Coming off a tough 71-68 loss Sunday on the road to the Chicago Sky, the 11-7 Washington Mystics look to resume their winning ways and extend their home streak to four games. The hurdle facing the Mystics are the 6-14 San Antonio Stars, a team still searching for its first road win of the season and one Washington defeated handily (88-53) just last Friday. The Mystics’ post was crucial to the team’s victory with Kia Vaughn, Stefanie Dolson and Emma Meesseman leading the team in scoring with 15, 14 and 12 points respectively. The bigs’ dominant presence in the paint was also manifested in the rebounding disparity, with the Mystics claiming a 42-25 advantage on the boards. With the depth in the post, Washington was able to inadvertently create size in matchups and will look to employ a similar strategy in the teams second meeting in five days.
“We didn’t actively go out and seek to create mismatches as much as they gave us the opportunity sometimes in how they guarded us. We’ll probably try to do the same things early in the game that we did there and see if they’ve made adjustments,” Coach Mike Thibault said. “I think we could see a little more zone, which we were prepared for down there. So, I don’t think we need to change our game plan at all, I just think we need to recognize what they do from an adjustment point.”
The key to emerging victorious in the mid-week matchup will be for the ‘Stics to execute at the level that has led to their success throughout the season. Washington failed to play off the strengths that have made the team great in the loss to the Sky Sunday. The Mystics squad that dominated in Friday’s matchup with the Stars appeared temporarily in the second and third quarter of the game at Chicago, but disappeared in the fourth quarter along with the ‘Stics lead.
Three things led to Washington’s victory in San Antonio and the loss at Chicago: rebounds, assists and shooting. In Friday’s game, the ‘Stics grabbed 42 rebounds to the Stars’ 25, a huge deficit for San Antonio to recover. In Sunday’s game, Chicago, averaging the third most rebounds per game in the league, grabbed the advantage on the boards 42-38. In order to top the Stars again, the ‘Stics need to regain their aggression on the boards.
“That’s kind of self-starter stuff as players. Rebounding is a skill but it’s also an effort thing, I think its how focused and energetic you are and how you play through it,” Thibault said. “The one thing I might do is sub a little bit more to keep people fresher and maybe not play as many long minutes.”
While rebounding has been a hot and cold topic throughout the season, the biggest and most consistent strength of the Mystics’ squad has been the style of unselfish play demonstrated by their league-leading 18.9 assists per game. In the victory, Washington doubled San Antonio’s 15 assists, posting 30 as a team on 36 made shots—a remarkable percentage. Yet the Sky out-assisted the team 19-17 as the Mystics’ faltered.
“It’s a huge thing. Our team prides itself on that. They check the stats on that with the league,” Thibault said. “It creates great camaraderie on a team.”
Also suffering on the stat sheet in Sunday’s loss was Washington’s field goal percentage. Having outshot the opponent in all of their five straight wins, the Mystics had their worst offensive appearance since July 2ncd at Chicago, after having their best, shooting 57%, just two nights earlier in San Antonio. Washington will look to heat up once again and reestablish their dominant offensive mentality.
Although suffering the close loss at Chicago was difficult, the Mystics can find solace that they continued to handle the ball well. Washington has averaged a league-low 8.7 turnovers since the mid-season hiatus. If the team can continue to protect the ball, the Mystics will quickly return to their winning ways.
The Stars will look to Kayla McBride to snap their 0-9 record on the road. McBride is averaging 14.7 points per game for San Antonio, good for 12th in the league. Added to the Western Conference’s All-Star squad as an injury replacement, she joined teammate Danielle Robinson, who is posting 5.1 assists per game, third most in the WNBA. Fans can expect Robison and McBride to be heavily involved in all offensive movements and center Jayne Appel to be a large defensive presence. With the third best block average in the league at 1.73, Appel also adds 5.3 rebounds a game for the Stars. Veteran Jia Perkins has been an inconsistent contributor offensively, posting three 20+ point games, yet in three outings adding just four points a game.
Washington will once again be without guard Kara Lawson, sidelined with an injury. With a win Wednesday, the ‘Stics would claim a season series win versus the Stars as the teams will not face each other again during the regular season. Washington will next travel to Connecticut to take on the 9-9 Sun Friday at 7 pm.