WNBA: Washington Gains Weekend Split Winning at Indy Following Tough Loss to Tulsa
WASHINGTON, DC --- So far the Washington Mystics Are showing one enhancement you won't find anywhere on the roster this season -- resilency.
For the second time in two straight weekends the Mystics shook off a tough Friday night loss to come right back with a win -- in this instance winning at Indiana 87-75 Saturday against a Fever team that got flipped the other way by Washington after Indiana had posted an impressive 80-63 win in New York Friday against the Liberty in Madison Square Garden.
Thus the Mystics (4-2) are just a game behind the Eastern frontrunning and surprising Connecticut Sun (5-1), which won its second straight road game on the Western swing, beating the defending WNBA champion Phoenix Mercury 90-78 in double overtime Friday night.
Washington coach Mike Thibault wasn't as disappointed with the 86-82 losing outcome Friday against a highly inproved Tulsa Shock team from the West at home in the Verizon Center as he was a week ago down here when he felt his players gave away the game to the struggling Atlanta Dream at the finish.
Starting chronologically in this report beginning Friday night, Plenette Pierson scored 16 of her season-high 24 points in the second half while Riquna Williams, a former Miami star, poured in a season-best 22 points off the bench for Tulsa in a cross-divisional matchup of two of the early season’s most surprising teams.
For Tulsa, (5-1) its first victory of the season against an Eastern Conference opponent was a major positive in many ways: it snapped a four-game losing streak to the Mystics (3-2), pushed its current winning streak to five games and extended the franchise’s best-ever start to a season that next sees a head-to-head West showdown at the top of the division in Minnesota Sunday against the Lynx (5-1).
Pierson, who shot 9-of-19 from the floor and 6-of-7 from the free throw line, finished two points shy of her career best of 26 while Williams upped her season best for the second straight game after going for 16 in the Shock’s 88-61 win over San Antonio, which is still looking for its first victory.
Skylar Diggins, the number three overall pick out of Notre Dame in 2013 added 14 points for Tulsa.
Emma Meesseman matched Pierson for the game high with 24 points as one of four Mystics in double figures, along with 11 points for Stefanie Dolson, 10 for Kara Lawson and 13 for Tayler Hill off the bench.
Saint Joseph's graduate Natasha Cloud, the No. 15 overall pick in the second round of April's draft,was scoreless in this one, playing one second short of 11 minutes off the bench.
After starting the season 2-0, the Mystics have gone 2-2 through Saturday night's triumph in Indiana with the Los Angeles Sparks (0-3) coming here Tuesday and at this moment before Sunday's home game with Connecticut still looking for their first win of the season.
Washington started the game Friday strong, however, leading Tulsa for the first 17 minutes of the game before the Shock used an 18-8 run to push out to a 40-36 lead at halftime.
“Kudos to Washington, they jumped on us aggressively early and forced us to play their style of basketball. It took us a whole half to settle down and realize what they were doing,” Pierson said of the team’s start.
Thibault was equally complimentary towards the Shock, which won three WNBA titles in Detroit under current New York coach Bill Laimbeer.
"I think we've got to give Tulsa a little bit of credit," Thibault said. "There's a reason they're 5-1. They're playing wellm Plenette Pierson and Riquana Williams were spectacular.
"It's tough losing at home. This one, although it hurts, we played a good team. The one last Friday against Atlanta, I felt like we gave away. Tonight, Tulsa earned it."
The Shock remained aggressive in the third, leading wire-to-wire in the period and taking the largest lead of the game (64-54) on a three pointer from Williams with 1:44 left in the quarter.
Williams powered that third quarter surge by netting half of the team’s 22 points in the period on 4-of-5 shooting, including a trio of three pointers.
A simplified approach by Williams led to such an impressive quarter and overall game: “I was just making reads, playing free and having fun. If I overthink, I won’t play at my best,” she said.
Washington fought back in the fourth to produce an exciting final stanza that featured six ties and eight lead changes, but the Mystics couldn’t overcome a dominant period by Pierson.
The Shock’s veteran leader, who scored two points in the first quarter and had 12 through three periods, left an indelible mark on the game when her team needed it most.
