The Mystics were outscored 56-26 in the paint and lost 88-78 to the New York Liberty in their first game back from the All-Star break Wednesday night at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C.
"We got pounded inside," Mystics head coach Mike Thibault said. "We're gonna have to re-evaluate what we do the next time we play them, how we start the game...We were bad in the paint defensively and we didn't shoot the ball well. That's a bad combination."
The points in the paint battle was clearly the difference in the game, as the Mystics did hold the Liberty's starting backcourt (Cappie Pondexter and Katie Smith) to a 7-27 (25.9 percent) night from the field. New York post players Kara Braxton, Kelsey Bone and Plenette Pierson combined for 53 points (on 24-35 shooting) and 26 rebounds. Pondexter also ended up having a good night in the box score with 19 points, which she got by adding 11 in the fourth quarter and leading her team with six made free throws. She also had a game-high nine assists.
The Mystics trailed at the end of every quarter, but never trailed by more than 12 and, considering their comeback in the previous game against the Sky and 6-3 record at home entering the day, it seemed reasonable to think that they would find a way to pull this one out as well. Instead they fell to 9-10 and have lost three of their last four. They are also now 3-6 against the Eastern Conference.
"We have to really put our foot down when it comes to these East Coast teams because these are the teams that we're going to be fighting for a playoff spot with," said Mystics guard Matee Ajavon. "We have to start better and we have to get these wins."
Ajavon led Washington with 20 points and nine made free throws on nine attempts. It was the first time in 2013 that she led the Mystics in scoring, something Mystics fans probably expected her to do a few times this year.
"It means nothing if we're not winning," Ajavon said of the importance of her playing a bigger role offensively. "I'd rather have nine points with a win. Or zero points with a win."
The other Mystics in double figures Wednesday night were Ivory Latta and Emma Meesseman, who each had 11. Meesseman picked up right where she left off a week earlier against Chicago and is now 10-14 from the field in her last two games. She was 0-7 in the two games before that.
Kia Vaughn led the Mystics in rebounds and set a new season high with 12. She also had a game-high three blocked shots.
Every player on the Mystics roster scored, but they could not get by with Ajavon being the only one with a substantial contribution. They were 4-21 from beyond the arc as a team, while the Liberty got far more easy buckets.
"Coming off how we played before the All-Star break, tonight was highly disappointing," Thibault said. "I thought we were just flat most of the night. That's on me. Maybe we weren't prepared enough, I don't know."
Washington gets the chance to bounce back on Friday at Chicago (12-5). In their past four games they have lost the three against losing teams and won the one against a winning team.