Mystics 

Mystics run past the Sun behind Hill’s career night

The Washington Mystics mad sure that there wouldn’t be an encore performance for Alex Bentley or the Connecticut Sun. The Sun won on Friday night at their house, but the home team returned the favor in this one. It was Washington’s eighth home win of the season and their 13th overall, putting them just one and a half games behind the East leading New York Liberty. Washington used a balanced scoring effort from start to finish to beat the Sun 84-73, their defense was notably different than Friday night. They held Bentley to just two points on the afternoon, she had 29 more of those points up in Connecticut a few days prior.

One of the players that doesn’t get a ton of credit in Washington is small forward Tierra Ruffin-Pratt (TRP), she’s one of those “glue” players. It doesn’t always show on the stat sheet, but she always leaves and impact on the game. She’s one of their better perimeter defenders, if not the best and their best slasher. The Mystics opening basket came from her and Stefanie Dolson working the two-man game on the weakside of the floor, before Dolson found Emma Meeseman for a midrange jumpshot that hit the bottom of the net.

The Mystics got TRP and their two All-Star bigs involved early on, the three of them touched the ball early and often. It resulted in Washington jumping out to a 10-2 lead, with Dolson scoring six of those points. The Sun would tighten up on defense to close the gap on Washington heading into the second quarter. Connecticut’s Shekinna Stricklen led the way for her team with seven points in the period. Alex Bentley got her first and only basket about midway through the quarter, hitting a tough fall-away over a double-team.

Connecticut really made a stand at the start of the second quarter, digging in on the defensive end and getting baskets to cut the deficit. Washington’s lineup after subs were made, struggled to get the ball to the post players. Namely Kia Vaughn, whenever her and Sanders are in the game she’s the one that establishes deep post position, while Sanders pops out a bit more. Vaughn did a great job coming into the game and establishing position, but the Sun ball pressure kept the Mystics guards (Hartley & Hill at the time) from getting the ball inside.

The Mystics would respond, Coach Thibault kept Vaughn and Sanders in the game while changing out all three perimeter players. Natasha Cloud came in and had a pretty drive and kick with TRP as Washington bounced back on the offensive end to quell the Sun run. Cloud started on the wing, lost the handle, then regained it and drove to the basket. Upon getting to the baseline it was clear that she drove with full intentions on kicking out to a shooter. She drove on the left wing, then fired a pass out to TRP who was in the right corner and buried the triple. Ruffin-Pratt would then follow up that three pointer with a huge block on Alyssa Thomas, that turned into a nice inside score from Dolson. A three from Ivory Latta extended the lead to 15, TRP would get the second of her three blocks on the night shortly after Latta’s triple. Washington would take a 12 point lead into the half, it was a low scoring affair to that point (34-22).        

One of the main reasons the Mystics held the 12 point lead was their ability to get to the line, they were aggressively attacking the basket. Taking 16 trips to the charity stripe in the half to Connecticut’s six. They were also winning the battle on the glass, 22-12.

Like the start of the second quarter, the Sun started the third period with a triple from Camille Little. Then Kelsey Bone (19 points, 3 rebounds) started to go to work, she and Dolson are two of the few old school bigs in the league. In the sense that while they have touch on the perimeter, they like to bang on the block in their heart of hearts and the officials were letting them play. The two went toe-to-toe at the start of the quarter, but the Mystics would start to pull away thanks to two luxuries they had.

Washington let Cloud run the team to start the half, Latta clearly was playing more off-ball. That really put added pressure on the defense as Ivory’s one of the league’s better shooters from distance. That was the first luxury, the second was Tayler Hill. The former first round pick has carved out a role on this team by being a super-sub, a sixth starter if you will. She came off the bench in the first half and immediately scored four points, in the second half, she erupted.

Alyssa Thomas (14points, 11 rebounds) tried to start the comeback for her team by carving out room on the offensive glass and scoring for her team. Hill was just too much, she is far more than the “shooter” label she detests. She took defenders off the dribble at will and also hit four of her five attempts from deep. Cloud got in the act in that quarter as well, she’s known as a pass-first player and teams are starting to play her as such. The problem is she’s a six foot guard, so when she is operating the pick-and-roll, if the defense is sitting in the passing lane they are giving a clear driving lane to a player with very good size. She hadn’t took advantage of it much this season, but it was clear there was an emphasis on it as she attacked the basket several times throughout the game which cause the defense to play the pick-and-roll honestly, giving the big involved even more space after Cloud started getting to the basket.

She wasn’t the only Mystic to give the Sun a lesson in how to run a pick-and-roll, Latta didn’t score double-digits, but she made plays for others in those situations. She found Vaughn, Dolson, and Meesseman a couple of times for easy layups. Teams play Latta much different than Cloud in those situations, they’d rather keep her from scoring. Which means if, well when she makes the pass to the big, they are often high percentage shots.

 

 With Bentley not having a great night, Jasmine Thomas took it upon herself to pick up the scoring slack down the stretch. She hit a couple of triples to cut the deficit to single digits. Washington got a little sloppy on offense late and Connecticut took advantage of it. They cut the lead to 10 with two minutes left, but Washington responded with a dagger. The person who twisted the dagger? None other than Tayler Hill, she nailed her fourth triple of the night off of a nice screen from Dolson. The Mystics would finish the job at the foul line, winning 84-73.

Observations 

  • Rising. The Mystics still haven’t reached their peak, they might need to get there soon with the tough schedule ahead. They possess one of the most talented rosters in the league and they still haven’t started rolling on all cylinders
  • Consistency. Coach Thibault mentioned that word several times when addressing the media after the game. As of now the only thing that is known about the Mystics at this point is that they have a deep and talented roster. They haven’t played to their best ability in a stretch of consecutive games thus far, Thibault is trying to push his team to get to that level of consistency
  • Balance. Washington had four players in double-figures, they continue to be unselfish. Sharing the ball to the tune of 18 assists
  • Tayler Hill. She’s one of the few players on the second unit that has found some sense of consistency, once the others get going this team will be a force to be reckoned with. She’s been playing like a top five pick as of late. She had a carer high with 20 points
  • LaToya Sanders. She took an incredibly hard fall in the second quarter when trying to block a shot, she’s been a great addition to the team. A seamless transition, she’s averaging nearly three blocks a game

 

 

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