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Bridget Carleton comes out of her shell as shooting threat for Lynx

Kent Youngblood, Star Tribune on

Published in Basketball

There were times last winter when Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve would watch game tape of Bridget Carleton playing in the EuroLeague in Hungary and see Carleton come down in transition, not hesitating, and attempt a three-pointer. A contested three, perhaps, but a good one.

And she would think: "Why doesn't she do that here?"

Reeve would watch Carleton compete on the Canadian national team as an aggressive go-to player and wonder what happened to that player when Carleton put on a Lynx jersey.

News flash: that player has finally arrived.

Pushed into the starting lineup in the fourth game this season because of Diamond Miller's knee injury, part of a starting five that can stretch the floor better, perhaps, than any Lynx team Reeve has coached, Carleton is becoming the player Reeve spent the last few years seeking.

"I think coming into training camp, that was my mindset," Carleton said. "Wanting to average more than four points a game. The first couple games of the season, I wasn't shooting well, but I was shooting. Then, when I stepped into that starting role, I wanted to score."

There are certain things Carleton has always brought to the team. She's a great teammate who's unselfish — perhaps too unselfish at times. She works hard on the defensive end, especially within the team concept. She's good for key rebounds.

But too often she turned down open shots, passing the ball instead of shooting it.

Now she's scoring more, too.

Through 13 games this season, Carleton, 27, is averaging a career high in scoring (7.8), attempting 4.7 three-pointers per game and making 2.0, both numbers more than double her average in her first five years in the WNBA. She is shooting 42.6% on three-pointers, one of four Lynx players in the league's top 10 in that category.

And her numbers are improving. Carleton has scored nearly nine points a game as a starter and shot nearly 47% from three. During the Lynx's current three-game winning streak, she has scored 13.0 points per game, shot 58.3% overall from the field and made 11-of-18 three-point tries (61.1%).

Reeve said there was some thought about whether to bring Carleton, who was a free agent, back this season. She would likely return as a reserve but would command a salary approaching that of a starter. Would the aggressive play Reeve had seen overseas finally come to Minneapolis?

"We liked Bridget so much we believed and hoped it would happen," Reeve said. "It wasn't that we were sure it would happen. The messages were in, she had all the information. But it was, 'OK, let's give it a shot.' "

 

And now she's taking, and making, shots.

Carleton hit five of seven three-point tries in a victory at Las Vegas last Tuesday night.

Two nights earlier, playing a Seattle team that came to Target Center as the hottest in the WNBA, she scored 13 points on 5-for-10 shooting, making three of five three-point attempts.

There were a few moments that stood out in the win over the Storm. Late in the third quarter, with the Lynx clinging to a five-point lead, Carleton came in to score but had her shot blocked by Jordan Horston with 1.4 seconds left in the quarter. There was a lot of contact on the play. A foul probably could have been called.

But then Carleton worked herself free, got an inbounds pass from Olivia Époupa and scored at the buzzer. With 8 1/2 minutes left in the game, she fed Époupa for a basket. A minute later, Carleton's two-point jumper put the Lynx up nine. With four minutes left, Carleton's three-pointer put the Lynx up 11, essentially sealing the game.

Carleton said her confidence grew with more minutes as a starter. Determined not to defer, she is trying to be ready to shoot before the pass gets to her.

"That's the mindset," Carleton said. "It was: 'How can I help this offense besides just making the right cut, the right pass?' I wanted to take the next step."

Carleton is not the team's superstar. That's Napheesa Collier. She's not the team's most important three-point threat. That's Kayla McBride and, on some nights, Alanna Smith. But it's because of those other players are on the court with her that she's getting so many more good opportunities.

And taking them.

"I'm at a really good spot in my career," Carleton said. "Going overseas was really helpful, playing against the best players in Europe. I kind of found a new level of confidence with the national team."

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