- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 9, 2015

Stefanie Dolson was in the middle of a career performance when she missed a 3-pointer, launched amid a swarm of New York Liberty defenders, with the score tied and the clock running out in regulation. Kara Lawson, the Washington Mystics’ second-leading scorer, put up the team’s last shot of overtime: a tying 3-point attempt that was blocked by the Liberty’s Kiah Stokes. Game over.

At the end of each period, the Mystics’ best attempt at hero ball wasn’t enough. The team’s 79-76 loss to the Liberty on Thursday afternoon was its second in a row and third in its last four games, lengthening a mini-slump in which the team’s self-proclaimed “deep” bench has done little to help its stars.

“What I really need is somebody to kind of step up and say, ‘Hey, you can’t keep me on the bench, I’m going to play,’” coach Mike Thibault said. “But they’ve got to do it with how they play both in practice and here.”

The Mystics’ bench scored just ten points in the game, while the Liberty got 25 from their reserves. The Washington bench didn’t record a point and pulled down just one rebound in the overtime period, when Dolson accounted for four of the team’s seven points and four of its five rebounds. She scored a career-high 22 points and tied her career high with 13 rebounds.

The game wasn’t lost for lack of scoring, but the bench was an all-around letdown. It was outrebounded, 19-11, recorded just one steal and one blocked shot, and had an even assist-to-turnover ratio while the team’s overall mark was 22-12. Dolson acknowledged that the team needs bench production, but still insisted that her supporting cast is strong.

“Everyone has a role on this team,” Dolson said. “We have a deep bench. We have to definitely have that production from them. And I think they’ve been doing a good job of that.”

The numbers don’t quite agree, though, at least not recently. The bench scored just 12 points in the team’s June 26 loss to the Atlanta Dream. A 16-point explosion from guard Tayler Hill on June 28 against the Chicago Sky helped the Mystics get their lone win in the last four games and masked that the rest of the bench scored a combined six points. No non-starter, other than Hill, scored more than two.

And in the team’s blowout loss to the Indiana Fever on July 2, the bench scored just seven points overall.

Forward Ally Malott, the team’s first-round draft pick who has scored just six points in the last four games, said she wasn’t sure what the problem was. She didn’t feel like it was rooted in ability or strategy, but rather effort.

“We have a really deep bench and we rely on it to kind of pick up the starters when they come out and just do the little things like rebounding and set good screens and make the extra pass,” Malott said. “I think it’s all about energy. I think we’ve maybe had a lack of energy when we come in and we need to think about just providing a spark whenever we come in the game.”

Lawson and Dolson kept the Mystics in the game all morning. By the time of the final buzzer, both had played over 36 minutes. Neither had quite enough to hit the game-winner, or the buzzer-beater to force another overtime, so the Mystics lost an opportunity to move into sole-possession of second place in the Eastern Conference. Without steady bench production, the spot will be a lot harder to reclaim.

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