Forward Astou Ndour knew she wasn’t going to be able to fill the void left by Jantel Lavender. But the 6-5 Spanish-Senegalese basketball player has made great strides in her first two weeks starting in place of the injured power forward.
Building off a strong showing (13 points, seven rebounds, three assists) in the Sky’s big victory against the Mystics on Friday, Ndour continued to show improvements in the Sky’s 94-86 victory against the Mercury on Sunday in Phoenix. She scored 13 points and matched a career-high 10 rebounds, which was her second double-double of the season.
Ndour has played so well lately that coach James Wade recently questioned his decision not to utilize her more earlier this season.
“She’s been playing at a very high level,” Wade told the Sun-Times in a phone interview after the win. “She’s been giving us what we need from her, you know, being a defensive presence, being another floor spacer, being hard to play against and giving us another dimension as far as length is concerned.”
Ndour, who has scored 11 or more points in four of her six starts this season, has helped shore up the Sky’s frontcourt. Along with being a solid shooter, she helped the Sky dominate the glass as the team outrebounded the Mercury 47-34.
Ndour and center Stefanie Dolson (eight points) did struggle to stop All-Star center Brittney Griner, who scored a season-high 34 points.
“She’s an All-World player for a reason,” Wade said of Griner, whom he coached in Russia last offseason. “We did our best to throw bodies at her. It worked out in our favor that nobody else was able to get off.”
Though Ndour has been playing better each game, Lavender’s absence still is felt.
Lavender, who averaged 10 points and a team-high 6.9 rebounds before she had surgery on her foot earlier this month, played an integral part in the Sky’s upswing this season. She helped change the culture and has become a leader in the locker room and team huddles.
However, Wade said Lavender has kept her spirits high and has continued to be a voice of reason with her teammates.
“When I’m hard on them, she’s there to pick them up, which is pretty cool,” Wade said. “And she has experience so she sees what the coaches see, and she also sees it from the player’s point of view. So she’s there for them to pick them up at all times.”
Lavender, who has played in the WNBA for the last nine seasons, also has become a mentor to Ndour, who just turned 25.
“When you’re playing and subbing in for people and this and that, you talk to them but it’s not in the same way,” Wade said. “Now she has time to really sit down and talk to her. So I think it’s an added bonus to have her mentoring Astou on the sidelines while the game is going on and even in practice.”
Allie Quigley led the Sky with 24 points.