It was a tale of four quarters Wednesday night at Verizon Center, as the Washington Mystics battled the San Antonio Stars. And battle they did. The Mystics held off the Stars in the final quarter to clinch their fourth straight home win and maintain their position at second in the Eastern Conference.
But, the Stars did not go down easily. Washington came out hot in the first quarter, led by Ivory Latta who was perfect from beyond the arc and 3 for 4 overall from the field. Coach Mike Thibault opted to leave his starting lineup in until the last two seconds of the first, unwilling to waste a timeout due to infrequent fouls or whistles interrupting play.
While the Mystics had the 21-17 advantage after the first, San Antonio claimed the second quarter, outscoring Washington 21-6. The Mystics were 2 for 16 in the quarter and committed seven turnovers, more than the team committed in the entirety of its last outing.
Although still not executing the style of play that has highlighted most of the team’s 12 wins this season, Washington gutted out the 25-11 advantage in the third quarter. Ivory Latta was the beacon of hope throughout the game, adding 19 points by the end of the third.
“Coach called my number a few times and to hear my teammates say ‘I, lead us, lead us to victory, it felt really good,” said Latta.
Thibault rewarded the veteran guard who finished the game leading the ‘Stics in minutes as well as points. Fellow guard Tayler Hill had a strong third quarter as well, posting six of her nine points, a crucial steal and an assist in the frame.
Hill also began the fourth quarter on a high note. The guard grabbed another steal and drew the foul on her fast break. She maximized her trip to the charity stripe and made both, extending the Mystics lead to seven. Coach Thibault opted to utilize his Hill, Kia Vaughn, Bria Hartley, LaToya Sanders and Latta lineup from the second quarter for much of the fourth as well. The squad pulled through, matching the Stars’ late push to go 14-14 with San Antonio in the quarter.
“I tried to put in a group that would at least get a bunch of defensive stops and put in some more quickness that would attack and luckily those two things worked for us, and Ivory obviously made huge shots and Tayler got herself to the line and made some big plays,” said Thibault.
Yet, the final quarter was not without drama. After having possession of a six point lead with under a minute and a half to go, Washington gave up a jumper and a three pointer to allow the Stars to pull within one with 44 seconds to go. Yet, luck was in the Mystics’ favor. San Antonio was in possession of the ball with seven seconds remaining when Stars’ guard Jia Perkins accidentally stepped out of bounds—thus committing a turnover.
With Washington now in possession, San Antonio guard Danielle Robinson fouled Latta. Latta made both free throws to give the Mystics a three-point lead with six seconds to play. After a foul by Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, the Stars had four seconds to attempt a three to tie the game. San Antonio got the ball into the hands of their leading scorer Perkins, but her shot at the buzzer was no good. Although not the best basketball of their season, the Mystics clinched their fourth straight home win.
Washington did top the Stars on the boards, a statistic with which the ‘Stics have struggled throughout the season. The Mystics’ 38 rebounds were due in large part to center Kia Vaughn and forward LaToya Sanders who added 10 and eight boards respectively. Sanders and Vaughn combined for five of the teams’ eight blocks as well.
Where the Mystics faltered the most has been their greatest strength throughout the rest of the season. Leading the league in assists per game coming into the contest, Washington had only nine assists on the team’s 21 made shots and was out-assisted by the Stars. The Mystics will have less than 48 hours to fine-tune and reestablish their style of play before traveling to Connecticut to take on the fifth place Sun Friday at 7 pm.