Throughout the course of this season, there’s been a consistent theme with the Washington Mystics: Ivory Latta. Whenever they need someone to step up, the 5’6″ “brave-heart” finds a way.
Turnovers often lie at the heart of a loss. Double-digit turnover tallies definitely leave a lot to be desired. Tonight’s game between the Washington Mystics and the Indiana Fever tested the very limits of “sloppy play” as turnover totals soared into the twenties.
“I was concerned that we were losing at one point in the game because we weren’t talking on defense and I think you lose your confidence when you turn the ball over after you get a good defensive stop,” said Washington’s coach Mike Thibault.
Despite the sloppiness of the contest, mainly thanks to the Mystics, Ivory Latta, the Washington squad clinched a playoff berth with an overtime 76-72 victory against the Fever.
Latta not only scored a season-high 25 points, but also expressed interminable emotions after the win.
At tip-off, she scored the starting six points; yet, she then committed two turnovers in a mere 20 seconds. With frustration, she stormed to the bench watching her team finish the three minutes of action without her. They led the quarter, 17-16.
For the majority of the game, Latta came out like a warrior. Her energetic, yet strong 5’6” figure did not inhibit her confidence. Early in the second, Latta missed a three-point attempt, but followed her shot and retrieved the rebound in the paint against lengthy Indiana player Tamika Catchings. She then dished it out to her teammate for the lay in on that same possession.
Coming into the third with 10 points, Latta revitalized her outside shooting early in the period. On her next attempt, she infiltrated the middle again with a floater to give the Mystics the lead, 40-39 with six minutes left in the period. Without hesitation, the Fever accumulated a 12-point rally over Washington, who were shooting one for eight.
Latta allowed her aggression and competitive spirit to fuel a beautiful fade-away three to give her team that “all too familiar” sense of hope. When Latta wanted something, she attacked it. Playing with fire, Latta attacked the lane and was fouled by the Fever’s Maggie Lucas.
Starting the fourth quarter, Latta committed her third foul. With confusion, she screamed her thoughts at the referee. Latta then missed two more shot attempts. As much as this game is physical, the game of basketball is also mental. As a matter of fact, Coach Thibault said so himself.
“We come down and get a stop and then we come back and give it right back to them so the mental part has to play in at some point,” said Thibault. “For some players it did and some players it didn’t. Basically I kept the five or six out there down the stretch that who I felt could fight through all that tonight.”
Coach Thibault had confidence in Latta’s fight. With certainty, Latta “Fred-Flinstoned” her defender and drove for a right-handed layup to cut the lead to three. This sequence events resulted in a timeout and momentum changing swing in the action.
Latta’s passionate playing gave a motivational run for the Mystics later in the fourth. Trailing 63-64, with five seconds on the shot clock, Latta drove hard with the ball and put up a three-point play with 1:10 left in the contest.
This gave Washington its first lead since 40-39. However, Indiana’s Layshia Clarendon answered to tie the score at 66. With burden, Latta missed a baseline opportunity at the game buzzer, sending the teams into overtime.
Latta, who had her leg tweaked at the end of the fourth, was an apparent setback for the Mystics. Yet, her team picked up her momentum.
The Mystic’s LaToya Sanders’ presence helped Latta as she dished Sanders for two. Latta then missed a floater, as Sanders put up two more for the 74-72 lead.
“They were the aggressor, and we were on our heels,” said White. “We were playing not to lose, instead of playing to win and they were playing and fighting for their lives and you got to give them credit for continuing to come at us, and they withstood runs and they exceeded.”
The Fever’s Clarendon then committed a personal foul on Latta with 24 seconds remaining. Excited, Latta made one of the free throws, but cheered when the buzzer sounded for the 76-72 win.
Overall, Latta’s slasher mentality and overall aggressive attacking gave her opportunities to shoot from the charity stripe. She shot nine for ten on the night from the free throw line. For the third consecutive season, Latta and the team will head to playoffs.
“So much excitement. I’m so excited. Three years in a row. I really don’t know what to say,” said Latta. “I’m really proud of this team. How we just fought so hard. We were down pretty much the whole game but we fought back. We knew we really, really needed this game and everybody stayed positive and was ready to play.”
The team may not have looked ready to play with 23 turnovers that turned into 21 points for Indiana. Despite the chaos, each will learn from their mistakes and stay mentally prepared as the playoffs near.
“We just got to stay focused, be ready and cut out all of these turnovers, and it starts with me,” said Latta.