Aerial Powers responded to the first postgame question with a sound instead of words, beginning her answer to a query about how she was feeling after facing her old team by taking a deep breath.
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“Wheeeeeeew,” she whistled as she breathed out before unfurling a Cheshire-cat grin. “I’m feeling pretty good.”
Powers wasn’t just reacting to scoring a season-high 18 points and sticking it to the Dallas Wings, whom the Washington Mystics defeated, 86-62, on Sunday afternoon at Entertainment and Sports Arena. Powers, who came back four days ago from a gluteal injury, also needed a deep breath after going on an 11-point tear in the fourth quarter.
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“I think if she had played any longer she would have needed oxygen,” Coach and General Manager Mike Thibault joked.
For the Mystics, Powers’s outburst — coupled with fellow bench player Tianna Hawkins’s career-high 21 points — was nothing to laugh about. They depended on Powers and Hawkins to jolt a subdued squad back to life and lead it past a physical Dallas team hungry for its first win. The Mystics improved to 4-1, and Dallas fell to 0-4
Three other Mystics players reached double figures — Elena Delle Donne (14 points, nine rebounds), Kristi Toliver (14 points, six assists) and Natasha Cloud (13 points) — but it was the energy and efficiency from Hawkins and Powers that led the way in an otherwise funky offensive outing for Washington
“It’s a luxury to have multiple players that can do multiple things and set up for you,” Toliver said. “You don’t want one or two people having to carry the load for 34 games; that’s going to wear you down when it matters the most.”
[ Mystics send Emma Meesseman out with a win ]
The Mystics had their slowest start of the young season with a 15-point first quarter and looked out of sync well into the second. As the best offensive team in the WNBA — averaging 90.5 points in its first four contests — Washington’s chemistry had been obvious in its crisp ball movement and communication, both of which had led to good shot selection
But Sunday, in the team’s third game in five days, the Mystics simply looked tired. Hawkins and Powers made a difference after checking in at the end of the first quarter, ending the half with a combined 12 points as neither missed a shot
“I think it’s just being able to hustle; it makes me feel good that I’m out there being productive by hustling, and I think that carried over to the offensive side,” Hawkins said
Hawkins also took advantage of being on the floor with Delle Donne — the two have played together less often than they did last season, with Hawkins usually coming off the bench in the second quarter as Delle Donne takes a breather
The Wings focused on Delle Donne all day, eventually frustrating the mellow forward so much that she screamed in the face of a referee whom she believed missed a foul call in the third quarter. That earned her a technical foul. But all that defensive pressure created opportunities for Hawkins, who shot 7 for 9 from the field and hit 3 of 5 three-pointers
“She spaces the floor, so if she and Elena are in together, both post players can shoot three-point shots, so now it opens up the lane, it gives us offensive rebounding angles, which Tianna also does,” Thibault said
[ Mystics hope for true home-court advantage at Entertainment and Sports Arena ]
Powers’s three-pointer tied the score at 22 with just over eight minutes left in the first half. The Mystics built a double-digit lead late in the third quarter and finally got comfortable in the fourth when a jumper from Toliver and a three from Powers put them up 75-60. Powers let loose a roar when her ball swished through the net and Dallas called a timeout
“I was just like, ‘Yes, let’s go, finally!’ ” she said. “And I’ve been working on my three-pointers and everything, so to see that go down wide open? Man, it just felt good. I felt like I had it going. I got a little hype.”
Washington held Dallas to 42 points over the final three quarters. The Wings lost top draft pick Arike Ogunbowale, a star at Notre Dame, when the guard sprained an ankle in the second quarter and did not return. Glory Johnson led Dallas with 15 points, but she was no match for Washington’s depth
“Somebody asked me the other day what our bench would be like with Emma gone,” Thibault said, referring to forward Emma Meesseman’s absence from the team to play in the European basketball championships. “Twenty-one [points] from one, 18 from another. . . . You have nights when teams try to take our your best players — they doubled Elena almost the entire night — and we found other people.”
Ava Wallace Ava Wallace covers college sports with a focus on Georgetown, Navy and Maryland, as well as tennis and the WNBA for The Washington Post. Before her current role, she covered Virginia and Virginia Tech athletics for The Post. Follow
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