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.

Friday, June 30, 2017

WNBA Gamer II: Washington Bench Ignites Win Over New York

By Rob Knox @knoxrob1

WASHINGTON – The Washington Mystics’ “Bench Mob” is the best in the WNBA.

The terrific triumvirate of Tiana Hawkins, Natasha Cloud, and Ivory Latta proved it again as they ignited a slumbering offense and fueled a tenacious defensive effort that produced a satisfying 67-54 triumph over the New York Liberty at the Verizon Center Thursday night.

“It was an ugly game, but we were able to execute defensively,” Cloud said. “To get a solid win over a good team like this is huge especially since we are heading out on a five-game road trip.

 “We did a great job of disrupting New York’s offense. There’s no dropoff in our play when our bench comes in because we continue to bring the energy and pick up the starters. Whenever our number’s called, we’re ready. We are always focused on our roles and that helps us.”

It was the Mystics’ third straight double-digit victory in five days. The Mystics (10-5 overall) became the third team to reach 10 wins this season joining the Minnesota Lynx and Los Angeles Sparks.

The Liberty (7-6) lost for the third time in its last four outings.

Combing for 30 entertaining points, they put their signature on this victory early by making an immediate impact.

Trailing, 15-4, seven minutes into the game, Hawkins, Cloud, and Latta entered and detonated for 14 consecutive Washington points to help erase the inconvenience of the Mystics’ early 11-point deficit.

Latta, who made four 3-pointers, finished with 15 points. In addition to her scoring, Latta recorded the 850th assist of her career when she found Hawkins for a layup with 8:21 remaining in the second quarter, tying the game at 15.

Hawkins added 13 points and Cloud, the former Saint Joseph’s star out of Cardinal O’Hara and native of Broomall, Pa., in suburban Philadelphia, contributed two points in 23 minutes.

However, Cloud was a major nuisance throughout the game as the Mystics held New York 28 points below its season scoring average. The Mystics also finished with a season-low point total.

“It was rewarding to know that we were able to defend well tonight and stop one of their best players,” Hawkins said. “We had a great game plan tonight and we stuck to it. Playing against Tina (Charles) is always fun and challenging.

“She’s a great player. Physical and she’s just a beast down low. I am proud of the small things that we bring to the game like screening the ball, getting a few steals and being a spark off of the bench.”

While Latta and Hawkins had terrific “and-one” three-point plays in the second half, the duo combined for the signature play of the contest in the fourth quarter. Hawkins set a nice screen that allowed Latta to sink a wide-open 3-pointer to expand the Mystics’ lead to 56-38 with 7:00 remaining.

Hawkins scored seven straight points that bridged the third and fourth quarters. When she finished her scoring binge, the Mystics lead went from 44-34 to 51-34. Hawkins and Latta combined for 11 of the Mystics’ 21 fourth quarter points.

Washington took control of the contest with a dominating and suffocating third quarter performance that limited the Liberty to seven points on 2-for-12 shooting.

The Liberty would have had an easier time escaping from Riker’s Island than it did in trying to solve the Mystics defense.

In outscoring the Liberty, 14-7, in the third quarter, the Mystics forced nine of New York’s 19 turnovers. The Mystics held the Liberty scoreless for a 5:12 stretch of the third quarter. That enabled Washington to stretch its 32-27 halftime edge to 46-34 entering the final period.

“We basically talked since the first day of training camp – you’re going to have ugly shooting nights – hopefully not like this, but if we learn how to defend, we can win some of those games,” Washington head coach Mike Thibault said. “Our bench bailed us out and they just energized us. On both ends of the floor, too.

“I thought [Cloud] was all over the place defensively, helping people and getting her hands on the ball. And Ivory and Tianna were aggressive offensively.”

Their nightly performance was appreciated by all including Mystic headliners: Elena Delle Donne and Tayler Hill, who combined to shoot 4-for-27.

Delle Donne, who finished with nine rebounds, also added 15 points for the Mystics.

When asked if she thought the Mystics had the best bench in the league, Hill responded in her typical succinct style while receiving a white envelope containing her per diem for the Mystics upcoming road trip.

“I agree with that,” said Hill, who recorded the 100th steal of her career with 9:22 remaining in the third quarter. “’Coach can play one through 12 or start anybody on any given night. I think our bench did an excellent job of coming in tonight and sparking us.

“The chemistry we’re developing is exciting. It’s fun to see everybody come in and do their part and watch somebody have a big night. We all get along with each other and we’re cheering for one another so that what makes it so much fun.”

In finishing with a team-high 17 points, Shavonte Zellous reached double figures for the eighth straight game. Epiphanny Prince added 12 points for New York. Kia Vaughn paced the Liberty with nine rebounds. Tina Charles, who faced constant double teams throughout the game, scored eight points on 3-of-15 shooting.

Despite her shooting woes, Charles did have a significant achievement.

With her third rebound in the first quarter Tina Charles moved past Lauren Jackson for 10th place in WNBA history in rebounding. She finished the game with eight rebounds and is in ninth place in league history with 2,453 rebounds.

Playing the first of a four-game road trip, the Liberty played without third leading scorer Sugar Rodgers (13.3 ppg.) due to a lower back injury. Her status is day-to-day.

“I think that we made some sloppy passes, had fair amount of travels, tried to do too much offensively because we were struggling offensively,” New York head coach Bill Laimbeer said. “I thought our defense played very solid. We had a good defensive game plan and executed it well.

"Offensively we struggled, I've got to do a better job of getting players more movement and getting players in positions where they can take advantage of their skills.”

Up Next

Both teams return to action Sunday. The Liberty continue its four-game road trip in Atlanta at 6 p.m. The Mystics start a five-game road trip in Los Angeles at 5 p.m. Overall, Washington will play six of its seven games on the road. The Mystics play two home games in July vs. Atlanta (July 19) and vs. Connecticut (July 28).