2nd Quarter Dooms Mystics

Detroit's Swin Cash blocks a shot from Washington's Nakia Sanford during the first half of the Shock's win over the Mystics on Saturday.
Detroit's Swin Cash blocks a shot from Washington's Nakia Sanford during the first half of the Shock's win over the Mystics on Saturday. (Richard A. Lipski - The Washington Post)
By Preston Williams
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 29, 2007

An hour or so before her team's home game yesterday afternoon, Washington forward DeLisha Milton-Jones edited the statistics board in the Mystics' locker room, tacking a "1" to the front of her season deflection total, giving her a hefty 163.

"It's for my own morale," she said with a laugh.

Not all stats are as easy to alter, or to overcome. In the subsequent 76-64 loss to the Detroit Shock, the Mystics got outrebounded by 29, including 17-3 in offensive rebounds, to squander an opportunity to inch out of the cellar in the Eastern Conference and creep closer to playoff contention.

In fact, with a gospel concert scheduled for after the game, the announced 8,700 on hand at Verizon Center got to see the Mystics play off that theme by stinking to high heaven for the middle quarters, mostly against the Shock's zone defense.

During the second and third periods, Washington missed 25 of 29 shots and managed 20 points. The six-point second quarter (on 1-of-16 shooting) marked the team's lowest total for the second period all season.

Defending WNBA champion Detroit, the Eastern front-runner, aced the boards despite the absence of injured forward Cheryl Ford, the league's leading rebounder. Not only was Ford out, but 6-foot-8 center Katie Feenstra played less than 13 minutes because of foul trouble.

Even so, Detroit outscored the Mystics 42-22 in the lane and 19-4 on second-chance points, all thanks to a 49-20 rebounding differential.

"Offensive rebounding killed us," said Mystics interim coach Tree Rollins, whose team led by nine late in the first quarter. "Not only were they getting second shots, they were getting third shots. . . . They box you under. Once they push you under, now you have no rebounding position.

"Rebounding is something a coach can't coach. We can teach you how to rebound, but we can't coach that during the game. You have to really go out and do it yourself."

That never happened yesterday, with reserves Kara Braxton and Plenette Pierson combining for 33 points and 16 rebounds for the Shock (19-6) to complement forward Katie Smith's 21 points.

"Wow," Mystics forward Monique Currie said when she heard the rebounding totals. "We weren't boxing out and they have a big size advantage. And that's the time when you really need to focus and push people back even more, and we didn't do that today. Rebounding is a matter of effort, heart, I guess. You have to just go out there and go after the rebound."

"I don't think it was so much about Detroit tonight, as it was the Mystics," Washington center Nakia Sanford said. "They stuck to their game plan. We did not."

Washington (10-14), with three comeback victories of 16 points or more this season and winners of eight of its past 11 games before yesterday, trailed by 24 early in the fourth quarter before pulling to within 10 with 1 minute 55 seconds left on the second of back-to-back three-pointers by Milton-Jones (team-high 17 points). The Mystics cut it to nine in the final minute.

"We've got to get in here and we've got to figure out ways to score against a zone," Currie said. "In the first quarter they were in man-to-man and we were attacking them, but as soon as they went to their zone, we slowed down and took outside shots like they wanted us to and we played into their hands."

The Mystics thought they might be catching a break with Ford out for the rest of the regular season and with Indiana standout Tamika Catchings -- the second-place Fever is Washington's next opponent -- missing the past five games, all losses, with a foot injury.

The Mystics have 10 regular season games left, including a four-game swing out West and road games at Indiana and Connecticut. A win over the short-handed Shock could have continued their roll.

"If you see a team when they're down -- opportunities like this don't come every day, especially when you're making a fight to get back into that playoff run," Milton-Jones said before the game. "You got to capitalize on this right now. . . . If they're down for one game or five games, you've got to jump on them."

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