Washington Mystics point guard Ivory Latta was sitting in front of her locker Saturday night recounting an 85-80 victory over the Minnesota Lynx at Verizon Center when tears began welling in her eyes, turning the atmosphere momentarily somber despite the team’s best start in three years.
Latta’s grandfather had passed away Tuesday, and the Mystics’ most notable offseason acquisition spoke about dedicating her performance to the man she called her best friend. She finished with a game-high 24 points on 8-for-14 shooting with five assists, two steals and two rebounds.
“Man, these last couple days have been by far the most emotional time in my whole entire life, my whole basketball career,” said Latta, who made all four of her foul shots in the final 51 seconds to help blunt a comeback by the WNBA Finals runner-up.
Before those free throws, rookie Tierra Ruffin-Pratt had scored on a floating layup with 1 minute 33 seconds left that broke a tie and provided the Mystics with the lead for good, 75-73, on the way to their first win at home this season. Ruffin-Pratt also drew a foul against Maya Moore on the play, causing the Lynx leading scorer to foul out with a team-high 22 points.
But it was Latta who kept Washington (3-1) on an even keel when the Lynx had rallied from an 11-point deficit to even the score with just less than two minutes to play. Her ability to dribble out of double-teams and traps allowed the Mystics to run valuable seconds off of the clock and win their second game in less than 24 hours, this one before a home crowd of 7,870.
Friday night, the Mystics outlasted the Connecticut Sun, 66-62, on the road, then began making the trip back to the nation’s capital in wee hours of Saturday morning. Despite many players getting no sleep, Washington was the more energetic team in the early going, with Monique Currie scoring 18 of her 23 points in the first half.
The Mystics grew the margin to 63-52 with 2:44 left in the third quarter, compelling Minnesota Coach Cheryl Reeve to call timeout. From there, Moore rebounded from 3-for-12 shooting to make her next three baskets in row, two of which were three-pointers.
The Lynx (2-1) tied the game at 68 when Rebekkah Brunson (Georgetown) scored on a fast break, but the Mystics never fell behind, despite getting outrebounded 41-34, including 16-6 offensively and committing 14 turnovers.
“It’d be an understatement to say it was a great win,” said first-year Coach Mike Thibault, who came to Washington after 10 successful seasons with the Sun. “Every win right now is a great win, but to have the weekend we did, to beat the two teams with best records last year, was a terrific weekend.”
The Mystics also got 11 points and six rebounds from forward Crystal Langhorne, who is one of only four holdovers from last season’s team that had the worst record in the WNBA with just three wins.
Washington shot 49 percent and clamped down defensively on Moore and Seimone Augustus, one of three Lynx players who were members of the U.S. Olympic team that won gold in London. Augustus had 21 points but missed 18 of 27 shots, and Brunson added 21 points and a game-high 17 rebounds.
“We just came through in the clutch,” Langhorne said. “We made defensive stops when we needed to, and then we executed offensively.”
●MERCURY 82, FEVER 67: With injured rookie star Brittney Griner sitting out against the defending champions, Diana Taurasi stepped up and led visiting Phoenix to its first win.
Taurasi scored 15 of her 26 points in the second half. DeWanna Bonner added 24 points and 11 rebounds for Phoenix (1-3).
Griner, selected No. 1 overall by Phoenix in this year’s WNBA draft, was a late scratch from the lineup with a left knee sprain.