Indiana Fever defeats Washington Mystics, 78-73

Washington guard Katie Smith (team-high 17 points) drives around Indiana defender Ebony Hoffman during the first half at Verizon Center.
Washington guard Katie Smith (team-high 17 points) drives around Indiana defender Ebony Hoffman during the first half at Verizon Center. (Richard A. Lipski For The Washington Post)
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By Kathy Orton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 25, 2010

It might have been the high stakes, or the Indiana Fever's aggressive defense, or just how difficult it is to defeat a team three times in one season.

Whatever the reason was, the Washington Mystics squandered a chance to move back into first place in the Eastern Conference standings -- a spot they held earlier in the week -- losing a hard-fought, physical contest to Indiana, 78-73, at Verizon Center on Saturday night.

Had they won, the Mystics (13-8) could have taken over sole possession of first place. Instead, they remained in second place, 1 1/2 games behind Indiana (15-7), with Atlanta (14-9) just percentage points behind in third place.

"We've got to be hungry," Washington Coach Julie Plank said. "We've got to come out with a mentality and just a belief that we can win the East. And that was the thing that was a little bit disappointing. I thought we let [Indiana] come in and dictate the tempo."

Katie Smith, who played much of the second half with cotton stuffed in her left nostril after suffering a bloody nose, scored 17 points to lead the Mystics. Crystal Langhorne recorded her 10th double-double with 15 points and 13 rebounds.

Indiana, which had lost twice to Washington this season after beating them all six times last year, clearly didn't want to lose this game. The Fever was assessed two technical fouls, a flagrant foul and 27 personal fouls. Tamika Catchings (12 points) fouled out with 1 minute 10 seconds remaining in the game.

The two previous times this season the Mystics played the Fever they struggled to hold onto the ball. This time was no different. Washington, which averaged 23 turnovers in its games against Indiana, turned the ball over 21 times on Saturday night, which led to 23 points for the Fever. For the season, the Mystics average 17.6 turnovers, tied for second worst in the WNBA.

"We just came out really flat," Langhorne said. "We knew what they were going to do, that they were going to trap and everything. Things just didn't go well tonight."

Indiana capitalized on Washington's sloppiness early. With the Mystics throwing the ball out of bounds or, worse yet, to the wrong jersey, Indiana built a 23-14 lead.

With all the trouble it was having holding onto the ball, Washington wasn't getting many opportunities to shoot it. The Mystics attempted nearly half as many shots as the Fever. Indiana converted 9 of its 19 field goal attempts in the first quarter, while Washington made just 4 of 10.

Smith was the only player keeping Washington in the game before halftime. The veteran guard, who made five three-pointers and scored 21 points the last time these teams met, scored 12 first-half points on 4-of-6 shooting. She was the only Mystics player to score in double figures in the first half.

Though Indiana held a double-digit lead much of the second half, Washington twice threatened to go in front. Marissa Coleman was fouled shooting a three-pointer and made all three of her free throws to pull the Mystics to 51-47. At that point in the third quarter, Washington had scored more points at the free throw line (10) than from the floor (eight).

Late in the game, a three-pointer by Smith sparked a late scoring surge that cut the Fever's lead to two. After Monique Currie's put back, Washington trailed, 68-66, with 2 minutes 45 seconds left to play.

Though the Mystics had several opportunities to go in front, Indiana refused to let them. Briann January made all four of her free throw attempts in the final seconds to secure the Fever's win. January went 14 of 15 at the line to finish with 19 points.

"Our defense picked up . . . and we were able to hit some shots," Smith said of Washington's comeback. "But when you're always digging yourself out of a hole, you're always behind, always behind. They hit big buckets when they needed to."

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