WNBA: Dolson's Record Night Helps Washington Top Chicago
WASHINGTON -- Back in last month’s training camp here at the Verizon Center, if WNBA Washington Mystics coach Mike Thibault had known enough to indicate that second-year pro Bria Hartley, the former University of Connecticut star, and veteran center Kia Vaughn out of Rutgers might not be playing regularly until sometime in July, that might have been enough for fans to start lighting distress flares along the banks of the nearby Potomac River.
Not to worry however.
Despite Chicago coming to town riding the hot hand of league-leading scorer Elena Delle Donne in her third season, the Mystics were able to break their second-place standings deadlock with the Sky in the Eastern Conference and gain an 86-71 victory in a Sunday afternoon matinee.
So without getting much of anything so far from Hartley (not dressed due to right foot stress factor) and Vaughn (concussion), Washington has bolted to a 6-3 start just 1.5 games behind the surprising Connecticut Sun (7-1), who have won all seven straight after the Mystics took a league opener off the Sun on the road earlier this month.
The big statistic as a team for Washington was the 37-24 domination on the boards.
“Our rebounding was a little better. We’ll wait until we play other teams but that’s a good first step,” Thibault said, who began his postgame remarks quipping, “I guess I should feel good we held (Delle Donne) to three below her average.”
The former University of Delaware star, who made shots heard around the league with a career-high 45 points earlier in the week against the Atlanta Dream in an overtime win, finished with 26, though in a decisive 23-14 third quarter Delle Donne was held scoreless.
“You know Delle Donne is tough. She’s going to get some calls. She’s a great free throw shooter,” Thibault said.
The story of the win on the Mystics’ side is wrapped around the play of second-year pro Stefanie Dolson, the former UConn post sensation, who had a career-high 19 points, one behind third-year pro Emma Meesseman’s 20.
Dolson also grabbed a team-high 10 rebounds.
“I think I’ve had a little more confidence lately,” Dolson said. “Obviously you know it sucks not having Kia but it gives people an opportunity to step up and in practice I’ve been getting a lot of reps.
“So I’ve just been trying to go in and have the mentality of working as hard as I can, doing what the coach asks and when I get the opportunity to score the basketball.
My guards did a good job of getting me the ball and getting me open and I did a good job of getting them in,” Dolson said. “Coach is making sure we’re always working on it (rebounding) and we always have it in our head.
“As posts we had a goal for ourselves today, certain number of rebounds as something to reach for. So going into the game, we really had it in our minds. We had the mentality of making the extra effort.”
Thibault noted the rapid rise in Dolson’s game after her rookie season and playing overseas this past winter.
“Huge progression. She’s rebounding the ball. Making decisions with her passes. She’s slowed herself down. I always compare it to when a quarterback comes into the NFL, the first year their game needs to slow down before they can improve and I think that’s what happened for her a little bit.”
Meesseman, a native of Belgium who came into the league the same time as Delle Donne, continued to receive praise from Thibault on her development.
“You know I’ve been touting Emma’s horn all season,” he said. “I think she’s an All-Star. It would be a pretty good All-Star game to see her and Delle Donne playing together (for the East) but I think that gives us something to throw back at teams as a weapon. It’s pretty sensational right now.”
The annual mid-season classic will be played up in Connecticut on July 25 at the Mohegan Sun Arena.
Ivory Latta, the former North Carolina star, had 16 points, making 5-of-7 three-point attempts, a category in which Washington shot 10-for19, a season-high 52.6 percentage as a team,
Tayler Hill, the former Ohio State star, scored 16 off the bench and hit 4-of-5 treys.
She was the fourth overall pick of the famous draft three years ago when Baylor’s Brittany Griner went first to the Phoenix Mercury, Delle Donne was then taken by Chicago, and then the Tulsa Shock picked up Notre Dame’s Skyler Diggins.
It was a big disappointment at the time of the lottery announcement for the organization and its fan base after Washington had finished with the worst record in the WNBA.
Then Thibault became available after being let go in Connecticut after coaching the Sun in their first decade and he used the pick to select Hill.
“Yeah, the first pick of the other draft,” he quipped Sunday. “She’s continuing to improve. Sometimes she lets her shooting dictate her approach to the game.We’ve been trying to harp on her, `Even the nights you’re not making shots, you can do other things.’
“I think that’s sinking in. Obviously, she made shots tonight but I thought her body language the last couple of days is really good. In practice the other day, the team she was on was really struggling and I thought she got them to fight through it a little bit. That’s a good leadership role for someone coming off the bench.”
Though Tierra Ruffin-Pratt scored just two points, Thibault credited her for defensing Sky veteran league star Cappie Pondexter into scoring just 10 points, the same total as former DePaul star Allie Quiggley, who also scored in double figures for Chicago (5-4) with 10 points.
Washington rookie Natasha Cloud, the former Saint Joseph’s star out of Cardinal O’Hara High and suburban Broomall, Pa., scored two points in 13 minutes, 24 points of action, off the bench. She also grabbed four rebounds.
On Chicago’s side afterwards, Sky coach Pokey Chatman said of the Mystics, “I thought they got off to a quick star offensively and we never quite gained the momentum back. We had a couple of runs but we had breakdowns in areas you can’t have them, like transition offense, missed layups, transition three, turnover … transition two and those are things we can clean up against any team in the league let alone against a team that is playing well.
“They’re at home, got a lot of weapons and that’s just something we have to work on.”
As to how the game went, Delle Donne said after playing the closest to home she gets in the league for the first time this season, “Truthfully it’s the 86 points they scored that we are most upset about. Putting up 71, that’s not too bad a game, unfortunately we were unable to get stops and that affects our offense a big amount.
“I think the biggest thing is we just have to become more of a consistent team, defensively.”
Before the game, Chatman was asked about her other Delaware player, rookie Betnijah Laney out of Rutgers.
“Just love her,” the Chicago coach said. “She’s such a hard worker. The minute I open my laptop, she comes rushing over and I have to tell her, `I’ve got ten other players I have to worry about, too.’”
The Sky next hosts the New York Liberty on Tuesday and then travel to Connecticut, Thursday, the same night Washington next plays visiting the Indiana Fever.
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