The Mystics' four rookies combined to score the final 10 points of the third quarter Tuesday night, taking Washington's lead from seven to 17 entering the fourth quarter of an 86-64 rout of the San Antonio Silver Stars at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C.
Although 10 of their 34 combined points came in the fourth when the game was already decided, those rookies did some damage when it mattered too. Tierra Ruffin-Pratt's buzzer-beater from mid-range to end the first quarter and put the Mystics up six is a perfect example. In addtion, two of Emma Meesseman's baskets came early in the second quarter and Nadirah McKenith followed them up with her lone three of the game, which gave Washington its first double digit lead of the evening.
All things considered, you could argue that the rookies were the difference between Tuesday night being a nail-biter or an easy win. The Silver Stars starters and the Mystics starters both scored exactly 44 points, but Washington's bench outscored San Antonio's 42-20. Kia Vaughn and Quanitra Hollingsworth chipped in with four apiece to account for the Mystics bench points that didn't come from rookies.
Ruffin-Pratt led the way for the rookies with a career-high 13 points, which tied Crystal Langhorne for the game high. McKenith also notched a new career-high with 11 points, while Meesseman had eight and five rebounds and Tayler Hill had two and a team-high five assists.
"It feels great," McKenith said after the game. "I give all the credit to my teammates. They had a lot of confidence in me, they believe that I can go out there and try to execute what coach gives us and try to get everybody involved."
"We all work hard in practice," Ruffin-Pratt said of the rookies. "We learn a lot from the vets, so we just go out there and transfer what we learn in practice into the games."
The win improves the Mystics' record to 8-7, while San Antonio drops to 4-11, which is the second-worst record in the WNBA after the Tulsa Shock. Washington is now 1.5 games ahead of the Liberty for third place in the East and 2.5 behind Chicago for second, as they continue to battle for their first trip to the playoffs since 2010.
What seems to be a good sign for the Mystics if they want to accomplish that goal is that they are winning at home. Tuesday night was their third straight victory at Verizon, where they are now 5-2.
"I don't know if it's feared yet," Mystics head coah Mike Thibault said of Verizon Center. "If we had 10,000 fans and it was loud and noisy the whole game I think it would be a little bit more feared as far as the atmosphere, but I think the word is starting to get out that we're playing pretty good basketball. We made it an emphasis at the start of the season to protect your home court...if you can win the majority at home and steal enough on the road you make the playoffs. That's a good formula and we're doing that right now."
"I'm extremely excited about it," Langhorne said when asked about the progress the Mystics have made toward building up a great home court advantage. The team was 4-13 at home last year. "I think we played really well tonight. We know San Antonio's struggling but I think we played a great game and our bench is playing awesome. When we have things like that I think we're gonna be really good."
For San Antonio, Danielle Robinson scored just four points, but had a game-high eight assists. Jia Perkins, who dropped 22 on the Mystics last Friday in San Antonio, tied Shenise Johnson with a team-high 12 points and also had an impressive five steals. Robinson entered the game as the WNBA's leader in assists and Perkins was fourth in steals. Becky Hammon was not with the team, as both she and Sophia Young are out for the year with torn ACLs.
With the win, the Mystics continue their trend of defeating teams below them in the standings. They are now 7-1 against teams that currently have losing records and have won their last four games against such opponents. It may be a bit concerning that Washington is just 1-6 against teams with winning records, but what is more concerning is that no lead in the Eastern Conference standings is safe right now.
The Mystics' next opponent, the 5-8 Indiana Fever, have won four of their last five and demonstrated last year how well they play as underdogs (by winning the championship). So there is no way Washington can sleep on Tamika Catchings and company, whom they will play in back-to-back games on Friday (in Indiana) and Sunday (in D.C.).
"It's going to be tough, especially going into their place on Friday night," Langhorne said. "But we're just gonna have to defend and rebound."