By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 15, 2008
Perhaps Nakia Sanford's strained yelp as her free throw fell short early in the fourth quarter said it best. With 10 minutes remaining in their 2008 season, the Washington Mystics still had no answers for the questions that plagued them when the season began five months and 34 games ago.
Where was the shooting consistency? Where was the dedication to defensive assignments? Where was the composure to take care of the ball?
By the beginning of the fourth quarter, the ultimate question yesterday afternoon at Verizon Center was no longer would the Mystics lose, but by how much?
Washington (10-24) closed out its worst season since going 9-25 in 2003 with a 96-70 loss to Minnesota. It was the second worst loss of the season and the Mystics' ninth straight defeat, a stretch that dates from July 27 and ties the second-longest single-season losing streak in team history. The franchise record is 11 consecutive losses, set in 1998 and 2003.
"It's all been disappointing," said guard Alana Beard, who led the team in scoring with 17 points despite failing to score in the first half. "I was struggling before the break; It's not just these eight games [after the Olympic break], it's been a disappointing season for me personally."
This defeat contained all of the Mystics' season-long ailments. Minnesota dominated everything from shooting percentage (56 to 42), to rebounds (39 to 30) to turnovers (12 to 16) without its top two scorers and biggest stars -- Seimone Augustus (concussion) and Candice Wiggins (knee).
The Lynx (16-18) were more efficient and more determined to end their season with a show of strength, gaining a lead in the first three minutes that they never lost.
Minnesota's bench, comprising players who averaged 8.6 points or less coming into yesterday's game, outscored the Mystics' bench 44-25.
But the details of the drubbing by the last-place team in the Western Conference seemed largely irrelevant to the Mystics, who believe change is imminent.
"Changes have to be made," said forward Monique Currie, who scored seven points against Minnesota. "If you look at the teams who are in the playoffs, they have all-stars, they have veterans, they have leaders. You've got to bring players in that help this team. I think a lot of us can help with [parts], but we need to get better, we need to get better players. We need to make changes, and I'm pretty positive that's going to happen in the offseason."
Washington lost every game since the WNBA resumed its regular season after a month-long Olympic break, and it showed little, if any, of the improvement in play that president and managing partner Sheila Johnson demanded during a question and answer session with reporters in August.
After missing the playoffs for the seventh time in 11 seasons, the Mystics are in a situation much like the one they faced at the close of 2007. Washington is without an established point guard -- a carousel of three players served as point guard against the Lynx -- and a permanent coach. Interim coach Jessie Kenlaw finished with a 2-10 record after taking over in mid-July when Tree Rollins was fired.
"As I look back, had I known some things that I know now, I'm not sure I would have accepted the position," Kenlaw said, declining to elaborate on the specific reasons that would have led her to decline the promotion. "The thing I really regret are the losses."
Kenlaw said she hasn't considered whether she will remain with the Mystics, adding that she wouldn't discuss the evaluation of specific positions because her future in Washington is uncertain. But Kenlaw said she believes every aspect of the team needs to be scrutinized, and that she'll express her opinions to the organization during today's exit interviews.
"There needs to be some significant changes made in personnel," Kenlaw said. "I think there should be a good balance of experience and youth. It all depends on what management is looking for; I'm not real sure [what they want]. If you want to win next season, you're going to really have to take a good look at what needs to be done."