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Depth, Defense Keep Mystics Rolling

Mystics 68, Sting 54

By Eli Saslow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 16, 2004; Page D05

In the wake of what some Washington Mystics players called a season-defining win yesterday afternoon, Coach Michael Adams huddled his team around him, clapped his hands loudly and said, "Finally, we're winning the way we thought we would."

Well, not quite.

Stacey Dales-Schuman finishes with 4 points in 20 minutes, but Mystics won for fourth time in five games. (Joel Richardson -- The Washington Post)

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The Mystics are winning -- they've won four of five to improve to 9-9. But they never expected to win this way.

In a 68-54 victory over the Charlotte Sting at MCI Center, the Mystics relied on forgotten players and a forgotten defense. Overlooked guards Kiesha Brown, Coco Miller and Tamicha Jackson anchored a tenacious full-court press while regulars Stacey Dales-Schuman and Alana Beard watched from the bench.

"The starters aren't always going to be the stars," said Miller, who scored eight points. "I've always said that we're deep enough to win even when players are having bad games or off nights."

They proved as much yesterday. With Beard (11 minutes, no points) and Dales-Schuman (20 minutes, four points) out of the game, the Mystics went to a full-court press with a 47-43 lead and 11 minutes 29 seconds left. Charlotte quickly turned the ball over twice, and Washington took advantage with a debilitating 7-2 run.

Thanks to a swarming Mystics' defense, Charlotte (10-8) never had a chance to recover. Their press, which they've used only a few times this season, held the Sting to just two points in the last 4:33. Jackson swatted at the ball, and Miller and Brown intercepted passes, forcing Charlotte into most of its 15 turnovers.

The Sting's 54 points were the lowest total for a Mystics opponent this year.

"It's a matter of desire," said reserve forward Chasity Melvin, who scored eight points. "We went out there and just basically decided we'd rather beat them up than let them score."

"No doubt our defense was the difference," Adams said. "We did a great job attacking the basketball. We knew that we needed this win."

With a difficult three-game West Coast trip looming this weekend, the Mystics still hold a perilous grip on the mediocrity they've worked so hard to attain.

How badly did Adams want to win yesterday? When Charlotte's Dawn Staley had a wide-open three-point shot in front of Adams early in the second half, he stomped his feet and screamed to distract her. After she missed, Staley glared at Adams before running back downcourt.

"We're at the point right now where we'll do anything to win," said Chamique Holdsclaw, who scored 19 points. "If we want to make the playoffs, we're going to need to dominate every game."

To do that, the Mystics desperately need to improve their rebounding, which sandbagged them throughout yesterday's game. Even though the Mystics took a 33-29 lead into the half, they looked pathetic under the basket. Charlotte usually took two or three shots before the Mystics finally secured the ball.

On one first-half possession, Charlotte took six shots before Melvin pulled down the rebound, causing Adams to scream: "Does anybody want to get the ball?"

"That's definitely our major weakness right now," Melvin said. "We're getting beat up pretty bad under the basket. That's the type of thing that could kill us, but we're getting lucky. We're finding different ways to win games."

Mystics Note: Holdsclaw was selected to start at forward in the WNBA All-Star Game Aug. 5 but will not play because of a prior commitment to run a basketball camp.

STORM 66, MONARCHS 63: Lauren Jackson had 18 points and six rebounds, and Sue Bird added 14 points to lead visiting Seattle.

COMETS 97, SHOCK 61: Tina Thompson scored 21 of her 33 points in the first half to help host Houston end a five-game slide.

LYNX 69, LIBERTY 66: Katie Smith scored seven of her 12 points over the final two minutes to lead visiting Minnesota.

SILVER STARS 78, SUN 67: LaToya Thomas had a season-high 23 points and Agnieszka Bibrzycka a career-high 19 for San Antonio at home.

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