With just over four minutes remaining in the Sky’s 100-77 victory Monday night, Courtney Vandersloot, possibly blindly, lofted a pass over the outstretched limbs of a feverish Indiana double-team, and toward the center of the court. As Vandersloot passes often do, the ball found the expectant arms of a rolling Cheyenne Parker, who finished a nifty right-handed floater through a foul. It was Vandersloot’s 15th assist of the night.
A place she’s been before.
Before Monday, three times in her 10-year WNBA career Vandersloot had logged 15 assists in a game — most recently in an Aug. 18 win over the Las Vegas Aces. In other words: Before Monday, three times in her 10-year career Vandersloot had finished one dime short of the WNBA single-game assist record: 16, a mark originally set by Ticha Penicheiro that has stood since 2002.
It didn’t take long for Vandersloot to ensure that wouldn’t be her fate once more. Assist No. 16 came on a dump-off to Ruthy Hebard with 03:21 left in the fourth, moving her level with Penicheiro. Vandersloot promptly checked out with 2:46 to play, the Sky up 17 and a Stefanie Dolson free throw pending. For the team, a much-needed victory to break a two-game slide was all but secured. And for Vandersloot, a record… Tied.
“I didn't know it was in reach until there was probably two minutes left in the game,” Vandersloot said of breaking the record. “They subbed me back in the game because we knew it was in reach. So I had a feeling that it was getting up there.”
Indeed, 50 game seconds later, Vandersloot was back on the floor captaining the Sky offense. Her first possession back ended in a traveling violation on a bungled pick-and-roll with Hebard. The next one ended with an Allie Quigley corner 3-pointer — aided by a sheetrock screen by Dolson, but officially assisted by Vandersloot.
A spousal connection, and a new WNBA record. In feel-good fashion.
“It puts a little cherry on top,” Vandersloot said of her record-breaking 17th assist going to her wife, Quigley. “It's really special, I know she was happy for me, she wanted to do that for me… You can always count on Allie to knock down some late shots.”
And you can certainly count on the Sky bench to provide raucous support, especially for their selfless leader. As soon as Quigley’s jumper tickled twine, those on the sideline exploded into celebratory cheers for Vandersloot — an eruption made even more audible by the fan-less environment in which the WNBA is playing out its 2020 season.
“It's not about the record, it's who I'm doing it with,” Vandersloot said afterwards. “And to see them celebrating, yelling my name, hugs after. At the end of the day, these records don't really matter. It matters that we won the game. But [records do matter] when you see your team that happy for you. So, it is really special for me to be able to do it with this group.”
With just over 20 seconds left in regulation, Quigley added another longball off a pass from Vandersloot, bringing the latter’s assist total for the game to 18. They were the first to embrace when the final buzzer sounded, quickly followed by a team-wide mob of Vandersloot.
“This one feels good because I absolutely thought this record was untouchable,” Vandersloot said. “Shoutout to Ticha for setting this one, she set the bar very very high. I don't think this one's going to be touched very often. It's tough to get 16 assists in a game, so this one is very special.”
And, in typical Vandersloot fashion, she added: “My teammates were knocking down shots, and they were just as happy as I was. It makes it so much more enjoyable for me out there.”
“She's so special. To have a point guard you know you can count on, and you know she's going to be there for you. I think it's really special, especially someone that plays so selfless and finds enjoyment from her teammates getting baskets and putting them in good situations to score,” head coach James Wade said of Vandersloot. “I don't take it for granted, because it makes me a better coach and it makes her teammates better as well.”
Vandersloot is now averaging 9.3 assists per game in 2020, putting her well on pace to lead the W in that category for the fourth straight season. In fact, if she holds that average, she’d be only the second player in WNBA history to average 9.0 assists per game over a full season, joining… Courtney Vandersloot, 2019 (9.1). That year, she shattered the league’s season-long total assist record (with 300, flat) that she had previously set in 2018 (258). If not for the WNBA season being shortened to 22 games by the COVID-19 pandemic, she undoubtedly would have topped herself again.
What’s more, she’s the engine of W’s second-most efficient offense (scoring 106.6 points per 100 possessions) behind only the juggernaut Seattle Storm and scoring at the highest clip of her career (13.2 points per game), draining 2s, 3s and free throws to the tune of an elite 58.9 true shooting percentage while maintaining a league-leading 4.16 assist-to-turnover ratio. She plays with the ball on a string and has every pass imaginable — from the fundamental to artistic — in her arsenal. A maestro in every context, from sprinting out on the break, to surgically slicing double-teams, to no-look cutter-finds and beyond.
“Just the way that she reads the floor,” Gabby Williams, who notched a season-high 21 points, said after the game. “I know if I cut, I know she's going to see me. I know if I run the floor, I know she's going to see me. And I think she's the only point guard in the country that you can say that about.
“I don't want anybody else calling their point guard a Point God, because we have the one.”
But why stop there? Vandersloot’s career year has her smack in the thick of the MVP conversation, along with the Aces’ A’ja Wilson, the Storm’s Breanna Stewart and the Connecticut Sun’s DeWanna Bonner.
Again, you can count on Vandersloot’s teammates for unwavering support:
“Courtney is the MVP,” Kahleah Copper matter-of-factly added after the game.
Penicheiro, whose record Vandersloot broke, chimed in to congratulate here as well.
The Sky now forge ahead at 11-6, fifth in the W, and with continued aspirations of grandeur. Just 2.5 games separate the top five seeds in the standings as of this writing, and the Sky’s five-game stretch run will feature matchups with two of the clubs in front of them, the Minnesota Lynx (11-5) and Los Angeles Sparks (12-4).
Fresh off a two-game losing streak that saw Diamond DeShields and Azurá Stevens exit the bubble, both for the year, and an emotionally taxing 48-hour period wherein WNBA teams took games off as another Black man, Jacob Blake, was shot by police, the bounceback 23-point victory over the Fever, and Vandersloot’s record night, could prove a welcome boost.
“It just was a really good giddy-up for us. I think we really needed this one, because just coming off the last game (an 88-74 loss to the Storm) and coming off our energy and just how we felt mentally and physically,” Copper said. “This is big for us going forward.”
“We were just looking to get our mojo back,” Vandersloot said.