The Washington Mystics said they found a new Alana Beard last night.
Beard said she just rediscovered the old one.
Keisha Brown gets her hands on the ball to begin a fast break for the Mystics, who won their sixth straight at home.
(Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)
In a 65-61 win over the Minnesota Lynx at MCI Center, the highly touted rookie played better than she ever had in a WNBA uniform -- and as well as she usually did during a dominant four-year career at Duke. Beard scored 23 points on 8-of-9 shooting to help the Mystics end a three-game losing streak. She also lifted them to a sixth consecutive win at home, improving their record to 10-12, more wins than they had all of last season.
"Some people might think this is new, but this is what I know I can play like," Beard said. "My hard work is paying off. I'm getting into a groove now, so it seems like a change."
She seemed totally remodeled yesterday: new look, new game, new attitude.
With a white headband wrapped under her braids, Beard -- often quiet and timid -- flashed a fiery competitiveness that spilled into fist pumps and screams.
She drove hard to the basket and drew fouls twice in the game's final two minutes, making all four free throws to give the Mystics a four-point lead.
The Lynx never recovered, throwing up two desperate three-pointers before the buzzer sounded. Its hopes may have been dashed much earlier, though, when star Katie Smith (19 points) left the game midway through the second half with a knee injury.
"For a long time, this game could have gone either way," Mystics Coach Michael Adams said. "Alana kept us in the game, that's for sure. She did what we know she can do: drive hard and score points in bunches."
And Beard did it all while playing point guard, a position where she admittedly feels uncomfortable. Tamicha Jackson, the Mystics' starting point guard, went on the injured list yesterday with a strained knee, meaning she will not be back for at least two more games. Stacey Dales-Schuman, also capable of playing the point, sat out yesterday with a sore heel.
Worse yet, Chamique Holdsclaw had her worst game of the season, making 3 of 17 shots.
Only Beard proved reliable. More than halfway through the season, she's finally beginning to look like the No. 2 pick in the 2004 WNBA Draft. She's led the Mystics in scoring the last four games, something she never did earlier this season.
Instead of tossing up difficult, three-point jumpers, she's driving fearlessly to the basket. "I don't care who's guarding me anymore," Beard said Thursday.
"I'm going to drive on everyone."