Washington Mystics Coach Mike Thibault had challenged his club’s moxie entering Sunday’s showdown with an opponent widely considered the favorite to win a third WNBA title in five years.
Later in the week, players talked about how a victory over the Minnesota Lynx could alert the rest of the league that perhaps the Mystics belong in the championship conversation as well.
A 77-69 triumph certainly underscored Washington’s aspirations, with five Mystics players reaching double figures in their most complete performance this season. Included in the Mystics’ eighth win in 11 games was a defensive gem against Maya Moore, the league’s second-leading scorer who came in averaging 21.5 points after scoring 32 and 36 in her previous two games.
Forward Tierra Ruffin-Pratt drew much of the responsibility in guarding Moore, and with assistance from Armintie Herrington and others she helped limit the reigning regular season and All-Star Game MVP to 12 points on 4-for-15 shooting. It was the third-fewest points this year for Moore, who committed a game-high four turnovers and picked up four personal fouls at Verizon Center.
“Tierra, she did a great job on the defensive end, and it started in practice,” Mystics reserve guard Ivory Latta said. “We had Tayler Hill imitating what Maya can do, and she did a great job. It definitely prepared TRP for this game, but at the same time, it’s a team defensive game, too. She’s one of the best defenders on this team, so we’ve definitely got confidence in her.”
Latta scored a game-high 20 points, and the Mystics (14-9) got 15 points, four rebounds, two assists and two steals from guard Kara Lawson, who was playing her second game since missing four in a row with a sore back.
Center Stefanie Dolson added 12 points and seven rebounds while containing Lynx counterpart Sylvia Fowles, an Olympian and three-time all-star.
The Mystics also dispatched the team with the best record in the league despite not having one of their top players for most of the second half. Forward Emma Meesseman left for good 1 minute 30 seconds into the third quarter with a dislocated finger, and her status for the immediate future remains uncertain.
The first-time all-star scored 10 points on 5-for-5 shooing to bounce back after she was shut out in Tuesday’s 73-62 loss to Indiana. Meesseman had the index and middle fingers on her right (shooting) hand wrapped in a splint after Sunday’s game.
“We played good defense, okay offense. Good offense in the first half, not so great in the second half, but the defense kind of kept us in it,” Thibault said. “It hurt our offense losing Emma early in the half. We had some people that had been making shots that didn’t, but they made other plays.”
Washington was outrebounded 40-37, but Dolson and forward LaToya Sanders each collected critical offensive rebounds in the closing minutes. Those extra possessions allowed the Mystics to run valuable seconds off the clock, blunting a charge from Minnesota (18-7) that had closed the Lynx within 71-67 with 3:09 left in the fourth quarter.
From there, Ruffin-Pratt made a pair of free throws and got a difficult pull-up jumper to fall with Moore contesting. The two-time All-Met Player of the Year at T.C. Williams High got a hand in Moore’s face to force an air ball from the three-time all-star, and Hill stripped Moore with 21 seconds to play, leading to Lawson’s free throws.
The Mystics are now in third place in the Eastern Conference after Indiana’s win Sunday night in Phoenix.
The top five teams in the conference are chasing four playoff spots and are separated by 4
“We’re in a playoff fight,” Lawson said. “The East is so jam-packed. Everything is kind of wide open. I think we have the hardest schedule to finish the league. If not, it’s got to be one of the top two or three, so we understand the importance of getting wins. This is a tough week for us. Minnesota twice, Chicago twice. It’s good to start off this week with a solid win.”
●SPARKS 76, SKY 64: Candace Parker had 21 points and a career-high 10 assists to lead host Los Angeles over Chicago.
●DREAM 90, SUN 77: Angel McCoughtry and Reshanda Gray each scored 18 points, and Atlanta beat visiting Connecticut.
●FEVER 75, MERCURY 63: Tamika Catchings moved intoecond place on the WNBA career rebounding list, and Lynetta Kizer scored 19 points to help Indiana win at Phoenix.
●STORM 72, STARS 63: Seattle outscored San Antonio 19-10 in the third quarter for the win. The Stars fell to 0-13 on the road.