The Washington Mystics and the San Antonio Stars game finished in dramatic fashion last night, San Antonio’s Jia Perkins missed a one-legged three point attempt at the buzzer that would have taken the game into overtime. It was an ugly win for Washington, but a win none the less. The 66-63 victory gave the Mystics their 12th win of the season, Ivory Latta and Tayler Hill played a big part in the win. The Stars ‘Big 3’ of Sophia Young-Malcolm, Kayla McBride, and Jia Perkins turned in an incredible performance, had they received a bit more help they might have left the Verizon Center with their first road win of the season.
The Stars had lost by 35 the last time these two teams met, they ensured that wouldn’t happen again. In the blowout loss, they allowed Emma Meesseman and Stefanie Dolson to catch the ball in the post in single coverage and never sent the double team. They paid for it dearly that night, it was evident they came into this game with the mindset that Washington wasn’t going to beat them with their bigs. Dolson and Meeseeman combined for just eight points and seven rebounds last night, neither of which played 20 minutes and they weren’t in any foul trouble. The Mystics offense looked fairly decent to start the game as they led 21-17 after the first quarter. They were moving the ball very well, more importantly they were feeding the post initially and letting the ball move around after the double team was sent. The Stars stayed in it due to a hot start from McBride who hit three triples in the quarter.
The game changed in the second quarter, with Kara Lawson missing the game due to a back injury. The lineups for Washington were altered as Latta started for the first time in seven games, which changed the second unit as well. Once the starters came out last night, the Stars dug in and made a huge run. It started by San Antonio keeping Kia Vaughn and LaToya Sanders out of the paint on the offensive end, with the ball not reaching the posts, the Washington offense was rendered ineffective, well broken.
Meanwhile, San Antonio put together consecutive stops and started to score the ball. Perkins got in on the act and at one point, Perkins and McBride had 21 of the Stars 28 points. Young-Malcolm also got going in that quarter, hitting several midrange jump shots and fall-aways over Washington defenders. The Stars went into the half with a 39-28 lead, of that 39, the Stars big three had 36 points.
After the game, Latta mentioned that she shared some “words” with the team in the locker room to motivate them. The Washington Mystics team that ended the first half looked very unfamiliar, looked nothing like the third placed team in the Eastern Conference. The Stars, looked like they were on their way to earning that first road win of the season or were at least halfway there.
San Antonio continued to score to start the third quarter, pushing their lead to 13 at one point. That’s when it happened, the Mystics decided that this wasn’t last year’s team, a team with championship aspirations wouldn’t allow a bad half to dictate the outcome of the game.
While she won’t get credit in the box score, Washington’s Tierra Ruffin-Pratt started the comeback. It was she that raised the level of intensity on defense, like several other times this season, she started to get aggressive on the offensive end with her team trailing. Ruffin-Pratt only had 10 points, but it was her attacking the basket when they were down 13 that changed everything. She had just forced a turnover with tight defense on Young-Malcolm, then got the crowd going with the drive to the basket. She would hit both free throws and the Mystics took off. Her fellow Tar Hell then proceeded to show out, Latta got going and there was a brief moment where the Carolina girls had 25 of Washington’s 46 points. Early in that run, Latta had a ridiculous layup while attacking the basket.
The Washington run had many contributors that didn’t necessarily happen in the scoring department. Meessseman had a huge offensive rebound in the quarter, that ended up resulting in a basket for Washington after she passed it out to the perimeter so the offense could be reset. Of TRP’s two triples on the evening, the biggest may have come in that period when she cut the lead to two. The Mystics would push the lead to six at one point, but Sophia responded for the Stars with a much needed basket to cut the lead to four. Washington’s Bria Hartley hit an extremely tough shot, she attacked the basket with a floater and finished it off glass while getting hit (no foul was called). Hartley’s been battling the foot injury this season while trying to get comfortable coming off the bench. Last night was the first time she seemed comfortable on offense, she didn’t look like she was thinking and was just playing basketball. If she truly becomes comfortable, the Mystics will have another big weapon off their bench.
Speaking of weapons for Washington, Tayler Hil is comfortable with her role and makes the most out of it every night. Her all around game is often overlooked as she’s been labeled “a shooter” which is far from the truth. Her 13 points were the second highest for Washington behind Ivory Latta team high 23 points. Hill’s ability to attack the basket was key in this game, with the Mystics struggling to get points from their post players, her drives to the baskets were a great alternative for those points they usually get. Her and Hartley’s defense on McBride were key as well, Kayla didn’t make nearly as much noise in the second half. Hill continued to deliver for Washington off the bench, she would go on to finish the game. She hit a tough basket on Perkins late in the fourth quarter when the Stars were trying to rally. Getting the ball on the wing, with the shot clock running down. She gave Perkins a couple of jab steps before putting the ball on the floor, she crossed over before stepping back to create space. Tayler then used the space she created to drill a three in the defender’s face, it was a big shot for Washington. Not to be outdone, Perkins would respond on the opposite end with a jumper of her own.
That couldn’t be said for San Antonio’s Perkins, who tried to step up for the Stars and close the game out. Jia would come off a curl and drill a three-pointer to cut the Mystics lead to just one with 44.9 seconds left in the game. Washington then called timeout, on their ensuing possession the Mystics looked horrible. The ball ended up in Dolson’s hand late in the shot clock and an ill-advised shot was taken. The Stars would get the rebound and call timeout to set up their play on the opposite end, this is where Washington won the game. Perkins would get the ball on the wing off the inbound, with Hill pressuring her, Jia’s right foot stepped on the line as she was making her move to the basket.
The Mystics would get the ball, get fouled and head to the line. Latta would go to the line and calmly sink both free throws to extend the Mystics lead to three. The Verizon center would go silent on the next possession, Perkins got the ball on the wing again, used an escape dribble before launching her one-legged three point attempt at the basket. The shot rolled off the front of the rim, think Gordon Hayward’s miss against Duke when he played for Butler.
- Unsung hero. Tierra Ruffin-Pratt routinely flies under the radar for her team, but if it wasn’t for her that rally could have come too late. Her tenacity and flat out defiance played a huge role in Washington’s turn around, her effort and activity became contagious and her team took off
- Stars Big 3. It was a remarkable performance, they scored 58 of their team’s 63 points on the night. Perkins was 11 of 20 from the field, McBride was 5 of 10 but perfect from beyond the arc with 4 of 4. Young-Malcolm had 17 points and 7 rebounds, it was an outstanding performance
- Front Court Depth. Washington played the majority of the second half without their starting lineup coming back on the floor as a unit but once. Kia Vaughn and LaToya Sanders were out standing on the defensive end in this victory. Combining for 18 rebounds and 5 blocks off the bench, both played more minutes than the starters
- Latta/Hill. The duo were key in this win, their ability to both stretch the defense and having the handle to get to the basket makes them extremely tough covers. Both displayed their total offensive game in this win, Hill attacked the basket a bit more as her shot wasn’t falling from beyond the arc. She’s a great driver of the basketball, seldom ever gets called for charging. Latta connected on 3 of her 6 attempts from deep, but she kept the defense on it’s heels by routinely attacking the basket as well
- Character. The Mystics showed who they are in this game, despite playing far below their standards, they climbed out of the hole and finished the job. They aren’t quite ready to be championship contenders, but there’s still time to grow into “that” type of team. The season isn’t over, there’s still time for this team to reach it’s full potential