By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 27, 2010; D02
When the third shot she attempted Thursday night found the basket, relief flashed across Marissa Coleman's face. Maybe this game would be the one that sparked the Washington Mystics' second-year wing out of her scoring slump and maybe it wouldn't, but at least some shots were falling.
More than a few times during the Mystics' 68-53 win over the Los Angeles Sparks, Coleman looked like herself. Pestering opposing players, dishing the ball to her teammates and also recording six points, her highest scoring total since May 30.
So far, this hasn't been the sophomore season Coleman hoped for. Despite her unwavering work ethic and being in what coaches call the best shape of her career, Coleman remains searching for her stride in the WNBA.
"There are still a lot of games left to go. That's the good thing," Coleman said this past week. "As long as we're winning and the team's doing well, ultimately that's all that matters. But it's one of those things where everybody goes through times when their shots don't fall and it's one of those things where less is more.
"I just have to stop thinking about it," she added, "continue to shoot, and they'll fall eventually."
Coleman entered the 2010 season with lofty expectations. She returned from her overseas commitments early to spend two months working with Coach Julie Plank and training with franchise player Alana Beard. She developed a more thorough understanding of Plank's system, played well through training camp and the preseason, and moved well past the ankle injury that marred her rookie year.
But when the regular season started, Coleman struggled to find her shooting rhythm. Entering Washington's game Sunday against the Phoenix Mercury (5-8) at Verizon Center, Coleman is 22 for 61 (36 percent). She's been held scoreless on three occasions and scored in double figures only once this season, when she had 11 points on May 23.
The return of Coleman's offensive swagger would help provide more balance for the Mystics (8-5) as they move forward with just nine healthy players. Currently, none of Washington's bench players average more than 5.2 points per game.
"She's always been a scorer," Plank said. "She does do other things for us, and she's just got to relax and play. We know she can shoot the ball -- she is one of our best shooters -- but she brings other things as well. Right now we need her to focus on the things she can control and that's energy, defense and crashing the boards. Her shooting will come, but no good will come from worrying about it."
Coleman's longtime teammate, forward Crystal Langhorne, knows a little about struggling to find her footing in the WNBA, garnering recognition as the league's most improved player after a lackluster rookie season.
Langhorne believes that soon enough, Coleman, the sharpshooter who averaged 48.3 percent during her four years at Maryland, will find stability.
"I've seen her have slumps in college but this is just a little different," Langhorne said. "Everyone wants to do well when they get to this level. . . . Sometimes the best thing you can do as a player is relax and let the game come to you."