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Good, bad of the bubble: Courtney Vandersloot, Briann January look back at ‘unique’ WNBA season

UPDATED: Thu., Oct. 8, 2020

By Dave Trimmer For The Spokesman-Review

The Bubble.

Sounds comfortable and cozy – relaxing, even – during these difficult times.

Courtney Vandersloot and Briann January definitely felt safe and secure in the WNBA bubble. But comfortable and cozy? Not so much.

And it definitely was not relaxing.

“It had its good days and bad days,” Vandersloot said of her stay in Bradenton, Florida, where the WNBA played an abbreviated 22-game regular season, and later playoffs, during the coronavirus pandemic. “(They) did a good job. I felt safe, taken care of.”

But the compressed schedule didn’t leave much time to escape the grind of basketball. The regular season began July 25 and ended six weeks later.

“Being there, playing every other day, takes toil on you physically, mentally, emotionally,” the former Gonzaga star said. “I was grateful to be playing, having a season. Not having to travel was a nice little perk. It was a unique experience I hope never to have to experience again.”

The season ended Tuesday night with the Seattle Storm sweeping the Las Vegas Aces in the best-of-five finals. Those teams tied for the regular-season title with 18-4 records.

Vandersloot’s Chicago Sky went 12-10 and January’s Connecticut Sun 10-12 before the seventh-seeded Sun eliminated the sixth-seeded Sky in a one-game opening round playoff game.

The Sun went on to beat the third-seeded Los Angeles Sparks in a one-game second round before falling to the top-seeded Aces in the final game of the best-of-five semifinals.

“I was one of the skeptical people heading into it,” said January, who starred at Lewis and Clark High School and Arizona State. “It was hard to see this working, with how COVID was. Especially being in Florida, workers coming from off-site. They did a great job. Everyone masked up, everything was sanitized. There were a couple of false negatives, but I felt safe all the time.”

January voiced her doubts in an April interview, before she was infected and missed the first month of the season.

“I was one of people with all the bad symptoms,” she said. “Cold, chills, headaches. I lost my sense of taste and sense of smell. Congestion. I had it bad a solid week. The whole process of testing again … I was a month late getting into the bubble.”

Even missing nine games, basketball in the bubble took its toll.

“Bubble life was simple, there wasn’t much to do,” January said. “It was pretty intense. You were either preparing to play or resting and recovering. It never seemed to end.”

Vandersloot thrived in the bubble, helped by the fact she had her teammate and wife, Allie Quigley, with her.

“It was an advantage,” she said. “Very few had family with them, a few with young kids. … We lived a somewhat normal life.”

Chicago started well behind Vandersloot but faded down the stretch because of injuries. Vandersloot became the first WNBA player to average 10 assists a game (220 in the 22 games) and set the single-game record with 18 late in the season, breaking the record of 16 on a basket by Quigley.

Vandersloot, who was named first-team All-WNBA for the second consecutive season, admitted enjoying the moment. Quigley on the end of her record-breaking pass made it special and it was a win, but she didn’t dwell on it.

“My main focus is winning, what we can do, what I can do to make this team go further in playoffs,” Vandersloot said. “That’s still fresh on my mind. Individual awards, I don’t focus on that and even then I was sure Sue Bird (16 assists in the first game of the finals for the Seattle star) was going to beat that the other night. I said, ‘Well, that didn’t last long.’

“I’m proud of the accomplishment, but I haven’t had time to enjoy it.”

Vandersloot and Quigley left Friday to play the winter in Russia.

Connecticut lost its first five games with only two main players back from the team that fell to the Washington Mystics in the 2019 finals.

It took awhile for all the new pieces to come together.

But DeWanna Bonner, a 10-year veteran, was an All-WNBA choice, January got healthy and 12-year veteran Essence Carson was a late addition.

January returned to Hungary for a second season on Wednesday.

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