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Mystics Can't Stop the Sun

Connecticut Uses Big First-Half Run To Close Out Series: Sun 76, Mystics 56

By Dan Lauletta
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, September 30, 2004; Page D03

UNCASVILLE, Conn., Sept. 29 -- The Washington Mystics' season collapsed under the weight of a dizzying, 21-2 run by the Connecticut Sun near the end of the first half of Wednesday night's 76-56 loss in Game 3 of the clubs' Eastern Conference playoff series at Mohegan Sun Arena. The Mystics once again failed to stop Lindsay Whalen, who sparked the run with three consecutive dazzling drives to the basket and ended the night with 17 points and a half-dozen assists.

The Sun advanced to the Eastern Conference finals, where it will play the New York Liberty this weekend. The Mystics fell to 1-3 in playoff series and 0-2 in decisive Game 3s.

Mystics rookie Alana Beard (22 points) takes a handoff from Chasity Melvin. "If we don't win, I'm not happy with my game," Beard said. (Bob Child -- AP)

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Alana Beard's rookie season with the Mystics ended on a bittersweet note. The collegiate player of the year led a single-handed assault on the Sun's lead during the second half, finishing with 22 points but nothing to show for it.

"If we don't win, I'm not happy with my game," she said, playing down what was a remarkable effort. "If I come out of the game with a goose egg and we were to win, I would be happy with my performance. But we have to win."

The Mystics made a solid start to the game, bringing their defensive intensity and pounding the ball inside to Chasity Melvin. But they misfired on seven of their first eight field goal attempts and allowed the Sun to collect offensive rebounds at the other end.

"Maybe we were hesitant when we got under the basket," Mystics Coach Michael Adams said. "There were other occasions when we just missed them. This is playoff time and you can't give baskets back. We missed six or seven layups and that's big. We could have stayed in the game that way."

Still, the Mystics stayed close and even led 18-16 with 6 minutes 30 seconds to play in the half when Whalen scored seven straight points, subsequently opening up the floor to the outside shooters for the remainder of the half. Wendy Palmer-Daniel got into the act with a three-point shot and Nykesha Sales heated up, scoring 16 of her 18 points in the first half.

"It just shows how poor our defense was during that stretch," Beard said. "They were able to do whatever they wanted.

"I don't know how many assists they had as a team [19 to the Mystics' 11, and 35-17 over the two games at Mohegan Sun Arena], but from the looks of it they had a lot because they did a really good job moving the ball around."

Beard scored eight points on five shots during the first half and came out after halftime attacking the basket. She scored 10 of the Mystics' first 14 points of the half in a desperate attempt to salvage the season.

With 10:47 to play, the Mystics had an opening after Melvin's three-point play sliced the lead back to single digits at 51-42. The foul was Whalen's fourth, sending her to the only spot in the arena she couldn't burn the Mystics -- the bench.

The opening soon closed as the Sun scored five straight, including Jessica Brungo's backbreaking three to extend the lead to 14. The Mystics cut the lead to single digits with 6:26 to play, but the next dead ball brought the return of Whalen and the end of the Mystics' chances.

Beard sat down with 2:03 remaining, signaling the end of the line for a Mystics squad that persevered through the loss of their best player to send the Sun to the brink in this series.

"I won't even go there," Adams said when asked if star forward Chamique Holdsclaw, absent for much of the season with an undisclosed illness, could have made a difference.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company