By Camille Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 8, 2009
Nakia Sanford froze for one moment in the final minute of the Washington Mystics' 70-66 victory over the Detroit Shock on Friday night at Verizon Center. With less than 12 seconds left in the game and the Mystics clinging to a four-point lead, Sanford was defending Kara Braxton on the block, when an inbounds pass sailed over her head, giving Braxton a clear path to the basket.
"As long as it wasn't a three, I was okay. But I was still like, 'Crap!' " Sanford said after the game, as she signed autographs for a long line of fans. "It was still scary."
Somehow, Braxton missed the open layup, sending the ball high off the glass and over the hoop. The Mystics grabbed the rebound, and guard Lindsey Harding was fouled. She missed both free throws with 7.7 seconds to go, but Sanford fought hard for the rebound, which allowed Washington to run out the clock on another close victory.
"I thought it was a great win," said Mystics Coach Julie Plank, whose team travels to Connecticut on Sunday and then hosts Detroit again on Tuesday. "Detroit is an excellent team. I don't care what their record is, they're one of the best teams in league."
Washington (11-9), which is in second place in the Eastern Conference, used a solid defensive effort and strongly finished both halves to upend the defending WNBA champions for the second time this season.
Sanford was a spark off the bench. She was a reliable offensive presence, scoring 14 points on 5-of-6 shooting, and getting to the foul line eight times -- though she made only four of the free throws. She tied her season high of eight rebounds, including five offensive. And she drew a timely charge midway through the fourth quarter against Alexis Hornbuckle, who had tormented the Mystics for stretches of the second half.
"I don't remember her missing a shot," said guard Alana Beard, who led the Mystics with 15 points and also had six rebounds. "She came in and gave great energy when [Chasity Melvin] went out, and if we can get that from her every single game -- and she can do it every game -- we're good to go because she establishes an inside game. With her going, [Crystal] Langhorne going and Chas going, that's a pretty tough inside game to stop."
Detroit (7-11) is the team with the imposing-looking front court: 6-foot-3 Cheryl Ford, the daughter of Karl Malone, 6-2 Taj McWilliams, 6-2 Olayinka Sanni and the 6-6, 225-pound Braxton. But Washington out-rebounded Detroit, 37-30. Langhorne had nine rebounds.
Braxton, who did not play in the early season meeting between the teams because of a WNBA suspension, led the Shock with 14 points and six rebounds. Midway through the first quarter, she collided with Melvin, and the Washington forward went tumbling to the floor, clutching her face in pain. Melvin crawled off the court and was helped to the locker room. She eventually returned to the game, sporting a pair of plastic glasses.
But initially, Sanford took Melvin's place and immediately scored off of a putback layup. A minute later, she drew a foul and went to the line. Sanford, who lost her starting spot last month to Langhorne, has been putting in extra work at practice with Vicky Bullett, the former Maryland star who now serves as a Mystics assistant.
"I have been a lot more aggressive," said Sanford, who scored 16 points on 7-of-10 shooting against New York on July 30. Bullett has "been channeling her post-playerness into me. She looks at me before the game, and she tries to high beam me her post energy. . . . I think I was a little tentative about a lot of things early on in the season. I think just putting the extra work makes a big difference."Lynx Overcome Sun
Renee Montgomery scored a career-high 24 points, Nicky Anosike had 19 points and 12 rebounds, and the Minnesota Lynx beat the visiting Connecticut Sun, 95-88, to snap a three-game losing streak.
Charde Houston added 16 points and 10 rebounds for the Lynx (11-10).
Sandrine Gruda led Connecticut (10-10) with 21 points. Asjha Jones had 16 points for the Sun.