Washington Mystics Coach Mike Thibault had been lamenting his club’s nearly absent rebounding over the first few games, so this past week, he made sure players concentrated almost exclusively on that most fundamental part of the game during a series of grueling practices.
The extra work paid off Friday night with a 68-60 victory over the New York Liberty in which the Mystics emphatically outrebounded their Eastern Conference opponent, 41-26, including a 13-5 advantage on the offensive glass, in front of 7,395 at Verizon Center for Washington’s first win at home.
Point guard Ivory Latta scored 10 of her team-high 15 points over three minutes late in the fourth quarter, and the Mystics (2-2) triumphed despite losing a 12-point buffer they had built shortly after intermission. Center Kia Vaughn added 14 points and six rebounds, and forward Jelena Milovanovic debuted in the starting lineup with 14 points, two assists and two steals.
“We won the game with extra possessions,” Thibault said. “Getting 68 shots to their 60 basically came because we got extra offensive rebounds, and the biggest shot of the night came off two consecutive offensive rebounds, and Ivory gets a three. I’m really happy the things we worked on this week were the ones that got us a win.”
Latta’s shot from beyond the arc gave Washington a 60-54 lead with 3 minutes 41 seconds to play, and it came moments after the Liberty (2-3) had moved in front, 54-52. The Mystics tied the game on a pair of foul shots by forward Emma Meesseman before Milovanovic’s three-pointer gave the Mystics the lead for good.
Latta was able to get a clean look at the basket when rookie center Stefanie Dolson got her hand on Meesseman’s miss and tipped the ball out for an additional possession. Dolson was part of a bench that contributed 18 rebounds, with forward Tianna Hawkins’s nine a game high.
“This week we had a lot of time to work on our rebounding,” said Hawkins, a second-year player who completed her college career at Maryland as the program’s third all-time leading rebounder. “Every day the coaches were harping on us that we have to get on the boards and take them off the boards.”
The Mystics’ overpowering effort in that regard in part yielded a 36-26 advantage in points in the paint and a 17-5 margin in second-chance points. Four starters collected at least four rebounds apiece, and Hawkins and Dolson, the No. 6 pick in April’s WNBA draft, each managed four offensive rebounds in a game with two technical fouls and one flagrant foul.
Cappie Pondexter scored a game-high 20 points on 9-for-14 shooting for the Liberty but received a technical in the second quarter. A little more than a minute later, officials assessed Thibault with a technical, and New York’s Alex Montgomery was charged with a flagrant foul with 5:51 to play after her arm collided with Meesseman’s head as Meesseman was driving to the basket.
Guard Anna Cruz (12 points) was the only other Liberty player to reach double figures.
“The post players, they were totally relentless on the boards,” said Latta, who made 6 of 9 shots overall, 2 of 3 from three-point range, and chipped in four rebounds and three assists. “Kia scares me every time she gets a rebound because she slaps the ball so hard. She does a heck of job getting rebounds. The post players did a great job.”