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Alysha Clark returns, but Mystics suffer first loss against Wings

Alysha Clark drives to the basket against the Dallas Wings during the first half Friday in D.C. (Scott Taetsch/For The Washington Post)
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Alysha Clark was having trouble sleeping. With each passing day, she was a little bit closer to returning to the Washington Mystics from a foot injury that kept her out for all of 2021. The two-time WNBA champion said Thursday that it felt like the first day of school and she simply hoped that she wouldn’t cry, calling herself “such a sap.”

There weren’t tears Friday, but Clark had worked up a sweat pregame, going through an intense shooting routine well before the game. Her gray shooting shirt was soaked through before team warmups even began. She ended that session with a choreographed handshake with assistant coach LaToya Sanders that ended in three hip-bumps.

The game itself is where things went off script. The Dallas Wings handed the Mystics their first loss of the season, 94-86, at Entertainment and Sports Arena, dampening the debut of Washington’s top free agent acquisition from last season.

Clark got the start in her first game since Oct. 6, 2020. She walked off the court with a WNBA championship with the Seattle Storm in that last game. The crowd gave Clark a rousing ovation during introductions as she hopped out of her seat, went through a line of teammates and finished with a ballet pirouette and curtsy.

“I almost cried, I almost cried,” Clark said. “So before the game, during the national anthem, I always pray. That’s my time to pray. And during that time, like at the end of it, I was just like: ‘Nope, we’re not doing it. We’re here. Suck it up.’

“Yeah, it was pretty cool to be back out there.”

The nine-year veteran finished the game with nine points, four rebounds, one assist and one block in just under 20 minutes. The Mystics fell to 3-1, and Dallas improved to 1-1.

Clark suffered a Lisfranc injury that required surgery while playing in France in March 2021. The “long journey” back, as she described it, included endless days at the Mystics’ practice facility before she ever played a game with the organization. Elena Delle Donne, who had plenty of rehab hours of her own, got an up-close look at the process.

She’s just so diligent,” Delle Donne said. “Every day you see her showing up, bringing the same energy, the same focus. And there’s a lot of days and I’m sure a lot of pain and a lot of the things she was working through. But still, every day, giving that same focus and then just having each other to lean on the days where you know you’re not feeling it, that’s always huge. I feel like we built a really strong bond and relationship because of that, which is great. Now we get to finally play.

“I've been wanting to play with AC for far too long now.”

Clark said she didn’t even think about the foot during the game. She described herself as a little slower than normal, but was happy not to be too fatigued during the game. Her defense is ahead of the offense at this point, the two-time WNBA all-defensive team selection said.

Here’s what else to know from Friday’s loss:

Air Arike

All-star Arike Ogunbowale had a slow start to the game and was held scoreless in the first quarter — then she heated up. Ogunbowale scored 19 points in the second quarter — a career high for a quarter — while leading the Wings back from a 15-point deficit. She hit five consecutive three-pointers during an 18-4 second-quarter run. The 19 points were the second-most scored in the second quarter of a WNBA game.

Ogunbowale finished with 26 points, and every Dallas starter scored in double figures.

“She’s a great player and she’s going to have stretches of scoring like that,” Delle Donne said. “She’s just a phenomenal offensive player. But you can’t allow that to then trickle down and affect everything else. Can’t have that turn into turnovers and turn into missed box outs and all that.”

Fast start falls apart

The Mystics jumped out to a 10-point lead during a first quarter that saw them shoot 62.5 percent. They hit their first nine shots.

The energy changed in the second quarter as Ogunbowale got going. The offense became discombobulated and the defense struggled to guard the perimeter. The Mystics still shot 52.6 percent from the field and 52 percent from behind the arc, but 21 turnovers were difficult to overcome. Dallas turned those turnovers into 26 points.

Delle Donne scored 20 points, grabbed five rebounds and had four assists. Ariel Atkins finished with 19 points, four rebounds and four assists.

“Turnovers and fouls and that’s the game in a nutshell,” Mystics Coach Mike Thibault said. “We only had one turnover in the first quarter, so 20 from then on is a really bad stat.”

Roster notes

Forward Kennedy Burke is scheduled to arrive in Washington on Sunday and travel to Dallas with the team Monday. In her absence, the team was awarded a hardship roster spot, which was used on Katie Benzan. Benzan, who quickly became a fan favorite, is set to be released upon Cooke’s arrival. Stephanie Jones was released Friday upon Clark’s return. …

Center Elizabeth Williams could be in D.C. soon. Her Turkish team, Fenerbahce S.K., is up 2-0 in the KBSL final, which is a five-game series. Game 3 is scheduled for Sunday and the championship can be clinched, ending the season and sending Williams back to join the team. …

Natasha Cloud missed her second consecutive game while in the health and safety protocols, and she will need two consecutive negative tests to return to the team. She has been live tweeting the games from home.

Sucks, I hate playing without her,” Delle Donne said. “You see it. You see it in our lulls. You see it in our lack of control sometimes, in our lack of getting into things. You also see it on the defensive end. Tash affects the game so much. And her energy is missed.

“So, Tash, stop tweeting. Get healthy.”

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