By Jon Gallo
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 8, 2006; E03
Three weeks ago, the Washington Mystics' locker room was filled with laughter and praise. The Mystics were enjoying life atop the Eastern Conference, confident they had finally become one of the league's premier teams.
Now, the locker room is a quiet place following games, especially after last night's 73-60 loss to Sacramento at Verizon Center dropped the Mystics to 9-10, the first time they've been under .500 all season.
"We have to start searching for answers right now," guard Alana Beard said. "We have a lot of things we need to fix."
The Mystics had numerous problems against the defending champion Monarchs (11-8), falling for the seventh time in nine games to remain in fourth place in the conference after being tied for first on June 17.
The Mystics were held scoreless for an eight-minute stretch bridging the third and fourth quarters, during which the Monarchs turned a four-point deficit into a 12-point lead they would not relinquish.
The Mystics shot 26 of 63 from the field, making just 3 of 23 three-point attempts, and committed 23 turnovers as Sacramento's suffocating defense held Washington to its lowest point total of the season.
"It was just an all-around tough game for us," said guard Coco Miller, who recorded seven points and five rebounds. "We had some stretches where we just lost our focus."
Midway through the third quarter, the Mystics appeared headed toward one of their biggest victories of the season. Washington rallied from a 14-point deficit in the second quarter to take a 50-46 lead with 2 minutes 14 seconds left in the third quarter following a jump shot by Beard.
Beard, who suffered a sprained right ankle last week and hadn't played in the last two games, wasn't expected to play until minutes before tip-off, when she proved she could run at full speed and was cleared by the team's trainer.
But Sacramento guard Kara Lawson, a former All-Met Player of the Year at West Springfield, responded with a reverse layup before making a three-pointer from the left wing to give the Monarchs a 51-50 lead with 22 seconds remaining.
"I knew we needed a spark," said Lawson, who scored 12 points. "We just needed something to get us going."
Sacramento opened the fourth quarter by scoring the first 11 points, and by the time Nakia Sanford converted a layup with 4:13 left, the Monarchs had put away the game.
Beard finished with a game-high 15 points on 6-of-16 shooting and committed seven turnovers, with point guard Nikki Teasley adding 12 points and center Chasity Melvin posting 10 points and eight rebounds.
"I honestly didn't think Beard was going to play, but when I saw she could run, I had to play her," Washington Coach Richie Adubato said. "But I knew Sacramento was going to be very aggressive with her, and I was worried about that."
The Monarchs appeared to take control early. Sacramento forced five turnovers and held the Mystics to just 35 percent shooting (5 of 14) to take a 22-12 lead entering the second quarter.
The Monarchs stretched their lead to 35-22 following Scholanda Dorrell's layup with 4:01 remaining in the half, but the Mystics ended the quarter on a 14-0 run fueled by three layups by Melvin.
Sacramento Coach John Whisenant drew a technical foul with his team leading 35-32, energizing the crowd of 7,847 and the Mystics, who took a 36-35 on Teasley's layup with four seconds left in the half.
Mystics Note: Nikki McCray, a former Mystic, will be honored by the team during tomorrow's game against Chicago. McCray, who recently announced her retirement from the Chicago Sky, spent her first four seasons (1998-2001) in Washington, where she is second in career points (1,921) and third in three-point shooting percentage (.299) and assists (300).Silver Stars on a Roll
Agnieska Bibrzycka scored 17 points to lead the host San Antonio Silver Stars to a 94-75 win over the Houston Comets.
San Antonio won its fourth straight, its first four-game winning streak since 2002 when it played as the Utah Starzz.
The Comets played without leading scorer Tina Thompson, who strained her right calf during the second half of the Comets' loss at Los Angeles on Wednesday.
? SHOCK 92, LYNX 80: Swin Cash scored 19 points and Kendra Holland-Corn added 15 in Detroit's win in Minneapolis.
? SKY 78, LIBERTY 73: Candice Dupree had 20 points and six rebounds in Chicago's win at home.
? SPARKS 72, FEVER 60: Lisa Leslie had 22 points, 15 rebounds and 8 assists to help Los Angeles defeat visiting Indiana.