Chamique Holdsclaw's departure was supposed to leave the Washington Mystics with a shortfall on offense as they pressed their case to make the WNBA playoffs.
Yesterday, however, Washington squeezed enough points out of role players and turned to Holdsclaw's heir apparent as star, rookie Alana Beard, who scored 17 of her 21 points in the second half to lead Washington to a 75-63 victory over the Houston Comets before an announced crowd of 11,761 at MCI Center.
Rookie Alana Beard, left, outplayed Houston's Tina Thompson, right. Thompson played for the U.S. Olympic team.
(Kevin Wolf -- AP)
At 15-16, the Mystics are keeping their heads above water in the Eastern Conference playoff race. They have scratched out a three-game winning streak at home and now embark on a final road tour to San Antonio, Phoenix and New York brimming with confidence, even though the club is 4-10 away from MCI Center this season.
"We just want to end the season on a positive note," said center Chasity Melvin, who scored her 2,000th career point. "Whether we make the playoffs or not, we've got to feel good about ourselves going into next season. If we work hard and keep playing like this, we'll know that next season will be our season."
Washington moved into fifth place in the East and trails Charlotte, which took over first after defeating Minnesota on Saturday night, by one game.
Facing two of the game's best players in Houston's Sheryl Swoopes and Tina Thompson, the Mystics started the game down in the tally of superstars, 2-0.
Holdsclaw, one of the WNBA's most prolific scorers over the past five years who also leads Washington in rebounding, said last week that she would sit out the rest of the season because of an undisclosed illness. Yesterday's game was the eighth that Holdsclaw has missed. The Mystics are 5-3 without her.
Beard's performance in the second half of the season has buoyed the Mystics in Holdsclaw's absence and is the kind of play that made heroes of Swoopes, Holdsclaw and Thompson. In fact, Thompson was honored at halftime for her efforts in helping the U.S. women's Olympic basketball team win gold at the Athens Games this summer. (Swoopes also played on the Olympic team, but stayed in the locker room during the salute because of an injury she suffered in the first half.)
Beard outplayed Thompson, who finished with 17 points and five rebounds.
Not only did Beard outscore Thompson, she posted six rebounds, four steals and, for good measure, blocked one of Thompson's shots.
"She's not playing like a rookie anymore," Mystics Coach Michael Adams said.
"My teammates said I wasn't a rookie anymore on the court, but I still have to put the balls away," Beard joked after the game, referring to one of the chores that rookies are required to fulfill.
"I feel very comfortable playing in the WNBA and with the position I'm in," said Beard, Washington's first-round pick (No. 2 overall) in April's draft. "Tonight, my teammates were moving without the ball, which created lanes and that allowed us to make plays."
Beard got plenty of help, especially after picking up her third foul with 11 minutes 37 seconds to go before halftime. Tamicha Jackson replaced her and quickly began picking up the team with her passing and shooting. The 5-foot-6 Jackson scored seven points and fired up her teammates by blocking a shot.