It had been 1,841 days since the Minnesota Lynx last played a game without two-time WNBA Finals Most Valuable Player Sylvia Fowles.
Fowles was a late scratch Wednesday when a calf issue flared up in pre-game warmups, causing her to miss the first game of her tenure with the Lynx dating back to her Minnesota debut on July 29, 2015. So without Fowles, the Lynx could’ve anticipated a struggle against the New York Liberty given the unfamiliar territory playing without one of the most dominant post players in WNBA history.
No one told Bridget Carleton.
Carleton, who entered Wednesday’s game having played a total of 39 minutes this season, rose to the occasion. Sliding into the small forward position as Napheesa Collier moved to power forward and Damiris Dantas took over at center, Carleton exploded for 25 points on 11-of-16 shooting to go with seven rebounds and three assists to lead the Lynx to a 92-66 victory over New York. The second-year player from Chatham, Ontario became just the third player in WNBA history to record 25-plus points and five-plus rebounds in her first career start, joining her teammate Collier and Candace Parker of the Los Angeles Sparks.
“I know this: I know that we thought Bridget Carleton was a good basketball player,” Lynx Head Coach and General Manager Cheryl Reeve said after the win. “We also talked to Bridget in the offseason about what she needed to do to be really good in the WNBA — for her to have chance to be good in the WNBA… How she came back into the market in great, great shape, and she had a great training camp. Those of us who’ve been here weren’t surprised that Bridget had the kind of game she had.”
Reeve added: “Obviously this was important timing for this game, because of having Syl out and Phee not being able to get it going. It was just a great opportunity for her and she seized the moment.”
Reeve notified Carleton that she would be in the starting lineup a mere 30 minutes before tipoff. The short notice helped the Canadian international stay in the moment during her first career start.
“Obviously, a little nerve-racking,” Carleton said of receiving the news. “I have confidence. My coaches, my teammates, they’ve all instilled confidence in me from day one whether I’m coming off the bench or whether I’m starting. I’m still going to be aggressive and play like I know I can play”
Carleton starred at Iowa State during her collegiate career, graduating as the Cyclones’ all-time leading scorer. Wednesday’s performance was a showcase of that same scoring prowess, scoring nine points in the first quarter alone.
“I definitely saw the opportunity and took the shots I know I can take. I took the shots Coach [Reeve] wants me to take,” Carleton said.
“The team set me up in good positions right from the jump.”