- Mechelle Voepel, espnW.com
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TULSA, Okla. -- It's not as if the Tulsa Shock sent point guard Ivory Latta out the door without a second thought. To the contrary, she said, they made viable offers to keep her. She debated staying around for a fourth season in Oklahoma. But then Latta, a free agent, had a phone conversation with new Washington coach Mike Thibault.
"He was telling me exactly what he wanted me to do," Latta said. "And it was just an eye-opener. Like, wow, he really wants me to come and run this team. Right then and there, I called my agent and said, 'Hey, I'm going to Washington.'"
On Monday, Latta was back here in Tulsa, which drafted Notre Dame point guard Skylar Diggins with the No. 3 pick in April. And Latta stole the show in the Mystics' 95-90 overtime victory with a game-high 27 points.
It was the season opener for Washington, which finished last in the Eastern Conference the past two years. Latta spoke of how critical it was for the "refreshed" Mystics -- only four players return from last season's squad -- to get off to a victorious start.
Meanwhile, this was Tulsa's second game -- the Shock opened with a 98-81 loss at Atlanta on Saturday -- but first in front of the home fans at the BOK Center. A crowd of 7,381 came out to witness the home debut of Diggins and the return of center Liz Cambage.
The big Australian -- who didn't play in the WNBA last season -- had a double-double with 21 points and 10 rebounds. She was in foul trouble during the Shock's opener in Atlanta, and had 13 points and eight boards there. Her most recent game action before that was in February in China. And her body clock is still on Aussie time after she arrived in the United States just last week.
But, all in all, Shock fans have to like what they've seen so far from Cambage, who was Tulsa's top draft pick (No. 2 overall) in 2011.
"I've been here with the girls about five days, and I'm running around out there like a headless chicken," Cambage said of still learning coach Gary Kloppenburg's system. "But we're growing. It's early days, and we have so much talent.
"I've been really excited to come back and see all the fans. We are going to be a quick team, we just need to get used to playing with each other. I'm feeling OK; I'm still a bit rusty and trying to get the cobwebs out."
Diggins spent a lot of time on court Monday in the 2-guard position, with fellow rookie Angel Goodrich at point guard. The Shock are down to eight players, with guard Candice Wiggins and forwards Nicole Powell and Tiffany Jackson-Jones out with injuries.
Latta acknowledged with a grin that seeing two first-year players in the Shock backcourt was quite inviting. Nothing against the kids, but Latta was sure there were ways the Mystics could exploit that.
"We knew they were down some players and that they were inexperienced," Latta said. "Skylar is going to continue to grow in the WNBA and be a great point guard. It will take a little time.
"When I came to the WNBA, I was with [Detroit] and I had veteran guards to look up to like Katie Smith and Deanna Nolan."
Diggins played a game-high 42 minutes and 26 seconds, and led the Shock in assists with 11. But she struggled from the field, making 4 of 15 shots for nine points.
"I'm proud we competed, but I wished we would have finished better," Diggins said. "We have to continue to get better on defense and make better decisions in half-court sets.
"We're still figuring it out. I'd love to play more at the [point], but I will do whatever my team needs me to do. It was a great atmosphere; this crowd wants to support this team."
The Shock were led in scoring by Roneeka Hodges with 22 points -- she made 6 of 9 3-pointers -- with Glory Johnson adding 20 points to go along with Cambage's 21.
Meanwhile for the Mystics, Latta got scoring help from fellow starters Crystal Langhorne (16 points) and Kia Vaughn (10), plus reserve Matee Ajavon's 19 points. Ajavon struggled at the foul line (5-of-12), which was part of the reason the game went to overtime. She might have iced it in regulation.
But speaking of ice both teams went cold and looked rather out of gas in the extra frame. The Shock scored just once -- a late putback by Cambage -- with Ajavon and Latta combining for the seven points the Mystics needed to get the win.
The crowd at times got to good-naturedly jeer Latta, who had the best season of her WNBA career last season here in Tulsa.
"I loved Tulsa; I had three great years here with the fans," Latta said. "But I'm at the point of my career where my family is high priority."
Being back on the East Coast -- Latta is from South Carolina -- gives her a little more peace of mind with proximity to relatives during the WNBA season. It also just seemed like the right fit for her, a high-energy player who has come into her own as a scoring point guard in the WNBA.
The spotlight going into this Memorial Day game certainly was on Diggins. For understandable reasons: She was a college star whose popularity is carrying over to the pro game. But Diggins herself was quick to acknowledge there is no substitute for experience, and Latta has that edge.
"When you need to score, you need that veteran guard or post to do that for you," Latta said. "We knew we had to attack them at every angle.
"When I made the decision [to sign with the Mystics], it was about putting me in an organization where I know I can be very effective. I just felt like this was a better opportunity right now for me in my career."
12dBonnie D. Ford