June 17, 2014

WNBA Report: Hartley Quickly Making Adjustment To The Pros With Washington

By Rob Knox
@knoxrob 1

Eleven games into her WNBA career, Mystics rookie guard Bria Hartley is providing the kind of change that everyone believes in.

Already, Hartley has made SportsCenter’s Top 10 following a wicked behind the back crossover and drive to the basket move against the Indiana Fever, earned her way into the Mystics starting lineup and gained the respect of several prominent veterans, who believe she will be a special player by the time her career is finished.

“For the first week that she was here, I was like wow,” Mystic guard Kara Lawson said. “She has a chance to be an elite guard in this league very quickly. I don’t want to put a year on it because that’s added pressure. She’s a complete player and she’s only going to get better from here. She can do everything.”

Added Phoenix Mercury guard and former UConn standout Diana Taurasi, who told the Hartford Courant recently: “Once Bria figures it out, once she starts knocking down shots, she has the kind of skill package that no one else does and there is no reason why she shouldn't have a long career.”

Hartley has thrilled home crowds at the Verizon Center so far this season.

She led the Mystics with 13 points in a tough 75-67 setback to the Atlanta Dream Sunday afternoon. It was the first time in her fledgling pro career that Hartley has reached double figures in consecutive games.

She also tallied 13 points in a win over the Chicago Sky last Friday night. In her last two games, Hartley has been efficient as she’s shooting 11-for-21 from the field and 4-of-8 from 3-point distance.

Hartley, who is fifth among rookies in scoring with a 9.4 point per game average, will take her show on the road where Washington will play nine of its next 12 games beginning with a high noon showdown Wednesday in Atlanta.

With the Mystics sitting at 5-6 overall in a congested Eastern conference, this upcoming stretch of games will be critical for a young team featuring seven players in either their first or second years in the league.

However, with Hartley leading the way and gaining confidence each time she takes the floor, the Mystics will be fine.

Hartley plays with a maturity and ferocity rarely seen in 21-year olds at this level. Of course, playing at UConn prepared Hartley for playing professionally as she dealt with Beyonce-like treatment and performed in sold out arenas on a regular basis, including helping the Huskies participate in four consecutive Final Fours.

Hartley brought impressive credentials to the nation’s capital. In helping UConn to an amazing 144-11 record during her collegiate career, Hartley finished as the third player in UConn history to reach at least 1,500 points, 500 rebounds, 500 assists and 200 steals.

“She’s improving each day and in practice,” Mystics guard Ivory Latta said. “She’s doing a great job out there. Coach (Mike Thibault) is giving her the time to go out there and learn and she’s doing a great job for sure. She’s poised during practice and goes at a pace that we need and she’s maturing already and that’s a great thing.”

Hartley’s breakout performance was a career high 20-point outing during a thrilling triple overtime victory over the Los Angeles Sparks on June 1.

A magician with the ball in her hands, Hartley is faster than speeding traffic on the Cross-Bronx Expressway.

When she’s on, her short pull-up jumper from the elbow is a thing of beauty. More impressive is that Hartley isn’t afraid to attack the rim or challenge bigger players.

“I swear every game I am getting bumped around,” Hartley said. “That’s fine though as I try to compensate for that with my quickness and hold my ground a little bit.”

A perfect example occurred during the Mystics’ fourth quarter surge against the Sky.

Hartley went strong to the basket on a fastbreak and despite getting whacked hard across her beautiful face, scored and made the ensuing foul shot.

While her scoring has increased, Hartley’s defense is also beginning to get noticed in a good way as well. There was a time when Hartley had defensive difficulties, well according to at least one well known expert in the women’s basketball world.

“I take a lot of pride in my defense,” Hartley said. “When I was a freshman at UConn, coach (Geno Auriemma) would tell me that I couldn’t guard anyone so each year I just worked at getting better at something. Then by my senior year, I was able to guard the other team’s best player and make it difficult for them.”

Hartley has received an advanced education lately in guarding the opposing team’s best players.

During a recent stretch in consecutive games, Hartley guarded Taurasi, New York’s Cappie Poindexter and Chicago’s Epiphanny Prince. She hasn’t shut them down, but she hasn’t backed down and made them earn everything.

“There’s times I’ve done well and times I haven’t done so well but you have to learn how to play against those players,” Hartley said. “They’re great and they’re going to hit tough shots but I am going to compete against them and make it tough for them. Having the help of your teammates is great.

"They help me a lot. Just watching Ivory and seeing the impact she has on the floor and what she does is inspiring to me. Kara is one of the smartest players on the floor and she talks me through stuff and instills confidence in me as well.”

With plenty of room to improve, Hartley is in the perfect situation to continue making a positive impact for Mystics.

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June 14, 2014

WNBA REPORT: Hawkins and Hartley Propel Washington Over Chicago

By Rob Knox

Officially, the deal to bring Tianna Hawkins and Bria Hartley to Washington was a trade.

In reality, the draft day transaction on April 14 was more like walking into Tiffany’s and stealing an expensive gem. In this case, two diamonds in the rough.

