Mystics vs. Liberty: Big run by Washington can’t overcome a bigger early deficit

Whenever questions about last year come up, everyone associated with the Washington Mystics is quick to point out that this season’s group bears little resemblance to the one that was the worst in the WNBA’s Eastern Conference in 2011. And through six games, there have been moments when those statements ring true.

But the question confronting the Mystics after a 76-70 loss to the New York Liberty on Friday night at Verizon Center is whether these flashes of respectability will ever turn into something consistent. Because so far this season, Washington has shown itself to be maddeningly unpredictable.

In this latest setback, the Mystics were done in by an awful start, falling behind by 29 points in the first half when the Liberty went on a 30-5 run. Even after the Mystics orchestrated a spirited second-half comeback, Washington General Manager and Coach Trudi Lacey was fuming during her postgame news conference.

“I don’t have an explanation for it other than people weren’t ready to play,” she said after the Mystics extended their losing streak to four games. “It was unacceptable and inexcusable.”

Just like its dramatic comeback against defending WNBA champion Minnesota on May 30, in which the Mystics trailed by 24 before halftime only to take a late fourth-quarter lead, Washington (1-5) made a game of things against the Liberty during a dramatic turnaround after halftime.

When guards Noelle Quinn and Matee Ajavon combined to hit three-pointers on three straight Washington possessions, the Mystics were down by just three points with 1 minute 37 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.

But the Liberty’s Essence Carson (13 points) responded with a clutch three-pointer to give New York a late cushion, and the Mystics missed five straight desperation shots from three-point range before the final buzzer sounded.

Forward Crystal Langhorne paced Washington with 24 points and six rebounds, including 10 points during a 15-2 run that cut the Mystics’ deficit to single digits. Center Michelle Snow, who was inserted into the starting lineup for the first time this season, added 10 points and 12 rebounds.

But it wasn’t nearly enough to overcome some porous first-quarter defense against the Liberty (3-5), which had lost its previous three road games this season by an average of 21 points.

The Mystics gave up 35 points in the first 10 minutes, tying a season high set in the fourth quarter of last Sunday’s loss at Connecticut. New York, meanwhile, shot a blistering 60 percent from the floor before halftime, hit seven of 13 three-point attempts for the game and got a game-high 25 points from guard Cappie Pondexter.

Perhaps more troubling for Lacey, however, is that there don’t seem to be any definitive answers in sight for a locker room that struggled with the same issues a year ago. The coach tried to jumble her lineup Friday, limiting team captain Monique Currie (season-low two points) to 13 minutes and usual starter Ashley Robinson to just two minutes.

Lacey said after the game more changes would be coming in her search for five consistent players. Snow suggested the team’s lack of consistency shows it still must “buy into the system, buy into the philosophy.”

“It’s nauseating, because this is what we do every game,” Snow added. “It’s extremely nauseating.”

●DREAM 60, SILVER STARS: Angel McCoughtry scored 16 points, Lindsey Harding added 14 and Atlanta beat visiting San Antonio.

Sophia Young finished with 21 points and was the only player to score in double figures for the Silver Stars (2-4), who have lost two straight and four of five.

Atlanta (3-4) overcame 23 turnovers, matching a season high, to snap a two-game skid.

Time expired in the final seconds on San Antonio guard Becky Hammon, who dribbled past Dream forward Sancho Lyttle inside the three-point line and threw a bad pass to Shenise Johnson.

Silver Stars Coach Dan Hughes was ejected early in the second quarter in a disagreement over a foul that was called on Tully Bevilaqua.

Hughes yelled several times from close range at official Denise Brooks, who kicked him out of the game after Hughes left the sideline and approached her angrily at half court.

●SUN 89, FEVER 81: In Indianapolis, Kara Lawson scored 18 points to help Connecticut beat Indiana, while WNBA MVP Tamika Catchings missed part of the third quarter after she was accidentally elbowed in the face by Fever teammate Tammy Sutton-Brown.

Catchings left the game with 6:58 left in the third quarter. She went to the locker room with a towel over her face and had a bandage on her lower lip when she returned at the 3:38 mark of the quarter.

The Sun (5-1) went on an 8-0 run with Catchings out.

Catchings finished with a season-high 31 points for the Fever (4-2).

●SKY 98, SHOCK 91: Epiphanny Prince hit a three-pointer to force overtime and added eight points in the extra session in Chicago’s home victory over winless Tulsa.

Prince, the WNBA scoring leader, finished with 32 points. She scored eight points in the final 29 seconds of regulation, including a buzzer-beating three-pointer for a 77-77 tie.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Mark Giannotto covers Virginia and Virginia Tech for The Washington Post.
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