In a season highlighted by breakthrough individual performances, the depth of the Mystics’ roster has been instrumental in leading Washington to a 6-3 start. Seemingly every game a different Mystics player gets hot and Sunday afternoon’s matchup with the Chicago Sky was no exception. In a dominant 86-71 home victory against the now 5-4 Sky, the ‘Stics triumphed to overcome the WNBA’s early favorite for the MVP honor, Chicago’s Elena Delle Donne.
But the story of the night was not Delle Donne’s performance, although the Sky’s leading scorer did post a game-high 26 points, remarkable since often faced with the double team. Rather, career performances from Stefanie Dolson and Tayler Hill were the sparks Washington needed to take down the offensive powerhouse of Chicago, currently leading the league in average points per game.
Center Stefanie Dolson posted both a career high nineteen points, as well as a season high five assists. Dolson shot 53.8% from the field and capitalized on being sent to the line, making five of her six free throws.
“[Stef]’s rebounding the ball, making better decisions with passes. She’s slowed herself down,” Coach Mike Thibault said. “I always think of it as when a quarterback comes into the NFL, the first year, the game needs to slow down before they can improve. And I think that’s what’s happened for her.”
Having shown flashes of her notable shooting ability through the first eight games, Tayler Hill posted her best numbers thus far this season, tying her career high 16 points in an outing. Hill went 4 for 5 from beyond the arc, shooting 75% overall. Hill also contributed four boards, good for a season high as well, but is not solely an offensive weapon.
“Obviously she made shots tonight, but I thought her body language, the last couple days, is really good,” Thibault said. “In practice the other day her team was struggling, and I thought she got them to fight through it a little bit. And that’s a good leadership role for somebody coming off the bench.”
Another team leader, guard Ivory Latta was not to be outshined, posting 16 points, five assists and four rebounds. Her performance took off in the third quarter and allowed the Mystics to pull away, outscoring the Sky 23-14 in the period. Latta contributed three three-pointers in the third quarter alone, ending the game with five.
“It was a big win. They’ve got Della Donne who’s definitely a great player,” Latta said. “We went out there, we played together, we shared the ball very well. I think he said we had 24 assists, it’s a great thing. A lot of players just making big plays.”
Elena Delle Donne may be the early favorite for the WNBA MVP honor, but Emma Meesseman proved she deserves equal consideration as the Delaware grad. Delle Donne and Meesseman went point for point through the first three quarters—often guarding one another—finishing with 26 and 20 points respectively. Meesseman was fortunate to be backed up by Washington’s deep roster, with three other ‘Stics contributing more than 15 points a piece while the Sky had only Delle Donne. The two forwards were evenly matched across much of the stat sheet, each posting a block and Delle Donne barely out assisting Meesseman. Despite scoring less points, Meesseman outshot the two-time All-Star selection by almost twenty percent.
“I’ve been touting Emma’s horn now all season. I think she’s an All-Star,” Thibault said. “It would be a pretty good All-Star game to see her and Della Donne playing together…. [Emma] is a weapon that is pretty sensational for us right now.”
Washington, a team that has struggled both on the boards and offensively, out-rebounded Chicago 37-24. The rebounding disparity led to twelve second-chance and nine fast-break points for the Mystics. The Mystics also posted the team’s second highest field goal percentage of the season, 50%, outshooting the Sky by over two percent. Ultimately, the ‘Stics dominance from beyond the arc determined the outcome of the game. Chicago did not make a three, despite attempting eight, and Washington shot a season high 52.6% from downtown, making ten.
“We’re really hard to guard…because all 12 of us can score,” Hill said. “[Coach Thibault] can play any rotation, any combinations, we can get the job done. That makes us a hard team.”
After two tough losses at home, the Mystics came into Sunday determined to once again protect their home court. Currently sitting at second in the Eastern Conference rankings, Washington faces a three-week span of conference play. Thursday the Mystics will travel to Indianapolis to take on the 3-6 Fever at 7 pm. The Fever will face the threat of the deep Washington roster, where anyone can heat up at any moment.