By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 14, 2009
After the Washington Mystics suffered back-to-back losses for the first time since July, Coach Julie Plank stated the obvious on Tuesday: Her squad could not give up 35 points in the fourth quarter and expect to win. But what stung the Mystics the most is that this isn't the first time they've ended a game with a lackluster finish.
Washington has been outscored in the fourth quarter in five of its past six games and the team is 2-4 during that stretch. The Mystics have allowed opponents to score 30 or more points in the final frame in three of their past four contests, leading to three losses against Eastern Conference teams.
"I think it's a confidence thing," Plank said. "They're thinking that we've got to get stops and that we've got to get ahead, nerves get tight and people get tight and stop playing together. They want to win so bad and I just want them to relax and play."
Plank understands the pressure her team places on itself. With just two winning seasons and four playoff berths in the franchise's 12-year history, the Mystics (11-11) are itching to make this rebuilding season more than forward progress. For most, if not every player, that means making the playoffs.
"If we don't make the playoffs it's going to be kind of a failure I think," forward Crystal Langhorne said. "Just because we started off so well, it's important to keep the momentum going. We want to make it there. We have a lot of winners, we want to win. We want to reach the playoffs and show that we can."
The late-game miscues have increased and games have grown in importance as Washington fights for one of four playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. The Mystics are 5-7 this season when they've been outscored in the fourth quarter.
Heading into Friday's contest against Connecticut (12-10), the Mystics have 12 games remaining in the regular season and are one of five Eastern Conference teams that are within two games of each other in the standings. Washington trails the Sun, which routed the Mystics, 96-67, on Sunday, by a game, and a tiebreaker hangs in the balance of this third and final game between the two teams this season.
"You don't want to say you are putting too much pressure on yourself, but we just keep having these mental breakdowns," Langhorne said. "Everyone wants to win so badly, I don't know why but it seems to lead to those breakdowns. Hopefully we can fix it. This is a big one for us too. We're fighting with [Connecticut] for that playoff spot and we want to come out and redeem ourselves."