By Jon Gallo
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 28, 2006; E03
Maybe it was when guard Alana Beard slashed through the defense for one of her four layups. Or perhaps when Chasity Melvin made one jump shot after another, or when power forward DeLisha Milton-Jones swished a three-pointer midway through the fourth quarter.
Beard isn't exactly sure when the Washington Mystics rediscovered their confidence during a 92-74 victory over the Chicago Sky last night at Verizon Center, but they sure did find it. The performance demonstrated why they were once one of the best teams in the WNBA before injuries sent the team into a tailspin that dropped it from first to fourth in the Eastern Conference standings.
"I can't remember the last time we played like this, when we made the game beautiful," said Beard, who scored a game-high 26 points on 8-of-12 shooting. "We wanted to go out there and just play a great game of team basketball."
The Mystics (13-13) beat the expansion Sky for the third straight time. Beard led a potent offense that had six players score in double figures, with center Melvin scoring 16 points and making all eight of her shots, and Milton-Jones adding 13. Crystal Robinson and Nikki Teasley each posted 11 points and Coco Miller had 10.
"I think we rediscovered our team out there, I really do," Milton-Jones said. "This is when we are at our best, when we're pushing the ball up the court and everybody's passing to whoever is open. We played with a lot of passion. I wish we would have started playing this way five games ago."
The victory kept Washington five games ahead of Charlotte (8-18) for the fourth and final spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs with eight games remaining. Washington travels to Indiana (16-9) tomorrow and hosts Charlotte on Sunday night at 7:30.
After the Sky cut a 12-point lead at intermission to 67-60 entering the final quarter, the Mystics put away the game. Milton-Jones punctuated a 16-7 run to open the fourth quarter that extended Washington's lead to 83-67 with 5 minutes 7 seconds remaining. It allowed the Mystics to cruise in the final minutes, something they hadn't had the luxury of doing since an 88-70 victory over New York on June 17.
The Mystics took control early against the Sky (3-22), which is threatening the Mystics' single-season mark for WNBA futility (set in 1998, when Washington went 3-27).
Melvin made all five of her shots in the first quarter to highlight a period in which the Mystics shot 52 percent (10 of 19) to take a 27-17 lead.
The win ended a stretch that saw the Mystics drop four of five at Verizon Center.
"We needed a game like this," Robinson said. "It's no fun when the game is so close in the last five minutes. It's stressful. We've been winning a lot of games ugly, so it was nice to win a game like this."
Notes: Forward Latasha Byears remained on the inactive list for the fifth consecutive game with tendinitis in her right foot. Byears, who is averaging 4.9 points and 3.6 rebounds, is one of the team's top reserves and is expected to play in tomorrow's game in Indiana, according to General Manager Linda Hargrove. . . . Country singer Wynonna Judd performed after the game as part of Youth AIDS Day, which the Mystics held to educate area kids about the disease. Judd attended the game with her sister, actress and singer Ashley Judd, who sat courtside.
· COMETS 98, MERCURY 95: Dawn Staley scored a season-high 21 points and Houston overcame Diana Taurasi's 41 points to win at home.
Sheryl Swoopes added 19 points and Tari Phillips came off the bench to score a season-high 15 as the Comets won the season's first meeting with Phoenix.
Taurasi tied the highest-scoring game in the WNBA this season and Cappie Pondexter added 29 for the Mercury, which lost its second straight game.
· STING 81, LYNX 68: Tangela Smith scored 21 points and Charlotte rallied to win in Minneapolis.
Sheri Sam added 17 points for the Sting, which lost to Minnesota at home on Tuesday night.