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Unsung LaToya Sanders’ two-way play has Mystics one game away from WNBA Finals

Unsung LaToya Sanders’ two-way play has Mystics one game away from WNBA Finals

On a stacked Mystics team, LaToya Sanders knows her role. 

The 6-foot-2, 170-pound wisp of a center is asked to guard far bigger opponents throughout the season and still complement her teammates on the offensive end. It’s a lot to deal with. She does so without complaint. 

Sanders, the most unheralded of Washington’s five starters, did it all on Thursday night in a 103-91 WNBA semifinal win over the Las Vegas Aces at the Entertainment and Sports Arena. 

She finished with 17 points on a night when WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne (14 points, 5 of 15 shooting) struggled given her lofty standards. Sanders also played the kind of defense that left coach Mike Thibault insisting she should have been named WNBA first or second-team All-Defense. 

“My job is probably the easiest on the team,” Sanders laughed. “My job is basically to hit wide-open jumpers and lay-ups. Pretty sure I can do those two things.”

Indeed, she was efficient hitting 7 of 10 shots and all three free throws. Sanders also had to guard Vegas’ 6-8 center Liz Cambage, a big ask given their size difference. Cambage did have 23 points and 10 rebounds, but she only took 11 shots. 

Sanders and her teammates tried to make it as hard as possible for the Aces to get the ball inside for easy baskets in their two wins this week. Washington won Game 1 of the series 97-95 on Tuesday, a game that left Cambage visibly frustrated. She also earned a technical foul in Thursday’s game on a rough play underneath the Vegas basket.  

“When you’re LaToya Sanders and you’re 6-3 and you’re relying on your long arms to guard people, she takes a beating every night,” Thibault said. “She guards Camabge and [Phoenix Mercury center Brittney] Griner and [Minnesota Lynx center Sylvia] Fowles and all those people. And every night she wins a lot of those battles.”

But the really unsung part of Sanders’ game is her mid-range jumper. Thursday she was on when some of her higher-profile teammates like Delle Donne didn’t quite have their shot dropping. 

Sanders had six points in the third quarter as the two teams battled back and forth in a tight game and that set the stage for the decisive run that tilted the game toward the Mystics. She also had a hot start to the night with two baskets in the first quarter. 

“[Sanders is] a really good player. She's just on a team with so many other good players that she doesn't get as many shots,” Vegas guard Kelsey Plum said. “But she plays her role as good as anyone in the league. She's a vet. She rebounds the crap out of the ball. I just think that she does a great job for them. Everyone made us pay."

Thibault referenced a rebound Sanders grabbed in traffic to stifle a Vegas possession when they were trying to get the lead under 10 points in the fourth quarter. Instead, Washington was able to work the clock at the offensive end and score a knockout blow. It’s the little things that matter most when a team is pushing for a championship. The Mystics are one step closer. 

“Cambage is a talent, she’s a big girl,” Sanders said. “I just do what I can to try to make it difficult for her, but she’s going to hit some buckets here and there. I try to dish it out, but not take it.”  

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Wizards release statement on the passing of John Wall's mother

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Wizards release statement on the passing of John Wall's mother

The Washington Wizards announced the passing of John Wall's mother, Frances Pulley on Friday. 

Wall's mother had been battling cancer before her passing. She was 58. 

In a statement on Twitter, the Wizards said, "Sending thoughts and love for John Wall and his family after the passing of his mother, Frances Pulley. She will forever be a part of our #DCFamily."

Zach Leonsis, the senior vice president of strategic initiatives at Monumental Sports & Entertainment, also released a statement

"Thinking of @JohnWall and his family right now. Keeping you guys in our prayers. So terribly sorry for your loss and know that she will be remembered forever. #DCFamily

Wall's Kentucky coach, John Calipari also expressed his condolences for his former star: 

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Bradley Beal sees a young John Wall in the Grizzlies rookie sensation Ja Morant

Bradley Beal sees a young John Wall in the Grizzlies rookie sensation Ja Morant

WASHINGTON -- It is not often you see a rookie find initial success in the NBA to the degree Grizzlies point guard Ja Morant has, already with borderline All-Star numbers at the age of 20. And oftentimes, opponents are careful throwing out player comparisons for guys his age, wanting to see more before they anoint anyone.

Morant, though, is a different case and questions from media members at Wizards practice this week as the team gets set to face him for the first time naturally led to parallels to great players. On Thursday, Brooks brought up unprompted how much Morant reminds him of Russell Westbrook, his former player in Oklahoma City.

And on Friday, Bradley Beal invoked a teammate of his when breaking down what makes Morant so good.

"He loves to get up and down. He's really fast with the ball. It reminds you of John [Wall] in a lot of ways. He plays with his pace," Beal said.

Through 19 games this season, Morant is averaging 18.7 points, 6.4 assists and 1.3 steals per game. He is shooting 42.2 percent from three on 2.2 attempts.

The threes have been surprising to most, as he shot a relatively modest 36.3 percent his final year in college at Murray State. But also surprising maybe just how lethal he has been at attacking the rim.

Sure, that was a big part of his game in college. But this is the NBA where athletes are much bigger and stronger. And he isn't the biggest guy either, weighing in at 175 pounds according to Basketball-Reference.

But despite lacking in size, he has shown an ability to finish through contact rarely seen from any player.

"I think he has a no-fear type of mentality. So, you have to respect his aggressiveness," Beal said. "He'll get respect from a lot of players in the league, a lot of refs in the league because of his aggressiveness and... with all the posters he has. So, he's an assassin. You gotta respect his game."

Beal likely won't draw the defensive assignment on Morant. That will probably go to Ish Smith and back-up point guard Chris Chiozza, who is with the team while Isaiah Thomas recovers from a left calf injury.

Beal knows it is going to be tough for the whole Wizards team to contain Morant. He said the trick will be trying to stay in front of him, though he knows that is easier said than done.

Really, Morant is such a unique player that the Wizards can only gameplan and prepare so much until they actually experience facing him for the first time.

"He's gonna be a handful," Beal said.

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