WNBA: Washington Tightens Defense to Earn Weekend Split With Connecticut
WASHINGTON – After falling flat Friday against Connecticut on the road, the Mystics responded with a charged-up performance highlighted by three quarters of suffocating defense to claim an 84-73 victory in the back end of a home-and-home set at the Verizon Center Sunday afternoon in another critical Eastern Conference battle.
While each win is important, this one was significant for the Mystics, who clinched the season series over the Sun, 3-1.
They also regained their two-game cushion over the fifth-place Sun in the congested Eastern Conference standings.
Additionally, the Mystics extended their home court winning streak to five games by turning in a much better defensive effort than they did in Friday’s 86-72 setback to the Sun.
“We came out with energy this game,” Washington guard Tayler Hill said. “Last game we didn’t play defense, clearly. I don’t think it was anything special that they did.
"It was just on our half, not focused, and I think tonight we came out focused and we really emphasized that.”
Washington (13-8 overall) did plenty right. It shot 49 percent from the field, 84 percent from the foul line and outrebounded the Sun, 32-29.
Leading the Mystics charge was Stefanie Dolson, who scored a game-high 21 points, one shy of her career-high.
Dolson, who had been held to single-digit scoring in the last three Mystics games, went on to shoot 6-for-9 from the field and a career high 9-for-9 from the free throw line. It was the third time this season that Dolson scored at least 20 points.
She had plenty of help from Hill’s career-best 20 points. After a 1-for-6 effort Friday against Connecticut, Hill punished the Sun by shooting 7-for-10 from the field, 4-for-5 from three point range and 2-for-2 from the free throw line. Hill has hit for double figures for the third time since the All-Star break.
\\\Tierra Ruffin-Pratt added 12 points and Emma Meesseman chipped in with 11 markers for Washington, which led virtually the entire game, save for a 2-2 tie. Natasha Cloud led the Mystics with a career-high seven rebounds.
“Normally I retreat and try to protect the basket,” Cloud said when asked if she did anything differently to get a career-best rebounding total. “I am trying to get out of my college habits of being the point guard and retreat. Coach told us as guards, we need to stop being spectators on the perimeter. That’s where my mindset came from today.”
Really though the story of this game was the Mystics energy and defense.
Thibault made an adjustment in his coaching philosophy on Saturday that may have fueled the victory.
Normally, the Mystics usually watch a condensed version of their previous game. Saturday following their flight in which they also shared with the Sun, Thibault had his players watch the entire game of their loss to Connecticut.
The defensive effort on the Sun’s terrific tandem of Jasmine Thomas and Alex Bentley was dynamite. They burned the Mystics Friday night for a combined 46 points, with Bentley scoring a career-best 31 points.
Two days later, they were limited to 12 harmless points with 10 of them from Thomas during a 35-point fourth quarter for the Sun. Bentley’s only basket in the first quarter – a tough jumper while being double-teamed – was her 1,000th career point.
“We saw from the film that we weren’t pressing them or making them uncomfortable,” Cloud said. “(Jasmine and Alex) are great players and they’re going to get their points, but we needed to make them uncomfortable and earn everything. I think Friday, they felt comfortable and could do anything that they wanted. We wanted to pressure them today and if they were going to make shots, then they needed to be contested.”
As a team, Washington was great for three periods.
Connecticut scored 46 points in the first half on Friday night. It had 38 points at the end of the third quarter. It also shot a sizzling 53.8 percent in the win over the Mystics. It was a different story as the Sun made 34.3 percent of its shots.
While the win was nice for Thibault and the Mystics, he was slightly annoyed at Connecticut’s fourth quarter offensive outburst.
“We were revitalized till the fourth quarter,” Thibault said. “I’m really happy with the win. We did a lot of great things but giving up 35 in the fourth was a little scary but we took them out of their favorite stuff. We tried to get them to go to secondary stuff. I think for the most part we did a good job.”
Thomas was one of four Sun players to score in double figures. Kelsey Bone led the Sun with 19 points. Shekinna Stricklen added 16 points and Alyssa Thomas added her first double-double of the season (14 points, 11 rebounds).
After Alyssa Thomas tied the game at 2-2, the Mystics scored eight straight points. Even though the Sun closed to 12-10 following a Stricklen 3-pointer with 1:51 remaining in the first period, it never got comfortable or closer to the Mystics, who led 17-12 after the first quarter and 34-22 at intermission.
“Today we weren’t as organized on offense,” Jasmine Thomas said. “On Friday, we were all on the same page and had our own tempo. We dictated what we wanted to do on Friday whereas today whatever they made us do, we did. That was the only difference today.”
The Sun return home to host Tulsa on Wednesday and New York on Friday.
Connecticut still has three games remaining against the Liberty and two against Chicago and Atlanta each. The players aren’t in panic mode as they understand they have the pieces to capture a playoff spot.
“There’s 13 games and we have a chance,” Jasmine Thomas said. “We’re not counting ourselves out of anything. This was a big one for is and definitely made things a little difficult for us. Now we have to be that more focused going into every single game from here on out.”
Meanwhile, the Mystics continue their three-game homestand Tuesday night against Indiana. Washington has won two of three meetings over the Fever this season including a 68-50 conquest on July 17.
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