The Washington Mystics’ path to securing a playoff berth became less certain over the last 48 hours when the team learned it would be without starting center Kia Vaughn for Wednesday’s game against the visiting Chicago Sky and reserve guard Kara Lawson for at least one week.
In an announcement released Monday afternoon, the WNBA suspended Vaughn for one game for elbowing Chiney Ogwumike in the head during Sunday’s 89-81 double-overtime loss to the Connecticut Sun. The league office, following a replay review, upgraded the foul to a flagrant 2 and issued the suspension.
“We don’t teach that. We don’t condone it,” Mystics Coach and General Manager Mike Thibault said of Vaughn’s actions.
Vaughn leads the Mystics in rebounding (6.4 per game) and is fifth in scoring (9.2). Replacing the six-year veteran will be rookie Stefanie Dolson. The No. 6 pick in this year’s WNBA draft is charged with defending Sky center Sylvia Fowles, who is a three-time all-star and averaging 13.4 points and 10 rebounds this season.
The Sky is one game behind second-place Washington (15-16) in the Eastern Conference standings with three games left in the regular season. One more victory would ensure the Mystics a second straight postseason appearance, but three clubs are within two games of them in the final week.
Washington was in position to clinch a playoff spot three days ago after rallying from 13 points behind in the fourth quarter to force overtime, but the Mystics failed to escape Mohegan Sun Arena with their third win in a row because of breakdowns at inopportune junctures.
Among the most glaring errors was allowing Sun backup forward Kelsey Griffin to collect an offensive rebound and score as the buzzer sounded in regulation. The Mystics had been ahead, 70-68, with 14 seconds to play.
“I just feel like every game is pressure now,” Mystics all-star point guard Ivory Latta said. “You’ve just got to do what it takes.”
Latta scored a game-high 20 points Sunday. The only other guard to reach double figures was Lawson before the Alexandria native collapsed with 5 minutes 51 seconds left in regulation clutching her left ankle. The 1999 All-Met Player of the Year had to be assisted off the court and spent the rest of the game watching from the bench with an ice wrap around her foot.
Before the start of Tuesday afternoon’s light practice, Lawson lay on the trainer’s table off to the side of the Verizon Center court receiving treatment. Sitting in a chair by the Mystics bench a few steps from her was Vaughn, who has started all 31 games this season.
Thibault indicated the back-court rotation without Lawson remains in flux apart from Latta and rookie starter Bria Hartley, although Tierra Ruffin-Pratt is in line to receive additional minutes. The two-time All-Met Player of the Year at T.C. Williams High is averaging 16.3 minutes this season and has started six times.
Other options in the back court include Tayler Hill and Kalana Greene. Hill, the No. 4 pick in last year’s WNBA draft, is seven weeks removed from giving birth to her first child, and Greene has not played more than seven minutes since June 20. Neither played Sunday.
“It’s an opportunity for someone else to step up,” Thibault said. “Show me why you should be playing. Every team goes through it at some point. You hate to be doing it now, but it is what it is.”