Washington Mystics’ guard Tierra Ruffin-Pratt says ‘I’ve always wanted to guard the best players on the other team. It’s what I love to do.’

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Editor’s note: Seattle Times reporter Jayda Evans will have a weekly conversation with a WNBA newsmaker. This week she speaks with Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, who was undrafted out of North Carolina in 2013 but has developed into a full-time starter for the Washington Mystics. Ruffin-Pratt, dubbed TRP as a pro, is a budding defensive stopper. She’s averaging career highs in 7.9 points and 24.5 minutes per game.

Question: Y’all were dunked on by Phoenix center Brittney Griner on Friday. Washington won the game, 71-63, but the one-handed slam was the talk afterward?

Answer: We said something in the locker room before the game (at Washington’s Verizon Center) like, “Don’t get dunked on again.” Because last year in Phoenix we got dunked on. We won the game Friday, so that’s really all that matters. We joked about it afterward. (Guard) Armintie (Herrington) came in the locker room and said she thought Tash (Natasha Cloud) was going to come in and take the charge, but then we really would have been No. 1 on ESPN top plays.

Q: You lost last season, 90-78, in Phoenix when Griner dunked. She has six dunks in her pro career and two were against the Mystics.

A: We don’t bring that up. You just don’t want to be the one she dunks on.

Q: You were able to defend reigning MVP Maya Moore, holding her to an average of 11 points in winning back-to-back games against Minnesota. She’s averaging 18.5 points per game, what’s the secret?

A: Zoning into the scouting reports of what those players like to do. She’s the spark for her team, so I’m trying to take her out of it. I like to stay attached to them (opponents) and know their tendencies. A lot of players don’t like it when you’re up under them and bothering them at all times. So I keep a hand in their face and bother them.

Q:Anybody ever explode in frustration?

A: They say some things to the refs about me hand-checking. I hear that a lot, “Oh, her hand’s on me the whole time. Watch her hands!” It’s basketball. It’s a physical sport, and you can’t think you’re just not going to be touched the whole game. So if they’re not scoring and are talking to the refs, that lets me know I’m doing my job.

Q:You were undrafted in 2013 and worked your way into the starting role. What was the hardest part in making coach Mike Thibault’s roster?

A: It was all a grind. It started by having to beat out some players that were already on the team. When I came into (training) camp, I said, “All I’m going to do is defend and rebound.” He saw it. But I was worried, again, at the end of last season because I had shoulder surgery during the offseason. The last player to beat out was Mo (Monique) Currie. Coach told me they weren’t going to bring Mo back, but he said he wasn’t just going to give me the starting spot. Just hearing him say it was there for me to take, I just wanted to work as hard as I could. Mo helped me get to this point. It was sad to see her leave (to Phoenix). Before the game (Friday), she told me I was doing good.

Q:And Thibault continues to rave about your defense?

A: He said if they (media members) don’t put me on the all-defensive first team this year, then I’ve been robbed. In college and AAU, I’ve always been one of the best defensive players and wanted to guard the best players on the other team. It’s what I love to do.

Jayda Evans’ WNBA power rankings
Last week’s rankings in parentheses
Rank Team Comment
1. (2) New York Reached 20 wins for the first time since 2010.
2. (4) Los Angeles Brian Agler’s team closing in on a playoff berth.
3. (3) Chicago Courtney Vandersloot helped Chicago clinch playoff berth Sat.
4. (8) Tulsa Without Riquna Williams due to leg injury.
5. (1) Indiana Guard Briann January signed contract extension.
6. (7) Washington Mike Thibault on Storm loss: “Two worst halves … we’ve played all year”
7. (6) Minnesota Lindsay Whalen (heel, Achilles) questionable
8. (5) Phoenix Brittney Griner dunks, tallies nine blocks in 2 losses.
9. (9) Atlanta DeLisha Milton-Jones owns games-played record.
10. (10) Connecticut 3-game trip makes playoff hopes more difficult.
11. (11) Seattle Owns tiebreaker over L.A. for final playoff berth but will need help.
12. (12) San Antonio Franchise-worst road losing streak moves to 15 games.