Mystics Keep It Close, But Can't Stop the Sun

Asjha Jones, Chastity Melvin
Connecticut's Asjha Jones, right, and Washington's Chasity Melvin vie for the ball during the first half on Saturday. (Linda Spillers - AP)
By Kathy Orton
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, May 20, 2007

Connecticut was a challenging season-opening opponent for the Washington Mystics. The Sun had the league's best record last season and had reached the WNBA Finals two of the last three years. Washington was without its all-star, Alana Beard, who is sidelined with a shoulder injury, while Connecticut had its full complement of four all-stars in its lineup.

Despite being at less than full strength, the Mystics showed last night why they can be considered a top challenger to Connecticut and Detroit for supremacy in the Eastern Conference -- once they learn how to close out games. Washington had a chance to beat the Sun until squandering its opportunity in the final seconds and losing, 89-80, before 8,042 at Verizon Center.

"Late in the game, we had the momentum, the crowd was into it," Mystics forward DeLisha Milton-Jones said. "We made some crucial turnovers, and they capitalized on them. We need to think the game."

Milton-Jones's three-point shot gave Washington its first lead of the second half, 75-74, with 4 minutes 44 seconds left to play. Up to that point, the Mystics had kept it close with a strong defensive effort. Connecticut, which made just 38.8 percent of its shots, never built a double-digit lead.

Former Mystic Asjha Jones, who sat out most of the first half because of a bloody nose, answered Milton-Jones's basket with a jump shot to put Connecticut back on top. With the outcome hanging in the balance, Washington turned sloppy. Nikki Teasley's bad pass resulted in a turnover. A few minutes later, Nakia Sanford's poor pass became another turnover. Nykesha Sales stripped Milton-Jones of the ball in the lane with 43 seconds to play. After fumbling away the ball only four times in the first half, Washington had 10 turnovers after halftime. Connecticut closed the game on an 8-0 run, with all of its points coming at the free throw line.

Washington, which led the WNBA in fouls last season, seemed intent on holding onto that dubious mark again this season. The Mystics committed 25 fouls that led to 35 free throws for Connecticut. The Sun scored more than a third of its points (31) at the free throw line.

"We committed some bad fouls," Washington Coach Richie Adubato said. "But we like hustle, and we want our players to play hard."

While Washington has to be pleased that it competed equally with one of the WNBA's top teams without its leading scorer in the lineup, the Mystics must regret letting this game slip away at the end.

"We were right there with two minutes to go," Adubato said. "We made some foolish turnovers. We broke down. . . . We had our chances. We just didn't execute down the stretch."

Chasity Melvin was a big reason the Mystics outscored Connecticut 40-24 in the lane. The 6-foot-3 center wasn't the least bit affected by imposing 7-2 Sun center Margo Dydek, scoring 22 points and grabbing 11 rebounds for her 23rd career double-double. Milton-Jones scored 20 points. They were the only Mystics starters to score in double figures. Sanford, a reserve, added 11 points.

Connecticut had four starters finish in double figures, led by Sales's 20 points.

Washington's first-round draft pick, Bernice Mosby, scored her first WNBA basket, a tip-in of an offensive rebound late in the third quarter. Mosby finished with three rebounds and two points in five minutes. The Mystics' other draft pick who made the final roster, Gillian Goring, did not play.

Considering how close they were to beginning their 10th anniversary season with a victory, the Mystics could only imagine how different the outcome would have been had Beard been in the lineup.

"That hurt," Adubato said. "She's our Gilbert Arenas. She's certainly one of our better players."

Mystics Notes: Beard, who has a strained left shoulder, continues to be listed as day-to-day. Adubato said after the game he didn't know when she would return to the lineup. "It'll be her decision," he said. "It will be when she feels comfortable." . . .

As part of their anniversary celebration, the Mystics honored their 10-year season ticket holders by bringing them out with the players during pregame introductions.

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