After Minnesota's 92-78 victory Saturday over Washington, Lynx Coach Don Zierden was quick to give credit:
"I want to give our practice team a lot of credit," Zierden starts off. "We go against some athletic guys."
These eight guys: Greg Chassen, Kacey Keys, Eli Jermanous, George Dennis, Marcus Williams, along with Romone, Hans, and Joe, often are called in to provide live competition for the Lynx during practices. Using males as live scrimmage bodies is a common practice for women's college teams.
"Of our 15 practices (during the month-long Olympic break), we went against them nine times," continues the coach. "I want to credit them for how hard they pushed us, and credit our players for going against them. I think that made them better in helping them prepare for tonight."
"They really pushed us," Lynx guard Candice Wiggins says of the practice guys. "We were playing defense against them all the time."
Center Nicky Anosike adds, "The guys are bigger, stronger and faster. It really helps us as far as being able to play up to that level. Playing against them, then come into the game, it enables us to match (Washington's) physicality."
Definitely it showed throughout Saturday's contest that the guys toughened the Lynx up.
"Washington is a physical team, and I want to give my players a lot of credit," says Zierden.
Minnesota (14-13) got out in front 15-4 in the game's first five minutes, then hung on to a three-point lead at the end of the first quarter.
Then later, after a 28-28 tie, the Lynx again inched out front, mainly on the play of Vanessa Hayden-Johnson (three points), Wiggins (two points) and Charde Houston (four points) off the bench to give Minnesota a 46-38 halftime lead.
The Lynx never lost its advantage the rest of the game, but it finally took a 14-2 run midway through the final quarter to finally put to rest any notion that Washington (10-18) might had in getting back in the contest.
It was pretty, especially in the fourth quarter, when it seemed like a whistle was being blown every 10 seconds, but Minnesota notched a much-needed win to keep them in the playoff hunt.
"I knew there would be lapses tonight because we haven't played a game in over a month," continues Coach Z. "But I thought our energy and effort was pretty consistent."
"We kept our composure in the fourth quarter," says Lynx forward Seimone Augustus, whose two of her 12 points helped kick-start Minnesota's final scoring spurt.
Zierden was especially pleased with the performance of Hayden-Johnson, who finished with 11 points and nine rebounds. "She was really big tonight," says Zierden. "When she plays like that, she gives us a huge lift."
Says Hayden-Johnson, "I just wanted to help in any way that I could."
She and Wiggins (22 points) led the Lynx bench, which outscored Washington's 43-15. The team also held the Mystics to 41 percent shooting and under 80 points, along with finishing even on the boards (38 rebounds apiece). Every Minnesota player scored as well.
"There were some positives tonight," the coach surmises.
Now it's off on a road trip that either will make or break the Lynx's season, beginning Monday at Los Angeles, followed by stops at Phoenix (Sept. 3), Seattle (Sept. 6), and Sacramento (Sept. 7)
"This is where people are writing us off," believes Zierden. "These young players have fought (all season) and I am so proud of them. We are down to our last seven games -- last year at this time, we were looking at the draft -- and now we are in the playoff mix. We know it is going to be difficult going on the road, but I know one thing -- these young kids are going to compete."
Says Hayden-Johnson, one of only two Lynx players who have seen post-season play in a Minnesota uniform, "We can't depend on L.A. or (another) team to lose. We got to win and help ourselves out.
"We just got to get the job done," concludes Augustus matter-of-fact.