Keys to the Game: Washington Mystics, June 21
The Washington Mystics and Phoenix Mercury find themselves in similar situations as they prepare to face off at US Airways Center on Friday evening.
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Each team had their three-game winning streak snapped this week. For the Mystics, it was a 96-86 overtime loss in Seattle against the Storm. For the Mercury, it came against a tough Minnesota Lynx team at home when they fell 80-69 on Wednesday.
However, Washington still remains at second place in the Eastern Conference at 4-2 after a hot start to the 2013 season.
New coach and general manager, Mike Thibault, has helped instill a sense of confidence and belief in this young Mystics team. Additionally, Ivory Latta has been one of the best surprises of the season so far averaging 18.0 points and 4.2 assists per game. Her production has been a welcomed addition to the always efficient Crystal Langhorne who chips in with 14.7 points and 6.7 rebounds each night.
Thibault's teams, no matter what type of system, always play hard, tough and physical. Phoenix will need to force their style of play on this Mystics team to get back on the winning track.
Here are the keys to a Mercury win:
“Every shot they missed, they got the ball back 46 percent of the time,” said Corey Gaines after losing to the Lynx on Wednesday. “It just killed us. We can’t have that. Even with the bad shooting we were up in the game. You don’t have to score when you get the ball but you can’t give them the ball back when you get those rebounds.”
In the Mercury's last three wins, they have a +19 rebounding margin. In their last two losses, they have a -33 rebounding margin. Case in point: The Lynx grabbed a season-high-tying 48 rebounds compared to Phoenix’s 26 on Wednesday.
If the Mercury can find a way to be more aggressive on the glass against the Mystics (the 6th best rebounding team in the WNBA, just ahead of the Mercury in 7th place) it certainly bodes well.
Hustle and Flow
On nights like Wednesday when shots aren't falling, the Mercury has to be the team fighting for every rebound and loose ball. This is especially true against a Mystics team who undoubtedly has adopted the same philosophy.
When Phoenix clicks on both ends of the floor, it's a direct correlation with how hard they're playing both offensively and defensively. Rather, it creates the team's desired flow and allows them to wear down their opponents in transition.
Again, in their three wins, that's precisely the way one could describe each game. In their four losses, it has typically traced back to rebounding and lack of tempo on offense.
The good news is that these are things the team has full control over.
Stopping Latta and Langhorne
Ivory Latta and Crystal Langhorne account for nearly half of the Mystics' offense; the two combine to average 32 of Washington's 76 points per game while shooting 51 percent from the floor.
That means the defensive assignments will likely fall upon multiple Mercury players throughout the game. Look for Briana Gilbreath, Diana Taurasi, Candice Dupree, DeWanna Bonner and Charde Houston to step up and defend both Latta and Langhorne on Friday.
Both Latta and Langhorne are adept and getting to the paint and drawing fouls. For the Mercury to win, they'll need to force Washington into more contested shots from the perimeter and be ready for the long rebound.