Former Maryland guard Kristi Toliver finding her rhythm with Mystics

The Washington Mystics had a vision for guard Kristi Toliver’s role when they signed her as an unrestricted free agent in the offseason.

They knew the former Maryland star was potent from beyond the arc. Paired with their other shooters and newly acquired forward Elena Delle Donne, the Mystics hoped Toliver would direct an aggressive, dynamic offense.

Now 14 games into the season, the latest result being a 100-70 win over the Seattle Storm on Tuesday afternoon, Mystics coach Mike Thibault believes Toliver has found that niche.

The nine-year veteran is balancing her role as a facilitator and scorer as the Mystics lead the WNBA in 3-point attempts with 21.7 a game.

“She comes into a team that she doesn’t know everybody, and you’re just trying to kind of feel your way through a little bit and how much you can assert yourself on and off the court,” Thibault said. “Her teammates and the coaches have been encouraging her to be more aggressive offensively, and I think she’s comfortable with that.”

Thibualt commended her performance after Toliver, who averaged 13.2 points a game and shot 42.4 percent from long range during the Los Angeles Sparks’ championship season last year, totaled 15 points in 28 minutes against the Storm.

She likely could’ve added to her total if she hadn’t spent the fourth quarter on the bench in a long-sleeve warmup shirt as the Mystics coasted to the 30-point triumph.

Toliver started the scoring less than 30 seconds into the game with a 3-pointer, which left her finger in the air as she backpedaled to defense. Before entering halftime with 13 points, she hit two more from deep and drew a foul on another long attempt.

She finished 3-for-8 from deep, while shooting 50 percent from the field overall and adding four assists, a steal and a blocked shot.

“As a point guard, that’s huge,” Toliver said. “I have to be able to set people up, and now I’m more familiar with where they want the ball, the timing of everything, the pace that we want to play at. So, now that’s allowing me to just kind of be me and not overthink certain things.”

That comfort, Toliver said, has developed within the past week.

In the Mystics’ win over Chicago Sky on Sunday, her 16 points came on 4-for-7 shooting from 3-point range. Though the team lost Friday to the Minnesota Lynx, who own the league’s best record at 11-1, she scored 14 points on 50 percent shooting.

That stretch is when Toliver felt the Mystics improved their rapport, despite playing without center Emma Meesseman, who led the WNBA in 3-point percentage last season but has missed about a month while with the Belgian national team.

“She’s starting to say, ‘OK, I’m good here now,’ ” Thibault said.

Toliver’s stout production wasn’t a surprise for one Storm player Tuesday.

Forward Crystal Langhorne played with Toliver at Maryland from 2005 to 2008 and abroad for WBC Dynamo Moscow from 2011 to 2013.

Langhorne remembers Toliver, then a freshman, sinking a 3-pointer with about six seconds left in the 2006 national championship to force overtime and propel the Terps past Duke. Langhorne said Toliver had another clutch connection to help win the FIBA EuroCup Women title in 2013.

“That’s my best memory,” Langhorne said, “just remembering her big shots.”

But Toliver said she’s careful to become too content from deep.

She wants to push the Mystics’ rhythm and keep opponents off balance to build on the diverse lineup the team constructed around her in the offseason.

“We don’t want to just live and die by the 3 because that’s easy to guard,” Toliver said. “We still want to be hard to guard and hurt people in a lot of different ways.”

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