Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

WNBA Matinee Thriller: Mystics' Late Rally in D.C. Eclipses Sun

By ROB KNOX (@knoxrob1)

WASHINGTON – While there’s many ways to win a basketball game, the Washington Mystics hope to avoid the script they used in rallying for a thrilling 78-76 victory over the Connecticut Sun in a spirited school day game at the Verizon CenterWednesday morning.

In winning their third straight game and remaining perfect at home, the Mystics (4-2 overall) overcame a performance in which they missed their first 10 shots of the contest, spotted the Sun a 10-0 advantage, shot 3-of-14 in the fourth quarter, and erased a late nine-point deficit in the final five minutes.

Normally, that's not a winning recipe, but the determined Mystics made it the right formula despite their difficulties during the game.

Following the game, Washington head coach Mike Thibault looked like he just survived a disaster scene from a horror movie with only a paper cut.

“Not the prettiest game, but when you shoot 35 percent and you still win, I guess there is a lot of beauty in that,” Thibault said.  “A month from now we’ll only remember it as a win. In the moment, it feels really ugly. We made a lot of mistakes and figured out a way to defend hard enough to win.”

Victory wasn’t secured until Washington’s Krystal Thomas blocked Alyssa Thomas’ short jumper that could have forced overtime as time expired. Just moments prior, the Sun’s Alex Bentley, a former star at Penn State, was fouled while attempting a potential game-tying three-pointer with 3.6 seconds remaining.

With the entire arena on its feet and screaming, Bentley missed the first, made the second and missed the third on purpose, leading to a jump ball that was secured by the Sun with 1.2 seconds left.

“A lot of mistakes at the end, and I guess we made up for it when somehow some karma allowed [Alex] Bentley to miss one,” Thibault said. “The things that we’ve been trying to emphasize actually won us the game; battling the boards, not turning it over, getting to the free throw line more than the other team and we did that. We shot 29 free throws, we only had eight turnovers, and that helps you get through bad shooting nights.”

Ah yes, the free-throw line kept the Mystics from disappearing in this game.

While Washington fired enough bricks to build a new downtown skyscraper, the Mystics were scorching the nets from the foul line, making 13-of-15 freebies in the fourth quarter. Overall, they were 26-for-29 from the free throw line, having eight different players attempt at least two foul shots.

By contrast, the Sun were 6-for-11 from the foul line. This comes after Connecticut attempted 39 free throws in its last game at Chicago earlier this week.

Of course, one of Washington’s baskets in the final quarter belonged to Elena Delle Donne.

Her dynamic spinning baseline layup out of a double team in which she softly kissed the ball off of the glass, which resulted in an old fashioned "and-one," and ensuing made foul shot snapped a tie game and gave the Mystics a 78-75 advantage with 44 seconds remaining it never relinquished.

After Delle Donne’s shot went through the net, she displayed a rare burst of emotion when she screamed and clinched both of her fists. She finished with 13 points on 3-of-15 shooting and was one of three Mystic players to reach double figures in scoring.

 The Delaware native added 11 rebounds for her first double-double as a Mystic and a season best five blocked shots.

Tayler Hill shined and led Washington with 18 points and a career best eight assists. Thomas added 11 points and nine rebounds.

 Hill was unavailable postgame as she was being evaluated for a possible concussion after violently hitting her head on the floor midway through the final quarter when she was fouled while driving to the basket.

“When shots aren’t falling early in the season sometimes that will make a team lose a game, and we were able to stay in the game because of our defense and our rebounding,” Delle Donne said. “That’s huge. It’s something we will continue to improve and get better, and hopefully, our shots will fall next time.”

Washington’s defense was solid in the final 4:33 after Connecticut’s Shekinna Stricklen sank her third 3-pointer of the fourth quarter. It swelled the Sun’s advantage to 73-64.

The Mystics sprinted to the finish by scoring 14 of the final 17 points. Alyssa Thomas, made the Sun’s only basket after Stricklen’s 3-pointer with 1:29 remaining. It gave the Sun its final lead of the game, 75-73.

Stricklen, who starred at Tennessee, led all scorers with 20 points on 7-of-12 accuracy. She made six of Connecticut’s 10 3-pointers.

Jonquel Jones, who starred at nearby George Washington here as a collegian, added 14 points and 13 for her second straight double-double and third this season.  Lynetta  Kizer finished with 12 points for the Sun, which dropped to 1-5. This was the Sun’s third defeat by two points this season.

“It was a great game,” Sun head coach Curt Miller said. “I thought we executed a lot of our game plan. We outscored them by 18 points in the field. We really bothered them with what we did. No one made more than five baskets against us. When the game was on the line, they put their heads down and got calls and we didn’t.”

NOTES: Maryland head coach Brenda Frese was in attendance as six of her former players saw action. Kristi Toliver, Tianna Hawkins, and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough made meaningful contributions for the Mystics combining for 14 points. Meanwhile, Thomas, Kizer, and Brionna Jones combined for 20 points for the Sun. … The Mystics had 17 assists on their 23 baskets … The rebounding battle was even as each team finished with 38 … There were 11 lead changes and nine ties … Washington’s Natasha Cloud, a product of Saint Joseph's in Philadelphia, had six points and four rebounds in 15 minutes … Eleven of the Mystics’ 19 first quarter points came off the bench: Cloud (4), Latta (3), Hawkins (2), Walker-Kimbrough (2) … Bentley will be leaving the Sun to compete for the Belarus National Team in the 2017 FIFA EuroBasket Women’s tournament, which runs from June 16-25.

NEXT GAMES: The Sun finish its three-game road trip Saturday in San Antonio at 8 p.m. while the Mystics conclude a three-game homestand Sunday against Atlanta at 3 p.m.


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