WNBA: Hill Helping Washington Climb to the Top of the East as Mystics Start Big Home-And-Home Weekend With Connecticut
WASHINGTON – Third-year Washington Mystics guard Tayler Hill has drained opponents of their energy lately.
She hasn’t brought anybody a purse, truck or mall, but she has supplied plenty of fuel, enthusiasm, scoring and leadership in four games since the All-Star break for the streaking Mystics, winners of six of their last seven games.
Averaging 11.2 points in her last four games, the turbo-charged Hill has been as relentless as a mid-summer thunderstorm in raining baskets and aggressively flying to the basket like a superhero.
She has scored in double figures in two of the Mystics games since the All-Star break, including a timely 13-point performance in Wednesday’s 66-63 win over San Antonio. Hill scored 11 of her points after intermission to help Washington erase an 11-point halftime deficit and a 13-point third-quarter hole.
“We’ve really pushed Tayler to come with the same type of bounce everyday,” Washington head coach Mike Thibault said. “We’ve shared with her that you have to approach practices with the same type of game speed. Everyday we’re getting shooting drills and practice habits at a higher level of speed and effort. That makes a big difference.”
The fourth overall pick in the 2013 WNBA Draft, Hill’s awesome game is coming at the perfect time as the Mystics head into a critical portion of their schedule. They will play home-and-home sets against Connecticut, Minnesota and Chicago over the next 16 days.
The first of those back-to-back sets starts Friday night in the Nutmeg State when the Mystics (12-7 overall) visit the Connecticut Sun (10-9) beginning at 7:00 p.m. The Sun visits the Verizon Center Sunday afternoon at 4:00 p.m. Winners of six of its last seven games, Washington has won both matchups against Connecticut this season.
As with every contest remaining in this season, this is a crucial weekend set for both teams. The Mystics are a game behind the first-place New York Liberty in the Eastern Conference. Meanwhile, Connecticut is in fifth-place, a half-game behind Indiana for the fourth and final playoff spot.
By now everybody knows Hill missed most of 2014 after giving birth to her son.
Even though she was in shape when she returned, Hill only averaged 7.8 minutes in the Mystics final five games.
Through dedication, hard work and a steely focus, Hill came back this season stronger, quicker and better than ever.
Though she had some good moments during the year like a 15-point effort against Atlanta and 16-point outing against Chicago, Hill still wasn’t as consistent as Thibault would have liked her to be.
“Sometimes, I think the reason why she has had streak shooting days is that you don’t shoot at the same speed or effort everyday and I think that’s been the biggest change in her the last two or three weeks,” Thibault said.
“Plus she’s been getting more opportunities as well. She’s gotten better at mixing up shooting the three, shooting the pull-up and going to the basket. That’s been good and she’s also been getting herself to the free throw line. If she does that on a regular basis that will really help our team because we can get other teams in foul trouble.”
Since the All-Star break, Hill has attempted 18 free throws, the most of any Mystic.
After playing a season low four minutes against Tulsa, in the game before the All-Star break, Hill admitted the week away was the perfect tonic for her.
She charged out of the break with an electric 18-point effort on a 6-of-10 shooting performance that included a pair of 3-pointers.
“I just played with Maurice,” Hill said following the win over the Storm. “We stayed here and just relaxed. My body needed the rest, which I think was good.”
With the Mystics playing three games over five days, Hill’s body will get a workout. She’s prepared for the challenge.
Meanwhile, Thibault has a unique way of looking at the strange schedule.
The Mystics just played San Antonio twice in five days, winning both games. Later this month, the Mystics will play Minnesota in consecutive games on Sunday, August 16 and Wednesday, August 19.
Then they will battle Chicago on Friday, August 21 and Sunday, August 23. The Mystics will also play reigning WNBA champion Phoenix twice in a five-day period in three weeks.
“We approach these games like a playoff series,” Thibault said. “We’re going to play teams two or three times in a row in the playoffs so let’s start treating some of these games like that.
"We’ll use these games as learning sessions on how to prepare and make adjustments from the first game to the second game. It’s good preparation. I don’t love it, but I don’t mind it in that regard.”
Those games will be tougher without the services of veteran guard Kara Lawson, who missed her second straight game with a sore back.
Thibault indicated that she could miss a significant amount of time. That injury has forced the Mystics to alter their lineup again. Ivory Latta has shined in her return back to the lineup in the two games, averaging 21 points per game.
Latta’s 23 points led the Mystics in the win over the Silver Stars. Hill added 13 points and Tierra Ruffin-Pratt contributed 10 points. They all had key baskets during a 19-6 run to close the third quarter that helped the Mystics rally from a 13-point second-half deficit.
“We definitely have to put this one behind us though because Connecticut has two all-stars and some other great players so we got to be ready to focus on them,” Latta said.
These two games will match the top two rookie assist leaders in Washington’s Natasha Cloud (3.1 per game) and Connecticut’s Chelsea Gray (2.8).
The Sun are looking to extend its home winning streak to three games. In beating San Antonio, 82-51, on Tuesday night, Connecticut All-Star Kelsey Bone had 17 points, 10 rebounds and six assists.
Bone, making a strong case for the WNBA’s most improved player award, is averaging a team-best 15.7 points per game. She has three double-doubles and reached double digits in scoring 15 times, including the Sun’s last four games. Bone is averaging 15.8 points in the Sun’s last 10 games, scoring at least 20 points three times.
The win over San Antonio was Sun head coach Anne Donovan's 200th career WNBA victory. She is the first female coach - and fourth overall - to reach the milestone.
All-Star Alex Bentley and Alyssa Thomas had 10 points apiece for Connecticut, which had a season-high 24 assists, led by Chelsea Gray's career-best seven. It was just the third time the Sun have had at least 20 assists this season.
Meanwhile, Bentley chips in 14.3 points per contest. Sun rookie Elizabeth Williams is a sizzling 15 of 19 from the field over her the last five games, averaging 6.8 points and 4.8 rebounds.
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