Pierson scored 12 points in the fourth quarter alone - her most in any period this season and the only double figure effort on either team in the quarter. She opened the fourth with a turnaround jumper at the 9:23 mark that gave Tulsa its biggest lead of the quarter. Of the 14 combined ties and lead changes in the frame, Pierson accounted for six of them by herself.
With the game tied at 81 apiece with 1:05 left, Pierson scored three of the final five points, including what proved to be the eventual game winner with 36.9 seconds remaining.
“I have a tendency of letting [the other players] do their thing early on and then I’ll sprinkle myself in the mix. I just really wanted to put this team on my back and just go to work,” Pierson said of her efforts.
For a team that sports a WNBA-long five season postseason drought and has struggled to channel the winning ways of its predecessors in Detroit, a win like this – led by a star from its glory days – may go a long way to changing the fortunes of the franchise this season.
“This win keeps us on the path that we’re on. We’ve set out goals to go 3-1, 4-1 [and so on], so this keeps on track,” Pierson added. “This team is showing me that they’re never out, they’re going to keep scratching and clawing to get a victory.”
Meanwhile, Washington is not hanging its head afterr losses as in past seasons, a culture Thibault had to change when he arrived for the 2013 season after being let go by the Sun.
In Saturday's win at Indy, veteran Ivory Latta had a season high 24 points and nailed six treys and her Mystics shot a season-best 51.7 percent from the field.
Kara Lawson scored eight points, grabbed a team high nine rebounds and dealt seven assists.
The Mystics have won four straight regular season road games at the Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, where before the game, the NCAA, which is headquartered there, unveiled the logo for the 2016 Women's Final Four, which will be held in April at the arena.
"To get a road win is huge," Thibault said, noting both teams were fighting fatigue from their back-to-backs on the schedule.
(Indy) played great (Friday) night and we didn't play so great. We shot the ball better. For all the stuff that was back and forth in the game we got the last run in the fourth quarter, so that felt good."
Just 24 hours after postgame in New York talking about getting better each day, Indy first-year coach Stephanie White said of the loss to Washington, "I thought we were a step slow early in the ball game, really established a soft tone on the defensive end in that first quarter.
"Washington, give them credit. They made every big play. Latta made every big shot. They got every loose ball. They made all the hustle plays, the ones we made (Friday) night to come away from a victory in New York," White said.
"You have to give them credit for being able to come in here after a back to back as well and make the plays they needed to win."
Lynette Kizer, the former Maryland star, and Briann January each scored 14 points for the Fever (3-5).
Rookie Natasha Cloud from Saint Joseph's in this one played just over 21 minutes, went 3-for-6 from the field, including hitting a 3-pointer and scored nine points.
Meessemen, after her career-high 24 points, Friday night, scored 15 points, while Stephanie Dolson had 12 points and Armintie Herrington scored 10.
Perenially All-Star Tamika Catchings, the former Tennessee all-American heading for retirement after next season, scored just five points for Indy on a night after she was held scoreless for just the second time in her WNBA career, shooting 0-for-10 in the win in New York.
She had scored in 168 straight games dating back to July 23, 2009, the only other time Catchings was shut out in her WNBA career.
In that one two former Penn State stars one opposite sides did well, particularly second-year pro Maggie Lucas from Narberth in suburban Philadelphia, who had a career-high 23 points and making 5-for-8 on three-point attempts.
Marissa Coleman, another former Maryland star, had 16 points for the Fever, while Kizer scored 12.
Veteran Tanisha Wright, another former Lady Lion, scored 12 points for the Liberty, who dropped to 3-3 after a quick start and now hit the road beginning Sunday in Atlanta.
Rookie Brittany Boyd scored 11, as did former Georgetown star Sugar Rodgers off the bench.
The Liberty made several rallies from deep deficits but each time Indiana fould a way to apply the brakes and finished strong with a 10-0 run.
Tina Charles, the former Connecticut all-American, got into early foul trouble and scored just six points.
"She has to be more aggressive in the post when they come to attack her or double team her," New York coach Laimber said of his star center. "They're going to be physical with her and she has to be physical right back and be more aggressive in the low post and stop settling for the perimeter shots.
"We started the game beyond poorly. They were taking it to us and we didn't rematch their intensity. They were going twice as fast as we were and we didn't stand up. We did in the second quarter. By then it was kind of late in the game."
The Guru from New York Friday and team reports from Saturday games contributed to this file.
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