After a Tough Trip, Mystics Look to Right the Ship

The Mystics began 4-1, but went winless on their roadtrip and now look to get back on track.

After a quick start to the season, the Mystics have slowed a bit.

The 2013 edition of this team has proven itself in tough, tight game situations and has great scorers, rebounders and defenders. The Mystics are down, but most certainly not out.

“This is a team that won five games last year,” Thibault said. “We’re trying to sort things out.”

They nearly reached that number in the first five games of this season, starting out 4-1 and beating notable teams like Minnesota and Indiana, both 2012 WNBA Finalists.

In that span, point guard Ivory Latta averaged 19.8 points per game and posted a sharp 52% shooting percentage from beyond the arc. Her fantastic performances against Connecticut and Minnesota earned her a Eastern Conference Player of the Week Award.

“I don’t mind passing the ball if I have to,” Latta said. “To get everybody involved and keep us going, man, that’s a great thing. Our chemistry is great. We can only get better, we can only get better, and that’s gonna come with time.”

Washington continued to play well on their annual west coast swing road trip, but found themselves matched up against teams who were more than ready for the challenge. Add in the fact that the still growing and developing team had yet to experience a long, strenuous road trip together, and the winless outcome of the week out west is not so surprising.

The Mystics are not down on themselves this week however, for they actually shot better in the last three games compared to the first five, averaging 44% from the field in the three losses. The team knows the reason they went from 4-1 to 4-4 in a matter of a week comes down to consistency.

“It would help if we had a better start,” Head Coach Mike Thibault said. “We had a couple games on the trip where we had bad first quarters. I thought our defense against Phoenix was very soft in the first quarter, it got better as the game went on and we won the rest of the game, but you can’t put yourselves in a hole like we did.”

On the road trip, the Mystics were outscored 68-52 in the first quarter of their three games, while playing their opponents to a near draw in the last three periods of those contests, scoring 177 points to the opposition’s 179.

“[We need] rebounding, on both ends, for 40 minutes,” center Michelle Snow explained. “We do everything in spurts, and it’s just basically becoming more consistent, so we can play teams like we just played. We were winning the second, third, and fourth quarter, but we’re losing the first quarter in every game.”

While the trip may not have been a success for the team, there were positives to take from some of the individual performances.

Tayler Hill finally broke out against the Los Angeles Sparks and showed why the Mystics took her fourth in the draft, going 6 of 7 from the field and 4 of 5 from deep to score 16 points off the bench.

Other bright spots on the trip included Crystal Langhorne, who averaged 14.3 points and 8 rebounds during the three game set, and Matee Ajavon, who posted 13.7 points per game.

Luckily, the Mystics do not have time to fixate on their west coast trip. Washington has three games in the next four days starting with a rematch against Phoenix at home on Thursday night.

In their first game against the Mercury (5-4), the Mystics fell 90-82, but were within one possession until the final minute.

“It’s a good transition back into it because we get that rematch (and) we’re at home so we just learn from what we did on the road and come in on Thursday and play hard,” rookie Tierra Ruffin-Pratt said.

In order to win, Washington will have to do a better job containing Diana Taurasi, who recorded a game-high 31 points, and Britney Griner, who scored a then-career high 21 points on 10-of-15 shooting in 26 minutes of play. Griner also added four blocks and is currently leading the league in blocks per game with 2.78.

“The hardest thing is (Griner’s) size and length give her an advantage on everybody,” Thibault said. “But when you play Phoenix it’s a very tough time trying to double her all the time because they have such good shooters. We have to bother her when she dribbles (and) we’re going to have to crowd her more in the lane.”

In their first matchup against the Mercury, the Mystics allowed Phoenix to shoot a season-high 51.6 percent from the field. Washington will need a better defensive showing to slow down Griner and the Mercury in front of their home crowd.

“She’s so long so I had to make the adjustment,” Snow said. “Whereas most post players can’t make a step as long as she can and are not as dominant going both ways as she is, so my adjustments are to take away one direction, send her into the middle where I have help, and beat her to the middle when I send her there.”

A victory over Phoenix tomorrow night would give Thibault 211 career wins, tying him with WNBA record holder Van Chancellor.

After its matchup with Phoenix, Washington has no time to rest and will be on the road Friday night to take on the Atlanta Dream. Earlier this season, the Dream handed the Mystics a 73-63 loss — the only blemish on the team’s near perfect home record. Atlanta currently boasts a league-best record of 8-1 and will prove to be a tough back-to-back game for Washington.

The Dream’s early season success has come behind Angel McCoughtry’s monster season, where she is averaging 20.7 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.6 assists, and 3.9 steals per game. McCoughtry has won the Eastern Conference Player of the Week Award three of the last four weeks, with Latta being the only other recipient of the honor in that timespan.

The Mystics are then back at home on Sunday against the Tulsa Shock (3-8) and will face another member of the rookie “Big Three” in Skylar Diggins. The rookie out of Notre Dame is averaging 10.1 points per game and a team high 5.3 assists. Diggins has started every game with the Shock.

Washington opened the season against Tulsa and outlasted them on the road in a 95-90 OT win on May 27.

The next four days could tell a lot about the Mystics, as they can negate last week’s three losses, or potentially fall under .500 for the first time this season. The 0-3 trip has fueled a fire, and the team will be firing on all cylinders come Thursday night against the Mercury.

This team may have slowed down a touch, but they have proven their worth so far this year as a contender and will be working hard to turn their season around the next four days.

If within 75 miles of DC, the Mystics-Mercury game can be seen live Thursday night on Otherwise, you can catch it on LiveAccess.