Sky Is No Limit for Mystics' Sanford

alana beard - washington mystics
Alana Beard, left, in her second game back from a right ankle sprain, scores 10 points a day after being announced as a reserve for the Eastern Conference in Wednesday's All-Star game. (Nick Wass - AP)
By Jon Gallo
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 10, 2006

For the Washington Mystics' key decision makers, awarding the final roster spot was an easy choice, but no one expected just how important a role Nakia Sanford would play.

"Who would have thought I'd be saying this now," Coach Richie Adubato said. "But where would we be without her?"

Certainly not in contention to earn a WNBA playoff spot, which is exactly where the Mystics are after an 89-83 victory over the Chicago Sky yesterday in front of 7,618 at Verizon Center. Sanford posted a career- and game-high 25 points to go along with seven rebounds, and the Mystics (10-10) entered the all-star break in fourth place in the Eastern Conference. The top four teams in each conference make the playoffs.

"Nakia has become a great story," Adubato said. "She's shown what you can do when you get an opportunity."

For Sanford, the chance to develop into one of the team's best post players arose when starting power forward DeLisha Milton-Jones (12.8 points per game) suffered a knee injury June 17 that could force her to miss the rest of the regular season. Sanford, who broke her right pinkie playing in Italy during the offseason and refused to undergo surgery for fear she would be cut by the Mystics, has flourished since moving into the starting lineup.

The 6-foot-4 forward is averaging 9.2 points and a team-high 6.3 rebounds to justify management's decision in mid-May to waive Kaayla Chones and Aiysha Smith and keep Sanford in Washington for a fourth consecutive season.

"I've used the way management viewed me to motivate me," said Sanford, whose previous career high in points was 17 against San Antonio in 2004. "I knew I could play at this level. But what's most important was that we won the game, and if I was the one scoring the points, that's great."

"Everybody else is surprised by what Nakia has given us, but we're not," said guard Alana Beard, who had 10 points and four assists. "We always knew she had very high potential and she's showing what she can do."

Sanford was unstoppable in the low post. She made a career-high 10 of 14 shots and made 5 of 10 free throws as Washington ended a two-game losing streak.

"Layups, that's how she got all her points," Chicago Coach Dave Cowens said. "I could have had that many if I had layups like that."

Mystics center Chasity Melvin had 20 points and a game-high 10 rebounds, and forward Crystal Robinson added 14 points as Washington pushed its lead over fifth-place New York to five games with 14 remaining.

"After all we've been through, we're in the playoff hunt, but we still should be higher in the standings," said guard Nikki Teasley, who posted eight points and a game-high six assists. "I think this win should give us a lot of confidence and momentum heading into the second half of the season."

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