Hawkins and Hartley sparkled and glittered in helping the Mystics end a three-game losing streak and beat the shorthanded Chicago Sky, 79-68, Friday night in an Eastern Conference battle at Verizon Center.

The Mystics acquired Hawkins and Hartley from the Seattle Storm for Crystal Langhorne. It’s a move that’s paying immediate dividends for the Mystics, who evened their overall record to 5-5. They delivered crucial scoring, defense and energy during a decisive 10-0 fourth quarter run that gave the Mystics the separation they needed to subdue the Sky.

“We knew we had to bring a lot of energy to court when we got into the game,” Hawkins said. “We didn’t want to lose again. We had to fight the whole game and Chicago was right there with us. We did a much better job on defense in the fourth quarter and everybody did a great job of focusing.”

Hawkins is getting an opportunity to shine in the shadow of the University of Maryland, where she starred for the Terrapins from 2009-13. She’s thankful to be in the league and play anywhere, but there’s something special about playing for your hometown squad.

“I was ecstatic when I learned that I was traded here because it meant I was coming back home,” Hawkins said. “The hardest part of being traded is I still have to prove myself because I am playing for a new coach and with new teammates. My solution to that is to come in here everyday and work hard.”

Though the fans in attendance were happy with receiving a free refillable Dunkin Donuts coffee mug, they were really excited with the performances of the Mystics especially in the final quarter when they outscored Chicago, 25-15. The Sky had more turnovers (six) than field goals (five) in the fourth quarter.

Hartley and Hawkins combined for eight points during a three-minute burst of brilliance early in the fourth quarter. That effort helped the Mystics construct a 64-55 bulge with 7:00 remaining that they were able to ride to the finish line.

“I was happy with our defense in the fourth quarter,” Hartley said. “We concentrated on limiting Allie Quigley’s touches because she hurt us in the first half and making it hard for Epiphanny Prince to see the floor. We wanted to go out there and pressure them a lot so that we could get out into transition. I was more excited when I got traded here because it was a chance to stay on the East Coast.”

The Mystics got a balanced scoring effort to get back in the win column.

Emma Meesseman led the way with her first career double-double (16 points, 11 rebounds, five steals). She has scored in double figures in two straight games for Washington. Hartley added 13 points along with her usual variety of crowd-pleasing moves and lockdown defense.

Hawkins hustled and bustled her way to 10 points. Two of her baskets ended quarters and gave Washington a 14-12 lead after the first period and a slim 54-53 edge entering the final frame.

Directing the Mystics show was Kara Lawson, who finished with a career-high 10 assists and eight points. She drilled a dagger 3-pointer from in front of the Sky’s bench with under three minutes remaining that gave the Mystics a 74-63 edge.

Stefanie Dolson sprang off the bench to add eight points for the Mystics.

“Getting a win tonight was huge for us,” Lawson said. “One of the things that’s so tough in this league is how even the talent is in this league. One of the things you can’t do in this league is lose your confidence as an individual and as a team. We might be one of the youngest teams in the league so for us it’s a balance of trying to win games but also trying to learn how to be a playoff-type team. That’s what we’re doing. We’ve had some peaks and valleys so far, but tonight we got good contributions from our young players. They changed what we were doing defensively in the fourth quarter. They’re a big part of what we do.”

Hartley, Meesseman, Dolson, Hawkins and Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, who had five assists, are part of the Mystics youth movement.

Seven players are in their first or second year in the league, which is awesome for future success and sometimes frustrating in the present.

Veterans Monique Curry and Kia Vaughn had seven rebounds each. After playing four games in six days, the Mystics took advantage of the two days off to refine a few things. The practice showed as the Mystics finished with 24 assists on their 33 baskets.

“We didn’t get a chance to practice because we had so many games in a short period,” Lawson said. “It was like play, prepare for an opponent, play and so on. We had two days of practice and we worked on ball movement. Assists are indicative of how we are playing as a team and moving the ball. We also made some shots in the fourth quarter.”

The Sky played without reigning WNBA Rookie of the Year Elena Delle Donne, the WNBA's second-leading scorer, for the second straight game. She remained in Chicago while receiving treatment for a reoccurrence of Lyme disease. The Sky have played without center Sylvia Fowles (hip) all season and were also missing Jessica Breland (right shin).

The Sky led twice in the second half, each time by one point. The Sky’s final lead was 55-54 following a Tamera Young jumper 20 seconds into the fourth quarter. Quigley scored a career-high 18 points and Prince had 17 for the Sky (5-5), who lost their fourth straight game. Chicago shot 38.2 percent from the field against the WNBA's top defense. It was the fifth time this season that the Mystics have held an opponent below 40 percent shooting.

Washington finishes its three-game homestand Sunday afternoon when it hosts Atlanta at 4:00 p.m. Chicago returns to action Wednesday night when it hosts New York. The Sky are hopeful to have Delle Donne back in the lineup.

“It's just hard to tell right now,” Sky coach Pokey Chatman told the Associated Press concerning Delle Donne’s return. “We'll re-evaluate on Monday.”

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