After a rough nineteen day stretch without a win, the Mystics squad that fans knew and loved was back in true form on Friday night. Two streaks were ended as Washington snapped it’s three game losing streak and stopped the momentum of the red-hot Fever. Coming into the Friday’s matchup, Indiana had won five straight behind 10-time WNBA All-Star starter Tamika Catchings and Marissa Coleman.
With the rough beginning to the month of July, the Mystics needed a change. Looking for a shift in momentum, Coach Mike Thibualt made key adjustments in practice throughout the week and extended those changes to the lineup. Thibault opted to start Natasha Cloud instead of the veteran Ivory Latta. The rookie guard did not disappoint, contributing five points, three assists, three rebounds and two steals in her first career start.
“Part of it was getting a bigger defender on the court to start the game. ‘Tash has length a lot of teams don’t have, can bother their guards,” Thibault said. “We just thought getting a bigger defender on the court at the start of the game would cause them some problems and it did.”
Despite falling behind by five early in the first quarter, Washington controlled the majority of the game. With just under two minutes remaining in the first quarter, the Mystics were down three and LaToya Sanders gave the crowd a preview of what was to come. On an assist from Emma Meesseman, Sanders made a quick jumper followed by dominant defense by Washington and a defensive rebound by Meesseman to prevent Indiana from retaliating. Tayler Hill followed up the quick succession of plays with a layup of her own and Sanders grabbed the steal from the Fever and drew the foul. Down by one, Sanders went to the line and made one to even the score. With twenty-two seconds remaining in the first quarter, the Fever attempted to hold the ball, but Tayler Hill would not acquiesce. Hill grabbed the steal and Bria Hartley threw up a layup in traffic just before the buzzer, sank it and drew the foul. Hartley made her and-one and the Mystics showed they were not going home without a fight, entering the second quarter in the lead. The Fever would not control the game once in the second half.
Both teams have struggled on the boards this season. The Mystics entered the contest at seventh in the league in rebounding average, with the Fever below at tenth. Coach Thibault has stressed the need for aggression on the boards to his team all season and predicted that it would be the difference in the game. His hypothesis proved correct as Washington claimed the victory with a 43-34 rebounding advantage.
“It’s always awesome to outrebound a team,” center Stefanie Dolson said. “That’s definitely one of our focuses every day in practice. So for us to go out and rebound the way we did…it was much needed.”
Missing from the stat sheet through the Mystics’ last three games was bench production. The story of the ‘Stics success early in the season was often attributed to the depth and strength of the roster. With every single active member of the roster contributing offensively, Washington simply overpowered the Fever. Leading the Mystics were Emma Meesseman and LaToya Sanders, who each finished with 14 points, a season high for Sanders. Meesseman tied her rebounding career high with 13 and in just her third game on the roster this season Sanders posted a double-double with ten rebounds. The former North Carolina standout was seemingly all over the floor adding five assists, two steals and two blocks as well.
“LaToya really showed why we wanted her after tonight” Coach Thibault said.
Teammate, Dolson sang Sanders’ praises as well. “For her to go out there and play that well shows that she fits into this team really well. Her rebounding, her skill set, just works really well with this team and we’re happy to have her. We’re just going to go up from here.”
While shooting 17.6% from beyond the arc, Washington shot 38.6% from the field overall, the best showing in four games. Though posting three more made three point baskets as a team, the Fever had double the turnovers committed by the Mystics which the ‘Stics were able to capitalize on—scoring twelve points off turnovers. Washington also made shots for one another, with 21 assists as a team, to Indiana’s 13.
“We’re leading the league in assists because we are unselfish,” Coach Thibault praised. “That’s a great trait in a team that has good feelings about each other. So hopefully we can build on it.”
Stefanie Dolson, a key consistent contributor of late, added 10 points and five boards. Tierra Ruffin-Pratt and Tayler Hill each added six points with three and two rebounds respectively as Washington moved up to third in the Eastern Conference. The Mystics will get just one day of rest before facing the Connecticut Sun Sunday at 7 pm at Verizon Center.
After her impressive showing, Sanders said it best. “We came out, we played well, we played together, we played with a sense of urgency, and we played team defense and team rebounding. I think that was a big contributor to why we won…. You know, we’ll go home and rest tonight and then we’ll regroup and focus on Connecticut tomorrow in practice.”