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 23, 2018

WNBA Gamer: Rookie From Longhorns Helps Washington in Rally Win Over Las Vegas

By Rob Knox  @knoxrob1

WASHINGTON – Ariel Atkins was special in helping the Washington Mystics erase a 16-point first half deficit and surge past the Las Vegas Aces, 75-70, at Capital One Arena Tuesday night


The rookie from Texas provided energy and electricity with 15 points to help the slumbering Mystics awaken from an offensive nap that lasted two and half quarters. 

She had plenty of assistance as Tianna Hawkins tied her career high with 17 points and Natasha Cloud added seven points, including a huge layup with 13 seconds remaining that gave the Mystics a three-point edge.


Overall, the terrific triumvirate combined to score 39 of the Mystics’ 52 second half points. They were 15-for-18 shooting (83.3 percent) from the field in the final 20 minutes. Just amazing considering the Mystics started the game shooting 2-for-16 (12.5) in the first quarter. 


“It was fun being that spark and energy player off the bench,” Atkins said. “My teammates were smiling and pointing at me.”


Atkins’ teammates also high-fived her often and picked her up off of the floor a couple of times. Once after diving out of bounds to save a loose ball that resulted in a Las Vegas turnover. Then after taking a critical charge late in the fourth quarter. 


“I wasn’t trying to take the charge, it just kind of happened,” said Atkins, who graduated from Texas last Saturday. “That’s one of my things. I hang my hat on is my hustle and I think I did a good job of making sure I did that tonight. I know a lot of hard work and prayers went into this moment. To have the opportunity to be here is really a blessing and I am excited.” 


By the time Elena Delle Donne scored the last of her game-high 23 points, the horrific beginning was a humorous memory. The second half offensive output was a much needed boost for the WNBA superstar, who scored 17 of the Mystics 23 points in the first half. She also grabbed 11 rebounds for her first double-double of the season.


Thanks to the numerous contributions from Atkins, Hawkins and Cloud, the fourth quarter featured eight ties and five lead changes. Kristi Toliver gave the Mystics the lead for good, 69-67, with 86 seconds remaining following a 13-foot pull-up baseline jumper. 


Like an unexpected summer thunderstorm, Atkins scored all of her of points in the final 12 minutes – including 10 in the fourth quarter -- after the Mystics trailed 44-36 with 1 minute, 54 seconds remaining in the third quarter. 


Cloud, the four-year veteran out of Saint Joseph’s and suburban Philadelphia, made a ridiculous circus shot and converted the ensuing foul shot to knot the game at 44 entering the fourth quarter. That capped a 17-5 Mystic run to close the third quarter. Once Cloud’s basket went through the hoop, the building roared to life. 


While Atkins scoring was nice, her defensive contributions were impressive.


“She just keeps pressure on everybody,” Washington head coach Mike Thibault said. “In the last couple plays of the game, we put her on Lindsay Allen to kind of bother her with her length, but she gets up and deflects balls, she gets pieces of it.

“She and Shatori [Walker-Kimbrough] have enough guard quickness and length to get in passing lanes. She’s disruptive. When we talked about it at draft day, for Ariel [Atkins], we felt she was a player that would be really good at both ends of the floor and we are seeing that right now.”


The Aces were the ones dealing the cards for much of the contest. 


Helped by Washington’s miserable shooting, Las Vegas raced to a 29-13 bulge with 4:20 left before intermission following rookie A’ja Wilson’s finger roll. The Aces still led 39-27 following a Wilson basket with seven minutes remaining in the third quarter.


Showcasing some nifty footwork, and brute force, Wilson, a fearless force, finished with 16 points and eight rebounds. Wilson helped Las Vegas outscore Washington 36-22 in the paint. Nia Coffey scored seven of her career best 14 points in the fourth quarter. Tamera Young tallied nine of her 13 points in the fourth quarter for the Aces. 


Allen, recently acquired after let go by New York, handed out a career-high six assists. Carolyn Swords grabbed six of her seven rebounds in the first five minutes of play. She had plenty of chances for caroms because the Mystics missed their first nine shots before Delle Donne’s basket with 3:35 left in the first quarter. 


“I thought the effort for 30 minutes was solid,” Las Vegas head coach Bill Laimbeer said. “I think that was really good. We know we can play defense, we know we can attack the basket, get to the free throw line – have to make the free throws – and we can rebound. 

“Those are pretty good hallmarks of having a chance. Now, we have to put the ball in the basket. We’ll get [Kelsey] Plum and we’ll get [Kayla] McBride back this week. We have to integrate them, obviously, but that’s two of our top scorers.”


NOTES: The Mystics outrebounded the Aces, 37-36, marking the second-straight game Washington has bested its opponent on the boards … The Mystics went 8 for 31 from three-point range, while Las Vegas went 1 for 9.Washington will take on the Indiana Fever (0-2) on May 24 at 7 p.m. at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana … The Mystics next home game is Sunday, May 27 at 3 p.m. at Capital One Arena against the defending champion Minnesota Lynx … The Aces return to action on Sunday when they play their first regular season home game Sunday against Seattle at 8:30 p.m. on NBA-TV. 




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