On Friday night, the 3-1 Mystics host the 4-1 Tulsa Shock at Verizon Center. After falling to the Lynx in the team’s first regular season appearance, Tulsa has won four straight and will look to continue its momentum into the matchup with Washington. To end the Shock’s hot streak, the ‘Stics will have to contain veteran Plenette Pierson, who has led Tulsa in its last two outings and is averaging 14.8 points per game, on track for a career season.
With leading scorer Odyssey Sims day-to-day with an injury, the Shock, much like the Mystics, have benefited from stellar performances across the roster, both from starters and off the bench. Skylar Diggins, fresh off reaching the 1,000 point milestone, has averaged 16.0 points, 4.4 assists, and 3.2 boards per game. In Tulsa’s triumph against San Antonio Tuesday, Riquana Williams posted 16 points off the bench, a season high, and rookie Amanda Zahui B had a career high 10 points on 5 for 7 shooting from the field.
Having topped Tulsa in both matchups last season, aggression on the boards will be crucial for the Mystics, who have been outrebounded in all but one contest so far this season. The Shock have dominated on the boards, outrebounding their opponent in all four of their wins.
“We better do a great job of blocking out, it’s almost like physical combat in the lane on rebounding. Holding them to one shot is big,” head coach Mike Thibault said. “They rely on getting extra shots on offensive rebounds and they rely on getting to the free throw line and getting fouled. If we can limit those opportunities we can get out and run on offense too.”
Washington had struggled offensively in the first three games of the season, but saw improvement in Sunday’s win at New York with four ‘Stics in double digits. Having struggled to get going in early games, veteran guards Ivory Latta and Kara Lawson posted 20 and 13 points respectively against the Liberty, a season high for each.
“When our guards make outside shots, we look like a whole different team,” Thibault said. “It was crucial for us to see the ball go through the net. I think once a couple people start making [shots] it gets contagious, everybody gets positive vibes from it.”
Ally Malott had a breakout performance in Washington’s last outing and the team will look for continued progress from the forward. The rookie from the University of Dayton shot 80% from the field adding her first 10 points of her career.
“Everyone tells you you just gotta be ready to go whenever you get in,” Malott said. “I just had to come in and shoot with confidence.”
Learning the Mystics’ plays and pace have been an adjustment for Malott, but she has relied on assistance from the veterans and confidence in her shot. Thibault knew the rookie would be ready so he drew up the first play out of the first timeout for her. Malott will be another key contributor throughout Washington’s season, increasing the depth on an already strong team.
“She was poised, she’s never had fear about being a good shooter,” Thibault said. “ I felt like her making some shots would not only help her confidence, but help our team say ‘Hey, we have one more option to go to.’”
Malott owes much of her basketball success to her father’s influence, so Friday’s theme, Dads & Daughters Night, is especially close to her heart. Her father, who also served as her basketball coach, was instrumental in the development of her game and the Middleton, Ohio native often accompanied her dad to his practices as a little girl. Her dad would later serve as her junior-high and high school basketball coach.
“My dad is probably the biggest influence in my life as far as basketball goes,” Malott said. “He’s been a big impact on me and I can always call him for advice and support.”
The ‘Stics will likely once again be without starters Kia Vaughn (concussion) and Bria Hartley (foot) due to injury. Coach Thibault expects Tierra Ruffin-Pratt to see game action Friday, previously sidelined with a shoulder injury. After taking on the Shock at home at 7pm, Washington will have a short turn around before facing the Fever in Indianapolis Saturday, again at 7pm.