Throughout the first couple games, I instilled some confidence in Coach. She knew when I get out there I’m going to be consistent and do what I can do. So I think that’s what helped me get out today.”
“That’s what’s the best part of this team,” Brown said. “I think we have multiple players who can go for 25 any given night.”
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