In their first game since securing a playoff berth, the Washington Mystics opened an early lead against the Connecticut Sun on the strength of three-point shooting, withstood a brief lull in the second half and pulled away with more precision from beyond the arc in an 82-56 victory Friday night before 7,779 at Verizon Center.
Point guard Ivory Latta led four Mystics in double figures with a game-high 19 points, making 5 of 7 from three-point range. Rookie guard Tayler Hill had 16 points (4 of 5 three-pointers) and center Kia Vaughn contributed 14 points with a game-high 10 rebounds.
Washington (16-17), which locked up a spot in the postseason Tuesday night, went 12 for 17 overall from three-point range in winning for the second consecutive time. It was the most three-pointers this season for the Mystics, who also owned a rebounding margin of 40-28 and made 14 of 19 free throws, including 10 for 10 in the first half.
“That’s kind of one of those hard games to say a lot about other than a week ago when we had this kind of game, we let down,” Coach Mike Thibault said. “I didn’t think that we did today other than the first three or four minutes of the third quarter. I thought we came out flat then, but I thought our energy was good.”
The Mystics’ comfortable first-half lead dipped to 56-47 with 9 minutes 10 seconds left in regulation, but Hill, the fourth overall pick in the WNBA draft, made consecutive three-pointers to trigger a 17-4 flurry.
Latta swished a pull-up jumper to provide a 64-51 cushion, compelling Sun Coach Ann Donovan to call timeout with 6:46 to play. Out of the stoppage, Washington scored the next eight in a row, beginning with Nadirah McKenith’s three-point play on the fast break.
Rookie Tierra Ruffin-Pratt hit two free throws, Vaughn scored on a layup and rookie Emma Meesseman’s short jumper made it 73-51 with 5:26 remaining in the penultimate game of the regular season. Washington’s final game is Sunday before it enters the playoffs as the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference one year after winning five games.
Center Mistie Bass led the Sun (9-24) with 13 points and six rebounds. Reserve Sydney Carter scored 11 points, and Iziane Castro Marques added 10 points, two assists and two steals.
“It started on defense for us,” Hill said. “The last time we played Connecticut, our pressure on defense was so bad, we were kind of a step behind, and we were reacting to everything they did. I think tonight the momentum started on defense for us, and it just transferred over to offense.”
The Mystics used a 7-1 run toward the end of the first quarter to build a 21-12 advantage. Latta sank her second three-pointer during that time, and Washington expanded the margin to 23-14 at the start of the second quarter courtesy of two foul shots by Hill.
The lead grew to 36-18 following an 11-0 burst midway through the second quarter. Vaughn and Monique Currie (13 points) accounted for all but three of those points. Latta was the only other Mystics player to score in that stretch, sinking a three-pointer shortly after she was assessed a technical foul that had her seeking an explanation from referee Billy Smith.
“We’ve got to have momentum going into the playoffs,” said Latta, who shot 7 for 10 with five assists and three rebounds. “We’re not going to let up.”
●FEVER 66, LIBERTY 63: In Indianapolis, Tamika Catchings scored 23 points to help playoff-bound Indiana overcome a slow start and rally to defeat New York. The win kept the Fever (16-17) tied with the Washington Mystics in the Eastern Conference. DeLisha Milton scored 18 points in the sixth straight loss for the Liberty (11-22).
●SKY 87, DREAM 82: In Rosemont, Ill., Epiphanny Prince scored 16 of her 29 points in the final quarter to lift Chicago to a win over Atlanta in a meeting of the Eastern Conference’s top teams. Angel McCoughtry, the WNBA’s leading scorer, had 29 points for the Dream. Elena Delle Donne scored 18 points for the Sky (24-9).
●MERCURY 82, SILVER STARS 61: Diana Taurasi had a game-high 20 points and Brittney Griner added 13 as host Phoenix (19-14) downed San Antonio (11-22).