- The Washington Times
Tuesday, June 19, 2018

After losing four of their last five games, the Washington Mystics wanted to get back to basics, particularly on defense. On Tuesday night, they did that and much more.

The Mystics held the Chicago Sky to 11-for-48 shooting from the second quarter on and won running away, 88-60, at Capital One Arena to improve their record to 7-5.

Kristi Toliver led all players with 19 points and eight assists, and Elena Delle Donne had 14 points and a team-high seven rebounds.

Cheyenne Parker led the Sky (3-8) with 18 points off the bench.

It was the Mystics’ largest win of the season and just their second game all year to be decided by more than 12 points.

“It was nice to be able to sit down in the fourth quarter,” coach Mike Thibault said, “or at least not be stressed in the fourth quarter.”

The Mystics also got some good long-term news, as Tayler Hill played in her first WNBA game since tearing her ACL 11 months ago. Hill scored six points in the fourth quarter as Washington cruised to victory.

“I was hoping to get a game where we could play her like this,” Thibault said. “She was a little nervous, I think, but excited at the same time.”

The lead changed nine times with four ties in the first quarter as neither side grabbed control early. Toliver led all scorers in the first with eight points, including a 3-for-3 trip to the free throw line that gave Washington a 19-17 lead.

A big 3-pointer from Tianna Hawkins briefly put the Mystics up five, and they ended the first quarter leading 24-21 despite some trouble in the paint. The Sky outrebounded the Mystics 8-5, outscored them in the paint 12-4 and held Elena Delle Donne scoreless.

But Thibault said there were no adjustments made after the first quarter.

“We just played better. Just made a few more shots,” Thibault said. “When you get 12 people involved, it’s kind of fun to watch. But we didn’t change anything. We just kept playing better.”

After not playing in the first quarter, Shatori Walker-Kimbrough entered the game and quickly racked up seven points by scoring in all three phases, including a crowd-pleasing three.

“She’s been practicing great. As a coaching staff, we’ve talked about, she needs to get on the court,” Thibault said. “We’ve got to figure out a way to play her more. She responded. She brought good energy at both ends of the court.”

Walker-Kimbrough was happy with her performance, particularly as it stood out to Thibault.

“I’m just trying to approach practice like game days, just try to make not just myself better but my team better,” Walker-Kimbrough said. “Trying to be disruptive on defense and like I said, just approach practice like game days so that when my time does come, I’m ready to play.”

Delle Donne soon got involved in the scoring party with a turnaround jumper, her first field goal of the night, and the Mystics grew their lead to as many as 16 before heading into halftime up 46-32. The Sky shot just 4-for-17 from the field in the second while everyone pitched in for Washington; not only would all 12 Mystics end up scoring, the team set a season high with 26 total assists.

Toliver starred in the third quarter, hitting a 3-pointer and an under-the-basket layup as part of her 11-point period. She also grabbed a steal and assisted Ariel Atkins on a full-court transition, all part of the Mystics’ 17-2 run to start the half.

With the Mystics up by 26 early in the fourth quarter, Hill entered the game and quickly made two of three shot attempts, all of them from behind the arc.

It was the first time in nearly a year that the Mystics had all 12 players healthy, a good problem for Thibault to have. The coach usually uses nine- or 10-player rotations.

“We might just do lotto and pull names out of a hat (to set rotations),” Thibault said. “I really don’t know. It’s hard. There’s no way on a regular basis you can play 12 players. It’s just too hard in a 40-minute game.”

The teams will face off again Friday in Chicago, before the Mystics return home for four straight games in the District over the next week and a half.

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