By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 3, 2009
With each stride Lindsey Harding took down the court during one of her trademark coast-to-coast plays, the volume increased inside Verizon Center. When she scored on a driving layup most of the crowd was on its feet, raucous in celebration of the Washington Mystics' three-point edge over the Indiana Fever on Sunday.
As the No. 1 team in the WNBA called a timeout after seven consecutive Washington points, the spectacle grew. Most of the players on the Mystics' bench raced to meet their teammates in the middle of the floor, slapping high-fives. But the problem with this triumphant resurgence was that it came at the end of the third quarter, not the fourth.
Washington entered the fourth trailing by one, but in the ensuing three minutes saw Indiana create a 12-point cushion, silence the 11,595 in attendance and erase any doubt as to which team was in control. The Fever (15-4) maintained a double-digit lead the rest of the way to secure the 87-79 win -- its third victory over the Mystics (10-9) in 13 days.
"We have huge breakdowns in the fourth quarter," forward Monique Currie said. "It's happened before. It's not just tonight and it's something that we need to figure out. We dug ourselves a hole so late in the game it was hard to come back from that. We did fight back, but we shouldn't have been in that situation."
Before the Mystics recorded a point in the fourth quarter, Indiana all-star guard Katie Douglas, who recorded a game-high 24 points, drove through the Mystics' defense for a layup, Ebony Hoffman capitalized on an easy layup, and Tamecka Dixon forced a turnover before sinking a jump shot. Sensing a vulnerable opponent and a key opportunity, the Fever continued to attack -- a three-point play by Tamika Catchings, another Hoffman layup and four points from rookie Briann January.
By the time Alana Beard scored with 4 minutes 49 seconds remaining in the game -- Washington's second field goal of the quarter -- the Mystics were looking at a 69-57 deficit. Beard notched the next five points for Washington, but was going toe-to-toe with Douglas, who answered with seven points of her own.
"They get such easy baskets and it just takes the air out of your sail," Coach Julie Plank said. "I don't think it's a lack of effort by our team by any means. They continue to fight, it's just really focusing and making stops. I thought we gave up a lot of easy scores at the start of the fourth quarter, and when you have the momentum that can't happen."
Washington is tied for second place in the Eastern Conference after the loss and continues to search for answers against Indiana. In each of the teams' three meetings this season, the Mystics have challenged the Fever but failed to finish when given a fourth-quarter opportunity to topple the league leaders.
On July 21, it was Catchings who pummeled Washington with a season-high 28 points in an 82-70 win. Last Tuesday, Douglas recorded a career-high 34 points in Indiana's 85-81 victory.
On Sunday, however, there was no easy explanation to the Mystics' continued late-game woes.
"I continue to go back to the mental lapses that we have, and we had a huge one at the beginning of the fourth quarter," said Beard, who finished with a team-high 23 points for Washington. "If I could put my finger on one thing, it would be changed, but I can't. If we knew what it was, it wouldn't be there. But we just have to continue to come back to the drawing board, continue to fight. We have to go back to the drawing board with our defense and get more on the same page as a group."
-- SUN 83, SHOCK 65: Lindsay Whalen scored 22 points, Asjha Jones had 20 and Connecticut snapped a three-game losing streak with a win over Detroit.
Sandrine Gruda added 11 points for the visiting Sun (10-9), which moved into tie with Washington for second place in the Eastern Conference -- five games behind Indiana.
The win came after the Sun, playing for the fourth time in six days, lost, 84-72, at Chicago on Saturday night.
Deanna Nolan scored 20 points and Cheryl Ford had nine points and 10 rebounds for the sixth-place Shock (6-10).
"Connecticut came out and, basically, hit us in the mouth," Shock Coach Rick Mahorn said. "They didn't look like they played a back- to-back. They came out and executed and we didn't execute defensively."