Inside the making of Courtney Vandersloot's WNBA assist record
'We know her wife ain't gonna let her down'
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PALMETTO, FL - AUGUST 31: The Chicago Sky congratulate Courtney Vandersloot #22 of the Chicago Sky after setting the record for most assists in a game in WNBA history against the Indiana Fever (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)
Courtney Vandersloot finished the half without batting an eye at her nine assists.
She dished out three more dimes in the third quarter and another two early in the fourth to bring her total to 14, but she had no idea how many assists she had — she only knew that the number was high.
It wasn’t until Vanderlsoot subbed out with less than three minutes left in the game and 16 assists on her stat sheet that she realized she had tied the WNBA assists record.
Vandersloot’s name had been all over that record page — she’d had 15 assists in a game three times before, once already this season — but it had never sat on top. That spot had belonged to WNBA Hall of Famer and seven-time assists leader Ticha Penicheiro since 1998.
But when Vandersloot sat down on the bench, a Sky assistant informed her that she was one assist away from making the record hers and hers alone.
Penicheiro’s reign would only last a few more minutes.
“This one feels good because I absolutely thought this record was untouchable,” Vandersloot said after the game. “Shout out to Ticha [Penicheiro] for setting this one, she set the bar very, very high.”
Penicheiro congratulated Vandersloot on Twitter after the Sky guard broke her record. The two players overlapped for one year in Chicago in 2012, Penicheiro’s last season in the league and Vandersloot’s second.
Vandersloot threw that record-setting assist to none other than her wife and teammate, Allie Quigley.
“Oh, it puts a little cherry on top, it's really special,” Vandersloot said “I know she was happy for me. She wanted to do that for me. It was initially for Ruthy [Hebard] but the backup plan was always Allie. You can always count on Allie to knock down some late shots so that one was special to see it go in and just to know how happy she was for me, even though she made the shot, that's special.”
Sky head coach and general manager James Wade didn’t know about the potential to tie or break the record until late in the game, but he had some plays in mind when he found out.
“The first play I called for Ruthy [Hebard],” Wade said after the game. “And then I said, ‘Hey Ruthy, if it doesn’t work we’re going to Allie [Quigley] because we know [Vandersloot’s] wife ain’t gonna let her down.’ So it was a play I called and it was actually pretty cool.”
Quigley hit another three in the last 30 seconds of the night to push Vandersloot’s record to 18. The Chicago bench erupted after each of those two threes and celebrated with each other on the sideline.
“You know, at the end of the day these records don’t really matter,” Vandersloot said. “It matters that we won the game. But they 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, and we’re just gonna keep moving forward and keep celebrating victories.”
Monday’s game was the culmination of what has been yet another unbelievable year from Vandersloot.
Vandersloot currently leads the league in assists per game at 9.3. The next closest player, Jordin Canada, is a world behind at 5.6 assists per game. If Vandersloot continues this pace, she’ll break her own league record for assists per game in a season.
“It’s special having someone like that and I don’t take it for granted because it makes me a better coach and it makes her teammates better as well,” Wade said.
With all the injuries this year and all the shortcomings on defense, Chicago has been able to lean on Vandersloot the whole way. The only time they can’t rely on Sloot is when she sits, which she may be doing less and less of as the Sky vye for a first round bye.
"I know if I cut, I know she’s going to see me,” Sky forward Gabby Williams said after the game. “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. And I don't want anybody else calling their point guard a point god because we have the one."
As Vandersloot continues to push the Sky forward, she has rightfully earned her place in the MVP conversation. And while she’s not one to speak on potential accolades, her teammates are more than happy to.
Sky add depth with Alisia Jenkins
Lost in the Sloot madness of the night was the Chicago Sky debut of Alisia Jenkins.
Jenkins played in the final two minutes of Monday’s game, but did not get on the stat sheet. The 6-foot-1 forward signed with the Sky Monday morning after getting released by the Indiana Fever on Friday, the same day the Sky traded Jantel Lavender to the Fever for Stephanie Mavunga.
Jenkins played at the University of South Florida from 2012 to 2016, finishing as the program's all-time leading rebounder and third all-time block leader. Before this season, she played overseas in Hungary, averaging 22.4 points and 12.3 rebounds per game in A-Division.
With Chicago losing forward Azurá Stevens to a season-ending knee injury and Wade not expecting guard Diamond DeShields to return to play this season, the Sky needed depth. And while DeShields’ talents will be sorely missed in the backcourt, the front court was a bigger priority.
The opportunity to play will be there for both Jenkins and Mavunga, especially if Wade wants to keep Williams out of the four spot. Whether either player will be impactful enough to spell Stefanie Dolson, Cheyenne Parker or the rising Ruthy Hebard for significant stretches of time is up for debate.
But Chicago has at least regained some end-of-the-bench minutes. And with five games left to jockey for playoff position, every one of those minutes will count.