Washington Mystics tied for first in conference after win over Atlanta Dream

By Jorge Castillo
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 22, 2010

Coming off consecutive losses to the Eastern Conference's two worst teams, the Washington Mystics were searching for their first post-all-star-break win in the midst of a tight Eastern Conference playoff race.

Maybe a few thousand screaming children were what they needed.

Playing an 11:30 a.m. matinee in front of an announced crowd of 14,347 at Verizon Center -- many of whom were children from local summer camps for the team's annual Camp Day -- the Mystics (13-7) turned to Crystal Langhorne and the bench to snap a two-game losing streak with a 82-72 win over the Atlanta Dream (14-9) on Wednesday.

With the victory, Washington improved to 8-2 at Verizon Center and sits in a first-place tie with Indiana in the highly-competitive and fluid East standings -- three days after a loss against Chicago dropped the Mystics to third.

This is the latest in a season that Washington has been in first place since July 30, 2002, when it was in a tie atop the East with New York at 15-10. It might not last too long, though. The Fever host Los Angeles on Thursday before coming to the District to play the Mystics on Saturday night.

"This is when we have to start playing our best basketball," Coach Julie Plank said. "I talked to our team about that. We never get too high on wins and never get too low on losses. It's good to get back in the winning column."

Washington first took the lead -- in the game's only lead change -- less than three minutes in and never looked back, stretching the lead to 56-37 with 3 minutes 20 seconds remaining in the third quarter.

The Dream made it somewhat tighter in the fourth quarter, going on a 7-0 run to begin the period to cut the lead to seven. But that was as close as it got.

Langhorne led all scorers with 24 points on 10-of-15 shooting, most of which came around the basket on putbacks or crafty spin moves in the lane with a few 18-foot jumpers sprinkled in.

The 15 rebounds were one off her season high.

"I'm trying to establish myself every game," said Langhorne, the WNBA Eastern Conference player of the month for June. "I was getting in good places and I was having chances to score so I just wanted to take advantage of it."

With only nine healthy players on the roster, Washington's limited bench also stepped up to halt the mini-losing skid. Guard Matee Ajavon (15 points), center Chasity Melvin (12 points), and forward Marissa Coleman (nine points) each played at least 20 minutes and combined to score all of the Mystics 36 bench points. Atlanta's reserves scored 10.

"This was a total team effort," Plank said. "The bench played extremely, extremely well. Not only did they play at the offensive end, they played well at the defensive end. They really get after it. We had almost eight players playing 20 minutes, and that's how we're going to win."

The Dream has lost four in a row -- all on the road -- and five of its last six after starting 13-4. Angel McCoughtry, the WNBA's third-leading scorer, led Atlanta with 23 points and six rebounds. Iziane Castro Marques added 17 on 4-of-14 shooting.

With 14 games remaining on the regular season schedule, Mystics guard Katie Smith knows Atlanta's struggles can easily swing to Washington down the stretch.

"I'm sure for the organization, they're happy and whatnot, but for us . . . we haven't done anything yet," said Smith, who had six points on two three-pointers. "That's the bottom line. Best record doesn't mean a whole lot if you get to the playoffs and don't handle your business."

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