Slumped over in the last seat of the Washington bench, starting forward Matee Ajavon sat stagnant, her left hand propping up her head as she watched the Mystics on the court try to keep theirs above water.
They were trailing the Connecticut Sun by just a few in the third quarter at Verizon Center on Tuesday. Unlike many of the Mystics’ other opponents this season, Connecticut never led by double digits after the first quarter.
Ajavon had certainly done her part. She scored 10 of Washington’s 12 points in the first quarter. “I had a good flow,” the forward said.
But as she sat motionless on the sideline after halftime, eyes fixated on a game she was longing to re-enter, that flow was stifled. The Mystics would lose 77-70.
After playing most of the first quarter, the 5-foot-8 Ajavon was on the floor less than 10 minutes for the rest of the game. Washington coach Trudi Lacey attributed the substitutions to defensive matchups.
“We were having smaller defenders out there, they were shooting threes over us, so we decided to go with bigger defenders to keep them from shooting threes and to help on the post,” Lacey said. “We felt like if we had bigger help, that would help us.”
In their victory, the Sun (13-4) were 7 for 13 behind the arc. Ajavon sat the bench while six of those deep shots were made.
In the locker room, a visibly frustrated Ajavon said she was restless while sitting out the majority of the second half. But ultimately, she acknowledged the decision was out of her hands.
“You always want to play. I’m a competitor,” Ajavon said. “I’ve just got to roll with what’s going on.”
With the help of Crystal Langhorne’s team-high 14 points and Michelle Snow’s double-double (10 points, 11 rebounds), Washington refused to back down. The Mystics (3-13) hadn’t led since the seven-minute mark of the first quarter. But after halftime, the game still was within reach.
She was on the bench for most of the second quarter, but Ajavon took the court after intermission. Three minutes into the second half, she sank her third 3-pointer to give the Mystics a 39-38 lead. Just more than a minute later, she had a steal.
Then, with 4:41 to go in the third quarter, Lacey replaced Ajavon with 6-foot Noelle Quinn. The Mystics soon lost their last lead of the game. Ajavon played a total of 1 minute, 18 seconds for the rest of the half.
Ajavon averages 21 minutes, 9.0 points, and a team-high 1.43 steaks. Her scrappiness on the court and win-or-bust attitude is a quality her teammates look forward to seeing.
“She’s a huge spark,” Langhorne said. “She’s always been aggressive, trying to get a shot, trying to get a free throw, going to the basket. It helps our offense.”
Lacey insisted Ajavon’s absence wasn’t the deciding factor in Tuesday’s loss. Instead, she pointed to her team’s 60 percent free throw percentage and a lack of defensive stops - as evidenced by the Sun’s 51.9 field goal percentage.
Ajavon didn’t say yes or no when asked if she had trouble guarding Connecticut’s perimeter shooters. All she could do was reiterate her duty to take direction.
“You just have to stay ready,” she said.