The Sky needed a frontcourt player to step up with forward Jantel Lavender’s surgery on Wednesday expected to be season-ending.
Enter forward Astou Ndour, who finished with season-highs of 11 points and nine rebounds in the Sky’s 91-81 win against the Sparks on Friday.
This performance comes on the heels of her putting up seven points, seven rebounds and four blocks in a season-high 32 minutes in a loss against the Sparks on Sunday.
Ndour can’t replicate the experience and stability Lavender brings to the Sky. And she understands that.
Lavender, who was an All-Star in 2015 and Sixth Woman of the Year in 2016, is the only player who’s won an WNBA title on the Sky’s team. She’s often the leader who stabilizes the team on the court.
But what Ndour can bring is length and a presence above the rim on both ends of the floor, both which were present in her second start of the season.
“She’s long and can space the floor,” coach James Wade said after the game. “Being that long and being able to space the floor is pretty biunique in today’s game. She can get her hands on balls and play above the rim. That gives us a dimension we need.”
Ndour’s impact was felt early in the Sky’s victory. She grabbed two offensive rebounds and had two put-backs to help the Sky build their lead in the first quarter. Ndour’s finished the first half with eight points and seven rebounds.
She was disruptive defensively, finishing with one block and helping limit the Sparks’ frontcourt of Candace Parker and Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike to eight points on a combined 2-for-12 shooting from the field in the first half.
“She got a couple of put-backs where she’s the only one up there and everyone saw that,” Wade said. “If you can play above everybody else, that’s going to help us out a lot. It’s another dimension we had. Me being a rookie coach, we probably had it on the bench a little too much, but you live and learn.”
Ndour’s development is crucial for a Sky team looking to climb the standings.
The Sky (15-10) are tied with the Sparks for fourth in the playoff standings after the victory. They have matchups against two of the best teams in the league — the Aces and Mystics — in two of their next three games.
Both teams have a frontcourt star who Ndour will be expected to help slow down. Even though the Sky will miss Lavender, Ndour looks to make up for her absence by playing her game.
“I’m not going to take the role Jantel was doing,” Ndour said. “She’s important and she was helping the team a lot. I’m gonna be myself and just help the team.”