The Washington Mystics (17-12) are ready for battle. The top four teams in the Eastern conference are so tightly bunched that the Mystics, currently sitting in 4th place, are just 2 games back from the conference-leading Indiana Fever. The Mystics came into tonight’s game against the Connecticut Sun (14-15) with six more games to play in the season, four of which would be played on their home court. If they were to keep their spot in the standings and keep their playoff hopes alive, they needed to first defend their turf from Connecticut, who were nipping at their heels after handing them a road loss on Sunday.
The Mystics obviously sensed the urgency of the situation, and showed up to play in fine form.
They had a true team effort, as was evident from their assist/basket ratio of 19/30. They were distributing the ball well, and only Matee Ajavon went scoreless in the game, though she did contribute three assists, three steals and a rebound. Everyone else put points on the board, with Crystal Langhorne leading the way with her impressive double/double (23/10). Right behind her was Monique Curry with 17 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists: as solid a stat line as any.
Washington's post game was strong tonight. Forwards Langhorne and Currie lead the charge right out of the gates, finishing the first half with 12 and 11 points respectively. Rookie forward Jacinta Monroe, recently having returned from a hand injury, impressed both her coach and her teammates by coming in ready to play and offered the starting post players some quality rest time. She was a perfect three for three from the field and two for two from the line, with two rebounds in just under eight minutes. Coach Julie Plank noted, "I think it’s nice to have four post players. We don’t have to go small all the time and that’s something we got away with."
Defensively, the Mystics looked stronger than they had the last time these two teams met. Plank said, "I was really happy with our defense. I thought we defended the three-point line extremely well…Connecticut’s an excellent team. They really hurt us inside when we played up there with their three bigs and I thought we did a much better job with that today." Washington out-rebounded Connecticut as well, though they had a hard time fighting off Tina Charles, who with her 15 points and 15 rebounds tied the WNBA single-season record with 19 double/doubles.
The backcourt players of both teams were scrapping it out on the floor, with several women sacrificing their bodies for loose balls. When asked if this could be attributed to a sense of end-of-season urgency, guard Lindsey Harding replied, "every game counts, you know? It’s kinda like you want revenge, ‘cause the last game they beat us, they were getting loose balls. And we were watching films and we were just like ‘this is ridiculous!’" Harding finished with a game-high 6 assists.
The whole game had the feeling of impending doom for the loser: both teams seemed to recognize that there are no ‘gimme’ games left. Though Connecticut’s playoff hopes are all but dashed, guard Katie Smith noted, "we’re fighting for our lives too, so I think that sense of urgency every night is key." Currie agreed, saying, "when your backs are kinda against the wall, you gotta put up." And put up, they did.
Tonight’s win marked the first of three straight home games, with the final two coming against Western conference opponents Minnesota and Seattle. After a trip to San Antonio, the Mystics will return for their final home game against a surging New York team, and then finish the regular season in Atlanta. Coach Plank has confidence that her team can make the best of what they have left; "every game is a battle…every game matters. We’re down to five games, and I think this team can really do some special things."